Sheng saw her as a woman who rebels against societal mores to pursue freedom, but some Chinese readers have criticised Qian and called her sexually wanton.
"Qian Xiaohong is actually very pure. She will never use her body to gain benefits.
"Hers is a rebellion towards society though she is not conscious of doing so," said Sheng, who based the character loosely on someone from her village in central Hunan province.
She is the youngest of four children. Her father worked in a local office overseeing river navigation, while her mother stayed home. Writer Shelly Bryant, who translated Northern Girls into English, said Sheng has an amazing sense of humour. "She puns and plays, and she is very funny," she said.
Bryant, who is also translating Sheng's latest novel, Death Fugue, said her writing covers a fairly broad range.
"It can be bouncy and fast-paced, like Northern Girls, or much edgier, like Death Fugue," she told SundayLife!.
Sheng is sometimes compared to Wei Hui, who also wrote about female sexual emancipation in her 1999 bestseller Shanghai Baby.
But Sheng said she is not a popular or pretty-faced author like Wei. "I am not the type who sells a lot of books. I want to create good works."