AS A LOCAL AUTHOR of children's literature, Karmel Schreyer has a growing international reputation. Her latest book, A Singing Bird Will Come, is the second of a planned trilogy featuring Naomi, a teenage girl not only struggling with adolescence but also the stresses of living in Hong Kong, thousands of kilometres from her native Canada. The first in the series, Naomi, The Strawberry Blonde Of Pippu Town, was set in Japan when the main character was 12, and was the subject of some active interest at the recent Frankfurt Book Fair. Schreyer lives with her family in Discovery Bay and is a firm believer in using personal experience for inspiration. 'I think you should write about what you know,' she says. 'I was married here and my daughters were born here: Hong Kong is our home.' She may have recently acquired a permanent Hong Kong identity card, but she knows how it feels to spend time away from home. Schreyer has not lived in her home town of Winnipeg since she was 14, or full-time in Canada since she was 21. She spent three years teaching English in Japan after graduating with a degree in political science and history in Australia. In plying her writing craft, one of her main aims is to empathise and sympathise with youngsters coping with similar displacement. 'Students from [international schools in particular] can relate to these feelings,' she says. 'A message I like to put into these books is that even if you are just a kid and you have to follow your parents around the world, you still can take a situation and turn it around and make it your own. It's all a matter of attitude.' For Schreyer, Chinese proverbs don't just provide background material and form the basis of chapter headings, they also offer valuable advice. 'Expats wonder where their roots are. Chinese [people] will say things like 'A wise man will give their child roots and wings' and 'my destiny is right in front of me'. But though there are proverbs in every culture that say the same thing, we need to be reminded of them and to see them in print. This is very reassuring.' Another part of her mission is to educate compatriots about the lives of people in Asia. 'People I know in Winnipeg are sheltered people,' she comments. 'They don't know about Asia really.' Often it is only when a significant news event occurs, such as boat people arriving on her native land's shores, that Asia becomes an issue. 'I want to try to help break down those barriers,' she says. Schreyer makes no apologies for the parallels between her writing and her own life. She believes her work serves to inform her daughters about what has shaped her. 'I feel compelled to do this for my own children,' she says. 'My parents were really very busy and it's only now they are trying to catch up. Telling my daughters about some of my life is part of my project.' Like Naomi's mother Sara in the most recent book, Schreyer met her partner - an engineer from Yorkshire - when they were neighbours in a high-rise apartment in Hong Kong. The lead character shares a birthday with her creator and, like Schreyer, was disappointed to discover she was a rabbit in the Chinese horoscope and not a dragon as she originally believed. Like Sara, she also dreams of adopting a Chinese girl. Writing comes naturally to Schreyer. 'I feel lucky there's always a flow going on,' she says. 'I always wanted to write from first grade, but I guess high school and university got in the way. And I always wanted to relate to kids since I was a camp counsellor.' Her original inspiration to channel her creativity into writing children's stories came when reading Juliana And The Medicine Fish by Jake MacDonald - another children's book written by a Canadian with a Japanese motif. Not that her career has been without difficulties. 'Having two kids, it's not always easy,' she says. However, she acknowledges some advantages of an expat lifestyle. 'I am grateful I live in Hong Kong. Without my helper, Evelyn, I couldn't be published.' She also appreciates help provided by local booksellers. 'My publisher tells me they can't afford to pay for my books to be placed in the windows of bookstores. But Dymocks gives me good exposure . . . they also pay the costs of my book launch.' Schreyer is doubly grateful for the support given to local authors like her, despite the economics. 'My local sales only amount to a few hundred overall,' she says. 'It's not lucrative for them. I do my own distribution and copies are sold on consignment.' Her books are also available over the Internet from local booksellers Paddyfield, and Amazon. Schreyer knows first-hand there are advantages and drawbacks for authors trying to get a publishing deal from Hong Kong; she worked for British publisher Longman when it began publishing educational material here. 'There are opportunities here, albeit limited,' she says. But she maintains that having local knowledge helps, citing as an example her attempts to promote the publication of her first book. 'I approached 10 publishers with my idea and three chapters - pretty standard procedure. But I was able to play up the Asian angle and characters.' Great Plains, a relatively small publisher based in Winnipeg, which also published Juliana And The Medicine Fish, took the bait and asked her to send in the rest. Schreyer counts herself lucky. 'Everything has to be so commercial these days, but they give me free rein because they are not expert on this part of the world and do mainly coffee-table books,' she says. The first Naomi book is now into its third printing following an initial run of 2,500. She expects the sequel to have a bigger print run. 'Local authors shouldn't give up,' she urges, adding, 'Having a book published and sold in Hong Kong has given me so many opportunities to share experiences and have characters from my own life to share with people I know.' One sadness in this respect was the death of the former Japanese consul-general who visited her house and gave her gifts when she was six. He helped stimulate her interest in the East but died one month before her first book was published. Schreyer was also encouraged by listening to visiting authors at Women in Publishing Society (WIPS) events. Chinese-American author Adeline Yen Mah (Falling Leaves ) spoke at one such event. 'I was already working on my manuscript at the time she spoke to WIPS, but seeing someone like her writing about Asia and real people's lives made me feel I was on the right track.'