Hong Kong author Sarah Brennan reveals her latest Calendar Tale
It’s the turn of the 19th century and the brave and noble Desmond Dog is the hero of Hong Kong, a little fishing village where Aberdeen lies today. Meanwhile, the South China Sea is being terrorised by the notorious pirate queen Ching Shih and her Red Flags. One fine morning, the Red Flags sail into Hong Kong harbour. Desmond fiercely defends the villagers, but is captured and tied to the mast…
This is the thrilling plotline to Desmond Dog, author Sarah Brennan’s eleventh and latest Calendar Tale, which has just been launched in time for Chinese New Year. She says the story has been a long time coming.
“The first day I moved into my first office in Tin Wan, I looked out of the window and saw a village dog barking on the deck of a fishing boat which was leaving Aberdeen Harbour. That, I said to myself, is my character for the Year of the Dog. And I’ve always loved the true story of Ching Shih and her Red Flags. So putting the two nautical characters together seemed a perfect combination.”
The historical angle to all of Brennan’s Calendar Tales is fascinating. Little by little, she builds up her readers’ Chinese historical knowledge-base. Personally I had no idea, for example, about Aberdeen being little Hong Kong.
“I knew about the pirate queen Ching Shih after writing about her in a series for the Young Post a few years ago,” admits Brennan. “But I didn’t know that Hong Kong was in fact the fishing village where Aberdeen is today, nor that the Brits had mistakenly taken the name of that little village as the name for the whole island! That came up during research for the book – and surprises like this are just one of the reasons I love writing about Chinese history for kids.”
She says the book took about two weeks to research and write, given that the rough story idea had been developed some years ago. “Once I’ve done my research, I always plan my story page by page first before writing the first draft. Then comes the difficult bit which is the editing, so that the rhyming verse sounds natural and unforced. This time it took me a full 19 edits.
“For the research I use the internet of course, referring as much as possible to original sources, but I also have some fantastic books about Chinese history in my own home library to which I regularly refer. In particular I would recommend Ann Paludan’s comprehensive Chronicle of the Chinese Emperors, published by Thames and Hudson.
“As a child myself, I adored Dr Seuss and Enid Blyton and couldn’t get enough of their books. After that, I remember falling in love with series like Anne of Green Gables and The Chronicles of Avonlea, Swallows and Amazons, What Katy Did, Little Women and Little House on the Prairie. And Australian classics like Blinky Bill, Seven Little Australians, and Snugglepot and Cuddlepie. When I look at them today, they still hold up as beautifully written, absorbing stories for kids, and my own girls fell in love with them just as I did at similar ages.”
Brennan now has just one Calendar Tale left to complete the series, which is of course for the Year of the Pig in 2019. “While I can tell you it will be dedicated to my beloved husband, who is a perfect Pig in the nicest possible way, you’d have to torture me to find out the rest,” she smiles enigmatically.
All of the Calendar Tales are available from Bookazine and other English bookshops in Hong Kong and online at chinesecalendartales.com.