What was the inspiration for the story?
When I embarked on the research which uncovered this story, I had no intention of writing a book. My aim was simply to find answers to questions about my family which, like so many people, I wished I had asked my parents when they were alive. I didn’t expect to find much and envisaged the project would be completed in a few weeks. But I was astonished by how much information I was able to gather and, as I pieced the early findings together, an extraordinary story began to emerge. When I shared it with family and friends, their unanimous response was that this would interest a much wider audience and should be written up as a book or made into a movie. Six years later and after a lot more research, the book is done! So the inspiration really came from the story itself.
What is your work schedule like when you are writing?
I’m a ‘morning person’ and I’ve always worked better before lunchtime. But I’m thinking about my research and writing around the clock and ideas come at the strangest of times. So I scribble myself notes or send myself emails whenever something comes to mind. I’ve never had a fixed work schedule, nor have I set myself targets. Flexible working hours have also been essential because the research took me physically and virtually to countries around the globe in different time zones. This also necessitated communication in multiple languages, so I have become very adept at using online translation apps. Throughout the past six years, research and writing have gone along in parallel. There have been periods of intense activity, especially when some amazing new facts have been uncovered or when the words were flowing, but also periods of slower progress.
What does success mean to you? What is your definition of success?
My aim in writing this book was to share a remarkable family story, which I hope readers will find interesting and, for the most part, enjoyable. I say ‘for the most part’ because some of it is undoubtedly distressing. If readers also think the story is well-written and worth recommending to friends, that will be a bonus.
How do you deal with the emotional impact of your book as you are writing the story?
When I began, I attempted to treat this as just another research project, using my skills as an academic and social scientist. That meant collecting, examining and communicating the facts objectively and unemotionally. That approach soon proved to be unsustainable and at times it has been difficult to come to terms with the terrible things that some members of my family experienced. That most often surfaces and upsets me when I talk to people about what happened. But in my writing, I have tried to avoid being over-emotional and presented a largely factual account, allowing the details to speak for themselves. I think that has been effective because readers have told me how deeply they were affected by it and that the story would stay with them forever. I should stress too that, although some parts of the story are upsetting, others are amusing and entertaining.
What is the most surprising thing you discovered while writing your book?
There have been so many astounding discoveries. Some of them quite unbelievable. But I really don’t want to spoil the surprises for readers by disclosing them in advance!
If your book was made into a film, who would be the actors that would play the parts?
I know very little about movie-making, but I think this story would make an incredible film and other people have said the same. Olivia Colman would be my standout choice to play the part of my mother, Karola. She is a brilliant actress, so versatile and there is even a slight physical resemblance. She’s not Jewish, but has actively supported Auschwitz commemorations in the past and Karola was not particularly religious. As for the part of my father, Afzal, that is much more difficult. I think we’d need to go through the audition process!
Do you listen to audiobooks? If so, are there any you would recommend?
When I am doing jobs at home, driving or just relaxing, I often listen to the radio and podcasts. But I haven’t yet indulged in audio books.
What do you do when you are not writing?
It’s the 3Gs: grandchildren, gardening and golf! After a very long wait, five grandchildren have arrived in quick succession and my wife and I really enjoy spending time with them. Our garden is very labour-intensive, so that keeps us busy too. And since retirement I’ve started playing golf, which gives me plenty of exercise because my ball rarely goes in a straight line to the pin.
What do you hope your readers take away from this book?
Although the story is set in the past, I hope it will prompt them to think about the issues it covers that are still very relevant and topical today: the horrific and tragic consequences of war and violent extremism; the challenges faced by immigrants and refugees arriving in an alien country; the richness and complexities of interracial multicultural families; and perhaps above all, the power of love and indomitable human spirit to overcome adversity.
Where can readers find out more about you and your books?
Readers can find me via email email@example.com