“I live in London with my husband, three children a dog, and a goldfish.
Although I was brought up in England by my English mother, my father was from Sudan. I lived there until I was three and began to revisit my Sudanese family regularly in my twenties.
I read modern languages at Cambridge University and I’ve worked in Lebanon, Germany, Italy and America and made lots of documentaries for television.”
Why did you want to write If You Were Me?
I had been reading a lot about Malala Yousfzai, the Pakistani girl who was shot by the Taliban for campaigning for girls’ education and I wanted to write a story with a strong main character who, like Malala came from a society threatened by the Taliban. I was also hearing a lot of stories in the news about the threats to Afghan interpreters who had worked for the foreign troops and the idea of a strong brave girl whose brother is threatened by the Taliban began to form in my mind.
“Innocent until proven guilty” certainly didn’t apply in Behrouz’s case.
Do you think the media latches on to class/heritage? What effects do you think this has?
Yes, I think we are all guilty of jumping to hasty conclusions (both negative and positive) about people because of their background or the way they look. The media often stoke up these prejudices because they are hungry for stories, and because it is easy. I thought about that a lot when I was writing If You Were Me because I suspect that if I read Behrouz’s story in the paper I would probably jump to the conclusion that he was guilty. Without giving anything away I would also find it very hard to believe that the real ‘baddies’ in the story could act in the way that they do. I think this has an extremely negative effect on individuals and on society as a whole, which is why I wanted to write a story that subverts expectations.
Which character in your books do you think is closest to you?
I think there is a little bit of me in all the characters – good and bad! I would love to be like Aliya but I don’t think I have her strength and determination so maybe I am a bit more like Dan. A bit scared and confused but hopefully able to make the right decisions in the end.
And the worst?
Constantly having to rush things so that I can have time to write.
Changing the subject, apart from writing what do you love doing?
I like taking my dog for walks, spending time with my children (teenagers who seem to whizz past only stopping to eat or sleep) going to the cinema, seeing my friends, sharing a joke with my husband.
What do you think are the differences between UK and US YA?
I’m not sure. There are some truly wonderful books being published on both sides of the Atlantic and it is difficult to generalise. Perhaps UK YA can be subtler sometimes, more character rather than action driven.
Tell us something about yourself that not many people know.
Oh gosh, I once played Helen of Troy in a university production of The Trojan Women. She was blonde, I am mixed race and definitely not blonde – it was the director’s little joke.
I’m giving you a free platform to talk about anything – GO:
We have to stop local councils destroying libraries and replacing trained librarians with volunteers. If we want children to grow up to be rounded, thoughtful adults with an equal chance of making a success of their lives, whatever their background, then we have to have decent accessible libraries staffed by professionals! There, rant over!
Tea or coffee?
When no one is watching do you dance?
Do you ever re-arrange book displays in bookshops?
Er … yes
What super/magic power would you like?
To be able to fly
First time you saw one of your books in a bookshop, what did you do?
Yelped and took a lot of photos
Book you’ve read the most?
Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
What’s the perfect cure to a bad day?
Hearing from an old friend
And finally, what is the question you wish people would ask and never do?
Hmmm that’s a tough one, people ask me all sorts of questions all the time, especially when I go into schools. Maybe I’d like to be asked ‘What shall I make for dinner’ as I am a terrible cook, hate cooking and dream of somebody else in my house doing it for me.
From the author of CHASING THE DARK comes a thrilling young teen crime mystery, guaranteed to keep you guessing until the very end.
Not long after Aliya’s family escapes Afghanistan for Britain, her brother is accused of a bomb attack. Aliya is sure of his innocence, but when plumber’s son Dan finds a gun in their bathroom, what’s she to think?
Dan has his own reasons for staying silent: he’s worried the gun might have something to do with his dad. Thrown together by chance, they set out to uncover a tangled and twisted truth.
If You Were Me by Sam Hepburn out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)
You can read my review of the book by clicking the link HERE