From Beijing to Canberra – on blog tour with Tania McCartney …part 1

I have much pleasure in welcoming the multi-talented author and editor, Tania McCartney. Because her interview was so fascinating I couldn’t stop asking questions – hence, it is in two posts. Catch up on us this afternoon when this blog hosts Part 2 of Beijing to Canberra.

Tania McCartney wears many hats including publisher, blogger, book reviewer, mother and the list goes on. She is also a fabulous supporter of children’s literature and literacy, as shown by a wonderful blog site for anyone interested in children, books, learning and literacy, KIDS BOOK REVIEW. The newest book in her Riley series of travelogue picture books will be launched in Canberra tomorrow.

Welcome, Tania. You’ve travelled to lots of other blogs on this Blog Tour to launch your new book, Riley and the Curious Koala.  So I’ll continue the travelling theme by taking you back to China, 2005, when you, your husband and two very young children landed in Beijing. This fascinating city would be your home for four years.  Beijing must have been a huge culture shock for you.

It was. But more than that – it was a pleasant shock. I honestly expected things to be really difficult for us, but we ‘assimilated’ so quickly and easily – my head is still spinning. The Chinese are so incredibly warm and welcoming and interested in Westerners… we felt so safe and welcome in China – the way local people shared their lives with us was surreal.

I do think the Embassy support and Westernised living arrangements we were given helped us settle so quickly but we didn’t live on compound – we lived in a high-rise tower block and lived a very ‘local’ life, so we weren’t ‘sheltered’ too much. Our ayi (maid) spoke no English and we really immersed ourselves in the local culture as much as humanly possible. We didn’t hide inside the Embassy Walls… why live in a mini Australia? Australia was always waiting for us – we wanted the full China experience.

In a Beijing courtyard

Q: Did you get to mix with the locals very much, Tania? I ask because, in 1978 I visited China for several weeks. It was the year after Mao died and the Australian embassy was in its infancy. The only Western faces in the streets were those who worked in the diplomatic service in Beijing, so we Chang Bizi – long noses (Chinese nickname for Westerners) were an oddity, especially up in the Manchuria. But even with the Chinese Government ‘guides’ escorting us everywhere, there were many occasions where ‘sign language’ was an instant connection with friendly, interested and welcoming people in the streets. A smile goes a long way! Is that what you found too?

Oh my. I am still stunned. I had a real preconception on what the Chinese would be like, and they blew that out of the water. I expected them to be guarded, reserved, even officious or cold – but I don’t think I’ve met such warm, humble, accommodating people anywhere in the world.

I would have loved to see China before the West crept in. There are certainly parts of the country where the West is totally absent – and that is an incredible thing to witness first hand – but to see Beijing or Shanghai or other cities in the way people did in the 70s – even the 80s and 90s… I’ve heard incredible stories about how it was then.

When we arrived in 2005, a ride in the car meant cruising behind a gaggle of bicycles 30 wide and 10 deep. When we left early in early 2009, I sighted two or three bicycles on our way to the airport. The entire skyline from our 26th floor apartment changed in our four years in the capital. The change was so rapid, it was breathtaking and also frightening. We watched hutong buildings crumble to the ground – entire acres razed to make way for high tech Korean shopping malls. The Beijing of even 10 years ago is almost completely lost – it’s a Westernised city now and I feel so blessed to have witnessed and enjoyed what we did. I can’t wait to go back and see how much it’s changed since we lived there.

Tania and the Great Wall of China

Q: It was here in Beijing where you took up writing as a career. Tell us what happened and how it lead to the first Riley book.

Actually, my career as a writer started in my teens. I wrote three adult novels and several non-fiction ms between the ages of 19 and 27, and my first magazine article was published at 20. My first book was published by Hodder Headline in 1995 (You Name It, Tania Winter Buck). The thing with my writing career is that it’s stalled a lot. I’ve moved over 60 times in my life, have lived in 4 countries and almost every Australian state, so my nomadic life has meant many job changes and ups and downs.

Beijing was the start of my full-time writing career, and I’m enormously grateful for our time there… since coming home to Australia I’ve been fortunate enough to sell enough books and gain enough freelance work to make it full-time and I couldn’t be happier.

Reading a Riley book to the international kids in Beijing

The first Riley book – Riley and the Sleeping Dragon: A journey around Beijing – was written because I have quite the children’s book obsession, and I wanted to give writing one a go. I essentially wrote the book as a memento for my kids to remember their time in Beijing. Combining photos with illustrations was the perfect way to recreate this vision… and everyone else thought so, too! It was then that I decided to self-publish it and the rest is history.

I sold something like 2000 copies in the three months before we left Beijing and the book, much to my delight, has done incredibly well back in Australia – it even appeared in the ASA’s Kids Reading Guide 2009/2010 and still sells well in several Chinese cities and all over Australia. Hence the series – and the imminent release of book three!

CHECK IN LATER TODAY for more of Tania’s adventures in Beijing with two young children and ‘time on her hands’ …..

Final two days of Tania’s blog tour tomorrow at these links:

Saturday 20 November
Kids Book Review

The conversation will take place all day long – just post a question and Tania will answer.
Sunday 21 November
Sandy Fussell’s Stories are Light Blog
Sunday 21 November
Kids Book Review
Sunday 21 November, in the evening
Tania McCartney Blog
Join Tania as she takes you through her book launch party, held at Dalton’s Bookstore in Canberra City. There will be photos, stories about the launch and lots of fun!


3 thoughts on “From Beijing to Canberra – on blog tour with Tania McCartney …part 1

  1. Oh, dear. You make me so homesick for China. LOL. We’ve been there twice for brief trips (one was vacation/research and one was adoption/research). Though only two years passed between the two trips, the changes amazed us. They had started preparing for the Olympics during our first trip. The preparations were all but done by our second trip. I hope we can return someday!


  2. Thank you for a very interesting post on your time in China. What an amazing experience!

    Congratulations on your success with The Riley series.
    I haven’t read one yet but look forward to getting my hands on one.


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