What inspired you to write Run Thomas Run?
The book was sparked by meeting three Assyrian Iraqis in a youth hostel in Turkey in 1990. They were two brothers and a sister, and had fled Saddam Hussein’s regime following yet another war (the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the US’s subsequent liberation of Kuwait.) I later married one brother, Ashor, and became immersed in the lives of Assyrians; peace-loving Christians who spoke a version of Aramaic, the language of Christ, and had managed to retain their religion and culture over many centuries despite being a tiny minority in a Muslim-dominated country.
How has the book changed over the course of its development?
Run Thomas Run started out in 2007 as a comedy. Assyrians have a keen sense of humour and I wanted to highlight that. But comedy wasn’t appropriate for all that these migrants had been through. I needed a new approach. A year’s mentorship (sponsored by the NZSA) with writer Chris Else followed, during which time a more contemplative novel emerged, focusing on the realities of day to day life under the Iraqi dictator for an ordinary family. In 2010, I rewrote the manuscript from scratch while doing a Graduate Diploma in Creative Writing at Whitireia, under the guidance of author Mandy Hager and with input from Anna Rogers and Norman Bilbrough. The book has since undergone countless revisions, finally settling into its current form in 2014 with help from Adrienne Jansen. All up it has taken seven years for it to take on a publishable form.
How does Run Thomas Run differ from other books with similar themes?
My novel differs from these in that the shadow of the regime my characters are running from never quite goes away, even in the new country (England). Also, it centres on Christian Assyrians, a minority neglected within their homeland of Iraq and forgotten by politicians outside it. Other books (such as Yellow Birds) have been written about war in Iraq, but unlike Run Thomas Run, these focus on the perspective of American soldiers rather than the Iraqi people themselves.
Based overseas, how is your book relevant for a New Zealand readership?
Assyrians have long fled bloodshed in Iraq and many have settled in New Zealand with an estimated 2000 to 3000 in Wellington alone. Most would have been affected in some way by Saddam Hussein’s regime, whether it be personally, or through their parents’ decision to migrate to a safer country.