What is the name of your first book series? Our first book series is called Marble Mangosteen's Good Deed Collection.
How many books does it have?At the moment, there is book one, Surprising Mrs Rhubarbson and the Activity Book based Upon Surprising Mrs Rhubarbson. We now also have Surprising Mrs Rhubarbson (Chinese Edition). For the series itself, we aim to have at least three books.
What is Surprising Mrs Rhubarbson about? Mrs Rhubarbson has no time for herself because she’s always busy taking care of the elderly at her workplace. But it’s her birthday! Her daughter Roxy, along with her friends, Marble and Shooz, plan a surprise. They manage to make Mrs Rhubarbson very happy, but they also manage to surprise some others along the way.
How did you come up with this idea? As a teacher, I’ve come across lots of children that haven’t given due respect to their caregivers (mums, dads, grandparents, helpers or anyone else in that role). I grew up watching my mum take care of several guests, friends and relatives. Being a housewife, she’d juggle everyone, including all her children, but what about her? So… I decided to create a village with a mother character. I called her Mrs Rhubarbson. I gave her a workplace, the elderly home that takes away lots of her time. And then, I create a daughter, of course. But I didn’t want to use the name Reena, so I came up with Roxy instead. And that was the basis. It’s really an appreciation or even a tribute to my mother. The book is dedicated to her.
What is the message you want to share? Our caregivers are quite selfless when it comes to looking after others. It’s important to show kindness and appreciation towards those we take for granted sometimes. Not just children but adults as well.
You’ve been sharing the story for some time now. What feedback have you received? Since its launch in 2016, the feedback has been positive and very warm. I’ve heard children have been doing sweet things for their parents after reading it. When I sign the books, I always encourage readers to build “their own good deed collection” like the series title suggests.
What was the first piece of writing Reena published? In Year 9, Reena had to write a story based on a childhood memory. She chose to write about the time when her arm got burned because of a cup of hot tea. She called the piece "Chicken Arm" and her teacher decided to have it published in the school's literary magazine (ROAR) that year. That's when Reena knew she should try to take her writing more seriously. (Fast forward to her first year at the University of Melbourne, she submitted the SAME story - unchanged - for a writing competition and it won 3rd prize)!
You’ve decided to launch this in Chinese as well. Talk us through that process. Being born and brought up in Hong Kong, I want to focus on the Hong Kong market. When I launched the book, everything was all in English. It was received beautifully, so it gave me the confidence to go to the Hong Kong Book Fair in 2017. When I was there, I learned that there’s such a huge market in Hong Kong, waiting to get access to a story like this. It’s not been shared before, so why haven’t I targeted the local market in the local language? And I sort of had a lightbulb go on. Ting! Oh yeah! I should probably do something about that! Currently, everyone is trying to work from home, so I thought, let’s try this. Let’s launch in Chinese.
What was the translation process like? It’s not writing a new book but it’s sort of another creation of the book. Eddie Zhou and Claudia Lee have been brilliant. The two of them made the process so easy. I gave them the English version and presented an excerpt for them so they could get a feel for the tone I was looking for. After that, I shared the text with them. They got on a call with each other for a couple of hours and hammered out the translation. Then, we kept making changes along the way, until we were all satisfied. It took about two months to complete.
What did you learn from the process? They taught me a lot. One of the things that I’ve learned is that it’s really easy in English to use alliteration. Roxy Rhubarbson the raccoon rolls off the tongue pretty easy, but when you translate that into Chinese; it’s not necessary that every single word will alliterate. In fact, the surprise I got was that the characters for rhubarb are closely connected to “military” and “medicine”. Those words didn’t quite fit the message I wanted to send. I didn’t want readers thinking about the military or medicine, so I thought… Uh…we should change that. So we’ve called her Mrs Carrot in the Chinese version and we’ve decided to keep things a lot simpler. The point is that it’s still fun and it still promotes kindness, appreciation and the selflessness. The original message still holds.
Why is it such a fruit-based story? A lot of your characters, like you said “mangosteen”, “Roxy Rhubarbson”… Why the fruit? I’m a foodie. For the last several years we’ve gone into bringing a lot more fruit and veg into our diet at home. That’s just been on my mind, so I guess as a writer, it just went into the story. I write short stories for adults and a lot of those stories always involve the theme of food as well. It’s just something that happens. It’s my writing quirk.
How did you go about getting feedback on your story before it was published? I’m very privileged. I’m part of the Hong Kong Writers Circle and have been so for over 10 years. I have some really good friends that were very kind to just give the story a glance and give me their honest feedback. Some of these people are parents, so it was very helpful because they’re my target audience and target market. I also got direct feedback in terms of what their children felt about the book, which was very helpful.