The story behind the story (1) Flying with Kites
Flying with Kites was my first, and to date, my most successful novel, and it was this book that started my writing career.
In January 2010, my diary was free of work commitments and, not being one to sit around doing nothing, started doodling some notes on an A4 sheet of paper. At the back of my mind was an incident that had happened a few years earlier when I was working for a short time in Newcastle. One evening, I joined one of my colleagues for dinner and he kindly picked me up from my hotel. On the way back we passed the two tower-blocks which dominate the skyline as you come off the A1 Western By-pass and he related a story that had happened in the 1990's. I won't spoil the book by telling you that story as it is the basis of the book, but I started asking myself, how on earth can that have happened, what circumstances created that scenario.
As I continued my meanderings, I started to think about refugees (I still don't remember why) and I recalled the exodus of people that came to the UK at the end of the Kosovan war in 1999. I started researching the internet and old news-footage on the BBC, and became engrossed with the history of what had happened.
A character started to emerge, Katya, a strong, Kosovan woman who had been forced to escape with her young child... 'The road from Pristina was deserted.' I wrote my first words.
With the help of Google Earth, I chronicled her journey and the traumas she faced on the way. The lengths she had to go to protect her child, no-one should have to endure and I could sense the pain and suffering she was experiencing as I wrote the words. It was a fictional account but accurately reflected the situation at the time. To me, Katya was real!
There is another part to this story, the residents of the tower-blocks. I created three characters, Bigsy, Wazza, and Chirpie, life-long friends who grew up together and shared the same hardships. Mad-keen football fans, and skint, to make money they start delivering drugs for a local 'heavy' which, of course, leads to consequences. There is a great deal of humour in the narration, a counterpoint to the nihilism of the Kosovan escape.
The story evolves as Katya is eventually housed in the tower blocks...
I had no idea of the impact the book would have on me, and others. I started receiving messages from Kosovans living in London and in 2014 was privileged to be asked to speak at an independence event at the British Museum in the company of the Albanian Ambassador. I was also invited to the Houses of Parliament by the Kosovan Ambassador to celebrate their independence day in 2015. Last year I was interviewed by London Albanian Radio.
The book was awarded a Wishing Shelf Bronze award in 2013.