Doing the Write Thing: Pauline Loh
In her YA novel, Lion Boy and Drummer Girl, award-winning author Pauline Loh introduced us to the world of Leopop—the alternative universe where lion dance has become as popular K-pop, with charming boys entertaining hordes of screaming fans. Now she returns to that universe once again fo her follow-up, Lion Boys and Fan Girls.
Two of the lion dancers—Prome (short for Prometheus) and Mercury (not short for anything)—are determined that their troupe, Lion Legends, be the pride of lion dance in the Lion City. So they both make a pact: no dating of any sort until they become the best that they can be. But, to paraphrase that old saying, even the best-laid plans can go awry when you throw two fangirls into the mix. Not only that, someone is threatening the Lion Legends. With all that's going on, can Prome and Mercury achieve their goal?
Pauline's imagination and creativity have been evident in her children's books, (such as Robot in My Playground) and her non-fiction books (Keep Calm and Mother On), and here, she sheds light on the story behind the story of Lion Boys and Fan Girls.
What is Lion Boys and Fan Girls about? At the heart of the Leopop wave are Lion Legends’ five boys. Since the first book, Lion Boy and Drummer Girl focused only on one of the Legends’ boys—Rick Wa Wa—it stands to reason that one book is not enough! So, each of the subsequent books will put the spotlight on the other boys.
You’re revisiting the world of Leopop again, but this time the focus isn’t on Ricky, the central character in Lion Boy and Drummer Girl, but Prome and Mercury instead. Why did you decide to do this? If I have to be frank, Prome is everything I admire in a young man. He is responsible, aspires to have all the answers to life (even if he has to make some of them up along the way) and loyal. His friendship with Mercury is as strong as strong can be. I’ll like to think of Lion Boys and Fan Girls as a celebration of brotherhood.
What do you like about lion dance? Everything! The vibrant colours, the energy, the costumes, the drums! Lion dance is a contrast of extremes. On the surface, we see the insouciance of the lion dancers, and we forget the depth of commitment, long hours of gruelling practice and even danger that they put themselves through in order to bring this art to us, the audience.
I particularly love the drums. In Lion Boy and Drummer Girl, Ying Ying says “all humans’ first awareness is the drumbeat of the mother’s heart”. The beat of a drum awakens the most primal instincts in us, so never underestimate it. In fact, I always think that a bass drum should be labelled “Danger!” or at least be painted with the skull and crossbones.
Were there any challenges in revisiting the world of Leopop?Yes, the vital statistics of pubescent boys can change dramatically overnight. I see this in my own son. He wakes up in the morning and, suddenly, I have to crane my neck to look up at him. I had a hard time keeping track of the height and weight of the Legends’ boys. Size is a big bone of contention among the Legends!
You have written many different types of stories for adults, young children and these for teens. How do you know when a story works? When I find myself laughing or crying while reading my manuscript, I believe I am on to a good thing. However, the test of fire still has to be the audience’s reaction. If their emotions are ignited, then I know I have done my job.
Fiction, to be believable, has to be founded on truth. Therefore, research and interviews are a necessary part of writing fiction. For the sake of researching my stories, I’ve talked with really fascinating people, like gangsters, lion dance troupe shifus, a tetraplegic and Craze Ultramarathoners.
What advice would you give an aspiring writer? Respect your imagination. For young adult fiction, I also believe that character development is very important. I have a slogan: “A character can only be real to your reader when she or he is real to you—as real as a person”
What I mean is that characters cannot be one dimensional and exist only to serve the plot. Sometimes, their personalities may wreak havoc on a plot. Well, isn’t this a mirror of real life?
Is there going to be another story in the world of Leopop? Yes, yes, yes! They’re growing boys, they’re idols going places, and there are five of them, each with their own story to tell! Most of all, they have their hearts in the right places and I believe they have a message for their generation. There is so much to say about these Legends’ boys.