The Tales of Jahani

Leopard PrincessRosanne Hawke is writing The Tales of Jahani, beginning with  Daughter of Nomads & continuing with The Leopard Princess (UQP).

Reading Daughter of Nomads feels like being inside a rich nomad tent surrounded by colours, textures and the scent of spices.

Could you tell us about the setting?

The setting is based on where we lived when we were aid workers in Pakistan in the 1980s and early 1990s. We lived in Abbottabad which I’ve used as inspiration for Sherwan (in 1662) where Jahani was brought up. The beautiful alpine lakes with paries (fairies), rushing rivers, dangerous bridges and fairy fields are all places we took our children to visit. Even the air view from Azhar’s carpet of the Karakorams and Himalayas came from personal experience when we had to take a rather old and small plane from Chitral to Peshawar to escape the blocked snow passes.

What exotic elements, talismans or motifs have you included in the series?

I have an ancient taveez which I bought in Peshawar and it became the inspiration for Jahani’s taveez. I also have a nomad dress and a pouch (similar to the one that Jahani’s nomad mother gives her). The idea of pari power in the story comes from the folklore of Hunza (Hahayul in The Tales of Jahani). I haven’t been to Hunza but my husband has and I have some lovely photos of the area that a friend, Catherine Wood, took for me.

Where did the stories woven into the main narrative that seem to be like Tales from the Arabian Nights come from – traditional or your creation? Arabian

Most of these come from the Shahnameh: the Persian Book of Kings. The evil King Zahhak appears quite early in the Shahnameh as does that of Feraydun who slays him. The famous heroes Rostam, Sohrab and Gordafarid come later on. Even Kaveh one of the horses’ names comes from this mythology. The stories about the beginnings of the kingdoms I gleaned from Pakistani travel books. These are stories that people there know and these naturally fed into the fantasy aspect of the books.

How does the character of Jahani change?

Jahani wakes up one morning believing she is a poor girl who may not amount to much, maybe never be able to be married, and then finds she is someone else entirely. Due to a tragic event she suddenly has no idea who she is. Throughout the story she learns to trust and grows into a young woman who is able to take charge of her own destiny.

How have you subverted the traditional role of women?

In the Mughal Empire women did not rule on their own. If they were called Empress it was because their husband was an emperor. Yet the intrigue and deals that went on in the royal harems are fascinating to read about. One emperor was drugged half the time and his favourite wife made most of the decisions. He just had to sign the papers.

The women I met in Pakistan weren’t downtrodden as they are often depicted in the west. Once a girl gets educated she can do anything, wearing a scarf or not. I guess that’s why the Taliban shot Malala. She knew the truth: educate a girl and you change the world. Jahani wanted to change the world even before she knew who she was. She had to fight for the privilege to do so. I hope she will be a role model to show the unlimited potential all women have.

Are these stories for entertainment or to express issues? Or both?

After writing some stories with heavy topics like forced marriage, trafficking, war orphans and blasphemy, I wanted to write something lighter, fun, adventurous and epic. A story to show the beauty and the best of Pakistan. To celebrate the life we had there with our children. It was my eldest daughter who encouraged me to write about Jahani as this was a story she remembered from her childhood. When I look back on the story and also read some of the reviews I can see there is more to her character. It’s true I did want to portray a strong female character which I hope I have done with Jahani.

Daughter of NomadsHow have you segued book 1 into book 2? (unless this is a spoiler)

Daughter of Nomads segues into The Leopard Princess by Jahani having her recurring dream of fire; it is a pivotal scene for the second book as she finally learns what the dream means. When Jahani wakes from the dream only a few days have passed since the end of book one and then the action carries on with the nomads being attacked. Readers can read the first chapter of The Leopard Princess at the end of Daughter of Nomads.

How involved were you in the conception of the illustrations by D.M. Cornish? What is most appealing about them to you?

Aren’t they gorgeous? He is so talented. I loved the way they echo the gold and minarets of the Mughal Empire. I was asked for some ideas of what could go into the cover and the internal pictures but I wanted him to use his own ideas as I thought the best work would come out that way and so it did. I did want one of the illustrations in each book to include the leopard and one to include the carpet in the first book. Other than that D.M. worked his own magic.

Describe your dream magic carpet.

One that grows in feelings as Azhar’s does. Rich colours: red and green, maybe some animals as found on Persian carpets. One that can save your life if you fall off!

Anything else you’d like to add?

I’d like to mention the great job my son Michael Hawke did of Jahani’s poems. He’d read the manuscript and I told him Jahani liked Rumi’s poems but other than that inspiration, the work was all his own. Even at the end, close to typesetting, when my editor Kristy Bushnell and I realised we needed a song for the people to sing, Michael delivered. He is amazing.

Thank you very much for your generous responses, Rosanne and all the best with this series.

Books & Christmas with Rosanne Hawke

Rosanne Hawke writes hard-hitting yet compassionate novels about young people in difficult, often dire, situations. Her most recent novel for young adults is The Truth About Peacock Blue (Allen & Unwin), about a young girl accused of blasphemy. It’s an inordinately powerful and topical story, which is also well balanced.Truth about Peacock Blue

Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books, Rosanne.

Thanks for asking me.

Where are you based and how involved are you in the YA and children’s lit world?

I live in the mid north of South Australia near Kapunda. Besides writing I’m involved with YA & Children’s Lit by visiting schools, teaching Writing for Children and Writing for YA at Tabor Adelaide (an independent tertiary institution), by belonging to Ekidnas (SA’s Children’s and YA book creators support group) and SCWBI.

Why did you live in Pakistan and what do you love about the country and its people?

We lived in the Middle East for ten years and about seven of those years in Pakistan. We went as aid workers with a Christian mission agency, and I taught ESL and trained teachers to teach English in a school set up for under privileged girls in a mountain area. We lived in Khyber Puktunkhwa (formerly the NW Frontier) in a town called Abbottabad. The scenery was beautiful and we took our children for their summer holidays to places like Swat, Chitral and Kaghan. The mountains are majestic and we saw snow for the first time.

Hawke, Roseanne on Karakorum Hwy

We found the Pakistani people to be very hospitable and family orientated. In a positive sense family members support each other and work together. Children are taught that what is best for all is best for one. Once during the Gulf War when we were confined to the school compound a poor family brought us curry they had cooked. We found that the less people had the more they shared.

As someone who has lived in Pakistan and knows firsthand about people from different cultures and faiths, what do you see as a way forward to peace between peoples?

Peace between people groups grows from knowledge, understanding and learning to care for each other. This occurs when we make a friend with someone from a culture different from our own. As soon as we become friends (i.e. know them, their fears, sorrows and joys) it is impossible to think of that person as ‘other’ or to demonise them. My daughter Lenore says it all starts with a smile. I suggest that people who are frightened of certain refugee groups do not have a friend from that group. Another thing I have noticed is that people who are secure in their own identity and culture are able to embrace other different identities and cultures.

What inspired you to write The Truth About Peacock Blue?Asia Bibi

I wrote The Truth about Peacock Blue (TTAPB) because of a news article I read online about a fourteen-year-old girl accused of blasphemy. Also I had been following the story of Asia Bibi, a mother of five accused of blasphemy and on death row in Pakistan. First I wrote a short story called ‘Only a School Girl’ for the UNICEF anthology, Reaching Out: Stories of Hope edited by Mariah Kennedy (2013). This was Aster’s story and the agent/publisher suggested I write it as a novel.

Where does the title come from?

The main character, Aster likes peacocks and peacock blue is her favourite colour so she used this as her Facebook profile name instead of her real name.

The main character, Aster, has a new teacher who seems to hate her. Where does this hatred come from?

By the end Aster does feel the teacher hated her. In reality the teacher is so intent on converting Aster that she loses focus of Aster as a person. A loving person wouldn’t try to coerce another to convert. The teacher’s brother put pressure on her also. Plus she has a belief that anyone who is not Muslim is kafir (a pagan or unbeliever ) and needs to change.

What are Aster’s links with Australia?

Aster has a cousin in Adelaide called Maryam Yusef who is in first year uni. Maryam sets up a blog and petition to help Aster. This is an integral part of the story as Aster doesn’t know that the world is interested in her, but Maryam tells the world about Peacock Blue. We also hear what a lot of people think about freedom of speech and religion, and human rights.

MockingbirdWhat is the importance of To Kill a Mockingbird in the novel?

This is Aster’s English text. The English teacher chose it because as a work of art it did more to change racist views in America than any other book. The novel has similar events to Aster’s story and it is a novel/movie most readers would be familiar with.

How have you linked Malala’s story into the book?

I think Malala is a hero. In TTAPB a guard wanted to demoralise Aster by showing her an article of Malala being shot by the Taliban etc. But it did the opposite for Aster: Malala inspired her. After reading about Malala, Aster grew stronger, made a calendar and decided to keep hoping.Malala

Aster is a Christian girl who is imprisoned for blasphemy (along with Muslims and others) in line with Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. What do we need to know about the plight of Christians and other minority groups in countries like Pakistan and Syria? Why is this happening, why don’t we hear about it in the news and how can we help?

At the moment Christians are the most persecuted religion. At one time it was Muslims or Hindus; mostly it has been Jews (thinking of WW2). The journalist in TTAPB likens extremists, who have closed minds, to the Klu Klux Klan, a group who believed in white supremacy, and who took steps to remove non-whites from their communities. Some extremist groups will remove people they see as sub-people because they are not Muslim. The Christians had a period in history called the inquisition which acted in a similar way, fueled by power and corruption. I’m sure most Christians were horrified by the inquisition as most Muslims are today by extremists groups who use violence. Our own indigenous people were persecuted too.

We can help persecuted religious minorities through groups such as Open Doors, Barnabas Fund. Agencies like World Vision are also helping minority groups during their humanitarian work. Amnesty also keeps an eye on such issues as well as human rights injustices.

Why don’t we hear about it? We heard about Paris. And we heard about the twin towers. But many more are killed in Africa and other places that we don’t hear about because they are not ‘western’ and the media may not feel we’ll be interested, and so won’t run the story. Maybe there are no journalists where some atrocities happen. Some governments may ban journalists so they can run their country without interference. SBS tries to give a balanced view of world news. Groups like Barnabas give online updates on persecuted minorities.

SorayaAs well as child imprisonment, The Truth About Peacock Blue also challenges the imprisonment of asylum seeker children in Australia. How do you or your characters think this could be resolved?

I was appalled when I returned to Australia from Pakistan and found children in detention centres. I didn’t see Pakistan doing that to asylum seekers. It’s why I wrote Soraya the Storyteller to try to make sense of it for myself. Again the way to resolve it is by making friends. I have met intelligent and nice people who say negative things about a cultural group and I believe it is born of fear. In TTAPB Maryam believes children shouldn’t be in detention, and families should be housed in communities until they can be assessed. Assessment shouldn’t take four or five years as it did with a family I met in a detention centre. They need assessors who understand certain cultural groups.    

What else have you written?Mountain Wolf

TTAPB is my 24th book and I have written picture books, junior novels and other YA novels. Kerenza: A New Australian is about a Cornish immigrant family settling in the Mallee farmlands in 1911. Mustara is about a boy Taj and his camel, released this week in Paperback. The Keeper series are three adventurous and thrilling books about Joel Billings who lives by the sea on Yorke Peninsula. Shahana; Through My Eyes shows orphans living in a war zone in Kashmir. Marrying Ameera and Mountain Wolf (15 plus) deal with forced marriage and trafficking.

What awards have your books won?

This year I won the Nance Donkin award for my work. Last year my YA novel about grief with Cornish themes, The Messenger Bird, won the Cornish Holyer an Gof award for YA literature and the inaugural Ann Trevenen Jenkin Cup. In 2012 Taj and the Great Camel Trek won the Adelaide Festival Award for Children’s Literature. My younger readers’ fantasy, Across the Creek, won the Holyer an Gof award for children’s literature in 2005. Others have been shortlisted, commended or Notable.Messenger Bird

What are you writing at the moment?

I am working on an historical fantasy set during seventeenth century Moghul India which is now northern Pakistan. It will be released as two books: Daughter of Nomads and The Leopard Princess in June & October 2016. It is something quite different for me, a breakout novel, UQP says. Next year I’m writing a companion to Kelsey with a male protagonist for 2017, and my YA Borderland series will be released during 2016-2017 as four totally rewritten and re-titled separate novels (including a new work) by Rhiza Press.

What have you enjoyed reading?

I’ve enjoyed many books this year; these are some of the children’s titles.

My Gallipoli by Ruth Starke & Robert Hannaford

Withering by the Sea by Judith Rossell

The Simple Things by Bill Condon

The Wishbird by Garielle Wang

Figgy in the World by Tamsin Janu

Christmas is coming. How do you plan to celebrate and what books would you like as Christmas presents?

This year our family will all gather at my brother and sister-in-law’s new house and garden in the mid-north of SA. I’d like my own copy of My Gallipoli and The Eye of the Sheep by Sofie Laguna, something magical or mythical with beautiful writing and engaging plot.

Thanks for your thoughtful answers and all the best with your books, Rosanne.

Thank you for your kind support.

Kelsey(Kelsey and the Quest of the Porcelain Doll was my best novel for younger readers for Australian Book Review in 2014 and I reviewed it here for Boomerang Books.)

Pakistan for Children – Kelsey and the Quest of the Porcelain Doll

 

9780702253317It is rare to find an exceptional novel for children with the current emphasis on YA literature rather than on children’s books. Kelsey and the Porcelain Doll by Rosanne Hawke (UQP) is an exceptional Australian book for younger readers. With her background of living in Pakistan as an aid worker, Hawke has incorporated cultural and lifestyle details authentically into a perfectly formed story.

8-year-old Kelsey moves temporarily to Pakistan with her father who will help the people rebuild after a flood and with her mother who is a nurse. Pakistan seems like an alien place to Kelsey with its Bollywood music, mudbrick houses and ‘charpai’ woven beds. She particularly misses her afternoon teas with Nanna Rose. During their Skype sessions Nanna Rose, with additions by Kelsey, tells the story of a porcelain doll which is bought by an elderly lady and sent a long way by airmail. She is checked for bombs by customs, grabbed by a dog, dropped into a flooded river, stolen by a monkey and cared for by a couple of children.

The chapters about the doll, Amy Jo, alternate with chapters about Kelsey who has made a friend, Shakila, and is becoming part of life in her remote village school. She is able to demonstrate spoken English to help the students and asks her class in Australia to help raise money for pencils, exercise books and medicine. Even though Kelsey is comparatively rich materially, Shakila is rich in family, with multiple relatives. Rosanne Hawke doesn’t shy away from the gritty reality of life in Pakistan. One of the school girl’s sister drowned in the flood and the water shouldn’t be drunk – a problem for Kelsey when she saves Shakila’s little brother from the river. Urdu words are used thoughtfully throughout the book, and are also explained in a glossary. And Kelsey reads an ebook about a ‘girl who disappeared into paintings on the wall to save her family in the past’. (This book is outed in the ‘Acknowledgements’ as The Four Seasons of Lucy McKenzie by Kirsty Murray – an outstanding book published in 2013 which won the Children’s category of the Aurealis awards). In creating this tale, Hawke has also been inspired by The Tin Soldier, The Lost Coin and The Velveteen Rabbit and the illustrations have been thoughtfully drawn by award-winning Briony Stewart.

REVIEW – TAJ AND THE GREAT CAMEL TREK

I’ve always had a fascination for Leonardo da Vinci and camels. Leonardo, I understand – the camels, I can’t explain why. Perhaps it’s because camels are such a good example of nature’s ability to create animals with incredible skills and characteristics that enable them to adapt so well to even the harshest environments. How can an animal survive so long with such meagre food and water? For me, camels are a constant source of wonder.

Okay, so you know I love camels. So it probably comes as no surprise that I was enthralled with Rosanne Hawke’s new book, Taj and the Great Camel Trek from start to finish.

The book chronicles the adventures of explorer Ernest Giles on his second attempt to cross the Australian desert.

The expedition is based on historical fact and Rosanne has obviously done an incredible amount of research as demonstrated by the double page spread of sources and research materials quoted at the back of the book.

It’s rich in history, but Taj and the Great Camel Trek is told through the eyes of a fictitious character, Taj, the twelve year old son of the group’s cameleer.

It’s Taj’s perspective that makes this story so accessible to kids. Taj is desperate to be chosen for the trek with his beloved camel, Mustara but he soon discovers that an explorer’s life is nowhere near as glamorous as it sounds.

Taj and the Great Camel Trek has a strong narrative arc but it’s also an accurate account of Australia’s early exploration.

Seamlessly interwoven with the story of the expedition is Taj’s own personal journey and his discovery of family secrets and what really happened to his mother.

I love this kind of book for the fact that it teaches the reader so much about history and the human spirit without them realising they are learning. For the reader who doesn’t want to delve below the surface, Taj and the Great Camel Trek is a cracking adventure.

“wild dogs, scorpions, poisonous snakes and a constant shortage of water mean they are never far from disaster.”

This book also a tribute to the Afghan camel drivers who helped explore Australia and the beasts who endured such hardship on expeditions.

Taj and the Great Camel Trek informs and entertains. It is a captivating read for adventure lovers, historians and readers who simply enjoy a study of interesting and well crafted characters.

Taj’s voice is so strong that I found myself living inside his head as I followed his journey.

This exciting story by award-winning author, Rosanne Hawke depicts tough times in Australia’s history.

Taj and the Great Camel Trek is published by University of Queensland Press for 9-13 year old readers.

 

TAJ AND THE GREAT CAMEL TREK

Me riding a camel at Kings' Canyon

Anyone who knows me well will know that I have a fascination for camels so this week I couldn’t resist celebrating two great books for kids on just that subject.

Today, Rosanne Hawke is visiting Kids’ Book Capers to talk about Taj and the Great Camel Trek. I’ll be reviewing her book later on this afternoon at Kids’ Book Capers.

She is the author of 17 published books and consistent themes in her books seem to be about displacement and culture –  covered in Taj and the Great Camel Trek

ROSANNE’S TIPS FOR WRITERS

1.  Be persistent – if you feel this is what you were born to do, then keep practicing, reading, learning the market.

2.  Never compare your work to another’s unless it is to learn something for there’s a place for all of us as long as we’ve done our best. Comparing only leads to a lack of confidence and jealousy. When you read a book that is better written than yours, thank God for the talent of that writer and learn.

ROSANNE TALKS ABOUT AJ AND THE GREAT CAMEL TREK

What inspired you to write this book?

After I wrote Mustara, the picture book, I’d look at those beautiful end pages that Robert Ingpen painted and I’d think, This story isn’t finished yet.

What’s it about?

It’s the story of Taj and Mustara joining Ernest Giles exploring expedition to Perth in 1875 and what happens on the way.

What age groups is it for?

Ten plus.

Why will kids like it?

It’s an adventure, it’s exciting, and it’s basically true, except for Taj.

Can you tell me about Taj and what you like/dislike about him?

Taj is a twelve-year-old boy with an Afghan dad and an Irish mum. He does have a problem as he can’t come to terms with his mother leaving. He thinks she didn’t love him. This makes him a bit wary of making new friends and he can get a bit solemn at times. But there are other characters who teach him a lot about loosening up.

Are there any teacher’s notes, associated activities with the book?

Yes on my website there are teachers’ notes and other info. I’m still putting more of this up. UQP and Penguin also have the notes on their sites.

Is there something that sets this book apart from others?

It is totally based on a true event and I have tried to show the culture, language and thought processes of Taj and the other members of the expedition faithfully.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

Getting to know Taj better – he’s really nice and likes Emmeline so much. It would be interesting to see what they do when they are older.

What was the hardest thing about writing this book?

It was very difficult getting the balance of history and fiction right so that it would be an exciting read for modern kids. It took me four years to write.

Thanks for visiting, Rosanne and sharing your journey with us. This afternoon, I’m reviewing Taj and the Great Camel Trek here at Kids’ Book Capers.