While embedded with troops in Afghanistan's Helmand Province she began to wonder about how certain events were impacting on civilians' feelings towards the military offensive. While her role as a journalist enabled her to report on the events in the country, there were limitations. She wasn't able to explore the complexities of some issues, or go deeper into individual stories. But through fiction writing, another of her passions, she felt she would be able to do just that.
And so, while completing an MA in creative writing, she wrote her new novel, The Last Kestrel, which has now been published. The book, which took her 18 months to complete, tells the story of two women - Ellen Thomas, an experienced war correspondent who has returned to Afghanistan's Helmand Province on an assignment and is trying to find the murderer of her translator, Jalil, and Hasina, a wife and mother living in a village taken by British forces. She told Journalism.co.uk that through her book she hopes to show the more human side of the stories which exist within the country, although the plot and characters are purely fictional.
"As a journalist, I report events but the nature of factual journalism is that it deals with the factual external world. It is often difficult to spend large amounts of time with individual people to flesh out and fully understand their stories, especially in places like Helmand where there are obvious dangers. Fiction writing covers very different territory. It deals with the internal, emotional world and tries to express characters through their own viewpoints, their own eyes.
"I wanted to try and give more of a sense of the impact of the conflict on civilians and especially on women. It is difficult in Afghanistan to access women's views, especially for male journalists working there, and as a result they're often not fully reflected."
Although she was exercising a different style of writing, she said her skills and experiences as a journalist remained key to her work.
"I reported from Afghanistan often since 2001 (for nearly a decade) and interviewed many different women there," she said.
"If I hadn't been a journalist that wouldn't have been something I would have been able to do. The more you get to know a region the more fascinating you find it. If you spend 20 years in a region, it gives you a broader perspective of its history and development. Asia is a fascinating place. All the countries have very significant changes going on and often a lot of the news focuses on the politics. But there is a tremendous range of social issues. Sometimes the perspective of the society is forgotten. I wanted to tell the stories a little differently.
"It's a much more individual, personal, human story. Through fictional writing I can take leaps of the imagination that as a journalist you can't. There is also a question of scale. Journalists often have to condense and simplify in their reporting and that makes it difficult to explore all the complexities. Also some people will have seen factual news reports but not felt the events on an emotional level. When fiction brings people and places alive, that can be terribly powerful."
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