Posted in authors, interviews

Dianne Wolfer and Munjed Al Muderis: from refugee to surgical inventor

MEET THE AUTHOR

Dianne Wolfer

Dianne Wolfer lives on the south coast of Western Australia, but she grew up in Melbourne, Bangkok and Albury. Dianne’s love of books is one reason she became a writer. She writes picture books, novels for  children and teenagers, and nonfiction for all ages. Her stories are about many things; different cultures, the environment, friendship, being brave, turns in the road and taking chances. Today we’re thrilled to have Dianne visiting to chat to us about her latest book, which is part of the Aussie STEM Stars series.

Munjed Al Muderis from refugee to surgical inventor

From the publisher:

Munjed is a humanitarian and world-leading pioneer of surgical osseointegration. The book follows pivotal moments in Munjed’s life: becoming a surgeon under the regime of Saddam Hussein, fleeing from war-torn Iraq and arriving at Christmas Island in a rickety boat, being held in the Curtin Detention Centre, his hard-gained medical success, and his acknowledgement as the 2020 NSW Australian of the Year.

On with the questions!


You’re a writer of fiction and nonfiction. What’s different about writing nonfiction compared to writing a fiction novel?
Writing fiction is just me and my imagination. There is some research, for example in The Shark Caller I wanted to find out more about Papua New Guinea and the practise of calling sharks, but with nonfiction you have to always check and double-check the facts that link to your book. When it’s biography, like Munjed Al Muderis from refugee to surgical inventor, and the person is alive, it’s super important to not only get the details correct but also to capture the ‘voice’ of the person you are writing about. That’s not easy. Historical fiction is different again, it sits between the two and some people call it ‘faction’. With the Light series, set in WWI, I imagined the characters; both real and fictitious. For example, when I began work on Lighthouse Girl in 2005, very little was known about Fay’s life on Breaksea Island in 1914. As time passes research sometimes uncovers interesting details that I wish I’d known way back then. Each genre has its own challenges and its own fun.

Your latest book is part of Aussie STEM Stars – a new series for kids celebrating Australia’s experts in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. Had you met Munjed Al Muderis before you began writing the book?
No, sadly I still haven’t met Munjed. He lives in Sydney and soon after I began work on his amazing story, COVID happened.

How did you go about your research for writing the book?
Munjed has co-authored two books for adults, given TED talks, been painted by Anh Do’s ‘Brush with Fame’ and been on many media shows, so although I could not meet him in person, I was able to watch Munjed on screen and listen to him speak about his life and surgical achievements. Munjed often spoke about pivotal life moments, like when he had to choose between probable death and cutting off the ears of prisoners, and coming to Australia by boat, and being locked in Curtin Detention Centre where they called him by a number instead of his name. These were some of the life-changing moments I pieced together to create the book. As I wrote I often asked myself, ‘How did these experiences shape the man Munjed has become?’

Australia is now the world-leader in osseointegration, a surgical technique that allows amputees to feel the ground as they walk, because of Munjed and his team’s surgical work. He’s the current NSW Australian of the Year and his resilience and positive ‘glass half-full’ (rather than ‘half-empty’) attitude inspired me as I drafted and re-drafted his story. “Life is about making a difference,” Munjed says. “We all have a mission in life, to leave behind a legacy.”

Do you have any tips for kids who would like to try writing a biography?
So many … capturing someone’s ‘voice’ is important. The more research you do, the better chance you will have of doing that. Then start writing and keep going until you get to the end. You can make notes along the way about things you’ll need to research in following drafts. When you’re finished a read-through, reread and let the story settle.

Then ask yourself questions like:

  • What is the heart of this story?
  • Why has my character made the choices she/he has?
  • Are there important turns in the road when they could have taken another path? Why didn’t they? Would their life have been very different if they had?
  • What does my character care most about and what drives them?
  • Who are the important mentors for my character?

Thinking about smaller things like the kind of clothes they wear, favourite music and the food they like is also a fun way to bring a character to life.

If ever I go to Iraq I will definitely try Gaymer & Kahi for breakfast.

Can you tell us a bit about your next writing project?
I thought I’d finished writing about WWI but one story kept calling me back. It’s a little like the ‘Light’ series but it’s also different (a special animal is the hero). I’ve done a lot of research and I hope I can share more about it soon. I’ve also completed a middle-grade novel which is on a publisher’s desk. Lots of other ideas are swirling about but these are the ones I’m working on.

Munjed Al Muderis is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or library or order it from the publisher.


AWESOME EXTRAS:

Munjed Al Muderis from refugee to surgical inventor

Download the Teacher’s Notes for this book. (PDF)

Watch a 30-second video of Dianne Wolfer talking about the book.

Visit Dianne Wolfer’s website to find out more about her and her books.

Author:

This post was added by Rebecca Newman. Rebecca is a children's writer and poet, and the editor of the Australian children's literary blog, Alphabet Soup. For more about Rebecca visit: rebeccanewman.net.au.

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