Bren MacDibble and Zana Fraillon are two of my favourite YA and children’s authors so I was so excited to read their new collaboration, The Raven’s Song.
Bren is the bestselling author of How to Bee and The Dog Runner, and Zana Fraillon – the multi-award-winning author of THE BONE SPARROW.
They have joined forces to create The Raven’s Song, an absorbing dual narrative, set in a post-climate change, post-pandemic (not COVID-19) world.
AND THEY’RE VISITING THIS BLOG TODAY!
YES, they’re here to chat about the way they worked together to create this amazing book. I asked them some ‘crafty’ questions about how they wrote The Raven’s Song.
1. How did the collaboration come about?
Bren: Zana put a call out on twitter for ideas to help her with her current novel, I offered an idea, Zana said, ‘No but I’d like to write that novel with you.’ And we did.
Zana: I’m not a big social media user – but one of its great wonders is how quickly and easily you can access help and support from your community (this is at least true with the wonderful kids lit community). I have always been a huge fan of Bren’s, so when she jumped in to help with a plot problem I was having, I was thrilled. And although it didn’t work for my WIP, the world of the story itwould work in was quickly unfurling in my head. I was only half joking when I suggested that we use her solution to craft our own book together, and when she came back to ask if I actually wanted to, I think I may have squealed.
2. What was the most challenging thing about collaborating on this book?
Bren: The collaboration was a breeze. The most challenging thing was when Covid overtook our pandemic novel and we both agreed it would never sell, but we were having too much fun to stop.
Zana: I have honestly never had as much fun writing a book as I did collaborating on this with Bren. It wasn’t work. It wasn’t hard. It wasn’t difficult. It was like we were playing. I think because we both said from the outset that this would be an experiment and that we could pull out at any time, there wasn’t any pressure to succeed. There were no stakes, and if nothing came of it, then we would both have improved our craft and enjoyed ourselves. It was really just an exploration of what ifs. As Bren said, the challenge was Covid turning up and inserting its reality into our fiction (we had a fictional pandemic! We didn’t want a real one!). We didn’t want to stop exploring and experimenting and having fun, but at the same time, we worried that a book about a pandemic would just be too close to home. But in the end, we decided to keep going for our own benefit. We didn’t want to stop! And as it turns out, I can see now that having books about something like Covid, can be a way of processing everything that has changed because of it. The Raven’s Song is all about change and dealing with change and how to keep going when things get tough and how to shift your perspective about the world you think you know. Strangely enough, it seems to have become a book for our time.
3. What did you enjoy most about the collaboration process?
Bren: The whole two brains thing. Zana says it better. Zana brought ideas and knowledge to this story that I just didn’t have, plus she has a really poetic writing style and I think the readers will like the tempo of moving back and forth between timelines and her poetic ancient times, her thoughtful careful boy character and my stark reality loud girl character. I like that we each got to do what we do best and it works so well together.
Zana: I agree – having someone who knows the story inside out, who knows what we are trying to do, where the thoughts came from, where the story is headed – it is like having two brains working on the one story. I could shoot a one-line message off to Bren and she would know exactly what I was talking about and come back with some brilliant idea that my brain would never have arrived at. Or at least, never have arrived out without months of circling around and tripping over itself. I also loved having Bren there to question my assumptions about what we could or couldn’t do. There is a scene that comes towards the end of the book, and I said to Bren, ‘We couldn’t actually do this, but how cool would it be if we did XXXX’ (no spoilers!). Bren’s response was, ‘why can’t we do that?’ And of course we could, and we did and it is still one of my favourite parts of the story. And the other thing is, it was so quick to write and edit! Two brains really are better than one…
4. With Covid, I imagine you weren’t able to be in the same actual space working on the book so how did the collaboration work practically. Did the discussions/editing take place via Zoom/email or some other form?
Bren: We’re also on opposite sides of the country and though we once both lived in Melbourne have never actually met. The initial bouncing of ideas was on Twitter messages, quick back and forths and brainstorming real time a lot of the time, then we went off to each write our characters timelines and then came together to work once we’d pieced the novel together, mostly via email.
Zana: It was actually incredibly magical. After Bren and I had a huge Twitter brainstorm of all the things we could do with this book (messaging each other so quickly that our ideas were tumbling over each other and evolving more quickly than either of us could keep up) we each had a character and a very vague idea of where that character was headed and where we thought the story would go. So we both went off and wrote their stories. I don’t think we really messaged much during that process – other than a couple of check ins – but when it came time to piece the book together, I sent my half to Bren and miraculously our chapters slotted into each other as though we had written them together. It was incredible. I think we needed to split one chapter in half to even it out, but that was it. And then once we were at the next stage, we took it in turns sitting with the manuscript and playing before sending it back.
5. Were the characters inspired by anyone you know?
Bren: Don’t they say you put a bit of yourself into every character you write?
Zana: Not consciously! Although none of my characters are firmly based on, or inspired by real people, there are always bits and pieces of people I know in my characters. It is how I make them real in my mind. Even if it is something small, like a phrase they use, or a habit, or the way they walk. Adding the little details brings them to life for me, and hopefully, for the reader also.
MY REVIEW OF THE RAVEN’S SONG
The Raven’s Song, a stunning collaboration from much loved and awarded authors, Bren MacDibble and Zana Fraillon, is set in a post climate change, post pandemic (not covid) world, but despite its intense content will give readers hope for the future.
Shelby and Phoenix are living one hundred years apart in very different worlds, but they are joined across time, and the future of one depends on the other.
Phoenix lives in a world that is choking under the excesses of human consumption and destruction of the environment. When a deadly virus is released from the bog near his home, his life, and the whole world is changed forever.
Shelby and her ancestors inherited this damaged world and for the past 100 years have been working to put things right. They’ve created a working civilisation that respects and lives in harmony with the ‘honoured and natural world’.
Shelby and her best friend Davy live quiet low-tech lives in a closed community that is made up of exactly three hundred and fifty kind, ethical people living on exactly seven hundred hectares.
When they climb through a hole in the perimeter fence to venture into the surrounding jungle, what they find is more astonishing than anything they could have imagined. They discover a relic city from Phoenix’s time, and remnants of a life that could destroy all the healing that has taken place in the last 100 years.
Phoenix and Shelby’s stories and their worlds are seamlessly interwoven by these two master storytellers. I loved both the carefully crafted characters, and we get their unique and contrasting perspectives through the dual narrative.
Shelby is feisty and strong and courageous.
‘Right down in the base of my skull I have a nagging that someone needs my help and I gotta be brave.’
Phoenix is kind and sensitive and gifted with a sixth sense and a deep awareness of his surroundings. ‘This was the first time Phoenix had seen something so strange that he knew it couldn’t possibly be there.’
Shelby and Phoenix’s worlds are both so evocative, they are like extra characters in this story and help to provide the edge of your seat tension.
I connected instantly with Shelby and Phoenix and could not put this book down, wanting to know what would happen next.
Although sometimes, ominous, ravens represent prophecy and insight in The Raven’s Song and their symbolism is used throughout the book to coherently connect the two worlds and the narrative.
This unique and thought-provoking story is about family and friendship and the passing down of knowledge through time.
I highly recommend The Raven’s Song to readers over the age of 9 who are looking for a page turning story, characters they can identify with, and hope for the future of human civilisation.
The Raven’s Song is published by Allen & Unwin.