I spend a lot of time researching for my books, and many questions I get from readers is how to find out more information about the topics raised in my books, or how individuals can help with global problems. Below are some of the resources I used which may be helpful.
You can also follow me on instagram and twitter @zanafraillon. I often post relevant newspaper articles or other media related to the issues touched on in my books.
Interview on The Bone Sparrow
The Garrett Podcast - Interviews by writers for writers about writing - The Bone Sparrow
This interview is an in-depth discussion of the themes and structure of The Bone Sparrow. Teaching materials are also available, courtesy of Reading Australia.
Modern Day Slavery Resources
World Vision is a worldwide community development organisation that provides short-term and long-term assistance to 100 million people worldwide. This link takes you to their resources specifically dealing with human trafficking.
Polaris is a group that works with victims to actively combat human trafficking.
UNICEF is the United Nations Children Fund, working to protect children's rights globally. The following two links specifically deal with the trafficking of children into slavery.
A21 is a not for profit organisation whose goal is to eradicate slavery in the modern world.
Stop The Traffik is an organisation working to prevent human trafficking. They offer resources, fact sheets and fundraising opportunities and awareness courses
Refugee Crisis Resources
Amnesty International is a global movement that campaigns for the rights of people worldwide.
UNHCR is the United Nations Refugee Agency. UNHCR protects the rights and well-being of refugees and asylum seekers worldwide.
Asylum Seeker Resource Centre is a community led organisation committed to upholding the rights of all people seeking asylum. The link below is for the Australian organisation, however most countries have an equivalent.
UNICEF is the United Nations Children Fund, working to protect children's rights globally.
Refugee Council of Australia is an organisation that supports refugees and asylum seekers and aims to raise awareness and to promote the development of humane, lawful and constructive policies towards refugees and asylum seekers. Whilst this is the link to the Australian Council, there are Refugee Councils in most countries.
Refugees International is an organisation which advocates for displaced people worldwide and promotes solutions to help those in need.
Save the Children is an international organisation that promotes children's rights.
The following video was developed by Save the Children to make people think about the refugee experience and how it could also happen to children in Western Europe if armed conflict happens to break out in this region. It is recommended for ages 12+
When I was writing The Bone Sparrow, the voices of the people being held in detention were being silenced. Now, slowly, more and more of those voices are finding ways of breaking through and being heard. I wrote The Bone Sparrow in the hope that it might bridge the gap between the dangerous and damaging stories being pushed by those in power and the true stories of the people behind the statistics. However, The Bone Sparrow is simply a fictionalised story, that, while based in fact, is not a true account. I have never been detained indefinitely. I have never had to flee my home in fear of my life. I implore everyone to seek out the voices and hear the truth from the people with lived experience. A good place to start is Behind The Wire, an award-winning oral history project documenting the stories of the men, women and children who have been detained by the Australian government after seeking asylum in Australia. https://behindthewire.org.au/
I also strongly and highly recommend reading No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison by Behrouz Boochan and translated by Omid Tofighian. This is a first hand account of a man illegally and indefinitely detained on Manus Island. Written on a smuggled phone whilst in detention, this is a heartbreaking and brilliant book.
One of my most valuable resources when researching The Bone Sparrow were pictures drawn by children in immigration detention centres and refugee camps. Two books that feature drawings from refugee children are Home: Drawings by Syrian Children edited by Ben Quilty, and Forced To Flee: Refugee Children Drawing On Their Experiences. These are both wonderful and insightful texts.
Forgotten Generation Resources
Forgotten Australians is an incredible resource including oral histories, photos and an online exhibition.
Care Leavers Australaisa Network is a support, advocacy, research and training network for people who grew up in Australian orphanages, children's Homes, foster care and other institutions.
Alliance for Forgotten Australians is an organisation which promotes Forgotten Australians. The website provides excellent resources and research links.
Frequently (and some not so frequently) Asked Questions...
Question: Do you have any book recommendations?
Yes! Scroll down to find a list of book recommendations. I will continue to update this list as I read more wonderful books. Hopefully you can find a book there that you love as much as I did.
Question: Do you always do research before you start writing your books?
Yes. I research so I can get a better idea of my story - where it is set, where it is headed, and so I can get a better feel for my characters. My stories always start with a character, but often I know very little about them. Researching their situation allows me to gain a better insight into what the characters might feel, think, see, smell, hear, and do. Also, doing research always gives me some ideas to work into my story. I am a dirty rotten thief. I admit it openly. If you say something to me, it might just end up in one of my books.
But be warned! Research comes with its own dangers...sometimes I do too much research and then try to shove all the millions of facts I have discovered into my stories. This is not good. The story is ruined. Then I have to make a fire to make use of all the paper I wasted. At least my bad story can bring me heat and warmth on a cold night.
It often takes me a while to get the feel for which direction my characters are going in though, and doing research makes me feel as though I am working while I wait for that to happen. If I wasn't working I wouldn't have an excuse to eat chocolate and drink coffee and put off all of my boring jobs.
There are links to some of the research I did for my books below.
Question: Do other books and authors influence the way you write?
Most definitely. Especially if I really like an author. While I am reading their books I will be thinking to myself 'Wow, I should really learn to write like that!'. It doesn't work though. My words come out just the way they feel like coming out and there isn't much I can do about them. Words are very hard to train. They have no attention span, and a propensity to become easily over excited.
Having said that though, my favourite authors have all taught me something about why I like the books I like, and I think that comes through in my writing. Growing up, my favourite author was Isabelle Allende - I loved her use of magical realism, and this is something I have carried through in my own work. Kate Atkinson and Louis Sacher taught me how to weave stories together, and Roddy Doyle and Siobhan Dowd taught me character. I learnt dialogue from Frank McCourt and David Almond and beauty from Louis De Bernieres. In fact, writing this now, my bookshelves are screaming at me to include all the authors that I have read and admired, because I have learnt from all of them. Even the ones I didn't enjoy taught me how to write. I guess that is why people say if you want to be a writer you have to be a reader. I would certainly agree.
In an interview with Mal Peet, he was asked about his influences. He replied 'I’m just a magpie, really: I steal from either people’s nests. All writers do.'
Thanks Mal. I thought it was just me.
Question: Where can I find out more about the refugee crisis and how to help?
I have listed the resources I found most useful, and will keep updating it. Also, check out your local Asylum Seeker Resource Centre for ways you can help locally.
Question: Did you always know you were going to be a writer?
Not at all. I have always written stories. I always loved writing stories, and when I wasn't writing stories for school I was writing stories just to be writing. The first full length fiction story I wrote for anyone else was when I was 18 and I wrote a story for my 8 year old sister. It included everything she was interested in, and was about an 8 year old girl who solved mysteries using her knowledge of magic tricks. I never thought about trying to get it published though.
It wasn't until I had my own kids and wrote picture books for them that a friend suggested I should send one of the manuscripts off to a publisher. I was incredibly lucky that it was picked up, and since then there is nothing I have wanted to do more than write stories for a living.
Question: What motivated you to write The Bone Sparrow?
I was motivated to write The Bone Sparrow in protest against the mandatory and indefinite detention of asylum seekers, including children, in Australia. In Australia, we’ve had a succession of governments who have implemented a series of increasingly inhumane immigration policies, resulting in children being kept indefinitely in detention centres. Their human rights and the rights of the child are being routinely denied, they are surrounded by mental illness and suicide, and there have been repeated allegations of physical and sexual abuse.
These conditions are mirrored in refugee camps and detention centres worldwide. Recent reports have suggested that over 10,000 unaccompanied asylum seeking and migrant children have disappeared since entering the UK, and that the children in the camps are extremely vulnerable and at a high risk of abuse and exploitation.
We are at a point in time, where there are now more forcibly displaced people than at any other moment in human history. An article about a child born in detention horrified me, as did the continued use of statistics and government policies to dehumanise people seeking asylum, and the deliberate attempts by our government to destroy all hope for those people. I didn’t know how people could survive in a situation where hope is deliberately being destroyed. I wanted to find a way to imagine how people in that situation could survive. I wanted to find hope in the darkest place.
When I write, I am often drawn to the shadows – those dark, silent places that are hidden away from most of us. I write to explore those places, and discover what is there. And it felt to me that one of the darkest and most hidden places in the world at the moment are the refugee detention centres where innocent people are detained, and where their futures are so uncertain. I desperately wanted to find some hope for these people, and to encourage all the rest of us to look more deeply behind the statistics to discover the people and their stories. I wanted us all to imagine, and I wanted us all to understand.
In 2014, when I started writing The Bone Sparrow, there was a video message played to all new arrivals on the Australian run off shore detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island. It was spoken by the immigration minister Scott Morrison (who is now, currently the Prime Minister of Australia). This is what it said.
‘You have been brought to this place here because you have sought to illegally enter Australia by boat. The new Australian government will not be putting up with those sorts of arrivals. If you have a valid claim, you will not be resettled in Australia. You will never live in Australia. If you are found not to be a refugee, you will remain in this camp until you decide to go home. If you choose not to go home, then you will spend a very, very long time here.’
I chose to write The Bone Sparrow as an act of activism. In protest and shame at living in a country that seeks to lock up innocent people in conditions the UN has described as torturous, in camps likened to the concentration camps of WW2, and in which allegations of child abuse against the guards are rife. In protest against what my country stood for - and continues to stand for, against my government’s policies, and as a way of standing in solidarity with those who were being abused and tortured in our name. I wrote it in the hope that it would encourage those who were turning away, stop and listen and to break through the lies and propaganda that was being spread by the government and mass media. We were supposed to forget that these people even existed. We were supposed to believe they were criminals and cheats and liars and to accept that the treatment of these people was justified. I wrote it in response to the people dying in boats, stranded at sea, washing up on beaches, freezing in tent cities, and trafficked into slavery while politicians of the world argue over whose responsibility these people are. As an author, my power is in my words. Books can enable people to experience different lives, different stories to their own, and to see the world in a different way.
But perhaps, most of all, my motivation for writing The Bone Sparrow was because I honestly believe that children and young people are the ones who understand. Children and young people have the imaginations and the insight to be able to really step inside someone else’s shoes in a way too many adults have forgotten how to do. Young people aren’t distracted by the issues that politicians fool us into thinking are more important than human life. And more than that, young people have the courage to question all those absences and silences in our worlds, and to imagine our future in a way adults no longer can.
So if something I write, can help just one person to remember the people behind the statistics, to listen for the voices, and the stories rather than just seeing policies, or if it can help just one person to imagine a Someday where refugees and asylum seekers are treated with the respect and compassion we all deserve, then we as a community, are one step closer to a future I want to be part of.
Question: Why did you choose Subhi to narrate the The Bone Sparrow?
Actually the first time I wrote The Bone Sparrow, I wrote it from Queeny’s perspective. This made for a quite a dark novel, which didn’t leave the reader with much hope for the future. After realising that this approach didn’t work, I then spent a long time trying to find Subhi’s voice. I knew that I needed a younger character than Queeny, so that they could have a degree of hope that Queeny was missing, but I couldn’t put my finger on what else would work.
Then I came across an article in the newspaper about a woman who was placed in indefinite detention in a detention centre in Australia. She had two young children with her, but two days after being placed in the detention centre, she realised she was pregnant. As soon as I read that, I knew I had my character.
One thing I have learnt from working as an integration aide and as a teacher in schools, is that so often, children don’t realise how terrible their situation is, because for them, that is the only reality they know. This is true of adults too. Often when we are dealing with a situation, all we can do is deal with it as best we can. It isn’t until later that we look back and realise just what we were up against. So reading this article, I realised that for a child born into, and growing up in a detention centre, the centre is their reality. It is their entire world. For these children, the world inside those barbed wire fences is normal. And that outlook made all the difference. As a reader, as an onlooker, we know that what Subhi is going through is not what childhood should be. But for Subhi, that is all he has, and all he knows. This allowed him to maintain his hope and dream of his Someday. This made him the perfect narrator because he could see the small moments of joy in his life and look forward to the future.
As soon as I discovered Subhi’s circumstances, his voice came to me very strongly. I didn’t struggle to write from his point of view at all. Mostly, the struggle was typing quickly enough to get his words down on the page. I have always worked with children, and have young children of my own, so I am constantly surrounded by the ideas, language, thoughts, and perspectives of young people. For me, writing in a child’s voice comes very easily. More often the problem lies in convincing adults that children are capable of incredibly insightful and intelligent and creative ideas and language.
Question: What inspired you to write about the Rohingya people?
At the time of writing The Bone Sparrow, there was a group of Rohingya asylum seekers from Burma (or Myanmar as it is now called) who were stranded at sea. They had no food, no water, no petrol. They were fleeing persecution and in fear of their lives, and reports have suggested the people were forcibly put on the boat under threat of death. These people – men, women and children – were stranded at sea and no one helped them. Governments world wide argued instead over whose responsibility these people were, and who should help them. Meanwhile, more and more of these people were dying. In the end it was a group of local fisherman who rescued them.
The Rohingya are a Muslim minority in a predominantly Buddhist majority country, and according to the UN are among the most persecuted people on earth. They are locked in camps, denied access to education and work, have their homes and land taken from them or destroyed, are disappeared, tortured and killed. More recently, the government of Myanmar has been found guilty of committing genocide in its treatment of the Rohingya. I was horrified that I had not known about the plight of the Rohingya people before, and I wanted to bring their situation and experience to the attention of as many people as I could.
Question: Who or what inspires you to write?
Ideas and characters. Once I hear the voice of a character, or see something that catches my attention, I feel compelled to get it down on paper. I see all the possible story lines spinning out in front of me, and feel a great need to explore where these will take me. Sometimes the ideas come so quickly, that when I am scrabbling to write them down, I find I need to write backwards before they disappear from my brain. Catching an idea is often like trying to catch fog.
Question: What is your favourite of all the books you have written?
I get asked this a lot, and I don't have an answer. My best answer is, my next book. The one I haven't written yet. The one that is still forming in my head and seems as though it could be so brilliant and bright and wonderful...until I try to write it. One thing you get used to as a writer is knowing that your story will never be as good on paper as it is in your head...
Question: Who is your favourite author?
I have so many! My favourite author changes all the time, but a few firm favourites are: David Almond, Siobhan Dowd, Roddy Doyle, Isabelle Allende, Terry Pratchett, Tove Jansson, Ursula La Guin and Lucy Wood. I can happily pick up any book from any of these authors and know I will adore every word. I love the way they use language, and the way their words eat deep inside me as I read. They are also just magnificent story tellers.
Question: Do you have any advice for budding authors?
Keep imagining! Keep writing! Keep reading! I find the best writing I do is when I write just for me. If I imagine someone else reading my words, they become stilted and not at all like the voices in my head. They become what I think people want to read, rather than what I really want to write. Ignore audience. Ignore trends. Ignore teachers and friends. Write as though no one will ever read it. Write purely for yourself. It is really hard to do, but for me at least, it is the only way I can write honestly. If I am focused on my audience, or on trying to write a best selling masterpiece, it is impossible to listen to the story and the characters. Just write. A lot of it will be rubbish. But then there will be the small jewels. Take those and put the rest in an ‘extracts file’. Keep going, keep mining for jewels, keep ignoring all those other critical voices. If no one is going to read it anyway, what does it matter what you write? So write for the voices in your head, and the rest will follow. And at the end, when you have got as much as you can from the story, then you can decide whether to send it out into the world or not.
For more advice head to the For Writers section of my website.
Question: Do you have the time?
Yes. It is 11.54.
Question: Is that really a whale you're taking for a walk?
No. It's an octopus. They are masters of disguise.
Question: Why are you taking an octopus disguised as a whale for a walk?
I am doing research for another book. I told you before, I ALWAYS research my books.
Question: What are you 'working on' at the moment?
I do not appreciate your use of quotation marks. Eating chocolate while watching episodes of Hustle on the couch in my pyjamas is hard work. Not everyone could do it. And let me tell you, octopuses are hard work. Especially when they don't like Hustle and keep trying to change the channel. Which granted, is hard to do if you are watching on a computer. And people reckon octopuses are smart...Okay, so I am working on three new books at the moment. The octopus and Hustle are not for the same book. Although now that I think about it, I might be onto something there...I am also mid way through a PhD which is a proving to be a wonderful exploration into different ways of writing story.
Question: That didn't answer the question. I will be more specific. What are the books you are 'working on' about?
Oh. Well then. The octopus book is about an octopus. The Hustle book is about a hustle. I hope that clears things up for you. Actually, the Hustle book is on hold for the moment while I learn how to speak Dog and research what it is like to be sacrificed to a bog...Doing research for the bog book is one of the reasons I need to walk the octopus so often.
Books I Love Reading
And re-reading...Where to begin? First of all, this is an incomplete list. It would take me weeks to think of all the wonderful books which I have read, but at least this is a start.
I have listed the books into sort-of-categories, although I really dislike categorising books according to age and readership. I am a firm believer that books will find their reader when the time is right, and age has very little to do with it. However, here they are - categorised! I have done this more to differentiate between books written primarily for younger readers, and those written for adults.
I hope you find something here that you enjoy reading as much as I do.
Any book by Mo Willems
Any book by Kitty Crowther
How to Catch a Star by Oliver Jeffers
I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen
The Happy Lion by Louise Fattio
Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
A Stone Sat Still by Brendan Wenzal
The Lost Words by Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris
Extraordinary by Penny Harrison
The Wanderer by Peter Van Den Ende
High Rise Private Eyes series, by Cynthia Rylant
Squeak Street series by Emily Rodda
Mercy Watson series by Kate Dicamillo
The Naming of Tishkin Silk by Glenda Millard
Silk Sisters Series by Glenda Millard
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
Middle Grade and Older Readers
Skellig by David Almond
Kit's Wilderness by David Almond
Secret Heart by David Almond
Pax by Sara Pennypacker
The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd
The Imaginaries by A.F Harrold
The Miraculous Adventures of Edward Tulane by Kate Dicamillo
Holes by Louis Sacher
Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell
The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell
Trash by Andy Mulligan
We Are All Made Of Molecules by Susin Neilsen
The Reluctant Journal Of Henry K Larsen by Susin Neilsen
Millions by Frank Cottrell-Boyce
The Unforgotten Coat by Frank Cottrell-Boyce
Framed by Frank Cottrell-Boyce
The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd
The Crying Rocks by Janet Taylor Lisle
The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett
I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett
How to Bee by Bren MacDibble
The Dog Runner by Bren MacDibble
Across the Risen Sea by Bren MacDibble
Metal Fish Falling Snow by Cath Moore
The Story of Mr Sommer by Patrick Suskind
Overheard in a Tower Block by Joseph Coelho
Older Readers and Young Adult Fiction
Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd
A Swift Pure Cry by Siobhan Dowd
Solace of the Road by Siobhan Dowd
Chronicler of the Wind by Henning Mankell
The Book of Everything by Guus Kuijer
Red Glove by Holly Black
White Cat by Holly Black
Black Heart by Holly Black
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
A Small Free Kiss In The Dark by Glenda Millard
One by Sarah Crossan
Ghost Bird by Lisa Fuller
The Smell Of Other People's Houses by Bonnie Sue Hitchcock
Notes from the Teenage Underground by Simmone Howell
Girl Defective by Simmone Howell
The Cry of the Wolf by Melvin Burgess
The Baby and Fly Pie by Melvin Burgess
Burning Issy by Melvin Burgess
Endsister by Penni Russon
Only, Ever, Always by Penni Russon
Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Catching Teller Crow by Ambelin Kwaymullina, Ezekiel Kwaymullina
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi
Primeval and Other Times by Olga Tokarczuk
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht
Little Hands Clapping by Dan Rhodes
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
The Girld With The Louding Voice by Abi Daré
The House of Spirits by Isabelle Allende
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
The Coca Lord Trilogy by Louis de Bernieres
Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres
Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle
A Star Called Henry by Roddy Doyle
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman
My Grandmother Sends Her Regards And Apologises by Fredrik Backman
Death Is Hard Work by Khaled Khalifa
The Orenda by Joseph Boyden
The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar
Beloved by Toni Morrison
We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
Skylarking by Kate Mildenhall
Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss
Lanny by Max Porter
The Boy Who Speaks In Numbers by Mike Masilamani
Underland by Robert MacFarlane
Diving Bells by Lucy Wood
Memory Wall by Anthony Doerr
The Rain Heron by Robbie Arnott
No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison by Behrouz Boochan and translated by Omid Tofighian
The Birds by Tarjei Vesaas
Sweet Talk by Stephanie Vaughn
The Collected Stories by Lorrie Moore
The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
Underland by Robert MacFarlane
Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe
Make a Magic Map!
Zana lives and works on the unceded, stolen lands of the Wurundjeri People and pays her respects to elders, past, present and emerging.
Always was, always will be, Aboriginal land.