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Guest Author - Sam Hepburn

What inspired you to write a novel about terrorism and religious intolerance?

I didn’t set out to write an issue based book but I write crime thrillers and I was looking for a great story in which an ordinary teenager is thrown into extraordinary circumstances and has to turn detective to solve a mystery. I started out with the idea of a refugee family fleeing danger and arriving in Britain expecting to find safety and instead being confronted by new dangers that they did not understand. The other aspects of the story - the terrorism and prejudice grew out of that initial premise 


Do you have any plans for future projects which you can share with us?

I’m working hard on a new novel but I’m afraid the plot is a secret for now!


What is your personal favourite book?

That is always a difficult question because there are so many  but among my favourite adult books are - Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons and The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins and for young readers - Northern Lights by Phillip Pullman and Moonfleet by J Meade Falkner. But I also love psychological thrillers and crime novels. 


Do you have any advice for young writers? 

Write everyday and don’t worry if your first draft is very rough and ready. Just keep going and when you get to the end go back and polish and polish and polish. It is also good to keep a notebook and to jot down any overheard conversations and interesting things you see - it will grow into a fantastic source of ideas. 


What was the last book you read?

‘The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. It was brilliant.


What made you decide to write?

I worked in television for 20years, making documentaries, which in many ways is about constructing narratives. The films have to have a beginning, middle and end as well as interesting characters and as the director you have to think about pacing, backstory and setting. So  I think that writing fiction grew out of that experience.


If you were not a writer, what do you think you would be?

I think I would probably still be making documentaries. 

How can somebody get through writers' block?

Don’t give in to it. Just sit down and keep writing. You will often write whole chapters that don’t quite work but getting them down on paper is part of the process.


What character in ‘If you were me’ do you think you most relate to?

I like both Aliya and Dan. She is much tougher and more determined than I am so I admire her for that and Dan, like me  is more confused about life so I understand the decisions and mistakes he makes over the course of the story.


A major topic in your book is immigration. What are your opinions on immigration?

Immigrants are people. Each one has a different history, personality and set of dreams. I think that one of the big mistakes we make is to lump them all together and label them as an ‘issue’.  I think that western countries should be scrupulously fair about sharing responsibility for those who are escaping poverty and danger but I also think that the people who come should do everything they can to contribute to the economy of their new home, adapt to its culture and respect its laws and ideals.


What are your favourite pastimes?

I love reading, going to the cinema and theatre, meeting friends and taking my dog for a walk  Gosh I sound really boring! But I still have three children at home, so between shopping, cooking, cleaning, writing and doing school events there isn’t much free time to do anything.


If this book where a movie, what song (if you could choose any) would be in its soundtrack?

Now I’m stumped. I think I would ask the producers to commission an interesting young afghan refugee musician to write and perform a song especially for it.


Do you have a favourite author? If so, who?

There are so many I think it would be impossible to name just one but if I had to it would probably be Charlotte Bronte.


IF YOU WERE ME by Sam Hepburn, out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)