The Hong Kong Young Readers Festival aims to encourage children to discover the joy of reading and the world of books through workshops and meet-the-author sessions. It’s all happening from 6 to 17 March, when a diverse range of children’s authors and illustrators will be participating in school and public workshops. You can find details of the public workshops here, hopefully your young readers will find them inspiring!
Matthew Cooper has written three children’s books set right here in the Hong Kong, and he’ll be visiting schools as part of the Young Readers Festival. We asked him to tell us what it’s like to be a writer here in HK, and why he got involved with the Hong Kong Young Readers Festival.
What inspires you about Hong Kong?
Hong Kong just cries out to be written about – there is so much diversity in a very small area. My first book was about transport, because in Hong Kong you can travel on more than a dozen forms of transport in a day. My second book was about Hong Kong’s natural environment because if you explore the SAR it’s not all urban sprawl – you can see a multitude of habitats including mountains, sea, forests, rivers, wetlands, and mangroves. My next book is about festivals and celebrates the fact that you can see Chinese, Western, Buddhist, Hindu and Moslem festivals in one city. This cultural, structural and geographical richness makes HK fascinating to me.
What’s the biggest challenge of writing for children?
One of the biggest challenges is pitching the writing at the appropriate level. It’s a balancing act between using words the readers can understand but also extending them a bit with some new ones and making sure their parents, who might well be reading to them, aren’t too bored. Ultimately it’s very hard to know whether you’ve written a book that’s truly appealing to the age group you’ve aimed it at.
Is Hong Kong a good place to be a writer?
Hong Kong’s small size makes it easy to meet people and visit key places, such as schools. It’s also relatively cheap to distribute your own books when you’re starting off. The writing community is pretty small, but growing, and people tend to help each other rather than viewing them as the competition. So I’d say it’s a really good place to be a writer.
Why did you become involved with the Young Readers Festival?
I was told about the Festival by a fellow author who said how much he’d enjoyed being part of it the previous year, so when I was asked to take part I jumped at the chance. I thought that my children would be blown away that I was involved, with their respect for me soaring off the scale. But of course I was wrong!
What’s it like to meet your readers in person?
I love meeting young readers when I visit schools. You never know what questions they will ask (apart from the old favourites of ‘how old are you?’ and ‘how much do you earn?’) and I enjoy it when you get the occasional heckler.
How do you think kids benefit from attending events like the Young Readers Festival?
I think they get exposed to stories and subjects they might not explore under their own steam. I know from experience with my own children that it’s easy for them to focus solely on one author at the expense of others. And I think it’s nice for them to meet ‘real’ authors, see that they’re normal people, and realise that writing is something that they can do too. But mostly this year I want them to learn about the Hainan Gibbon, the subject of my latest book and the most endangered primate on the planet. It lives just an hour’s flight from Hong Kong but no one knows about it so it’s at real risk of becoming extinct.
Matthew Cooper is a writer and father of two. He has written three children’s books set in Hong Kong and its vicinity: Lost in Hong Kong, Black Rain Day – A Hong Kong Adventure, and The Last Gibbon. Matthew has lived in Hong Kong for over 10 years and in that time he has worked as a medical writer (abandoned as it was a bad job for a hypochondriac) and a stay-at-home dad (so named because of the expression that people on the street regularly shouted at him). He plans to write more books, both for children and adults, in the fiction and non-fiction genres.