The Refugee is a book that delves deeper than what the mainstream media have selected to sensationalise in the papers. As an author, I tried to read between the lines and concoct a story that stayed true to the accounts of the situation, and I think I did. But this did not come without repercussions.
The adversities began from the get-go. Before putting pen to paper, while researching the refugee crisis, I had already found myself in a dark place. Don’t get me wrong; I knew the situation was bad – the newspapers had conveyed that much,
but I didn’t know the extent of the “bad”.
It was a good few weeks of painful research. I unearthed some horrifying facts, some I mentioned in earlier blogs, but the one that struck me the most became the motivation behind the story. The heart-wrenching statistic of 15,000 children vanishing without a trace. And although I write about it a lot and have passionately spoken about it publicly, it still shakes me up, just the way it did when I researched it and began writing.
The Refugee is a story of a fictional character, Ahmed, who while escaping a war-torn country, suffers the tragic loss of his wife. His view of the world becomes very narrow as his situation declines further – his 10-year-old son disappears. He fears he may be dead.
To accurately portray Ahmed, I had to, in a way, become Ahmed. Get into the head of a man who has just lost everything he held dear. He is panicking, frantic and willing to do anything to get his son back.
As I wrote the part of the book where Ahmed is roaming around a strange place far from home, I knew in the back of my mind that there are thousands of Ahmeds out there. There are thousands of children out there – lost. 15,000 children, if you want to try to quantify it.
There were many times where I had to stop writing, and although I would lie, even to myself, and say that I need a break from writing for a few days, or that I wanted to focus on other things, the cold fact was that I struggled with being Ahmed. I couldn’t fathom being in Ahmed’s situation, especially when I knew that he was real and there was more than one of him.
Midway through the book, I completely stopped and decided to write a children’s book called Alex the Extraordinary, I felt I needed to focus on something light-hearted, and I didn’t go back to the Refugee until I had finished Alex the Extraordinary.
I won’t lie, it took me a while to get back into Ahmed’s head, but I did eventually.
I received a considerable number of messages from my readers saying that they cried throughout The Refugee, particularly through the first half of the book. And to be honest, that was the hardest part to write. One reader said that they were relieved that halfway through the book, it takes a turn and becomes more of a thriller, they needed to stop crying. Well, just imagine how I felt writing it.
I made a conscious choice to give the book a thriller element because although I aimed to shed light on a hidden fact, I also wanted to write something that was entertaining and not impossible to read.
I knew full well that making this turn in the book would affect its realism, but I did it anyway. A book is about escape. There is no escape for most of the Ahmeds out there, not in reality. I wanted my Ahmed to have a different reality – even if this could only happen in a fictional novel.