Welcome to the blog of the Tasmanian branch of the Children's Book Council of Australia!

Sunday 4 November 2018

Emily Conolan – It's all about choice

At the recent CBCA Tasmania AGM were lucky to have Emily Conolan come and talk to members about her new series The Freedom Finders (released April 2018).

Emily Conolan is a writer and teacher known for her humanitarian work, establishing a volunteer support network for asylum seekers in Tasmania, she has been awarded Tasmanian of the Year, Hobart Citizen of the Year, and the Tasmanian Human Rights Award. 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.

Emily started her talk with a game about choice “when you got dressed this morning, you didn’t

Most of us would remember the popular series; from the 1980s; Choose Your Own Adventure books (but can you remember the titles or the plots?).  The form of fiction these fall into is called interactive fiction, it was the precursor to interactive games and frequently reflected sci-fi or fantasy themes.

Emily’s series falls under this genre putting the choice in the readers hands but what she has also done with The Freedom Finders is to:
Read about Touch the Sun
know that your choice of clothes could affect what was going to happen to you today”. Some choices have unforeseen circumstances, some may have a clue to lead us to a certain choice or there may be a moral choice. Whichever one we choose there will be consequences whether good or bad. We make choices all the time without even realising it.
  • take the genre and apply real world scenarios;
  • give readers characters they can relate to and fall in love with and journeys they will remember and 
  • make consequences of the readers’ choices real – choices that migrants and refugees face e.g. separation from family, incarnation, even death.
Read about Break your Chains
Emily has added an extra bonus - fact files that provide background information on the social and political issues relating to the story line, along with a map of the journey undertaken.

Emily knew from her experiences as a teacher and humanitarian that her subject would be a delicate balance and didn’t want to trivialise stories of the migrants or asylum seekers. Even her publisher was initially worried that the topic was too heavy for this genre but as Emily explained to them (and us) asylum seekers are “active agents, resourceful and determined”. Due to her work and knowledge of the topics; from both research and interviews; Emily was able to gain the publishers trust.

The first book in the series, Break Your Chains, Emily consulted the local Tasmanian Aboriginal palawa kani community for information and for the second book, Touch the Sun she interviewed and worked closely with a Somalian migrant. She is currently writing her third book in the series about the Italian migrant worker community within the Snowy Hydro Scheme and a family curse. “This book poses the question about whether we can determine our own destiny, and what role luck and fate have to play.”

“Of course in real life we can’t rewind our choices. In this series, choices often backfire or are taken out of your hands to demonstrate that our lives are unpredictable and shaped by forces beyond our control.”

Emily’s books don’t simplify the issues – “the fact files help to unpack the issues and ask questions…There are big questions with complex answers and The Freedom Finders shows a more complex picture of migration than a linear narrative could.”

I thoroughly enjoyed Emily’s presentation about her experiences in writing these books. She is an inspirational women and writer and her topics are thought provoking.  I even went home with one of her books (Touch the Sun) and spent part of my Sunday reading it. In fact, I have just purchased 20 copies of each book for our Grade 7s and 8s to use in their reading groups.

Thanks Emily, and I look forward to book three next year.
Pennii Purton
Library technician, Reece High School.

Editor's note: Emily wrote a blog post about the challenges of writing interactive fiction that you might "choose to read".


  1. Emily's presentation really changed my perspective about this genre. We (Don College) too have ordered Emily's books for our library! Though we weren't lucky enough to take one home on the day...one bad choice to not wear green!

  2. We were very fortunate to have Emily who is such an engaging, knowledgeable and experienced speaker. Her passion for the plight of asylum seekers and refugees inspired and challenged the audience to rethink our perspective and attitude towards those who are trying to establish a better life for their families in a new country. Using this familiar interactive genre in an exciting 'real life' manner has challenged my view of the possibilities and potential for future development of this genre.