Wendell "Wendy" Steavenson

 

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Why a novel?

I've always wanted to write, ever since I was eleven and read The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar by Roald Dahl. I wrote my first great unpublishable novel when I was living in Moscow one winter when I was 23, others efforts have followed and sit in drawers. Journalism was a way to travel and write stories. My first book, a sort of mix of travelogue, short story, memoir and reportage, in Georgia, was called 'Stories I Stole.'

Why this subject?

I was under contract to write a non fiction book about the Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Casher supermarket attacks of January 2015, but when the Bataclan attacks happened I thought: there is a larger story here. I also thought: hang on a sec, — I've lived in lots of different countries in the Middle East, one way or another I have been reporting on jihadi ideology, violence, war and terrorism, it's context and consequences since 9/11 and I think I can bring a broader panoramic view to this subject. Somehow, I lost my nervous nellying and hand wringing: can I write well enough? How do you begin? etcetc Without much of a plan I just sat down and decided to write 10,000 words a week, just keep writing, not editing, rewriting, worrying the text, just keep moving forward. And at the end of three or four months I had a complete mess of a first draft, but somehow characters and a plot had emerged... then of course I had to rewrite it four times to hone it properly — the whole first chapter got axed... I hadn't realized that Little Ahmed was really the beating heart and the moral centre of the book, he had to become much more focused; timelines got smoothed out — 

As an American living in Paris and having lived in London what special insight do you bring to this subject?

I was born in New York and grew up in London and have lived in Moscow, Tbilisi, Nagorno Karbakh, Tehran, Baghdad, Beirut, Cairo, Jerusalem, Boston, New York and Paris. So when someone says where's home, I tend to look at them a bit blankly. I have dual American-British citizenship and I always thought this gave me a great privilege, not only in terms of being able to move through cross borders relatively easily (although many borders seem to be harder to navigate these days), but also because I can see things from different perspectives. I don't have a 'my country right or wrong' attitude. I tend to see things from all sorts of perspectives; I find it refreshing when my worldview is constantly being challenged. 

For Americans unfamiliar with the French legal system please talk about garde à vue and Kit’s imprisonment. 

Garde a Vue is basically the period of detention between arrest and being put before a judge and formally charged with a crime before a judge. You have access to a doctor and a lawyer, but you are formally detained and subject to interviews with the investigating magistrate.  As far as I remember, at the time of writing, in Kit's case, terrorism suspects could be held for 96 hours.

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