Could you tell us a little about your book?
The Jungle tells the story of Mico, a young boy who leaves his family and home in search of a better life. Instead, he finds himself navigating one of the world’s most inhospitable environments – the Jungle. The Calais refugee camp has a wildness, a brutality all of its own. But when Leila arrives one day, everything starts to change. Outspoken and fearless, she shows him that hope and friendship can grow in the most unlikely places and maybe, just maybe, they can show you the way out as well.
There’s so much going on with the refugee crisis, what made you write this particular story?
This story initially arose from an article I read last year about the discovery of a body on the Norwegian coast. Subsequent investigation found that it belonged to a young man who had started his journey from The Jungle. In a bid to leave the refugee camp, he had tried to swim across the Channel but his efforts tragically resulted in the loss of his own life. The thought of someone risking everything for a second chance really stayed with me. When I undertook further research, I realised how many of those living in the camp were, in fact, teenagers and children. These two ideas fused together to form the central concept of The Jungle.
It’s a very real story with no false hope, but pockets of loveliness, particularly when Leila arrives. How difficult was it to write this story about children in a desperate situation?
The research for this story was particularly distressing. The horrors many of these children had experienced even before arriving at the camp were unimaginable. Yet I was constantly amazed by their resilience and strength. I was especially struck by one photograph which showed a group of children playing football in the dirt. A few hours later, some of them would be jumping trains in the Tunnel. How these two existences, these two worlds, could sit alongside each other is something I’ve tried to explore in my story.
Do you think authors have a duty to tell these stories?
I believe authors have a duty to tell all stories regardless of who they are about, where or when they are set. What’s most important, I think, is to tell the story in the best, truest way you can.
What’s next for you? Whose story will you be telling next?
I’m currently finalising the idea for my next book but I can’t reveal anything as yet – watch this space!
What advice would you give to authors looking to get their first book published?
Keep at it. Don’t give up. The more you write the better you’ll get. The publishing world can be confusing; I found it really helpful to have an agent to guide me through the process. When all else fails, make a cup of tea.