Cindy lived in a small town on the Black Sea coast of Turkey for two years where she taught English. This was the beginning of a life-long interest in Middle Eastern culture and language. Born in the UK, she emigrated to Australia in 1975 with her family. She’s been an English language teacher, freelance travel writer and tour guide, in both Turkey and Sydney.
What drew you to write about Muslim people, in a time when they aren’t very popular?
When I started writing my first novel The Afghan Wife nearly ten years ago, the demonisation of Muslims was gaining momentum. And then ISIS came along—which didn’t help ordinary law-abiding Muslims in their day-to-day lives in Western countries.
I lived in Turkey and visited frequently after I left. To research both The Afghan Wife and The Revolutionary’s Cousin I also visited Iran. Really nice ordinary people in Iran asked me why no one in the WORLD likes them.
In both novels I wanted the readers to become interested in the lives of people with ‘strange’ names like Zahra, Firzun, Rashid, Karim, and Ahmad. I hoped the readers wouldn’t even think of categorising them as ‘Muslim’ or, worse, ‘Terrorist’. My characters were ordinary people who were caught up in the aftermath and political turmoil of post-revolutionary Iran.
I read Khaled Hosseini’s novels about Afghanistan. Another inspirational author is the Australian-Iranian writer Kooshyar Karimi. His first-person narratives about life in post-revolutionary Iran make very compelling reading.
The nineteenth century novelist Charlotte Brontë continues to inspire me—wonderful storytelling. I’ve taken some incidents from Jane Eyre and put them in my second novel. You’ll have to know Jane Eyre quite well to spot them!
Have your characters and settings in your books been inspired by your own life experiences?
Yes, I taught English as a second language to migrants and refugees in Sydney for many years. It opened my eyes to the human side of the conflicts we see every night on the television news.
Zahra is the main character in both The Afghan Wife and The Revolutionary’s Cousin. Her story is loosely based on the experiences of the many migrant and refugee women I met. In order to keep the reader interested, I’ve added some dramatic elements which are purely fictitious.
What is your biggest motivation for writing?
Most writers don’t have a choice, they have to write, just like artists have to paint. If I analyse it, then my motivation is to educate as well as to entertain. I want to keep the reader turning those pages to find out what’s going to happen next.
What would you say is your biggest accomplishment?
On a personal level—staying married for a very long time! Having three children who’ve got successful happy lives.
On a professional level, finishing two novels and having them published, much later in life than most novelists.
What advice would you give a writer trying to get published?
Polish your manuscript till it shines. Don’t be offended by rejections. Maybe your novel just didn’t fit in with the publishing house ‘lists’.
Each time you get rejected, and you will many times, reassess the first few pages of your novel. Read some early pages of recently published novels (hang around bookshops). Did you want to keep reading? Why?
Enrol in some writing courses, you might just get an idea that inspires you.
Send the manuscript out again. Next rejection … shrug your shoulders: ‘Don’t they recognise a future best-seller—are they crazy?’ and send it out again! It’s a long process.
What inspires you when you hit writer’s block?
To be honest I don’t often have writer’s block. I have writer’s procrastination. However, if I do have a block, I talk my ideas through with my husband or with my writer’s group. I go for a beach walk, maybe sit in a cafe and listen in to someone’s conversation—you’d be amazed at what you hear! The solitary writer’s life really doesn’t really suit me and I like to be out there … that gets me going again.
Describe your writing style in three words.
Slow fuse drama.