|Zan Fraillon, author of The Bone Sparrow|
Zana Fraillon: I really love Jimmie as a character. While she is distinctly her own self, there are many similarities between Jimmie’s life and Subhi’s life, and I think they recognise this in each other. Jimmie is growing up surrounded by grief; she has the sense of being almost forgotten by society; she is desperately trying to get a sense of her past and her family’s past so that she can step forward into the future; and despite everything, she is so strong, and so resilient.
In the same way I wanted to write about children growing up in immigration detention centres, I knew for a long time that I also wanted to write about kids growing up in a really remote area, where the usual support networks don’t exist. In Australia, there are many remote communities whose people are living in third world conditions and whose life expectancies are dramatically lower than people living in other parts of Australia. John Pilger’s amazing documentary 'Utopia' is a very eye opening insight into the conditions of many remote communities, and many people – both in and out of Australia – are not aware of this hugely important social issue. While I wasn’t able to go into great detail of this issue in The Bone Sparrow, it was something I felt I could touch upon and shed just a little light on in the context of the story.
WSD: You've talked about the resilience of childhood and their ability to imagine and hold onto a 'someday'. When you were a child, what was one of your 'somedays' that you dreamed about?
Zana Fraillon: My someday was all about travel and getting away. I imagined the far away places I would discover – remote places, away from everyone and everything, wild, natural places where I could be completely myself. I always wanted to have kids of my own and imagined a large, gloriously happy family full of kids and dogs. On a recent trip overseas we went to Ireland, and while travelling through the countryside there, I felt an incredible sense of being ‘home’. This was exactly the kind of place I imagined my ‘someday’ unfolding. There is still time…
WSD: You've mentioned being a fan of Isabel Allende (yes!) and discovering magical realism through her and how it finds a place in your books. Can you say a bit about what draws you to magical realism (and do you think there's more magic or more realism in it)?
Zana Fraillon: I have always been drawn to magic. That idea that there are other worlds and other existences and other possibilities just hiding in the shadows is so exciting! As a kid I slept curled up with a garden gnome (who still lives with me, although no longer shares my bed) and used to climb out my second story window and leap across to a huge tree that grew outside and was definitely full of fairies. I suppose magical realism gives me a way, now I no longer have a fairy tree outside my window, of believing that there just may be magic in this very real world we live in. I am not at all religious, so perhaps this is my religion of sorts! This was another bonus for us when we visited Ireland – where we stayed had a lot of information regarding the Sidhe (the fairy people of Ireland) who, in some parts, are very much believed in, and respected and feared. I love this idea. The notion that you have to divert a road to go around a fairy thorn, rather than cut down the tree and risk the Sidhe’s wrath – it was a little like living in a story, where anything is possible because the world is more than what it seems.
I think the reason I love magical realism, but rarely enjoy fantasy, is because of the wonderful balance between the magic and real. There is that sense that the magical phenomenon could almost be explained by other, more real worldly explanations, but then, perhaps, just perhaps, they really are magic…I love that feeling of not knowing, and then that freedom of giving in to the magic. It gets me excited just thinking about it!
WSD: If someone gave you a necklace, what would you like it to be and why?
Zana Fraillon: Something with a story behind it. Something that has passed through countless hands, had hopes and dreams whispered into it, been rubbed in excitement or anxiety or fear. I majored in history at university and am very much drawn to the ghosts of places and things. I quite often (much in the same way Jimmie does) sit on a rock and imagine all the other people that have sat on that very same rock, trying to fly my imagination as far back as it will go, trying to breathe in that person’s story. So an old necklace. A simple necklace, but one that has something to say…
WSD: Please tell us about the mysterious passageways of Melbourne!
Zana Fraillon: I wish I knew more about them! But Melbourne, as with most cities, has an incredible hidden history. There is a huge network of underground tunnels and drains – there is talk of an old, beautifully decorated train station right under what is now the CBD, although its exact whereabouts is currently unknown. There are alleyways and hideouts of local criminal gangs from the turn of the century, and then other smaller laneways that you can wander down and suddenly find yourself surrounded by quite incredible, and usually surreal, street art that makes you feel as though you have stepped into another world all together. And of course there are then all those doors – the ones that are in odd walls, or at curious heights or are just a very strange size for a door, and they make you wonder where they lead, and who are they for and why are all these people walking past without noticing?! But all of them, the lanes and the passageways and the tunnels and the doors – they all have stories in them, just waiting for us to discover.
Thank you so much, Zana, and wishing you all the best for reaching your 'someday'!
The Bone Sparrow is published in UK paperback today and has been nominated for the 2017 Carnegie medal,