Doris Pilkington had spent much of her early life from the age of four at the Moore River Native Settlement in Western Australia, the same facility the book chronicles her mother, aunt's and cousin's escape from as children. After reuniting with her family, Pilkington says she did not talk to her mother much, and she was not aware of her mother's captivity at Moore River nor the story of her escape, until her Aunt Daisy told her the story. Repeating the story at an Aboriginal family history event in Perth, one of the attendees told Pilkington he was aware of the story and that the case was fairly well-documented. He gave her some documents and clippings which formed the factual backbone of the story on which Pilkington based a first draft.
Pilkington submitted the draft to a publisher in 1985 but was told it was too much like an academic paper and that she should try her hand at writing fiction. Her first novel, Caprice, A Stockman's Daughter, won the David Unaipon Literary Award and was published in 1990 by the University of Queensland Press. Pilkington then rewrote and filled out Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence following several years of interviewing her mother and aunt, and it was published in 1996.