FAQs

Here are some more Cheng details. These are the questions lots of people ask me.

The serious

Do you ever put people you know in your stories?

Sometimes I certainly do. Most of my fiction characters are based on people I know – not just one person but bits and pieces from a few people.

How do you choose the names for your books / characters?

I have a book of names that I sometimes use but as I create a character in my head I also create their name based often on what that character is doing … so that is an Ashley character or she acts like a Sarah …

How do you come up with your ideas?

Sometimes I am given the idea by the publisher. Sometimes a publisher asks me to write for a series and I might discuss the concept with my wife and she helps me with ideas. Sometimes an object stimulates a writing idea. Sometimes I just wake up in the middle of the night and seem to know what to write next. And then I have a few books full of my observations and recollections that ‘could’ become ideas for stories.

How do you decide where to begin?

For me it is usually getting the story plotted out and then starting where I feel most comfortable. Usually that is the beginning, but sometimes I have written the end of the book first (because I was afraid of forgetting the end after thinking about the book for sooooo long) and then I went back to the start.

How long does it take to write a book?

How long is a piece of string? It really depends on the book but for all books it is not simply sitting down to write the story. There is the research and the blending and cooking time before the actual writing begins. Of course once the draft is completed I start at the beginning again and edit story. Often it takes a few more complete rewrites, maybe six or seven, before the book is cooked! One of my picture books has taken years to write!

If you get stuck for an idea what do you do?

I probably jump to another piece of writing I am working on – it could be a another book or it might even be research. But I do spend heaps of time researching and plotting and planning so often when I am physically writing it flows out … that is because I have planned the book out before I begin.

What advice can you offer aspiring authors?

Write every day, be observant, plan your stories, enjoy what you do.

What is the hardest part of writing for you?

That would definitely have to be the editing … but that is part of the craft. I can write a lot of material for a story and then I have to go through the editing process. Sometimes this may take 5 or more rewrites before I am ready to send it to the editor … who then tells me that the story is wonderful BUT it requires a little more finessing.

What is your best book so far?

The next book

What is your favourite character and why?

At the moment, it would have to be Edward from The Melting Pot … he is a bit like me. But all my characters are special. I created them.

What was your first book / writing?

My first published book was Eyespy Book of Night Creatures but I also wrote a Teacher’s Resource book with Libby Hathorn. I wrote lots and lots of teaching material at the zoo as well as a few units of work for teachers. When I was teaching in Bourke I even contributed to a newspaper column in the local newspaper about the school happenings. Oh and I love writing letters to my family and friends … email is such a wonderful thing!

Where do you get your ideas from?

Anywhere and everywhere and I-don’t-know-where. I have a book that I carry around with me most places that I use to scribble down ideas from things that I might hear or see. When I wake up in the middle of the night with a story idea or the next part of a story I scribble it down on the pad next to our bed. I might even sneak out of the room and sit on the steps and write the story so I don’t disturb my wife.

Where do you write?

In my office surrounded by books at my computer. I have a wardrobe mirror that is my planning wall (at the moment it has a map of George Street, Sydney 1910). My desk is a huge old desk that came from a stationmaster’s office. There is a telephone close by (although I often don’t answer it) and often a CD playing music – classical or jazz.

The not so serious

Are you rich?

I have the best job, a fantastic wife, wonderful family and friends. I think that I am very, very, very rich.

Do you have any pets?

The only animals that I have here are the lorikeets that are chirping in the bottlebrush tree outside my window, the cockatoos that squawk from neighbours’ trees, and the flying foxes that feast on the figs in the park nearby. Oh, and there are the wandering cats which I encourage not to stay long!

Do you like going to schools?

I really enjoy school visits and seeing what work kids create with me or based on my work.

Do you remember your teachers?

Absolutely. I have a few that are still good friends; teachers from my primary school years, my lecturer from university days, and then teachers who I have taught with. One of my primary school teachers was a fantastic storyteller and would reward his class with stories that he made up of his adventures with Dr Waddington. And another primary school teacher chose me to take the lead role in the end of year school play. She then saw me a few times as I moved through the teaching system.

How old are you?

Old enough … still!

How would you spend your last ten dollars?

Very wisely and I would spend it with my wife. I might even spend it on her!

What else do you do besides writing?

Lots of things. When my wife is home we do stacks of things together, go to movies, read books, long walks, we totally enjoy being together.

I am the domestic help at home so I love to spend time cooking in the kitchen trying out new recipes that I might have seen in a magazine or a new cookbook. I do the washing and the vacuuming too. If my house is dirty I can’t concentrate on my writing.

What rituals are part of your writing program?

Before I start the writing day I must have all domestic duties done. Turning on the computer, having all my reference books close at hand (I hate having to search for something that I know I have somewhere in the house) taking a break from the computer screen and keyboard every 20 minutes (I sometimes set my computer alarm to chime for breaks), having jazz or classical music wafting in the background … but no other distractions.

What are the most memorable things that have happened to you as an author?

There are a few … turning up to a school and seeing the class all wearing masks from my books; having kids surprise me acting out one of my stories; having a boy tell me that I must have written the story just for him.

What were you like growing up?

I was the most kind, generous, loving, considerate, conscientious, studious, courteous, considerate, brave, … person … hey I write fiction and non-fiction so at least some of this is true!

Where and when were you born?

In Sydney, in the 20th Century.

Will you ever change your job?

Not likely! Why change when I already have the best job in the world and I enjoy it sooooo much.

And the simply crazy

Will you ever cut your hair?

Only if it gets too unmanageable – or I lose too much of it!

What’s the oldest animal that has ever lived?

Hmmmmm …