Blog Tour: Secrets of the Great Fire Tree by Justine Laismith (Excerpt, Interview + Giveaway)


Happy Sunday! Welcome to our stop in the Secrets of the Great Fire Tree blog tour! This was suppose to go up a few days ago, but Amber messed up a few things and we sadly had to move it to today. Regardless we are still super excited for this amazing book to be visiting today! Make sure to check out the excerpt and then head over to the other blogs that are participating! Today we have an exclusive excerpt, interview and giveaway!!! 

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ABOUT SECRETS OF THE GREAT FIRE TREE! 
Title: Secrets of the Great Fire Tree
Author: Justine Laismith
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Publisher: Aurelia Leo
Date Published: May 28th 2019
Summary: A Boy. His Pendant. A Magical Tree. In rural China during the New Year celebrations, Kai receives devastating news. A poor harvest spells disaster unless his mother accepts a job in the city caring for a wealthy family. Abandoned in his mountainous village, Kai is desperate to bring his mother home. He gives in to superstition and unlocks the secrets of the Great Fire Tree. The Great Fire Tree will grant Kai’s wish—for a terrible price. With the help of his new friend Xinying and his trusted piglet, Kai will make a sacrifice to make his family whole. Justine Laismith weaves together Chinese mystique and rural charm in an enchanting tale of an antidote that kills and an amulet that curses. 

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Excerpt!

Kai fetched his basket. It was wide and deep enough that if he curled himself into a ball, he could fit in it. Two pieces of cloths were tied to it in a loop shoulder length apart, forming the shoulder straps for him to carry the basket on his back. Yee Por held the basket for him while he threaded his arms through.

With the bucket inside and Piglet on a rope, Kai descended toward the thick bushes. Down the mountain path and past the soft green that grew around the clearing to his favorite Dragon’s Pearl Tree, the tall tree with enormous fruit that went uneaten. To Kai, it was such a wasted effort; even more so last year when the tree tried to brighten up the dry season with heavy blossoms. They were unusual flowers; instead of branches, they stuck out directly from the trunk. But like any flower, the petals fell and produced its fruit.

“The birds would not eat them, so we mustn’t eat them either.” He remembered what Ma had said.

Every tree and every rock down that familiar path to the river reminded him of Ma, how he used to charge ahead with Pink Belly, whacking the bushes and frolicking in the clearing until Ma caught up with them.Today, he did not feel like playing with the new piglet in the same way.
He had always gone with Ma to fetch the water. She was stronger and carried the bigger bucket. He carried the smaller one. It only took fifteen liters.

Without Ma, the road back was windier and more treacherous. The burden of the water weighed him down as he lumbered upward. Thank goodness Piglet was only tiny and seemed to know how to handle the uneven terrain, grass or rock, upward or downward. He rested his tired legs and shoulders every few meters. But each time he stopped, he listened for voices. He did not want to be caught resting by the school bullies. Especially now he was on his own.

On one of these breaks, he heard a rustle. Then a pair of huge feet appeared on the path. 

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INTERVIEW!

Tell us a little bit about yourself!
I grew up in Singapore and studied Chemistry in London. After my PhD, I worked in the pharmaceuticals industry. Since then I have also worked in the chemicals and education sectors. I’ve always enjoyed writing. When I was in industry, I wrote scientific papers. While I did write fiction occasionally, it really only took off around the time I returned to Singapore in 2010. There I entered a local writing competition. As a winner, my children’s book The Magic Mixer was published. It’s a chapter book about two women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). By that time, I was already in the midst of writing Secrets of the Great Fire Tree. This was the encouragement I needed to keep going.

When did you want to become an author?
I first wanted to be a writer when I was seven. However at school I never did well in languages or literature. When it came to choosing subjects, I would have had to make the difficult decision of choosing what I liked, or what I was good at. My teacher saved me from this. She had expected me to take the Arts/Humanity subjects, because ‘girls are better at them, and boys are better at Math and Science.’ Right there and then I chose the Science options to prove a point.  Over the years, even though I pursued a Science career, the enjoyment of turning blank pages to words never left me. I continued to write poems and stories as and when they came to me, but these were for my eyes only. I also channeled this into my work and wrote scientific papers on my research. After some years, I took a career break. With a break from science, the logical side of my brain took a back seat and let the creative side of my brain dominate. I started writing in earnest.

What inspires your work?
My inspiration comes from all around me. I now pay a lot of attention to my surroundings and how it makes me feel. Then I challenge \myself to describe it in words. When I watch a movie or show, I don’t just take a seat and enjoy the ride. I think about what makes me root for the characters, or hate them. I also analyse how and why two personalities who started off with nothing in common come together as the story develops. When I’m out and about, I take pictures of nature and buildings. You can check out them out on my Instagram account (www.instagram.com/justinelaismith). The collection might seem like random lots of pictures, but they help me crystallize my thoughts on the setting in my stories.

Can you tell us how Secrets of the Great Fire Tree came about?
I returned to Singapore after living in the UK for twenty years. Even though, when I left the UK it was in the summer, it struck me how, in Singapore, the place is teeming with life. Not because it is a bustling city, but because there is growth everywhere I look: the tall trees with buttress roots, the thick waxy leaves, the climbers that form green veils and the ferns that live on other trees. The long absence from Singapore meant I saw this tropical country with a new set of eyes. Instead of taking my surroundings for granted, I appreciated their uniqueness, in particular, the many magnificent tropical trees in Singapore. While I have read books set in tropical forests, they tended to be about survival in the wilderness. I wanted to highlight some of the unique trees instead. So the Great Fire Tree was born. As for the main characters, the story came to me over the dinner table during Chinese New Year. I was told this story: A group of charity workers had found a little boy living on his own. He had a pig. His parents had gone away to work and his sole responsibility was to look after the pig until his parents’ return to celebrate Chinese New Year. He lived in a mountainous area, and his house was the only one in the area. They reckoned he was about six years old. It wasn’t a first-hand account, and I never verified the story’s details. But it moved me. To leave behind a six-year old and let him fend for himself for an entire year, the conditions at home had to be desperate. When I delved deeper, I learnt about left-behind children. I needed the world to know about this. This was how I started weaving a plot around the Great Fire Tree.

What was the best part about writing Secrets of the Great Fire Tree?
I grew up in Singapore, a country proud of its multicultural identity. This exposed me to a plethora of languages and Chinese dialects. I am also part-Paranakan, which is a unique blend of two cultures: ethnic Chinese people who speak and practise Malay customs. To give my heritage its representation, I subtly incorporated these diversities in a story that’s supposed to be set in China. A native Singaporean might to spot these ‘anomalies’. Nonetheless, because I also wanted to make this story authentically Chinese, I carried out a lot of research. I enjoyed going right back to my roots. Ultimately, the Chinese diaspora’s experience of their culture will be different from the indigenous Chinese. Part of this research included a trip to China, where I made several notes about their lifestyles. I’ve documented them in a series of blog articles. (https://justinelaismith.wordpress.com/great-fire-tree/setting/)

What are you most excited to share when it comes to Secrets of the Great Fire Tree?
I am most excited about sharing the rural life in China. As I mentioned earlier, I see myself as a third-culture kid, who never really knew her roots. China holds a quarter of the world’s population and consists of over fifty ethnic minorities. Naturally, I cannot tell everything in one story, but I hope I managed to give a flavor of this fascinating culture.

Are you planning on writing other books?
Absolutely. Ideas just keep popping into my head. I started another middle-grade book which is set in ancient China. I am finishing off two chapter books. I also have two general fiction books on the go. In the last few weeks, a dystopian world has been brewing in my mind. Just before I started this Q&A, I penned the first words of a non-fiction book. In case you follow me on Twitter or Instagram and ever wondered about my train of thought, all these different worlds collide together on social media!
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GIVEAWAY!

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TOUR SCHEDULE!



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Thank you so much Justine for reaching out for us to be a part of your book tour! We had a blast and can't wait for you to stop by again! 💗

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