WRITERS' MINDS Maisie Chan (Part 2)


Words & Pictures magazine's feature writer Sarah Broadley talks to prize-winning author Maisie Chan in the second part of her interview.

[Read Part 1 here]

Danny Chung's heartfelt story of his time with his Chinese gran (in Danny Chung Does Not Do Maths) when she moves to England, and then Lizzie Chu's adventures to Blackpool with her grandad (in Keep Dancing, Lizzie Chu), really pack in a lot of emotion for the reader. Representation in books is so important as every child needs to see themselves in stories. What has been your experience speaking to readers about Danny & Lizzie? Exciting times ahead for them both now that they're published in the US too, are there many differences between a UK and US publishing experience?


It's been great hearing how much readers have enjoyed my novels. Danny Chung was a book that some boys picked up when they had gotten into a reading slump and it helped them get back into reading. It also made people laugh and it did what I wanted it to do, it centred a British Chinese family but it was a universal book and people related to it and enjoyed it no matter their ethnicity.


The biggest endorsements I had for Keep Dancing, Lizzie Chu came from Frank Cotterill Boyce who had read it twice. He interviewed me on his Instagram and also on the new podcast ‘The Island of Brilliant’ to talk about this book. Frank is one of my favourite authors — I am a huge fan of Millions and I mention him in many of my interviews and school visits. I wanted to write like him when I first started out so for him to love my novel was a massive boost. I didn’t enjoy writing that book as much, as I was a bit too close to the subject matter. I actually felt quite fragile when the book came out as I was talking about my parents (both deceased) and being a young adult carer, which was a tough period of my life.


Both novels are published in the US by Amulet books (part of Abrams Kids who also publish Diary of a Wimpy Kid!) and my expectations were turned on their heads. I thought the books would do better in the US because they had Asian American authors already and large Asian American communities over there. However, the reverse has been true. I think my books do better here in the UK because they filled a gap in the market, they were seen as relatively new here and my books are very British, which is what I wanted them to be. I didn’t think readers here would pick my books up because I hadn’t been published much  before, so I felt there wasn’t a readership perhaps. But my books have shown that you can create a readership for books like mine, that have British Chinese families and characters as the central characters. We are still decades behind I would say in terms of the amount of representation of East and Southeast Asian people in the UK but it’s slowly changing. The US has book banning happening which is a backlash against the rise in the number of LGBTQ+ and books by writers of colour. That could happen here too at some point.


There were lots of things happening on Empathy Day, 8th June 2023. You were involved in an Empathy Exchange event with Sue Hendra: can you tell us more about that?


Both Danny Chung and Lizzie Chu have been on the Read for Empathy collections and this year I got to meet the legend that is Sue Hendra. I’ve been such a fan of her books for a long time as I read most of them to my kids. They’re so funny and I was so excited to be paired with her. We did an EMPATHY EXCHANGE, where we asked each other questions (that had been formulated by children) and we actively listened to each other and got to know who the other person was and how they felt about things. It was quite a deep activity, and the questions were sweet and thoughtful. Empathy is a key theme in my books. I’m always thinking about it as a value when I am writing my books.


Tiger Warrior: Battle for the Jade Rabbit, by Maisie Chan, 
publishing 14th Sept 2023. (Orchard Books/Hachette U.K.)

You have some new Tiger Warrior books heading out into the world, along with an idea for a TV drama — wow, tell us more!


I signed a deal for three more Tiger Warrior books, so you will be seeing more about Jack and the zodiac animals as they battle new creatures. I really enjoyed writing these books as they are short, and I always like finding out what the mythological creatures looked like, and I try to imagine how they would behave. The fourth book out is Tiger Warrior: Battle for the Jade Rabbit and it is linked to the Moon Festival in mid-Autumn. It’s so great writing these mythological action-adventure books in between writing the more contemporary novels that I do, and it helps show my range. I am doing more promotion of the Tiger Warrior books this year — usually I just get asked to talk about my novels, but I am doing quite a few Tiger Warrior events at major festivals, which is great.


I’m on a TV drama writing scheme and I’m coming up with an outline for a TV show. There is no guarantee of it being made but it is useful as a calling card. I’ve been steadily learning more and more about writing for screen over the past few years alongside writing my books. I’d like to adapt my novels and write original drama/comedy. But it’s not an easy industry to get into so I am not that optimistic!


You've worked with many illustrators across all your publications, and received a beautiful, framed illustration by the fantastic Rikin Parekh as part of your Jhalak Prize. Do you draw at all? Or are your collaborations more you creating just the text?


I used to love drawing as a child. I wasn’t one of those authors who grew up in a house full of books and I didn’t write my first novel when I was eight. I did, however, love to draw and I won two art competitions before I was six! But that was the extent of it. I drew less and less as I got older. I would love to write a graphic novel and have someone more talented than myself illustrate it.


For the books I’ve written, I’ve not had that much input into the illustrations, that has been the publisher’s art directors and the editors. I can give comments and feedback, but the main decisions are not mine.


I wish I had kept drawing as I would totally illustrate my own books like Louie Stowell or Erin Entrada Kelly. I’m excited to see what writer/illustrator Mina Ikemoto does with her YA novel that she is illustrating herself, it’s out with Scholastic in 2024. I’m in awe of people who can write and illustrate, it’s like a double talent.

*Header image: Ell Rose and Tita Berredo; 
book cover images courtesy of Maisie Chan.


Maisie Chan is a children's author whose debut novel Danny Chung Does Not Do Maths won the Jhalak Prize and the Branford Boase Award in 2022. Her latest novel Keep Dancing, Lizzy Chu is out now with Piccadilly Press. She also writes the Tiger Warriors series. She has written early readers for Hachette and Big Cat Collins, and has a collection of myths and legends out with Scholastic. She runs the Bubble Tea Writers Network to support and encourage writers of East and Southeast Asian (ESEA) descent in the UK. She has a dog called Miko who has big eyes. She lives in Glasgow with her family.


Sarah Broadley writes for children of all ages and lives in Edinburgh. She is a member of SCBWI Scotland, the Society of Authors and the Scottish Book Festival Network. A trustee on the board of Cymera Writing Festival, she also chats with creatives on her Words & Pictures feature Writers’ Minds and is a children’s book reviewer for on-line resource My Book Corner.


Françoise Price is Deputy Editor of Words & Pictures. Contact deputyeditor@britishscbwi.org


Ell Rose is the Illustration Features Editor of Words & Pictures. Contact them at illustrators@britishscbwi.org

Tita Berredo is the Illustrator Coordinator of SCBWI British Isles and the Art Director of Words & Pictures. Contact her at: illuscoordinator@britishscbwi.org



No comments:

We love comments and really appreciate the time it takes to leave one.
Interesting and pithy reactions to a post are brilliant but we also LOVE it when people just say they've read and enjoyed.
We've made it easy to comment by losing the 'are you human?' test, which means we get a lot of spam. Fortunately, Blogger recognises these, so most, if not all, anonymous comments are deleted without reading.

Words & Pictures is the Online Magazine of SCBWI British Isles. Powered by Blogger.