The Girl and the Sunbird – Out Now!
So, what does it feel like to have a second novel published? It turns out, no less emotional than the first time round. Second books, compared to first, notoriously struggle. They try to live up to the first, that book you had in your bones for many, many years before you wrote it. And it’s true that The Poet’s Wife took many years to write and was born out of a passion for a place; a curiosity for an anti-fascist cause. ‘If there is a book you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it,’ said author Toni Morrison. Well, that’s what happened with The Poet’s Wife.
But that doesn’t mean that The Girl and the Sunbird can’t be something, can’t become something. Kenya, over the past three years, has crept beneath my skin in completely unprecedented ways. The sunbird came to life in my novel because as I sat at the desk where I write in Nairobi I watched, transfixed, as these beautiful little birds hovered on the flowering foliage outside my window. How would it work, I wondered, if the sunbird became a metaphor for a person in the story I wanted to create? Who would this person be and how would they be connected to my protagonist, Iris? And so Kamau was born, the ‘sunbird’ of the novel.
I would love to know what you think of him, of Iris, of their relationship and what happens to Iris as we follow her journey over fifty years. I’m really excited about this story. Author Aminatta Forna said ‘Don’t write about what you know, write about what you want to understand.’ I knew nothing about very early colonial Nairobi where the first half of this novel is set and although I could make a fair guess how the local people (or ‘natives’ as they were then known) were generally treated by their colonisers, it wasn’t until I really started researching and peeling back layers of injustice and discrimination that I could really put this period into an authentic context. Don’t get me wrong, British colonisers did plenty of good too in East Africa (for example education, roads & transportation and “development”- though it’s important I put that last word in inverted commas). But in The Girl and the Sunbird, I’m more interested in exploring and understanding the inherent prejudice that heavily saturated colonial East Africa and how that paved the way for the turmoil of the 1950’s guerilla group, the Mau Mau.
So yes, this is a novel about institutionalised racism and the knock on effects of that. Perhaps there’s no better time for that as people our world over continue to struggle to see that we are all connected; we are all one, no matter the colour of our skin, our religion or our beliefs. My father, Harry Stonehill (whom I dedicated The Poet’s Wife to), always used to say (though I’m sure his words weren’t original!) ‘I may not always agree with you, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’ We all need to live by this wisdom, no matter who says it and in what way they express it. This is a truth I seek in my writing.
Yet despite the aforementioned themes of the book, at heart, however, The Girl and the Sunbird is a love story. Please, tell me what you think of it. If you love it, if you’re unconvinced by it…every single piece of feedback helps make me a better writer.
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