Michelle Kim wanted to write a book about how wonderful it was to grow up in Surrey, and the result is called Running Through Sprinklers.
The coming-of-age story is told in a 224-page novel published by Antheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of the long-established Simon & Schuster company, based in New York.
Running Through Sprinklers, available in hardcover and eBook formats as of April 17, is Kim’s first novel.
While not autobiographical, the story is loosely based on the author’s childhood adventures in North Surrey.
“None of the events actually happened in my life, but it is based on a 12-year-old girl who is half-Korean and grew up in Surrey,” Kim told the Now-Leader.
Kim, a filmmaker and actor, runs Hapaness Media, which tells stories “that cross cultures and languages by using a variety of media.”
A girl named Sara is the protagonist in Running Through Sprinklers. Her best friend is Nadine, who skips a grade and goes to high school a year before Sara.
“No matter how hard she fights to save their friendship, Sara can feel it slipping away,” reads a post on the Simon & Schuster website, from which the book can be ordered.
“But change can happen from the inside, too. The forever-friend days of running through sprinklers and slurping up ice cream cones may be over. Yet in their place, Sara just might discover something new and wonderful: herself.”
Setting the story in Surrey was key for Kim, who now lives in Vancouver.
“I’d travel to all these places around the world, like London and other cities, and I found I knew about a lot of these other cultures in those places, probably just because of my experience of growing up in a very multicultural place like Surrey,” she said. “I was exposed to so many cultures growing up there (in Surrey).”
Kim was born in Surrey to a human-rights-lawyer father of British descent and a fashion-designer mother of Korean descent. At UBC, she was a journalist for the student newspaper and started acting in short films. She later moved to London to work at the BBC, before returning to Vancouver to pursue a career in the film industry. She has also written for the award-winning miss604.com website operated by her longtime friend (and fellow Hjorth Road Elementary alum), Rebecca Bollwitt.
Running Through Sprinklers includes several references to places in Surrey, including Green Timbers Forest, Guildford Mall, Fraser Highway and Bear Creek Park.
“I have some very Surrey-specific locations named in the book, and I had some copy editors asking about the places,” Kim explained. “I had Guildford Mall in there and one of the editors said, ‘Well, it’s actually called Guildford Town Centre,’ and I was like, ‘No, don’t worry about that one, we can call it Guildford Mall in the book, it’s all good.’ And the same with Green Timbers Forest, which is actually called Green Timbers Urban whatever – it’s just funny. They did their research, for sure.”
Kim wrote parts of Running Through Sprinklers before making The Tree Inside, a dramatic feature film about a woman who can’t keep a relationship longer than a couple of months. Kim wrote, co-directed, produced and starred in the 2015 movie, which also featured Casey Manderson (When Life Was Good, The Red Rooster), Diana Bang (The Interview, Bates Motel, Lost Lagoon) and famed Canadian author Michael Turner (Hard Core Logo, The Pornographer’s Poem).
“What happened was,” Kim explained, “I did this film and then worked on the book again, and used some of the filmmaking techniques to write the book, just the structure of it, and it actually changed it and made it work. It was a revelation.”
Having a first novel published by a large American company is a dream come true for Kim, whose said she initially struggled to get Running Through Sprinklers written and published.
“I reworked it over and over again; I submitted it over and over again,” she posted on hapanessmedia.com. “There were many tears and I almost gave up on it entirely at one point because I felt like I had completely failed. Finally, I decided to set it aside – for how long, I wasn’t sure. I’d pull it out here and there and work on it, but something just wasn’t clicking. Today, looking back on it all, I’m super grateful for the obstacles and the time away from the book because that’s how I fell into making films, which I love so much.”
The book is being sold in Korea and Japan, in English, Kim said.
“I’m not sure yet about it being translated into other languages,” she added. “Maybe that will happen, too. But more than anything I hope the readers will learn more about Surrey, about how great it was growing up here.”
A private book-launch party for Running Through Sprinklers will be held this month at Central City Brew Pub.
“I wanted it to be in Surrey to be true to the book,” Kim noted. “I have friends flying in from England for it and others coming from Victoria. They are actually really big fans of Red Racer beer, so they are excited.”
After that, Kim will travel to New York and Toronto for book-related events. Back home, she is scheduled to appear at an event at the Black Bond store at Central City Shopping Centre on May 19, from 1:30 to 3 p.m.
On June 12, Kim will take part in a “Suburbia Takes on Main Street” session at Book Warehouse’s Main Street location, Vancouver, with Charlie Demers and Sam Wiebe.
Kim is currently working on her next feature film, Happy Garden, a Korean-language piece set in Seoul during the ’90s.