'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Wednesday 5 July 2023

Guest Post: Q & A with Zana Fraillon

Today we are ecstatic to welcome one of Australia's best loved and most awarded children's authors, Zana Fraillon as she invites us to learn more about her latest picture book release, The Gargoyle.

What inspired you to write The Gargoyle?

I have always loved gargoyles. I love their unknowingness and their hybridity. The way they seem to shift in the shadows and shuffle in the evening light. The way it is so easy to believe that they crack from their stone skin in the dark of night and prowl our city streets. And I love the way they so often go unnoticed, perched at the very tops of buildings, yet observing everything. I often wonder at all they must have seen. All the small little moments of being that they were witness to. 

The oldest gargoyles in the world are thousands of years old. They would have witnessed changes to their environment so huge, that it is almost impossible for us to imagine. What stories do gargoyles hold within their stone? What would we do with those stories if we could hear them? What must they think of the world they see beneath their feet now? And what will they continue to see of the world as they gaze down for another thousand years to come? Gargoyles are a connection through deep time – linking us to the distant past and equally to the distant future.

I have also been thinking a lot lately about how much we can learn from the elders of our community, who so often (particularly in contemporary Western cultures) disappear into the shadows of society, and go ignored and unlistened to, despite all their wisdom. The actual event of the Gargoyle being thrown off the train for not having a valid ticket came from an event I witnessed on a train in which an elderly man experiencing homelessness was threatened by a ticket inspector. It made me think how different the world could be if we really listened to people. I also heard a quote by someone who said the last thing they wanted to do before they died was to plant a seed they wouldn’t see grow. I love that. I want to do that too.

How do you find inspiration for your books more broadly?
Everywhere! I carry a notebook with me always, and my brain is always on the lookout for new ideas. I like having my books based in fact – even the ones that feel purely fantastical start from something that has happened in the world. Anything that sparks a little buzz of curiosity goes into my notebook – newspaper and journal articles, magazine cutouts, photos of street art, quotes or things I’ve overheard, and lots and lots of pictures from other artists. And quite often I’ll have an idea for something at a really odd and inconvenient time – just as I’m drifting off to sleep, or as I am jumping in the car and already running late. These might be a turn of phrase, or an image or just a fragment of an idea, and I know I have to grasp them or they’ll disappear again.

What message do you hope readers take from the book?
I never set out to write a book with a message. But for me personally, The Gargoyle is about listening to the stories from our ancestors (both our human and more than human ancestors) and seeing ourselves as future ancestors for those who will come after us. It is about deciding now, the kind of world we want to still be here long after we are gone, and how small acts of resistance can make real change.

What do enjoy most about writing for young readers?
The infinite possibilities that young people can imagine! Young people have the most amazing imaginations – at some point, adults tend to lose that. I honestly believe that the most important thing we can do to save our planet, is to engender a culture of imagination. We need to encourage imagination so that we are able to imagine all the myriad futures that are possible. You can’t build what you can’t imagine, and if you can’t imagine change, then everything stays the same.

What is your favourite picture book that tackles complex themes?
Kitty Crowther’s A Visit from Little Death and Mother Medusa. Kitty Crowther is an absolute master of creating stories for children. She is honest and respectful of her readership, and creates stories that explore the issues children grapple with, no matter how difficult or taboo those issues may be.

For your chance to win a copy of The Gargoyle and Zana's junior fiction title, Etta The Octopus, enter our exclusive Giveaway this week! Entry is free. Winners announced Monday 10 July.

Zana Fraillon (she/they) was born in Naarm (Melbourne), but spent her early childhood in San Francisco. Her 2016 novel, The Bone Sparrow, won the ABIA Book of the Year for Older Children, the Readings Young Adult Book Prize and the Amnesty CILIP Honour. It was also shortlisted for the Prime Minister's Literary Awards, the Queensland Literary Awards, the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize, the Gold Inky and the CILIP Carnegie Medal. Her book The Lost Soul Atlas won the 2020 Aurealis Award for Best Children's Fiction and was shortlisted for the 2021 Children's Book Council Award for Book of the Year: Older Readers. Her most recent picture book, The Curiosities, illustrated by Phil Lesnie, was a 2021 Aurealis Award winner.