Inspiration, lockdown, detention

What inspires a writer? Well, just about anything in everyday life, it seems.

Listening to Tristan Bancks being interviewed on TV the other day made this quite clear. His new book, Detention, was inspired during a school visit when there was a lockdown. As a school visitor, he was involved in the drill, and listened as the teachers and students discussed examples of lockdown situations they had experienced in the past.

Spinning on from this, his creative mind pondered what else might generate a lockdown situation. Then an actual news item, about asylum seekers on the run, further sparked his ideas for a story involving a young girl whose family attempts to escape a detention centre.

While I have not yet read Detention, early reviews suggest that fans of Two Wolves and the Fall will again enjoy a thriller from Bancks. (You can also view the first part of his book – and then submit your own reviews directly back to Tristan! Just click on the link in the quote below.)

And now it’s your turn. You’ve read the early Detention book reviews and I’d love to read your review. The first three chapters are free and you can buy it in Australian bookstores big and small from 2 July. (from Tristan’s website)

Detention tackles the issues faced by young asylum seekers, giving readers lots to think about – putting them in the shoes of those caught in the politics of the world through no fault of their own. You can expect real characters which you can identify with, as well as a situation which you may need to think about carefully, dealing with the tragic experience faced by many fleeing conflicts around the globe.

Of course, there is a lot more work involved in story-writing, including lots of authentic research (which Tristan discusses in the TV interview here). But then, you wouldn’t expect anything less for a result like this!

Don’t Stop – playlists of life

Planning events these days will involve a playlist – that is, the significant songs that can be used during the event. Special songs for the wedding couple, meaningful songs for a birthday celebration, reminiscent songs for anniversaries. The Spotify generation can relate to this – and plan their playlist.

Stevie has a playlist her father left her – to deal with different days and different times – even though he wasn’t expecting to leave her life quite so soon. Her mother certainly didn’t expect that either – and Stevie has also ‘lost’ her too since she is severely depressed and unable to cope with daily life in any form – including caring for Stevie.

In another world, Hafiz was sent from his family – forced to flee as a refugee from Syria – and to leave his parents behind. Facing life without his parents (in a strange new country, in a new school), Hafiz finds some solace in Stevie’s isolation from others, when he first sits at his allocated desk, beside her, in homeroom.

Each has their own struggles, which slowly surface as they slowly expose different parts of their life to one another. And together, they find support.

Curham’s novel Don’t Stop Thinking about Tomorrow’ blossoms from the Fleetwood Mac song – as Stevie and Hafiz deal with the usual teen issues, along with their fragmented family lives. It is told alternatively by Stevie and Hafiz, giving two sides to the story. How these unlikely friends, cautious about sharing with others, ultimately work together (without romantic involvement) is what keeps you reading, and provides lots of food for thought.

What are your takeaways from this book?

Though it is set in England, would it easily transfer to an Australian setting? 

Through their eyes…

shahanaShahana is the first of several books in a series Through My Eyes, with a focus on children living in conflict zones around the globe.

Life for Shanana is difficult; even more so with the death of her father, mother and older brother – victims of militant fire in the borderlands of Kashmir. With her younger brother, Tanveer, in her grandfather’s mountain village home, she ekes out a living daily by sewing and haggling for their basic necessities.

As if life isn’t hard enough already, when Shahana and her brother come across a half dead boy being attacked by wild dogs, they rescue him. Not only is he another mouth to feed, his Indian family background is in conflict with their heritage in a zone of great political conflict. Add to that the problems of a 13 year old Muslim girl living with an unrelated male in her house, and you begin to understand the complexities in the life of Shahana and her younger brother.

In this tale, Rosanne Hawke cleverly reveals ways in which life unfolds for many young girls like Shahana; when they are orphaned, or their families face the challenges of poverty in a land of war and strife. Each day is a test of survival. Each day also brings the challenges of testing friendships and relationships – determining who one can trust, and which people you should rely on.

Shahana is a strong character, bound however by the traditions of her sex. Many of her decisions are taken in the light of this, as we see her modify her choices because she has to ‘take her place’ and be wary of overstepping her role. However, her fate is to challenge the idea of being submissive – to avoid suffering at the hands of others just because she is orphaned and female.

There is lot to be learned about Shahana’s Kashmiri culture, and the story is sprinkled with the language and traditions of her family and those around her.

Tragically, there is also truth in the fictional lives of the people who populate Shahana’s world:

  • Zahid, the child soldier
  • Mr Nadid, the opportunistic carpet-maker
  • Amaan, the Indian militant
  • Rabia, the half-widow – mother of Ayesha, Shahana’s best friend

In many ways, these are the critical elements of the tale – revealing as they do a world apart from our own western experience. A world in which a 13 year old girl has to feed and care for her younger brother, and keep him from the clutches of a greedy businessman. A world in which unknown people are feared, and known people change according to their unfortunate circumstances. A world where a young girl has great responsibilities, beyond her tender years. A world all too common in many parts of the world today.

In this clip, Rosanne Hawke talks about how and why she wrote Shahana, and what she hopes readers take from the story:

Shahana is the first book to be published in this series; with others by renowned authors (including zones of ongoing conflict such as Somalia, Afghanistan and Mexico) to be published soon. For future details see:

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the series will be donated to UNICEF.

‘Is your name Parvana?’

She is only 15, but American authorities suspect she may be more than she first appears – but is Parvana really a terrorist?

Parvana’ Promise is the sequel to Deborah’s Ellis’s Parvana and Parvana’s Journey; books which were inspired by the author’s visit to Pakistan to help at an Afghan refugee camp. They focus on the life struggles of Parvana and her friends and family, as they face the turmoils of daily life under Taliban rule in Afghanistan.

Life as a girl in Afghanistan is particularly challenging. In past books, Parvana disguised herself as a boy in order to support her family, since the Taliban forbids girls working. Education of girls is another forbidden, as highlighted recently in real life, by the shooting of a 14-year-old schoolgirl, Malala Yousafzai, in Pakistan (for daring to oppose its rule and advocating for the right of girls to go to school).

In Parvana’s Promise, Parvana and her mother run a school for girls, and they face lots of dangerous opposition to this. This school is where she is found and apprehended by the US Military, when they bomb the school. From here, Paravana is imprisoned and questioned constantly – but she refuses to utter a word, much to the frustration of her captors.

Parvana’s story moves from the present to the past and back again, as we try to understand why she is remaining totally silent. Her strengths and loyalties shine through, though it is sometimes hard to comprehend that life could really be like this for children around the world. However, through her tale, we catch glimpses of life under Taliban rule which are realistic, given Ellis’s own experiences among Afghan refugees.

Interestingly, Deborah donated the royalties for both Parvana’s Journey and Parvana to ‘Women for Women’ in Afghanistan. A recent interview with Deborah  Ellis  gives an insight into how her books have come about and how she thinks as she writes. It highlights so much how good writing comes from writing about things you really know.

Parvana’s Promise has been criticised for its negative portrayal of both the US military and the Taliban, but Ellis simply wants to focus on the child’s perspective in a dangerous land. What do you think?