El Geneina 'The Garden', capital of West Darfur - [photo by UNEP]
So, after a long hiatus from blogging I've been coerced back into it by whipsmart funny lass Maria Roberts. She tagged me into The Next Big Thing, which entails me answering questions about the book I'm writing right now.
I will then tag five more writers who'll tell you about their 'next big thing' next Wednesday.
So here it is: blog post number one, on my forthcoming book of short stories, Jebel Marra.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
It came from 6 months of working for a humanitarian aid agency in West Darfur. I took the contract after having worked for said agency in the UK for years, and went to simply do my job, with no intention of connecting it to my writing. Needless to say, it was a long 6 months, and after about a year back in the UK I found myself with no interest in writing anything else. I wanted to write into some of the gaps and contradictions and complications and details of that particular conflict, of humanitarian relief more generally, and of life in a warzone.
What genre does your book fall under?
Short fiction is the form, and the genre is...I don't know. Lyrical short fiction, I think. I don't write with genre in mind but the short story form is really informing the shape of the collection as one that presents many different unresolved viewpoints. Over to the literary scholars and marketing folk for a more specific answer to that one!
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Two I can think of: Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (played the terrifying Adebisi in tv show Oz) for one of the more chaotic characters, and Nicola Walker (Ruth from Spooks) as one particular aid worker because she's great at the supressed tension and understatement thing...and I have a crush.
What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
Stories about local traders, aid workers, soldiers, politicians, parents and children all living in the middle of Darfur's civil war - what was called by the UN, way back in 2004, ‘the world’s worst humanitarian crisis’.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I am incredibly happy to have this book coming out in 2013 with Comma Press - short story specialists and champions of the form.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
The clock's still ticking. I've been writing it for a few years now and though I can see a little light way, way in the distance there's still a lot more to be done. I'm happy to say the story drafts are now in the double digits, and it will (it will!) be out next year. I'd love to be able to write quickly like some others I know, but I just can't, especially on this topic. I've been able to spend the time on this due to support from Arts Council England.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I was commissioned: one of the Darfurian women I worked with in Geneina told me at the end of my contract to go home and tell people what was (is still) happening there. Before heading to Sudan I'd mostly done spoken word performance, so when I returned I started talking about it onstage - small autobiographical monologues I suppose. It wasn't enough, and wasn't permanent enough, so after a nudge (a few nudges) from Ra Page at Comma I began building short stories.
I've also been inspired by knowing that although I've forgotten the battle dates I was taught in school, the thing that has stayed with me has been the art that has followed conflicts: I watched M*A*S*H as a kid, later saw All Quiet On The Western Front, read The Pit and The Pendulum and Slaughterhouse 5 and all of these stuck with me, they impacted. These have all convinced me that fiction can be a powerful way into exploring and exposing the mean, stupid realities of war...the truths, the lies, all of it.
What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
There is betrayal, there is drug use, there is sex and love and colliodal silver. There are normal, messy people with secrets and agendas. There is no forensic detailing of body parts, and no flag waving.
I'm also particularly interested in women and war, and so a lot of the narrators in the book are women. Despite being regularly written into the margins in a lot of writing, art and reportage on war (see my list of art inspirations above -- all male) women, like men, like kids, are very much touched by war, are part of it, and - yes - even complicit in it.
My five writers for next Wednesday are:
Rosie Garland, Martin De Mello, Maya Chowdhry, Dawn LaBarre and...one more who is still deciding.