Writing in the Eye of the Storm
by Alan Gibbons
Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Such is the conventional wisdom about writing about world-changing events while they are still happening. But maybe writers, artists, poets are meant to be daring fools or dark angels. Maybe, just maybe, it is our duty to demonstrate an innocent arrogance and weave our narratives in the eye of the storm.
Ever since I wrote Caught in the Crossfire in 2003, a love story set against the background of race riots in a northern English town, I have wanted to return to the aftershocks of Blair, Bush and Bin Laden’s war on terror. An Act of Love is the way I did it.
The book begins with a young British soldier receiving a text. As he stands to attention at the parade to mark the end of his tour of duty in Afghanistan Chris Hook receives a text:
There’s a bomb.
The novel then moves forwards and backwards in time. In real time can childhood friends Chris and Imran Hussain thwart the suicide bomber who is hiding somewhere in the barracks buildings? In flashback, the reader discovers how these two men, just seven years old when the new millennium dawned, have been affected by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the fury they generated in sections of the British population.
The book is not a documentary. Though I have tried to get the particulars of the unfolding right, the experience of a shoulder, the internal psychology of the extremist, literature is not about the particular. Rather it is about the universal as refracted through the local and the contingent. So my main themes are manhood, the way we grow, the nature of love and the ways mothers and fathers raise their children.
The research was thrilling. I immersed myself in the stories of British soldiers and the political soldiers of the far right and self-avowed jihadis alike. I read a couple of dozen books and interviewed a score of young British Muslims and serving soldiers. Ultimately however I was writing a story. It was important not to allow the burden of information to snap the spine of the narrative.
It is an ambitious undertaking. I hope it has resulted in a book that intrigues, informs and moves the reader. The jury is out. I now await the verdict of my readers.