Saturday, September 4, 2021

MEET THE AUTHOR: JOSEPHINE CHIA, author of Queen of the Sky, published by Penguin Random House SEA

Note: This showcase features five kids’ fiction authors, all proudly published by Penguin Random House SEA. When the pandemic is over, we'll get back to in-person book launch events. But for now, enjoy this virtual version. More info here.
Please introduce yourself!
I am Josephine Chia. I am a Peranakan and am from Singapore. I’ve always been a closet writer and used to write short stories which I didn’t show anyone. Finally, when I was in my twenties, I summoned enough courage to submit a short story to SINGA, now defunct, the literary journal of Singapore. It published two of my short stories. My next big break was in UK in 1992 when my short story was long-listed, then shortlisted, then came in the top twelve for the UK Ian St James Awards. It was published in an anthology by Harper Collins UK.

The publicity resulted in two Singapore publishers approaching me so my first collection of short stories was published by Angsana Books and my first novel was published by Landmark Books. After I returned to Singapore to live, I wrote about my kampong Potong Pasir. This book, Kampong Spirit, Gotong Royong won the Singapore Literature inaugural prize for Non-Fiction in 2014. My YA novel, Big Tree in a Small Pot won the 2019 Publishers Book Award. Altogether, I’ve had 13 books published, both in UK and Singapore.

Tell us about your book.
Queen of the Sky is my first Children’s Novel. I had a Children’s Non-Fiction book and YA novel published before this. In my years of growing up, little girls, especially those from poor villages could not fulfill their ambition due to lack of funds and schooling opportunities. I wanted to write a book about a modern girl who can fulfill hers. The main character, nine-year old Amelia, wants to be a jet-pilot. Her mother does not approve but her Great Grand Mother (whom she calls GGM) encourages her.

GGM had a brief encounter with the famous American aviatrix Amelia Earhart who had flown into Singapore’s Kallang Airport in 1947, before her plane disappeared. Ms Earhart spoke about flying so eloquently that GGM had always wanted to experience flying. But her hard life took over so she couldn’t. Now that her great grand-daughter had expressed her dream of becoming  a pilot, GGM was very happy to encourage her and she told her the story of her meeting with Amelia Earhart.

I wanted to bring in a slice of Singapore history that not many people know about and weave it into my novel. Amelia Earhart was called the Queen of the Sky as she was a pioneer for women pilots, hence I thought it would make a good title.

What was your creative process like?
Though I had read about Ms Earhart’s stop-over in Singapore in 1947, I was not born during that period so I had to research the facts. However, I did know about the kampongs, ie attap villages that were situated along the Kallang River. This was the location where I set the scene of Ms Earhart going for a quiet walk, away from the airport, and she encountered GGM.  I also had to research the first female pilot in Singapore, both for jets and commercial planes. I also had to research the oldest person who sky-dived.

Once I had the facts, I created a modern girl Amelia who dreamt of being a pilot. She has a special relationship with GGM who was about to celebrate her 90th birthday. Since her family asked GGM what she wanted as a birthday present, GGM said she would like to experience a tandem sky-diving which horrified her family. Only little Amelia understood her GGM’s dream.

Has the pandemic affected your book promotion?
Luckily, PRH did manage to have a book launch pre-Covid. I also managed to include this book at my talk to Dulwich College where there was a club or something called Amelia Earhart. But other than that, all my school visits were cancelled during the Covid pandemic which made it impossible to do readings.
Any advice for aspiring writers who want to write or launch a kids' novel in the coming year?
First of all, make sure you read lots of Children’s Novels. Second, don’t treat kids as stupid. They are very intelligent and can cope with big words (though they are not always necessary) and complex ideas. Thirdly, make the story exciting and entertaining. Kids love adventures and thrills. Make sure there are some challenges too. Fourthly, introduce some pathos, some pain or suffering. If you enjoy reading your own story, the child will too!


You can check out the other four authors here, they’re all eager to tell you about their lovely books.