Clara Ng has published about 40 books, from complex novels to easy-to-read pop trilogies, but she is best known for her fairy tales, with some of her more popular works having been translated into English. Clara’s newest book, “Dongeng Tujuh Menit” (“The Seven-Minute Tales”), will be released this year. Today, she talks about the benefits of daydreaming and explains why parents shouldn’t worry if their children have an imaginary friend.
How did you start in creative writing and why do you prefer writing stories for children?
To tell the truth, I have no idea how or where it all began. Everything just flowed naturally and it all fit. OK, here’s how it started. When I was studying abroad, I had the privilege of enjoying many American children’s books, and I was full of admiration for the writers and illustrators for their ability to turn what was in their imaginations into words and pictures. So, they were the ones who inspired me to write.
How do you come up with the characters featured in your stories?
I have an ability to daydream anytime. Daydreaming is the gate to enter the castle of inspiration and it allows me to observe the world around me. Daydreaming is the mirror that reflects the beauty of life.
Do your own children serve as a source of inspiration for your stories?
Yes, my children are an endless source of inspiration. I love their laughter, their sweet lips, their innocent faces and their cute dimples. I love to see their spirit and admire their ability to forgive and forget. I really enjoy how smart they are. Their questions about the universe sometimes make my heart stop. I just love to watch them, they are my little treasures.
Do you read stories to your children at bedtime? Which do you prefer: reading one of your own books or books by other authors?
Yes, I read to them. Telling stories to my children is an important routine that I’ve done every night since they were babies. I love reading them all types of books, but not necessarily my own. My children need to know stories from books written by other authors, not just those by their mother.
In your opinion, can children absorb a story that’s read to them before they go to sleep? Do you think the story sometimes carries over and influences their dreams?
My two children always enjoy a bedtime story, a quiet time before sleeping. I’m a strong believer that nightmares come from our stressful day-to-day activities, therefore, reading or listening to a good book before going to bed eases this pressure. A good book makes a child fall asleep with a beautiful smile on his or her face.
Which fairy-tale characters grabbed your attention when you were a child?
The story that made the biggest impression on me in my childhood was “The Snow Queen,” written by Hans Christian Andersen. There’s no simple explanation as to why I loved the story so much. Maybe because I didn’t have many books at the time and it was the only book that I read. It’s very beautiful. I couldn’t stop reading it. The children’s names in the book are Gerda and Kay, and when I gave birth to my second daughter, I took one of the names for Catrina’s middle name. My daughters are Elysa Faith Ng and Catrina Kay Ng.
How do you compare locally created children’s heroes with what might be considered far more exciting international heroes like Superman or Spider-Man?
The story of Bobo in the Bobo children’s magazine features a local character that has always held a special place in my heart. I practically grew up with Bobo. Its success shows that we here in Indonesia are also able to create a famous character that can live on for generations.
Is the central figure in a fairy tale always going to be a hero?
Without a villain, a hero cannot be born. Good will never be good without the opposite. I don’t believe a children’s story has to rely on the hero-villain issue. We should learn that life is not always about good fighting evil and chasing it away. It is also about passing beyond both of them.
What if a child has an imaginary friend? Do parents need to worry?
It’s part of growing up. Over time, a child will find real friends in life. We don’t need to bring them to a psychiatrist.
Is a child who likes acting out stories with dolls and toys likely to grow up to be a storyteller?
Pablo Picasso said that every child is an artist. Yes, I believe that children are talented in many ways. However, I think parents should forget the idea of talent for while. The word “talent” has been abused by many people to push their children to fulfill their own unfulfilled dreams. Talent should emerge effortlessly in every child while he or she is growing.
How do you come up with the names for your characters?
I think the names of characters in children’s books should be simple and easy to remember. So, when I create a name, I try and see it from a child’s perspective. I try to imagine what it would be like to be another kid in their class. I try to guess what their friends’ names are. Put it this way; the name should be lighthearted and consist of two syllables. Among the names I have used in my books are Bugi, Upik, Benji and Dini.