Ask The Author

Will Hill

After the Fire

Hello Zana, I loved reading The Bone Sparrow and it really put my own life into perspective. My question is what can you imagine Subhi going on to do in later life?
Between the Tring Park Pages Shadowing Group, Herts

Oh wow. I have never thought of Subhi later in life. Strangely enough, when I try to imagine him as an adult, I can only see him as an old man, surrounded by his family. I imagine him sitting and watching his grandchildren play and grow up in a way which he never could. I imagine him telling them stories brought to him on the Night Sea. I imagine him talking to the Shakespeare Duck. I imagine there is always a sadness behind his eyes, but more than anything, I imagine that there is a deep happiness there too. I imagine he found his Someday.

Why were you inspired to make a story about refugees and who was your target audience?
Akin, 12

I was inspired to write The Bone Sparrow because I was seeing a deliberate and calculated mistreatment of people for political gain. Refugees and asylum seekers had become a problem to be solved rather than actual people struggling to survive. I didn't want today's children to grow up with that belief. In all the media reports and newspapers and political debate about refugees, all I was hearing were statistics and policies. I wasn't seeing the people behind the numbers, I wasn't hearing their voices or their stories. And in Australia, where the immigration policies are so horrific, and where we are breaking so many human rights laws in our treatment of these people, I wanted to create a space where readers could see the people behind the statistics and policy debates and to create some kind of bridge to enable us all to hear those voices which are currently being silenced. I wanted today's children growing up refusing to turn away, and refusing to forget.

I didn't really have a target audience when I started writing - I really just let the story come out the way it wanted to. I did always want this to be a story which could be accessed by young people though, because ultimately, the future of the world is in your hands. Young people's minds are so wide open to possibility, and it is that which makes you all so resilient and hopeful and imaginative and so full of ideas. Young people aren't constrained by circumstance like adults are, because no matter what your situation, you know that your futures can be anything. The world today is very different to the world tomorrow, and that change, that powerful sense of hope, is what this story is all about.

If all the characters in "The Bone Sparrow" were in trouble and you could only save one who would you save and why?
Naomi & Grace, 13

That is such a cruel question!!! How could I possibly choose?! I thought about this question a lot. I tried to find some sort of loophole by which I save the duck who then goes for help and everyone is saved, but I know that isn't what you are looking for. So. After much deliberation, I would have to choose Subhi, simply because he is so full of hope that I just know he will make a real difference in the world. He has a lot to offer us all.

For our mock news report which will be part of our presentation at Devon's Carnegie Shadowing morning (we have chosen your book!) our question is: Would you say that the plight of the Rohingya Refugees has been acknowledged by a wider audience since your book's publication?
Exmouth Carnegie Collective Shadowing Group, Devon

I would love to be able to say yes, but in all honesty I have no idea. I chose Subhi to have a Rohingyan cultural background because I was horrified that as a well educated adult I had no idea who these people were, despite the UN describing them as being one of the most persecuted people on earth. I hope that by writing about their plight and the way they are treated, that the attempted Rohingyan genocide is acknowledged by a wider audience, and that more of us are inspired to help. I am so pleased and proud that you have taken this on and are making a change. Thank you.

Have you ever been around or seen a real-life detention centre?
Euan, 11

No, I haven't. I thought about applying to visit a detention centre, but in the end I felt that I couldn't take people's stories for my fictitious tale and offer them nothing in return - it just didn't feel right. Also, the detention centre in The Bone Sparrow is based on the Australian run and owned off-shore detention centres. These are almost impossible to gain access to - even the United Nations were denied access. So instead, I spent months researching detention centres and finding as much information as possible so I could make sure that the conditions described were accurate. I used everything I could find - poems written by refugees and asylum seekers, photos, official reports, newspaper articles, letters, documentaries and drawings done by kids living in camps and detention centres.

How did you find out how refugees are treated in the camps? I had thought a lot of this information would be confidential. I really enjoyed the book.
Andrei, 12

I am so pleased you enjoyed the book - they are wonderful words for an author to hear. You are right - a lot of the information is confidential. Fortunately, I had the idea to write a story set in a detention centre a long time ago. I managed to find a whole lot of 'Incident Reports' online. These reports were filled out by guards every time there was an 'incident'. When I went back to look at these reports again, I discovered they had been taken down, but I already had my information. (The Guardian since uncovered a whole lot more of these reports in their special investigation and published them on their website - so now the information is there for the whole world to see). Also, when I started my research, the 'whistle blower' law had not yet come into effect. This is a law which threatens people with 2 years ail if they talk about anything that happens in the detention centres. But before this became a law, people had already started to speak out about what was happening in the camps so I used all of this information to guide my writing. I am pleased to say that despite the whistle blower law, brave people continue to speak out about the human rights violations that they have witnessed.

Have you ever experienced writer's block?
Hillhead High School 3A2 Shadowing Group, Scotland

Not really. Sometimes I have days where the words won't come out the way I want them to, or I am stumped by a plot problem or a character isn't coming to me strongly enough to really get to know. When this happens, I grab the dogs and go for a long walk. I find walking always helps - it seems to get my head in just the right space for ideas to form.

I have never had an issue with coming up with an idea for a story though - probably because I keep a notebook with me all the time. Whenever an idea for a story pops into my head, I write it down in my notebook, and it waits patiently until the day I decide I can't not write about it any longer. I have lots and lots of notebooks now. They are full of small little half formed ideas, newspaper cuttings, photos, drawings, poems - anything that starts a little tingle of excitement running up the back of my neck, letting me know there is a story in there, just waiting to reveal itself.