It’s called Shadow Sister. I don’t want to give away too much, but it is the continuing story of Kai and Tao (a teenage dragon and a teenage boy) as they develop their relationship and try to avoid their responsibilities. It may or may not involve ghosts, spiders and a murderous beast.
It is obvious that you have done extensive research on China and dragon myths before writing each book in this series. What is involved in your research?
A lot of reading, and tracking down obscure books and then more reading. The era that Blood Brothers and Shadow Sister are both set in, known as the Sixteen Kingdoms, has been particularly challenging as it was a time of chaos with no central government. I always look for images wherever I can. I like to see images of paintings and artefacts from the era; it helps make the era easier to imagine. Fortunately there is an excellent collection of books on China in the Melbourne Uni library.
For the first Dragonkeeper book I hardly used the internet at all as there was very little about ancient China. Now I use it much more, but unless it’s an article by someone who is an expert in the field (e.g. ancient Chinese cities, Chinese herbal medicine), I still like to confirm it in a book.
As for dragon myths, there is one book that pretty much has the lot: The Dragon in China and Japan, written in 1913. I have my own copy of that!
You have visited many schools across the country to talk about the Dragonkeeper series. What questions do you get asked? What is the strangest question you’ve been asked?
The question I never know the answer to is “Why do you write about dragons?” I really don’t know. They are fascinating. I often get asked if I’m going to write about other mythical creatures such as griffins or unicorns. The answer is no. Dragons are the only mythical creatures for me!
What books did you read as a child? Do you think about the books you liked as a child when you are writing now?
I wasn’t a very adventurous reader as a child. As a young child I loved the Rupert Bear books. Later, I read whatever came my way, e.g. the classics of children’s lit such as Heidi, Little Women and The Old Curiosity Shop. Even as a child I liked non-fiction. I remember requesting a number of the Ladybird series of books on topics such as wildflowers, trains and foreign countries – including one on Australia! (I was born in England.)
No, I don’t think about those books as I write. Once I’ve got the story worked out and I start writing, my head is in that world and the only books I think about are the earlier books in the series.
So you’re a plotter?
Yes and no. I always plan my books. Usually I write a synopsis of about three pages. There tends to be a lot of detail about the beginning of the novel, and I have a firm idea of what happens at the end, plus there might be a couple of other key scenes. But the rest is pretty sketchy. It’s while I’m writing that I think of the elements that make the story interesting and, I hope, surprising. It’s hard to describe. With Shadow Sister, I knew that Tao had to discover his unique qi power, but I didn’t know what that was until I was halfway through the first draft.
What do you hope readers take away from the Dragonkeeper series?
First and foremost, the feeling that they’ve enjoyed the experience of reading the books, that the story gripped them and they cared about the characters. If along the way they happen to ponder the issues of equality, breaking down discrimination, female empowerment and advancement through personal application, then that’s a bonus.
My characters don’t start off with special skills, they have to work hard to hone them, to unearth them. So I’d like to think that some readers, perhaps those who don’t think of themselves as special, will be encouraged to strive to achieve something great.
The most asked question is “What happened to Ping?” I wanted to let readers decide for themselves, create their own life for Ping post-dragons, but in the end I gave in and wrote the Lost Letter from Ping.
I think the strangest question I have been asked (in an email, not at a school) is “Are there any tall trees in Australia?”