What goes on in closed cupboards? Karen Wallace tells us…

Really funny books make you smile. Really, really funny books make you giggle.  Really, really, really funny books make you laugh out loud.  And that’s embarrassing if you’re on a bus or a train and there are people around you. But that’s what happened when I read Karen Wallace’s award-winning Raspberries on the Yangtze. First published in 2000, it’s been so popular it’s being re-jacketed (yes, even books have to put jackets on in the winter) and re-published this month. Watch this space.


Raspberries on the Yangtze is not a story about fruit-pickers beside Asia’s longest river. Based on Wallace’s own childhood, it’s the story of a girl, Nancy, growing up in the magical backwoods of Quebec, Canada.  Nancy is down-to-earth, practical and desperate to know everything about everything. Her older brother, Andrew, is a dreamer and a pain (he holds Nancy’s dolls as if he’s grasping a screwdriver) and their friends, Clare and Amy, live their lives between a tumbledown house and the back of a huge old car. Wallace writes: ‘They were like river nymphs or tree spirits, roaming in the woods and living in their make-believe worlds. They were the sort of kids who could have had wings tucked under their tattered blouses and no one would have been surprised.’


And then there’s Tracy and Sandra. Both wear tartan pedal pushers, only Tracy looks like a model from a mail order magazine and Sandra looks like ‘a pig that has sat on a waffle iron.’ But Nancy knows there’s more to Tracy and Sandra’s strange house than they are letting on – and her curiosity leads her to find out more…


Moontrug caught up with Karen Wallace and asked her a few questions about raspberries and rivers.


MOONTRUG: You grew up in a log cabin in Quebec, much like Nancy. What was your best childhood memory from living there?
WALLACE: My childhood was spent in the woods and on the river.  Many of my best memories are in Raspberries on the Yangtze, like paddling on my log and catching bullfrog tadpoles in the slimiest pond ever.  It was a wild and wonderful childhood and funds all of my writing.


MOONTRUG: If you could go back and be a child again in Quebec, is there anything you would have done differently?
WALLACE: Absolutely not.  It was perfect in its time and place.


MOONTRUG: We hear you’re writing a book set in World War 2 about a friendship between a girl and a pig. Are we allowed to know any more at this stage?
WALLACE: I am really enjoying writing this story, It’s funny, dark and poignant.  Meantime the editor who is waiting for it is very, very patient!


MOONTRUG: Do you have a particular writing pattern or do you just write wherever, whenever?
WALLACE: I write most days when I am not visiting schools or fairs.  I’ve been freelance for a long time and while the ability to write is a gift, you have to work at it.  To my mind, writing books is a job like anything else.


Raspberries on the Yangtze is a brilliant ‘coming-of-age’ story – filled with a real childhood sense of wonder and fear. Best to read the funniest bits at home though – because when Nancy sells Sandra ‘The Facts Of Life’ (her thriving business of telling friends that babies are made in cupboards and born with clothes on) you’ll be laughing so hard the other people on the bus or train will think you’re really, really odd…