Book People: Emily Conolan
Emily Conolan has used the ever-popular ‘choose your own adventure’ format to put young readers at the centre of stories of immigration; utter.darned.genius. Why was this not done sooner?
I spend so much time speaking to students at school about the importance of reading the stories of others, as it is through books that we can step into the shoes of others. I passionately believe that reading books which contain stories of people the world over, or living in circumstances different to our own, or facing challenges we may never know, is the perfect way to create young people who are kind, empathetic and compassionate. Reading allows us to deeply experience the life of another, and ‘The Freedom Finders’ series takes this a step further, allowing a sense of agency in the journey from cover to cover (and country to country).
Emily Conolan is a writer, teacher and humanitarian worker. She has been awarded the Tasmanian of the Year, Hobart Citizen of the Year, and the Tasmanian Human Rights Award for her role in establishing a volunteer support network for asylum seekers in Tasmania. The stories of courage and resilience she has heard in the course of her work with refugees, combined with tales from her own family history, inspired her to write the Freedom Finders series.
There are currently three books in the series and readers can choose their own destiny as they step into the shoes of a Somalian boy escaping war-torn Mogadishu for Australia in 2011, or an Irish girl making her way from London to Australia in 1825 or as a girl leaving war-torn Italy to find a new home in Australia’s Snowy Mountains in the 1950s.
I am delighted to be able to share a little more about Emily in this interview below as part of our Book People series.
To find freedom, you must leave behind everything you’ve ever known.
Click on title links or ‘Buy from Booktopia’ when shopping online in Australia to #supportaustralian. Apple, Amazon and Book Depository options for overseas & e-book purchases. Purchase in store from your local independent bookstore where possible #supportlocal.
TEN THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT EMILY CONOLAN
1. Tell us about your latest book
It’s called ‘Move the Mountains’, and it’s the third book in the Freedom Finders series. They’re all interactive books where you, the reader, get to make the choices. As you read ‘Move the Mountains’, you’re in Italy at the end of World War Two, then you try to make your way to Australia. It’s full of twists and turns and it’s perfect for boys and girls aged 8 and up.
‘The Freedom Finders: Move the Mountains’
2. How did you get started as a writer?
I was a refugee advocate and teacher, then I approached Allen and Unwin (my publisher) with the idea of telling a series of immigration stories with an interactive plot structure. Luckily, they loved the idea and signed me up. But I think in my heart, I really got started as a writer early in primary school when I became hooked on reading and telling stories.
3. What does a typical day look like for you?
I have two kids, so I run around like a mad thing trying to gobble breakfast, pack bags, find missing shoes, etc. Then I drop the kids off at school, come home, breathe a sigh of relief, ignore all the housework and get stuck into writing. Watching me write would be pretty boring – mostly I’m just hunched over a computer. But sometimes I draw mind-maps, scribble in a journal, walk around the garden or talk to a friend to get ideas going.
4. Can you describe your workspace for us?
I have a nice big bedroom with a desk in it where I write. It’s quiet, sunny, and one wall is lined with my favourite books.
5. Any words of advice for young readers and writers?
If you love reading and writing, that’s a huge gift. Be prepared to take on constructive criticism about your work and improve it. Reach out to people who share your love of words and try to support each other. And remember that, just like you and me, our characters grow stronger and more inspiring through tackling their problems.
6. Do you have a favourite book or character (your own or somebody else’s)?
I’d have to say the BFG (from ‘The BFG’) is my favourite character of all time. I love the jumbly way he talks.
My favourite character from my own books is YOU, because you are the main character in every book! There’s also lots of minor characters from my books who I love – usually the villains. 😂
7. If you were not a creator of books for young people what would you be?
I could always return to refugee advocacy and teaching, but if I were to choose something totally different, I’d like to be a psychologist, a theatre facilitator, or an overseas aid worker.
8. What is your favourite food to eat and/or your favourite music to listen to whilst you are working on your books?
I work in silence and mostly eat toast, fruit, and cups of tea!
9. How much of yourself or people you know is in your books?
They’re very much based on people I know – especially since I’m writing about characters not from my own culture, I need to work closely with advisors who do come from Somalia, or Italy, or wherever my books are set. They give me a lot of inspiration and advice I couldn’t have done from just within my own point of view.
10. If you could have one wish for the world what would it be?
I wish humankind could get it together in time to save ourselves and so many other species from extinction.
You can find all the other two titles in the Freedom Finders series below.