Sally Rippin is on tour! A blog tour, that is. Today we're kicking things off with a Q&A about her book Chenxi and the Foreigner, and tomorrow watch for her on The Book Muncher! (Click here for the full blog tour schedule.) Enjoy!
You lived in Shanghai from 1989 to 1992, during a time of political upheaval (for example, the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing). How did it affect your experience of China and your writing of Chenxi and the Foreigner? How was your experience different from Anna’s?
I arrived in Shanghai in the September of 1989, a couple of months after the government crackdown in Tiananmen Square. I won’t go into too much detail about those events here, but for readers unfamiliar with this date in history, it was in June that year that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of students were killed by the Chinese army for protesting in Tiananmen Square. The true number of how many students were killed on June 4th, and then in the weeks afterwards, will never be known as this has become a highly taboo topic in China and all forms of media have been banned from investigating or reporting on it.
Needless to say, when I arrived in Shanghai only a few months after this date, Chinese students were still in a state of heightened anxiety. There were rumours that people involved in the protests were still being hunted down and spies and informers were rampant. Many of the students at the Art College where I studied had been involved in protests in Shanghai; boys in my class had carried a papier-mache Statue of Liberty down Shanghai’s streets. Even my closest friends were wary of talking to me about politics in case it got them into trouble and they often felt uncomfortable bringing me back to their homes for fear of being seen with a foreigner.
However, it is only in retrospect as an adult, that I can fully appreciate the significance of that period in Chinese history. I arrived in China as a very naïve nineteen-year-old girl. While I was aware that my years in China were fascinating and challenging for me, I really didn’t have any understanding of the impact that political period was having on my fellow students. So, I guess I could say I was definitely naïve as Anna!
In the afterword to this new edition, you explain that while writing the original manuscript, you had been worried about the reactions of gatekeepers such as parents, teachers, and librarians and had “cut out swear words, sex scenes, and unfamiliar Chinese politics.” How did Anna evolve as a character once you returned sex, swearing, and politics to the mix?
Anna is still essentially the same character, but I hope that the new version of the book is deeper and more honest. I was still young when I first starting writing the novel and, as it was my first Young Adult novel, I was unaware of how much sex and swearing I could include without upsetting too many people, which is kind of ironic as I don’t know a single teenager who doesn’t swear or think of sex daily! The politics I left out purely because I wasn’t informed enough to feel comfortable to write about them and as it was also still fairly close to the event, I didn’t want to cause any problems for myself or any of my fellow students.
The new version was rewritten almost ten years later. Obviously, I have matured and, thirty books later, I feel more confident as a writer. But I also more confident trusting that my readers, teenagers or adults, would rather I write honestly and openly than censor myself for fear of upsetting people with a few swear words. And, frankly, I hope that after reading my novel people are more upset by the fact that there a millions of people in the world, still today, that live without even one of the most basic freedoms: freedom of speech.
You’re both a writer and an illustrator: is your creative process similar for both writing and illustrating, or different? Is it more difficult to illustrate books you’ve written or books someone else has written?
Writing and illustrating are such extremely different creative processes for me but seem to balance each other perfectly. When I write, my mind is full, crowded with words and ideas, jostling to be heard. When I illustrate, I fall into a state almost like meditation. My mind goes very quiet and hours can pass without me knowing.
I started out illustrating my own books but now I mainly illustrate for other people, which I have begun to prefer. I love receiving a manuscript full of someone else’s ideas and those ideas trigger a whole new dimension of ideas in my mind creating something very different to anything I could have come up with on my own.
You just started up a blog; what do you plan to blog about? Are there any blogs you read regularly? What kinds of topics would you like to discover blogs about?
I think blogging is amazing but I have to admit, way too time-consuming for me! I know I could easily get lost in blog world and not come out again for days, meanwhile my deadlines have passed and my children haven’t been fed! As I spend so much time in front of the computer already, I don’t need another excuse to linger longer, in fact I am really trying to work on spending less time on the computer, not more – have to get out into that sunshine somehow! So, I will be using my blog just to update any news I have on my books: launches, reviews, blog tours etc, and in the other five free minutes I have each day I will be working on getting some Vitamin D into me!
If you won a week-long, all-expenses-paid trip to any country in the world, where would you go and what would you do?
The US and Canada to do a live book tour! Blogging is great but there’s nothing like meeting people in the flesh. :)
Thanks, Sally! It's been great to have you on the Annick blog and I look forward to watching your blog tour unfold this week!