Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with Sally Rippin

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Ten Questions with Sally Rippin

Sally Rippin talks to Open Book about her latest Young Adult novel, Chenxi and the Foreigner (Annick Press), her reading and her first publication.

OBT:

Tell us about your latest book.

SR:

My latest book is a Young Adult novel titled Chenxi and the Foreigner. It is set in Shanghai during the late '80s and revolves around the tension in China leading up to the student protests in Beijing on June 4th, 1989. While I hope it gives some insight into China at that time, it is essentially a complicated love story between two very different people. Anna is a young, naïve art student who falls in love with Chenxi, a rebellious and political Chinese artist. Despite all her good intentions, Anna’s obsession with Chenxi ultimately leads to his downfall.

OBT:

Did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote your book?

SR:

Not particularly. I was nineteen when I began writing it, many years ago, and living as an art student in China, so I guess I was writing firstly to myself.

OBT:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

SR:

I am a busy mother of three so I have taught myself to write anywhere: on trains, in cafes, at my son’s soccer training, but my ideal writing environment is the Varuna Writers’ Retreat in the Blue Mountains in New South Wales, Australia. It is a beautiful old house, surrounded by a wild and rambling garden, where up to five writers can stay at a time. There is no TV, phone or internet, and from 9 – 5 p.m. the house is completely quiet, except for the faint tapping of fingers on keyboards (or frustrated moaning!). Then the writers meet downstairs in the living room for drinks and dinner. Yes, it is heaven! I have had three residencies over the years and in the space of a week I get as much done there as at least six months work at home!

OBT:

What was your first publication?

SR:

Two picture books that I had written and illustrated called Speak Chinese, Fang Fang! and Fang Fang’s Chinese New Year. When I returned to Australia after studying in China for three years, I found work tutoring young Chinese students. One of the students I became very close to and I wrote these books for her about the frustration she felt towards her parents for wanting her to keep up with her Chinese traditions while she identified herself more as an Australian.

OBT:

Describe a recent Canadian cultural experience that influenced your writing.

SR:

I have never been to Canada – though I would very much like to! Annick Press bought the Canadian and US rights from my Australian publishers and together we changed a few details in the book so that Americans and Canadians could identify more easily with my main character, Anna. In fact, the Canadian edition of Chenxi is my third rewrite as my novel was first published almost ten years ago by another publisher here in Australia. From its original form, begun in 1989 when I was a teenager living in Shanghai, it has changed a great deal. I have since published over thirty books for children and teenagers, but this book still means a great deal to me, so I am so thrilled it is now finding a new life overseas.

OBT:

What books made a great impression on you when you were a child?

SR:

I devoured books as a child, so many that it is hard to remember which were my favourites, though I do remember Jennie’s Hat by Ezra Jack Keats made me want to illustrate. I remember loving the collage of marbled paper and cut-out magazine flowers – I still do, especially since I have now discovered more of his work. I loved the vast imaginations of Enid Blyton and CS Lewis when I was in primary school, then as a teenager I adored SE Hinton, Paul Zindel and Judy Blume. I felt like Judy Blume was my best friend, but I fell in madly in love with Ponyboy. Even though we moved country regularly and spent a lot of time in hotel rooms, my mother, an ex-English teacher, always managed to find enough books to feed my insatiable appetite.

OBT:

What are you reading right now?

SR:

I have just finished reading MJ Hyland’s This Is How. She is an Australian author, now living in the UK, who has the incredible ability to draw you into the darkest places in her writing and still empathize with her characters who are terribly damaged and dysfunctional. I am also a fan of Australian author, Sonya Hartnett for the same reason.

OBT:

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received as a writer?

SR:

Write. And read. There’s no secret. These are the only two things that will improve your writing.

OBT:

What advice do you have for writers who are trying to get published?

SR:

The same as the above. Plus, don’t wait around for publishers to get back to you – just keep writing. The only way to become good at anything is to keep practicing. Read everything and anything. The reading is the study, the writing is the practice. I have read or written almost every day since I was eight.

OBT:

What is your next project?

SR:

I am very excited about a new YA novel I am working on but as I have only just sent the first draft to my publishers here in Australia, I don’t want to jinx it by talking about it too soon!




Sally Rippin was born in Darwin, Australia, but grew up mainly in South-East Asia. As an adult she spent three years in China studying traditional Chinese painting before moving to France with her family for three years. Now Sally lives in Melbourne, Australia, where she writes and illustrates for children of all ages. Sally has had over thirty children’s books published including two novels for Young Adults. Currently she teaches Writing for Children at RMIT University and is a mentor for the Australian Society of Authors. Read about Sally Rippin and her work at the Annick Press website and at www.sallyrippin.com.


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