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Monday, 3 September 2018

Outside her Comfort Zone into Readers' Hearts: Suzy Zail: Author Talk Reflection - Saturday, 25 August 2018

Audience Vantage Point 
by: Paul Karp
- Saturday, 25 August 2018
Suzy stated early in her presentation that her inspiration to write originated from her father's diagnosis of a terminal illness.

Given only six months to live, he told his life story to his family over nine nights, much of which he’d kept hidden, preferring to distance himself from the past as a way of moving forward. A holocaust survivor, he’d  disguised his Auschwitz camp number tattooed on his arm with a flower. 

This gave Suzy the title of her first novel 'The Tattooed Flower', the story of his time in the camps and his later battle with Motor Neurone Disease.

Driven by her father’s positivity and bravery, and the lessons he’d taught her whilst dying, Suzy left her career as a lawyer to study professional writing and editing and work full-time on her father's story. 

Following publication of 'The Tattooed Flower' Suzy wrote an article profiling  mothers for an article celebrating Mother’s Day in 'The Age' newspaper.

She was invited by a publisher to expand the idea into a book exploring modern motherhood and the disparate ways they love and raise their children.  
This became her compilation 'All You Need is Love: Fifteen Journeys to Motherhood'. 

This was soon followed by ‘Smitten’, an exploration of enduring love.

Her first  novel, 'The Wrong Boy', featured a 15 year old Auschwitz prisoner and talented pianist invited to play for the camp commander. 

She falls in love with the boy who is his son. 
Suzy wrestled with the appropriateness of creating 'Holocaust fiction' in respect for Holocaust survivors. 
She addressed this concern by thoroughly researching harrowing accounts of  concentration camp life at Melbourne's Jewish Holocaust Museum and Research Centre

She wrote 'character prompts' of each character's physical traits, friendships and tastes. 
She 'became' 15 year old Hannah and studied classical music, workshopping her manuscript at university  before submitting it to her publisher.

'Alexander Altmann A10567' was inspired by the story of Holocaust survivor Fred Steiner who worked with horses at Auschwitz, including supervising SS guards children’s pony rides. Suzy used some of Fred’s story to springboard into the story of Alex, a boy who lost his parents in Auschwitz and decided that , to survive, he had to be tough and stay friendless until a relationship with a damaged horse taught him how to trust and be a friend.

Through his work Alex enjoyed access to tradable camp commodities like cigarettes and sugar cubes.
He cut wood for the cruel camp commander's wife and delivered it to her kitchen. 

When asked his name he gave his number. 
"No, I want to know your name", she said, feeding him cake and returning his dignity to him.
To write knowledgably about horses Suzy researched all aspects of horse ownership, care and feeding, and rode with a horse-owning friend.

Suzy enjoys writing for teenagers in her campaign against intolerance. She believes "...children want to read books that make them laugh but they also seek out stories that make them  think, cry and question.  Bending the world to protect kids from their fears wont help them overcome them.” 

In relation to her purpose, she says “It’s important to me that my readers understand that the world can be a forbidding place, but more than that, they're capable of great things, that we can help - in big and small ways if we stand up for what we believe in and choose not to remain silent.

Suzy also values being taken outside her 'comfort zone'. 
The plight of Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram, and the shooting of Pakistani schoolgirl, Malalainspired her next project - to give disadvantaged modern day Ugandan girls a voice. 

Suzy flew to Uganda to interview 30 girls. She found they lived in incredible poverty, but were still capable of deep joy. 
Fathers often left their families to remarry, many mothers suffered illnesses they couldn’t afford to treat.

Many young girls who attended school walked barefoot for two hours to get to school. By the age of 15 year, many were married, pregnant or pulled from school to work at home, while their brothers studied.

Suzy hopes that telling the girls' stories in her next novel to be released in 2019 will draw attention to their circumstances and improve their lives.

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