Author Chat with Andrea Busfield (author of Born Under A Million Shadows)

Earlier today I posted my review of Born Under A Million Shadows.  The book had a positive impact on me and I am now delighted to bring in author Andrea Busfield, to share with us a little about this book.  Andrea had first experienced Afghanistan when she was dispatched there to cover “a war on terror”.  As Andrea says in the article she wrote for New Statesman, her parents were horrified.  In this article Andrea speaks of how she was right in the midst of the war, sleeping on dirt floors, washing out of a bucket, and even shot at!  The Afghans who took it upon themselves to protect her during this time were largely Pashtuns from the east who wielded heavy guns and old-school charisma with devastating effect.

It touches my heart when she says “I was humbled by the hospitality of those who have nothing.”

I know that feeling from my time in Honduras and knew that I wanted to know more about Andrea’s story.

Please give a warm welcome to Andrea Busfield.

Andrea Busfield

Welcome Andrea!  Am I right to understand that I am currently chatting with you from Austria?  What is your weather like?

Andrea:  Hello Sheila! Yes, as we speak I’m in a lovely little spa town called Bad Ischl in Upper Austria. And, surprisingly, the weather is hot! It took a while for the summer to kick in but for the past week it’s been sweltering.

I love warm weather!  My absolute favorite time of year is now.  Before we get into books, how do you take your coffee?

Andrea:  The journalists’ way – strong, black, no sugar.

Oh yes, that’s the way I take mine as well – I knew I was born to write – ha ha!  Are you a reader as well as a writer?

Andrea:  Yes, I do read – sometimes for research, sometimes for pleasure – and the authors who consistently make me smile as I race to turn the page are; Louis de Bernières, Isabel Allende and John Irving.
As you may have guessed, I like intelligent, imaginative story-tellers! I’m also rather partial to books billed as ‘darkly comic’. In short, I like to enjoy my reading time. I like to be entertained.  But I think that’s the same with everyone. I can’t imagine anyone picks up a book hoping they won’t like it, but literature – like music and art – is subjective. Sometimes you get it, sometimes you don’t. It doesn’t make the book good or bad, simply different to what you, personally, were looking for.

Is there any one book that really sticks with you?

Andrea:  To be honest, there are too many to mention. I remember being floored by Catch 22 when I was a teenager; moved to tears by A Kestrel for a Knave; laughing until I cried reading The Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime; and being horrified, educated and upset by Possessing the Secret of Joy. I know there are many more great books I have read that have had a massive impact on me, but if I try and go through them all our coffee chat will roll into lunch and then dinner… and probably breakfast tomorrow. (That’s not a pick-up line, by the way!)

You mention wonderful books here.  As you know, I just recently finished your book, born under a million shadows.    You had so many experiences while in Afghanistan, your book could have been about anything really. What made you decide to write this book?

Andrea:  I love Afghanistan, I cannot stress that enough, and like anything you love you want others to appreciate it too. There is so much negativity surrounding Afghanistan, be it in the headlines, film or literature, and I simply wanted to correct the balance. Afghanistan is an amazing country and ordinary Afghans are a truly wonderful, hospitable, warm, generous and funny people. In the nine years I have been traveling to Afghanistan – and the two-and-a-half years I lived there – I don’t think I’ve ever smiled so much.  Therefore, in an effort to convey that side of the country I decided to write a story about love and friendship, which are the greatest gifts I took away from Afghanistan.  Actually, I also came away with a boyfriend and a dog, so I did quite well all told.

Andrea posing with an Afghan National Army soldier outside the bombed out Darulaman Palace in Kabul

Fawad is a funny character.  At first I found that surprising and then I found, I really liked it.  Why did you decide to go with a character with such a great wit despite his circumstances?

Andrea:  I know some readers prefer their misery untouched by laughter, but sometimes it’s the only way to claw your way through the horrors of life. Most of the Afghans I know have a particularly dry sense of humor, and a shocking (to us) acceptance of death. When I was writing Born Under… I knew I couldn’t ignore the darker side of Afghan life because poverty, abuse and violence are a daily reality, but not unlike the Afghans themselves, I didn’t want to dwell on it. I didn’t want to pull the reader down, I wanted to show the bad with the good, the loss with the hope – Fawad seemed to be the perfect tool to do that because the character is young enough to be innocent, but old enough to question. Incidentally, some of the scrapes he gets into I stole from the childhood stories of my Afghan friends.

Why did you decide to take a lighter take on a book such as this?

Andrea:  So people would come away with a feeling of warmth in their heart for a people and a country that deserves our continued support.

You had one child that really caught your heart during your time in Afghanistan.  I know from my experiences in Honduras how that one child can really stick with you.  Could you share here a little about this child?

Andrea:  From the very first word I wrote, I had the face of one little boy in my mind, a very real little boy called… Fawad.

Real Fawad is a little younger than Fictional Fawad, but he shares the same charm and sense of fun as my character. I first met him in 2005 in the tourist hub (yes, Kabul does have one) of Chicken Street. He was eight years old and he insisted on carrying my bags as I walked from shop to shop. He explained, in perfect English, that he would be my bodyguard for the day. Obviously, he wasn’t only after my company, he was after my money, but from that day on we became friends.  Then, when I thought about writing a book about Afghanistan I decided I wanted my hero to be as brilliant and clever and funny and beautiful as real life Fawad and seeing as he was my inspiration I saw no reason to change his name.

The real Fawad

Is Fawad’s story done at the end of this book or might we see him again some day?

Andrea:  Some people have asked me whether there will be a Born Under II, but I don’t think so. At the moment my characters are living in a happy ending – and that’s the way I want them to stay!

I heard that you are writing a second book.  Can you share a little about this?

Andrea:  Actually, my second novel is now published in the UK, hopefully you will get to see it sometime in America! The book is called Aphrodite’s War and it is a love story set in Cyprus between 1955 and 1974. I chose to write about this island because it is another country I have lived in, and loved, and the history is tragic. Cyprus is an island that was divided by war and politics, and which remains divided through politics and hurt. It’s a very sad situation that not too many people know about and I wanted to explore that.

It is tradition to the Author Chats that each person I chat with shares a little known fact about themselves.

Andrea:  Hmm, what to reveal. I can play Greensleeves on the recorder very fast; I can do the Rubiks Cube a little slower; and I was once charmingly told by an Afghan host that the meat I was eating was ‘sheep’s bum’.  Other than that, I nurse a life-long crush on Clint Eastwood.

Thank you Andrea – I am so thankful for you to taking the time to chat with me!

Andrea:  My pleasure, Sheila. Thanks for the opportunity.

11 thoughts on “Author Chat with Andrea Busfield (author of Born Under A Million Shadows)

  1. I like the perspective that brings humor into a tragic world. Sometimes, as Andrea says, that’s the only way to “claw your way through” the horrors.

    In my social work career, we encountered many tragic cases, and humor (amongst ourselves) helped us survive it.

    Good interview, Sheila and Andrea.

  2. Andrea,
    Wonderful interview. Thank you for putting a realistic, human face on these areas of such heartbreaking strife. People need to remember that these places we read about are inhabited by real individuals. They struggle every day to live, love, take care of their families, and try to make their homeland a better place. By telling these stories of people in war torn areas, you are doing a great service. You are reminding the rest of the world that it isn’t just a war or a police action, it is the lives and futures of people that are at stake.

    I look forward to reading this book and the new one about Cyprus. Northern Ireland next?

  3. Having worked in the medical field for many years, I too understand the humor involved. If you don’t laugh in the midst of tragedy, you just can’t go on . . . so – gallows humor.

  4. Hello !
    I found your chat with A. Busfield by chance as I just finished reading this fascinating and affecting book called ” Le Monde selon Fawad” in french .
    So I will read your chat with much interest and like to know which other books you read and liked . Thank you , Sheila !

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