Congratulations on having your novel published. Tell us a little about the novel.
A Dangerous Crossing tells the story of thirteen-year old Ghalib Shenu from Syria who, with his family, is forced to flee his home town of Kobani when the civil war makes life there too dangerous for them. Ghalib experiences the ordeal of thousands of refugees: he and his family make their way through their war-torn country, across the border illegally into Turkey and a refugee camp, and finally, face the terror of a night crossing over dangerous waters to get to Europe.
Where did the idea/inspiration come from?
Over the last few years, I have seen endless news reports about desperate families in overcrowded and leaky crafts, of small bodies fished from the deep, of deflated boats and lost families. I wanted to put a face and name on one of the thousands of desperate refugees seeking to cross our borders, to help children hearing about these terrible events to understand what is going on. I believe children need to be aware of the horrifying things that are happening to Syrian children, and I believe passionately that words have the power to create empathy, to engender understanding, and ultimately to provoke action. I wanted to tell the tale of one boy, one family.
Tell us about you…
I am a writer of books for children and young readers. I have had six books and three short stories published to date; A Dangerous Crossing is my seventh novel. In my writing career to date, I have won national and regional awards for my books, and I regularly visit schools and libraries to speak with children and teenagers how have read my books.
Where and when do you write?
I write at home, in the evenings and at weekends. I try to write every day, and while I don’t always manage this, I do manage to write for several evenings a week.
I work full-time in an NGO that provides services to people with disabilities; writing is my after-work passion and my escape from everyday distractions. Ideas, plots and what is going to happen to my characters next occupy my thinking during quiet moments during the day. I use my evenings and my free-time to write down the results of my musings.
I type my stories directly onto my laptop, usually in the kitchen or my cosy living room, in front of the wood burner at this time of year!
What are you working on now?
My current work in progress is about a resourceful young girl living under the oppression of a dictatorship. This girl has the strength of character to fight the system and to overcome her circumstances, ultimately leading to her own emancipation. I am passionate about human rights and in particular the rights of women and young girls and am particularly interested in strong characters—boys or girls—who draw on their inner strength to overcome challenging circumstances.
My interest is in stories set in the real world. I believe there are an infinite number of incredible stories in the world we live in to provide endless challenges, fascination and interest for children and young readers.
Desert Island books?
This is the hardest question of all! How many can I bring with me??? I would definitely have to bring some reference books: a thesaurus, and a dictionary, and a book of idioms. I love words, their etymology, meanings and innuendos, and these books would satisfy that interest.
I also love books that are beautifully written, so I would hope to bring the books of writers whose works I really admire: ‘Tender Morsels’ and the ‘Brides of Rollrock Island’ by Margo Lanagan, ‘The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender’ by Leslye Walton, and ‘Thursday’s Child’ by Sonya Hartnett.
And finally, I would need some terrific and exiting story-telling to occupy my mind and keep me on the edge of my seat: perhaps the complete works of Stephen King!
Does writing energise or exhaust you?
I am excited by and enthusiastic about story and its power to profoundly change, expand, enrich and uplift the lives of young readers. Writing challenges me endlessly, but I completely love it. Whatever story I’m working on at the moment takes over my head and fills my thinking as I struggle to work out plot twists, and story structure, and character details, and to tell it all in a way that is exciting and enthralling for the young reader. Writing is massively challenging at times, but I can’t beat the feeling of exhilaration when something works out, when it comes together and reads well.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Plan your stories and books better! I used to write in an unplanned manner: sitting down to write spontaneously and picking up the story from wherever I had finished the previous day. I would have no idea what direction the story might lead, what was about to happen to the characters, and what the ending might be. This cost me many hours of wasted writing, endless editing and re-editing to get things to fit into place properly, and unpicking the early chapters to straighten out the story. I used to believe that planning would constrain me too much, that it would limit my spontaneity and prevent me from taking my story in another direction entirely if the muse took me.
However, I now realise how erroneous this view was. I have changed my approach entirely in recent years, and take the time to plan my story before I start writing. This doesn’t mean that every step or plot point is already figured out before I even start, but it gives me some direction to head for: headlines so to speak that tell me where my characters are going to end up, and when to change direction. I still have the freedom to take the story in a new direction if I choose, or to introduce new ideas and plot points, but I also have some basic hooks to hang the story on. I think this makes my stories much stronger.
What is the first book that made you cry?
When I was a child, I read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, and remember crying into my pillow when Beth died. I never knew that characters died in books. This was a major shock to me. I still cry when I read of the death of a beloved character in a book, but death isn’t the only heartbreak that can move me to tears in a powerful story. There are so many powerful emotions between the pages and so much intensity that it is really hard at times not to get caught up in the world of the story.
Finally, where can we get your book?
My book is available in shops and booksellers around Ireland and the UK from 23rd February 2017. It can also be ordered on-line at http://littleisland.ie/books/a-dangerous-crossing/