The Ravens Song Q&A with Zana Fraillon and Bren MacDibble

The Raven’s Song by Zana Fraillon and Bren MacDibble, imbricate by Joanna Hunt and Sheila Smallwood, published by Old Barn Books

I veritably venerate this book, which I read when it came out in hardback last year – you can read my review of it here. It’s a wonderful tousle of folkloric magical realism, cautionary environmental messages, scientific advances and fierce family immuration and friendships from two of my favourite authors.

It was one of those books where so much well-nigh it got me thinking and I just knew I had increasingly questions to ask. Luckily Bren and Zana very kindly well-set to wordplay them for me, so here they are to tell us increasingly well-nigh The Raven’s Song, their inspiration, working together, the writing process and why enivronmental-themed fiction is so important to both of them.


Hi, thanks so much for coming on the blog to wordplay some questions well-nigh The Raven’s Song. Firstly, can you tell us a little bit well-nigh it?

Bren: The Raven’s Song is well-nigh a girl in the future who is a survivor from the swoon of civilisation through disease, climate transpiration and pollution. She lives in a sealed polity waiting for the world to heal outside their fences but one day she goes through the fence and finds a derelict city, a strange man and a terrifying mystery well-nigh the past.

You’ve both written several books surpassing this one – what is your writing process like, and how did you transmute it when co-writing?

Bren: I’m all over the place. I don’t plan, I rewrite a lot (because I don’t plan obviously) and I write in intensive bursts. When Zana and I got together we made a plan to write up until our notation met. We once knew we’d write installment well-nigh and each take one main character, but we did a lot of when and withal planning and it really saves on the rewriting, hitting stonewalls in the planning stage instead of the writing stage is much simpler (who knew?). The when and withal planning was so exciting, new ideas wavy when and forth, a gazillion what ifs, so many ideas! Two brains are definitely largest than one. Then we went yonder to write our notation up until they met, then we came together to write turn well-nigh sending the whole manuscript when and forth. It was heady waiting for Zana to add a installment and send it back.

Zana: I don’t plan either, so this was quite the revelation for me too! Having said that though, I don’t think the planning would work for me without flipside smart-ass to plan with! Usually when I write, I have a few scenes that are very clear, and the rest of the typesetting is kind of hazy. Most of the time I don’t plane know what the story is well-nigh – it starts with a weft or a situation and I write myself into the story and plot as I go (or perhaps it is increasingly well-judged to say that the story reveals itself to me as I get to know it). But for obvious reasons, that doesn’t work in a collaboration! I don’t think I have overly been as excited well-nigh a typesetting as I was in that first crazy planning splash that Bren and I had over Twitter. We were messaging so quickly that my fingers couldn’t alimony up, and each new idea resulted in a splash of remoter new ideas. It was like an explosion of creativity!

Having a partner in the writing process moreover gave me someone to write for. I had Bren in mind when I was writing, and it was lovely having that very specific reader in mind – expressly as I know the kind of reader Bren is.

Both of you have such wonderful, lyrical and distinctive writing voices and I could really hear both of you in The Raven’s Song, although it moreover came out with its own unique style too, variegated to the books you’ve both published solo – how easy was it to marry your variegated styles and voices up to create The Raven’s Song?

Bren – We definitely wanted the reader to know which weft they were reading, so we didn’t set out to marry our styles. One weft is from the future, one from now, so we wanted points of difference. We just naturally seem to chug withal at the same speed, I guess, considering it came together so well.

Zana – It’s funny, considering we have very distinctive styles and voices, but in lots of ways, they are quite similar. We both write the mettlesome kid in a tough situation, nutting things out for themselves considering they have to. So at no point did I think our voices would clash. What was so interesting was seeing how perfectly the tempo of our writing matched each other. We hadn’t read what the other had written until the part where our two notation meet – so it was a delightful surprise to see that our weft arcs lined up so perfectly. Bren put the chapters together, and I think we had to cut one installment in two, but that was it. They slipped perfectly into place with each other.

The next questions I guess are withal a similar line, as there’s specific things I unchangingly really love well-nigh both of your books individually and I saw both of these in The Raven’s Song.

Bren, I unchangingly love your characters! Shelby here feels very ‘you’ (thinking when to Peony – How to Bee; Neoma – Wideness the Risen Sea; and Ella – The Dog Runner, who, while all very different, do seem to share a unrepealable vivacious determination, which comes through here in Shelby too)

So I’m interested to know how much of Shelby was you and how much was Zana – and by extension, how did you write the characters/dual narrative overall: was it split between you quite definitively, or increasingly fluid/mixed?

Bren – We wrote completely separately until our notation came together. Then if Zana wrote Shelby into a Phoenix chapter, I could retread her dialogue, transpiration her actions, etc. I found Zana wrote her a lot increasingly mellifluous and energetic than I wrote her and I thought that was interesting that she felt Shelby was mellifluous and energetic, as interpreted by Phoenix obviously. I wrote her physical and busy, but I finger like she sped up a lot whenever Zana wrote her! Likewise Zana adjusted Phoenix’s dialogue, thoughts and deportment unendingly I wrote him into a Shelby chapter.

Zana, you have a wonderful worthiness to tousle quite gritty, real-life scenarios (a detention centre in The Bone Sparrow; child slavery in The Ones Who Disappeared; child homelessness in The Lost Souls Atlas; climate transpiration and pandemics in The Raven’s Song) with the magic of story, sociology and fantasy. I definitely felt echoes of The Lost Soul Atlas in The Ravened Girl – was this something you came up with or increasingly of a combined effort? And is it based on a real ‘myth’ or ‘story’ or completely invented?

Zana – The Ravened Girl was unquestionably the one bit we didn’t plan. We had spoken well-nigh child sacrifice, and what that might squint like in the present (which was where the freezing of the children came from) but we hadn’t talked well-nigh having past child sacrifice in there also. But when I sat lanugo to write Phoenix, the Ravened Girl popped herself into my throne and wouldn’t let go. I knew I wasn’t going to get any remoter without getting her out of my system, but was amazed that she ended up stuff the glue that links them all together.

She is based on a sort of tie-up of bog persons and child sacrifices that I had come wideness once (it’s been an interest of mine for some time now…). I had read well-nigh a child who had been sacrificed to a bog, and there were (from memory) 12 birds sacrificed with them. Flipside vendible I read spoke of helmets made of human skulls that were placed on young sacrifice victims. And there were chapters I had read in various bog soul books that suggested the kind of ritual that might have taken place. So I had all of that buzzing virtually in my throne while I wrote her. Her sections came out in a couple of intensive writing frenzies. She still hasn’t left me vacated though, so I suspect there may be flipside bog story lurking in there somewhere…

And both of you are unmistakably passionate well-nigh the environment, nature and our increasingly worrying climate crisis, which is a key theme of The Raven’s Song. Why was it so important for you both to bring this into your writing for children?

Bren – I think the world has once brought the subject to children, and it’s terrifying, but when we mention it, we’re fictionalising it, making it unscratched to think well-nigh and talk well-nigh and showing young notation coping, surviving, plane thriving. It’s a wild adventure, but moreover it’s giving kids a language to talk well-nigh what is going on virtually them, maybe express their fears instead of letting the uneasiness build?

Zana – Yep, I agree. I write well-nigh issues which are important to me, and the climate slipperiness is one of the biggest human rights issues we are grappling with, not to mention a more-than-human rights issue. This isn’t something that is going away. It isn’t something that is immediately solvable. Young people know what is going on in the world, and they need the tools to be worldly-wise to imagine all the variegated possible futures that exist. No matter what the world looks like in the future, these kids will be part of it. So enabling them to imagine a way of living within that future gives them the power and strength to imagine all the variegated ways the world might look, and all the variegated ways they might exist within that world. The young people reading these books are at that wonderful age when they are trying to imagine the kind of sultana they want to be and the kind of world they want to live in. If we are not talking well-nigh these issues, then we are denying our young people the endangerment to imagine a variegated future, and denying them the endangerment to work towards that future.

What one thing that we could do easily, immediately, would you suggest children, or all of us really, reading your books do to help our environment?

Bren – I’d hate to tell children to do anything. It’s not their problem. It’s an sultana problem, but the weightier thing they can do, is to alimony talking well-nigh it. Talk well-nigh it with their parents, their friends, their teachers. Alimony learning what is true, what isn’t, what is the latest science and tell people. It’s too late to turn yonder now, visa and understanding will lead to change.

What adults can do, is anything to reduce fossil fuel use, and meat and dairy consumption and to pick one thing to tackle, save a forest, the polar bears, rhino or koala, wipe up a local waterway or beach, plant a roadside with wildflowers, protest a mine or coal power station, champion one thing at a time and involve the children in your life. It’s too easy to be wrestling well-nigh everything, finger hopeless and end up doing nothing. Just do one thing. When it’s done, win or lose. Do flipside thing.

Zana – I grapple with this all the time. What can any of us do? It can hands seem too immense an issue, and the very real danger there is that it becomes very easy to then requite up. I think one of the things I have come to realise though, is that every small little whoopee makes a much worthier difference than it seems. When I was a kid, I couldn’t imagine a time when we would be banning plastic tons in the supermarkets, and squint at where we are now. The fight for climate justice has been going on for decades, and now people and government and big merchantry are listening. Elections are stuff lost and won on the when of this. People have stopped denying that we are in a climate crisis. School children protesting in the street are showing just how much power they have. In the words of Paul Kelly, ‘From little things big things grow” – everything matters. Whether that is picking up rubbish withal the river or rewilding a roundabout or nature strip or a single pot plant for insects and bees; or starting a Street Seed library – every whoopee counts. And the increasingly you do in the natural world, the increasingly you notice well-nigh it, and the increasingly you uncork to genuinely superintendency well-nigh the plants and animals and more-than-humans that co-exist with us. I read a wonderful vendible by David Farrier, and he talks well-nigh how we will be the ghosts that haunt the future. This is at the crux of what I wrote in Raven’s Song. If we can imagine stuff siblings to people so far removed from us in time that they won’t plane have traces of our language left, and we can ask ourselves what kind of prototype we want to be, then suddenly our role as custodians of place becomes clear. Suddenly, we can see how each whoopee we take will directly stupefy those who come after.

I can’t remember who said this, and I wish I could considering it has really stuck with me and has reverted the way I think, but they said that the last thing they want to do surpassing they die is to plant a seed they won’t see grow.

The pandemics (and post-pandemic world) we hear well-nigh in the typesetting finger eerily plausible and recognisable without Covid. Was Covid a factor in you choosing to bring this into the story? Were you worried well-nigh people’s reactions to confronting pandemics in a children’s book?

Bren – We started surpassing covid. We were mostly washed-up when covid hit and we thought it had ruined everything! We thought no one would want to read what was going on right under their noses. We talked well-nigh giving up, but we decided it was fun working together and we wanted to see how it all ended, so we kept going. It’s largely set in a post pandemic world rather than well-nigh a pandemic, plane though Phoenix is living through a pandemic in his story line. It’s well-nigh what comes after, it’s well-nigh learning to be largest people, and that what we do will spritz on to the generations who follow.

Zana – I remember panicking to my writing hairdo when covid hit – I honestly thought the typesetting wouldn’t be publishable. Pre November 2019, the idea of a global pandemic that shut the world lanugo was the stuff of science fiction books. It couldn’t possibly happen in a Capitalist world! It was so wild and out there that it felt like a fun new idea to explore! Of course, living through it, we all know how very, very variegated the reality is, and living in Melbourne (who maintains the record for the longest period of lockdowns; and where we were only unliable out for an hour a day and had an 8pm curfew) I couldn’t imagine overly stuff in a space where reading well-nigh a pandemic would be enjoyable. But we couldn’t stop writing – it really was too much fun, and we well-set that maybe this would be just the kind of typesetting that was needed when the pebbles settled. We did go when and add some things in there that we hadn’t originally considered though – the sanitisation of surfaces hadn’t entered our thinking originally, and the ‘hands, space, face’ notices were then something we felt needed a place in there.

Despite the serious issues both of you write in all of your books, including The Raven’s Song, there is unchangingly a real feeling of hope and possibility running through them – is it important to you to factor this in when you’re creating them?

Bren – Life goes on, it may transpiration a lot but life finds a way. Zana says it weightier when she talks well-nigh time, and our position in it and the importance of stuff good ancestors.

Zana – I think it is well-nigh the resilience of young people. I used to work as an workmate in schools, and I was working with kids who had terrible things happening to them, but they unchangingly had hope, and they were unchangingly worldly-wise to find the small moments of happiness. Perhaps they didn’t realise how tough they had it, or perhaps they just had a long unwritten future superiority which kept them going. But as long as there is hope, there is possibility for change. This idea of having hope isn’t something I factor into my stories – it is vital to them. And vital to us as humans. When the Australian government told refugees that they would never be settled in Australia, that was a deliberate and calculated struggle to destroy the hope of the people who were seeking safety. And it tapped people. Without hope, what is there? I may put my notation through terrible situations, but I would never take yonder their hope. And this goes when to the question of the way we write and talk and think well-nigh the climate crisis. If we are talking well-nigh it as if there is no hope, then there is nothing to work towards. But if we can imagine all the myriad ways that the future may look, then we still have hope. We can’t transpiration the past, but we can unchangingly transpiration the future. I hope that The Raven’s Song goes some way to showing readers that.

How easy is it to bring this in considering how hopeless we can often finger in the squatter of the many crises (social, environmental, economical etc.) we squatter in the modern world?

Bren – It’s so important not to leave it out. Environmental forfeiture has a cascading effect on social and economical aspects, you can’t go to work if the roads are washed out for instance. The modern world and the news can finger overwhelming, but we are creatures of hope. Believing largest days are superiority helps us get there.

Zana – Oh yes – I jumped superiority and answered this too early! But this is moreover why education should be focusing increasingly on process and the ways we can learn to unshut up imaginative and creative spaces, rather than on output and rote learning. The future is going to need imaginers – it is going to need those whose minds stretch wide and far and create a whole host of possibilities. In our lives, we will all squatter situations that finger hopeless. Whether those are small moments or large global ones. But the way through those moments is to imagine the way the world can be. No feeling lasts forever. No situation lasts forever. If we can imagine a increasingly hopeful world, we can work towards that vision.

You know what a big fan I am of all your books, and I loved the collaboration between you both in The Raven’s Song – can you tell us what else you have in the pipeline? And will there be any increasingly collaborations to squint forward to?

Bren – Yes, we are at the preplanning big idea stage! And it’s exciiiiiitiiiing!

Zana – SO exciting! We are at the throwing crazy ideas at each other stage and exploring where those ideas might take us.

And just for fun:

Favourite writing snacks or post-writing treats?

Bren – Sesame curry peanuts

Zana – Coffee. Tea. Chocolate. Digestive biscuits smeared with butter. A seed/nut mix if I’m feeling I need to be a bit healthier…

Favourite writing location?

Bren – The couch

Zana – My studio. It is where I go to create and it is an old converted kids’ cubby at the when of the garden (so very small) but it is like walking into my brain. It is covered in newspaper clippings and piles of stones and gargoyles and gnomes and beachcombed objects and a whole trencher full of tiny hands and feet (gifted to me by an versifier friend) and pictures and photos and maps and postcards pinned to the corkboard walls. There are shelves full of my go-to books and a whiteboard for when I am stuck. There is just unbearable room for one of our two dogs to be in there with me, so usually one sits at my feet and the other in the doorway.

Favourite weft in Raven’s Song?

Bren – The giant raven in sneakers

Zana – The Ravened Girl

Favourite weft from a typesetting by someone else?

Bren – Pippi Longstocking

Zana – Oh my goodness, Bren! How did we not know this well-nigh each other?! I too have an epic love for Pippi, but as Bren as chosen her already, I will say Granny Weatherwax and Tiffany Aching (oooh! And Rob Anybody!) from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld (I couldn’t segregate between them…)

Favourite fairytale, myth or legend?

Bren – The Snow Queen – it’s a rambling 6 part fairytale where a girl saves a boy.

Zana – This is so hard! There are so many to segregate from! Okay. Tatterhood – two sisters are born minutes apart, one is the stereotypical princess, and the other is born wearing a tattered hood and waving a wooden spoon while riding backwards on a goat. How can you go wrong with a whence like that?

Animal you’d segregate to see if one appeared as a sort of ‘guide’ or ’sign’ like the ravens in the book?

Bren – A pegasus (because I’d take some inveigling if it wasn’t unusual!)

Zana – Gah! I LOVE this question! I think I would have to go with fox.

Can you sum up Raven’s Song in just three words?

Bren – Healing the world?

Your deportment matter?

Time heals all?

Zana – Ancestoring the future.

Thank you both so much for answering all my questions – I loved reading increasingly well-nigh The Raven’s Song and how it came to life, as well as your hope and passion for the future of our world (also, Zana, your studio sounds like a wonderful writing space!).