Rachel Thompson

Author Interview – Nick Osborne

How did you come up with the title? Titles are never easy. Nearly all of them seem dumb at the time of conception. In fact I remember reading Sol Stein’s book on writing and him saying that at one point William Faulkner wanted to call a book of his Twilight and who would ever buy a book with such a title.

I settled on Refuge because that is what Charlie provides for Noor, Bushra and Aamir Khan – a place in his home where they can feel safe. However on another level both Charlie and Noor provide a refuge for the others emotion – a place where each of them can feel safe, where they can be honest with each other and talk about things they have long held secret.

Why did you choose to write this particular book? I first started sketching out the story for Refuge in November 2006. (As I sit here writing this I have to pause – six years – bloody hell!)
I had an urge to write a love story, and if I could be so bold, a classic love story. It wasn’t that I thought I could ever write something on the level of a Charlotte Bronte, Leo Tolstoy or Louis de Bernieres, I doubted anything I wrote would even exist within their shadows, however those were the novels I always loved the most – grand, sweeping, romantic epics - Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Love In The Time of Cholera, Corelli’s Mandolin, Anna Karenina- novels which had an intense central love story but which at their core were about so much more. So being utterly foolhardy that was the perilous journey I decided to take.

I wasn’t a writer, I was a film producer, and I think much of the urge to write a novel came from the frustrations of being a producer. That topic, in of itself, deserves a post all of its own, but it’s suffice to say that a film producer at the end of the day is creatively subservient to both the director and studio. Most frustrating of all your influence over the project only diminishes the further along it progresses. “Why didn’t you write a screenplay?” some people have asked me and the answer’s simple. Film writers lose control over their work even quicker than film producers. No, only a novel would allow me complete creative control from start to finish.

And so then the question was what was my story going to be about? Some wag once said that writers spend the whole of their lives writing about their twenties and to a certain extent I agree. It’s the time when you’re most idealistic and adventurous, the time that leaves the most lasting impression on you and if there was an event that had a lasting impression on me it was the twelve months I spent working in Peshawar, Pakistan (though technically I was only 18 / 19 at the time). The added advantage was that it took note of that age old admonition to “write what you know” and while I had never had a passionate affair with an Afghan refugee I did know that world and that culture intimately.
So that’s how it all began. I quickly fixed upon the characters of Charlie and Noor – a young, confident American aid worker and a fiercely independent Afghan refugee – and within a couple of months I had the whole story laid out in treatment form. It would take me another two and a half years to finish the first draft.

Can we expect any more books from you in the future? Yes – the sequel to Refuge is well on its way and I’m hoping it will be out in May or June of this year. Originally I had intended the story to only be one book but when I finished the first draft it was enormous – close to 300,000 words and in need of a lot of work. The only way I could even imagine getting a handle on it was by cutting it into thirds and concentrating on the first third. I am so glad I did. By focusing on the front of the story, I was able to drill down and really get my lead characters right; I don’t think I would ever have been able to accomplish that if I had tried to corral the whole messy story. Now as I write Book 2, the characters are set and it is a lot easier to get the rest of the story out. What are your current writing projects now?
Right now as I said, I am writing the sequel to Refuge. I am also writing a TV show about the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire – it is one of the most incredible stories I have ever come across and is as of yet untold on either film or TV.

Did any revelation come to you while you were writing the book? One and it was a startlingly obvious one. That perhaps the most important right for women is the right to love.

When we think of the struggle for women’s rights, the rights we most often think of are the right to vote, the right to property and the right to work and equal pay. These are all phenomenally important rights, and ones that women in the West have fought hard to secure. However, from my experience in Pakistan, I would argue that the most important right of all is the right to love.

Many of the novels I’ve been most drawn to in this life – Jane Eyre, Anna Karenina, Pride & Prejudice, Middlemarch – have had at their heart these incredibly strong and courageous women; women who’ve battled the popular perceptions of their time and have courageously loved despite the obstacles and scorn flung their way.   Now 150 years later, it may seem as if their struggle is antiquated. But what these women fought for in the nineteenth century is exactly what so many women in the Muslim women are struggling for now.

20 years ago I spent 12 months as an idealistic, young aid worker teaching in a school and an Afghan refugee camp on the outskirts of Peshawar, Pakistan. It was one of the most eye opening experiences of my life. I had never seen a woman in a burqa before and the only thing more shocking was the fact that most women wore them. In the main, the women there were third class citizens living in a patriarchal feudal system with few rights. Yet the rights they did have were strangely the ones that Western women had fought hardest to secure, namely the right to vote, the right to work (if only in the most menial of jobs) and the right to property (a central tenet of Islam).

The one right they didn’t have was the right to love.   Here are the facts. The United Nations estimates that 50% of all Afghan girls are forced into marriage before reaching the age of 15. Pakistan is the 3rd most dangerous country in the world for women with 1000 women and girls murdered every year in ‘honor killings’ and 150 suffering horrendous acid attacks. Most rapes go unreported and the reason is simple: unless a woman has four male witnesses it is almost certain that she will be charged with adultery or a ‘moral crime’.

In Afghanistan 87% of women have experienced some form of ‘intimate violence’ – i.e. either a forced marriage or physical, sexual or psychological abuse. In many areas of Afghanistan the practice of ‘baad’ is common in which girls are given away to settle disputes between families.

This is why of all rights, the freedom to love is the one that should be most cherished and hardest fought for. For when a woman is not allowed to love whom she wants, she is in essence being told that her feelings are worthless and when you cannot act on your feelings you are no more than an emotional prisoner. Conversely if men can control whom a woman marries, they will never respect their opinions or look upon them as anything but their property.

On the other hand, if women are free to love (and free to suffer its consequences) they own the essence of who they are and all other freedoms will follow. Further men will come to look upon them as equals – for, if nothing else, in order to gain a wife they’ll have to earn their love and respect. In my opinion, this is the underlying message of all the great novels I mentioned earlier.

I am an optimist, as Frankin Roosevelt said in his fourth inaugural “the great fact to remember is that the trend of civilization itself is forever upward”. Yet if there is one area in which Western women could stand with their Muslim counterparts, I would argue that this is it.

The progress maybe glacially slow in many parts of the Muslim world, however I believe it will come and when it does, when all women are free to love whom they want and their men accept this fact, I believe the world, in turn, will be a more tolerant and peaceful place.

What contributes to making a writer successful? Before I was a writer I was a producer who worked with a ton of writers and I also managed a number. First off, the ones who were successful were the ones who wrote constantly, and by that I mean every day. I am training for a marathon right now and I know I will complete it because I train four times a week. You cannot expect to better your craft if you do it in fits and starts.

The second quality most of the successful ones had was a desire to write things that interested them rather than chasing the market. The ones that did sometimes had flash in the pan successes but they never lasted.

And the third quality was patience and perseverance – it never comes easy but if you give up it will never come at all.

Do you have any specific last thoughts that you want to say to your readers? I would purely like to thank them. Every time someone tells me they have read my book I consider an honor. If they like it, or God forbid love it, then that is a bonus. In a world with so many choices and diversions for one’s time, it is a real commitment to give oneself over to a book, and the fact that from the myriad of choices they chose mine – well it leaves me very humbled.

Buy Now @ Amazon

Genre – Literary Fiction / Romance

Rating – PG13

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Website http://www.ngosborne.com/

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