Today we are delighted to welcome Robyn Bavati to the blog. Robyn is the award-winning author of three novels for young adults - Dancing in the Dark, Pirouette, and Within These Walls, which has just been shortlisted for the 2017 CBCA Book award for younger readers. She loves visiting schools, libraries, book clubs and writers festivals to talk about her work or run writing workshops. Robyn is also an active member of Toastmasters International and enjoys public speaking.
What is the inspiration for your current book?
Within These Walls was inspired by true events, and in particular by the DVD testimony of a woman who was one of only 4 children to escape the Warsaw ghetto in a sideboard.
Is there a particular theme you are exploring in this book?
The book was written specifically to educate children about the Holocaust. It includes various Holocaust themes such as survival, and the different forms resistance takes, but it also explores themes of family and belonging.
Which period of history particularly interests you? Why?
I’ve always enjoyed reading historical fiction, and I don’t mind which period as long it’s a good story well told.
As for Within These Walls, I didn’t come up with the idea of writing about the Holocaust myself. I was actually commissioned to write about it by Scholastic Australia, who were looking for Jewish writers able to write for children. Unlike John Boyne’s Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, admittedly a fable, and written from the point of view of a German child, my brief was to write realistic fiction written from the point of view of a Jewish child.
As I am part of the Melbourne Jewish community, which is very much a Holocaust community, I felt a personal connection to the Holocaust even though my own ancestors had left for England long before WW2 began. (Almost all the children I went to school with were second generation survivors.)
What resources do you use to research your book?
I went to Yad Vashem (the most famous of all Holocaust museums) in Israel, as well as visiting the Holocaust centre here in Melbourne, where helpful staff allowed me access to the DVD testimonies that were part of the Speilberg project. I also interviewed several survivors. In addition, I read a number of books, memoirs as well as academic texts, and watched several Holocaust movies, including some set in Warsaw and the Warsaw Ghetto.
What is more important to you: historical authenticity or accuracy?
Both. Accuracy is extremely important when it comes to the depiction of actual historical events, though cannot apply to made-up characters. Authenticity is what counts when it comes to characters – everything they do, say, and feel must be believable. Extensive research is required not only for the description of major historical places, figures and events, but also to accurately capture the minutiae of the characters’ lives.
Which character in your current book is your favourite? Why?
The protagonist, Miri is my favourite character. She’s selfless and brave – a real hero. And she never gives up.
Are you a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser’? How long does it generally take you to write a book?
I’m neither one nor the other. I don’t have a detailed plot worked out before I begin, but I do need a strong sense of direction. I won’t start until I have at least a couple of major plot points in mind and an idea of the ending, but I don’t have details. Writing is exploratory. If I knew the story in detail before I started, I’d have no reason to write it.
How long does it take me to write a book? Depends on the book. This one began with three months of research (which continued throughout the writing process) followed by 10 months to reach the end of the 1st draft. Then there were a few rounds of edits over the next 6 months or so.
Which authors have influenced you?
The books I found most helpful in writing Within These Walls were The Pianist by Wladyslaw Szpilman and Israel Gutman’s books Resistance: The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and The Jews of Warsaw.
I don’t think I’ve been influenced by anyone in particular as regards my writing style.
What advice would you give an aspiring author?
Don’t plunge straight into writing a book as soon as you get a good idea. Sit with it for a couple of months to see if it’s still begging to be written. Writing a book is a lengthy process, and you need to be wholly invested in the work to last the distance. However, once you’ve decided to go ahead, be persistent.
Tell us about your next book or work in progress.
I’m currently working on another novel for young adults, but it’s too soon for me to tell you more about it…
WHATEVER IS COMING, WE'LL FACE IT TOGETHER, AS A FAMILY. AS LONG AS WE'RE TOGETHER, WE'LL BE OKAY.
For Miri and her family, life in Warsaw is full of simple joys. The smell of freshly baked challah, the promise of summer holidays, and Fridays when everyone comes together to celebrate the Sabbath. But when the Germans march into Warsaw with their campaign of hatred against the Jews, Miri and her family must move to the ghetto. One by one her family are taken from her, and Miri finds herself alone.
Based on true events, 'Within These Walls' gives a realistic account of what it was like to be a Jewish child in Warsaw during the Holocaust.
Thank you for sharing your story with us, Robyn. Robyn will be taking part in a panel discussion about 'Children's and Young Adult Historical Fiction' with Goldie Alexander. Elizabeth Jane Corbett and Pamela Rushby at our HNSA Meet the Author satellite event in Melbourne on 9 April 2017 at the Mail Exchange Hotel, Melbourne. More details can be found on our satellite events calendar where you will find a link to buy your tickets.
HNSA 2017 Conference
The HNSA 2017 Conference in Melbourne is being held on 8-10 September 2017. Early bird registration is currently open but hurry - the ticket allocation is nearly exhausted! You will receive 15% off the full price for our weekend programme. The same discount also applies for tickets to our opening reception.
This celebration of the historical fiction genre will showcase over 60 speakers discussing our theme, inspiration, writing craft, research, publishing pathways and personal histories. Among the many acclaimed historical novelists participating are Kerry Greenwood, Kate Forsyth, Deborah Challinor, Lucy Treloar, Sophie Masson, Sulari Gentill, Robert Gott and Arnold Zable. The HNSA’s speakers’ list is available on the HNSA website.
In addition to the two stream weekend programme, there will be ten craft based super sessions and two research masterclasses. You won’t want to miss our interactive sessions on armour and historical costumes either! Manuscript assessments will be conducted by industry experts, Kylie Mason and Irina Dunn. And there are two calls for papers in our free extended academic programme.
Our First Pages Pitch Contest offers an opportunity for submissions to be read aloud to a panel of publishers. And we are delighted to announce the introduction of our inaugural HNSA Short Story Contest with a $500 prize!
Let’s make a noise about historical fiction!