ADVENTURE IN 19th CENTURY CHINA
Interview with Madeleine McLaughlin
I recently finished Madeleine McLaughlin’s middle-grade adventure novel called Beggar
Charlie. Set in China when the opium trade flourished, it follows the journey of young
Charlie when he and a companion are stranded alone after a rebellion. Told from
Charlie’s point of view, we experience the horror and fear of trying to survive and get
back home. Madeleine McLaughlin also writes for adults, but today she joins me to talk
about writing for the younger set.
I’m always interested in how a story comes to an author. Was it this period in history, or the character of Charlie that first came to mind?
Well, I’m very interested in the 19th century. I’ve read a lot about that age in China plus Victorian England. There was a lot of interesting stuff going on back then. In China, the opium wars, the opening of China to foreigners and of course Cixi, the Empress. So, wanting to write a boy’s adventure story (girls like it, too) I decided on that era. Then I had to think of my main character. Well, what’s more Victorian than the character of the orphan? Nothing! Voila, Beggar Charlie was born.
Every part of your novel feels authentic. What kind of research was necessary to get the details right so that the reader felt this?
Like stated above, I have been reading history books about this era for many years. History is fascinating. But I also looked for diagrams on the internet about the shape of cities in China at that time. You can always find something on the internet. Also, Victorian England is a favorite study of mine mostly because it’s where a lot of today’s sciences began. Botany, Geology, Paleontology were all begun in England in the Victorian era. And the study of London is so interesting and of course, a bit sad because of all the poor and disadvantaged people who had no way out. But really, anyone or anything you can learn from is good.
Did you read adventure tales when you were growing up? Did any of them resurface as you worked on Beggar Charlie?
Never. I read mysteries and horse stories. Nancy Drew and Donna Parker. I was a big fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie which is kind of adventurous but it’s a real history. No Kipling or anything even remotely adventure.
How did writing a middle-grade novel affect the way you handled writing about drugs and violence?
Well, I tend to believe that the young kids nowadays are exposed to drugs and violence very early. There are all sorts of violent cartoons to wean them on and tv shows tend to be nothing but guns, guns, guns. The term glorifying violence comes to mind. And then in the hip-hop music scene you have all sorts of overdoses and pill popping. So, although it may be fair to criticize any writer for putting it in (and I have been) I tried to ‘tell it like it is’. That is, opium destroyed China and violence was the result. The Boxer Rebellion comes to mind. That’s my idea here, to tell the truth through fiction.
Do you tend to use outlines for your writing projects or do they grow more organically?
I didn’t use an outline for Beggar Charlie. I just wrote until I ran out of steam and then I thought about what I would write the next day before I went to sleep.
What aspect of writing brings you the most joy and what do you find most challenging?
Just the rush of writing it down is good. I mean, your story is usually not great then but the rush of ideas and the writing them down feel good. It feels uplifting. The challenge is to get everything straight all your seasons exactly right (instead of starting a scene in winter and ending in summer) and all the rewriting cohesive.
What are you currently working on?
Another middle-grade book entitled, The Last Words of Edward Broome. I’ve almost finished the first draft.
For more information on Madeleine McLaughlin’s book, check out the following links:
Amazon link: goo.gl/cp9NTS
MuseItUp link: goo.gl/QrvMBB