"You are a kind mother / Who feeds the needy / Who cares for the sick / Who protects the weak / People say, 'Thanks!'" Thus writes Kinsey Fong, age seven, in his poem You Are the Yangtze, which won a prize in his age group at the 2012 Hong Kong Young Writers Awards.
The annual competition invites young writers to submit their works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. And for budding artists, there is an art category, with the winning entry reproduced as the cover art for the anthology in which the shortlisted works are published.
I read through the anthologies from past years and was impressed that the works came from a wide range of genres written by boys and girls from local and international schools across Hong Kong and the mainland. Each year a theme is selected. Recent ones are New Tales of the Silk Road and New Tales of the Yangtze River.
More than 1,500 students from 150 schools have submitted entries this year for New Tales of the Great Wall. The winners will be announced on April 17.
I have not met any of the contributors, but my guess is that these writers like to read. It's just too difficult to cultivate quality writing without reading.
Australian author John Birmingham was once asked what advice he would give to aspiring writers. He replied: "Read. I am constantly astounded by the number of young would-be writers who do not read. They don't have time, they tell me. If you can't be bothered reading, do not bother trying to write. You'll fail."
A writer who doesn't read is like an aspiring chef who doesn't sample other people's cooking. I suppose it is possible to write without reading other people's stories, but not beyond being adept at using the basic ingredients of characters, conflict, turning point and resolution. It is through reading that a writer can become fluent in the special language of prose.
As evidenced in Daniel Kirk's Library Mouse, only a mouse that lives in a library could become a writer. This wonderful picture book will no doubt inspire young children to start writing.
A year after Philip Roth was awarded the Man Booker International Prize in 2011 for his lifetime of great work, he announced that he had not only quit writing, but also quit reading. Roth said he had wasted too much of his life on the printed word, and wanted to experience other things.
Great writers like Roth have no doubt know that writing and reading go together. For parents who want to encourage their children to write well, perhaps the focus should be on having them read more.
- New Tales of the Great Wall will be launched at Bookazine, Prince's Building, on April 20.
Annie Ho is board chairwoman of Bring Me A Book Hong Kong