You previously worked as an editor in children’s publishing, was this where your inspiration came from to create your own novels?
I moved to Ethiopia four years ago, with my family. It was during the height of the refugee crisis and there were news reports – almost daily – showing refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean in overcrowded boats. When faced with such tragedy it’s sometimes hard to know what to feel, especially when people are described as ‘boat-loads’, or simply in terms of numbers. I wanted to turn the story of many into a story of one. Trying to humanise the tragedy helped me to understand it. It was a story I had to tell.
Boy 87 follows an incredible journey, what was your main purpose for writing a novel based on refugee’s?
Novels offer a doorway into other people’s lives; I wanted to shine a light onthe difficult journeys faced by many hundreds of people displaced from their countries every day.
What did you most enjoy about writing Boy 87?
One thing I wasn’t expecting – but loved – was how the writing process can surprise you with new twists and dialogue you hadn’t plotted.I also enjoy being inside my characters’ heads, discovering how they will react to different situations.
As an editor you have read many novels, what would you say is your most favourite novel?
So hard to choose! I think Patrick Ness is one of my favourite authors – he shows us brilliant writing which defies pigeon-holing, and Philip Reeve’s imagination just blows me away. All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy and The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa are definitely two favourites. That’s more than one book, sorry.
What would your advice be to anyone who wishes to write their own novel?
My advice would be to pick up your pen or open your laptop and start writing. There is no better way to learn about yourself as a writer, than to get started. When you feel confident about putting pen to paper, be sure to know who you are writing for. Your novel may be read widely, but it’s important to know who your core audience will be.