I was born in a post-war France still under the shadow of the Nazi occupation. In a harmonious family of dedicated teachers keen to nurture self-enhancement alongside republican values. I was an avid reader of their orthodox collection of novels at a time when French Literature still belonged to a pantheon of dead men. Rooted in self-discipline this education continued in the grammar school for girls in Le Mans. Those seven years as a boarder are mused over in my first novel, Double Crossings, by Marianne, a school teacher.
I obtained a BA in English at the University of Poitiers in the late sixties after spending nine months in a Bristol secondary school as the French assistant. A memorable year. I fell in love.
I married twice in Britain where I graduated into adulthood. On the pill. School teaching. Being a mum. Reinventing feminism in womenâs groups and in CND demonstrations. At Greenham. Co-authoring a sexual manual with a group of socialist feminists. Becoming British.
Faithful to my upbringing and my innate curiosity, I have explored various avenues for narrating the world. Was literature becoming obsolete? Looking for more hopeful tales under the guise of sociology I eventually completed a PhD at the University of Warwick on sex education.
Severe migraines put me at the mercy of triptan tablets and acupuncture needles. Mystified by alternative medicine, I studied part-time over four years to obtain a Licence of Traditional Chinese Acupuncture. By then I was living with my second husband and my teenage son. Working full-time as a research fellow at Leicester Universityâs Centre for Mass Communications. Key projects focused on health and communication issues to do with ethnic minority women. After 10 years, I was offered an academic post as the first female full-time lecturer in the French Department. A challenge which opened fresh research areas about France (mixed marriage, violence against women) in addition to revamping courses infamously labelled âFrench civilisationâ. I also welcomed another challenge : a return to the French language which my brash British self had dimmed to the point that I feared losing it.
My only child, who spoke French and English as a little boy, has gradually stopped speaking French. (He lives in London with wife and children). I guess that these trajectories - his and mine - have shaped Homecomingsâ address to the issue of cultural heritage and transmission to a teenager. Hoping to fuse seamlessly two identities, God and Allah, Zaida suffers and frets. An impossible mission? In fiction, no.
An early retirement helped me retrieve my earlier interest in fiction. Writing Double Crossings took me by surprise. Especially the joy of it, the unpredictable roaming between words and ideas. Stitching agencies into characters.
I was then working as a volunteer on an international helpline run by the Home Office dealing with child abduction. This experience, which fitted well with my earlier research preoccupation with mixed marriage, is reflected in Homecomings: particularly in the choice of protagonists (Zaidaâs parents) and in the legal and nonâlegal advice relatives receive.
Distrustful of hackneyed narratives about tugs of love over a missing child (where the English mother is naturally the victim and the father, the insensitive Muslim) I made the girlâs parents equally caring. Does each family have equal rights over the child? Maybe.
By framing half the story in a British acupuncture clinic, I was able to introduce tensions and flaws in the English family, undermining their self-confidence and power to act. Also, reflecting about a therapy I had abandoned, I sought to link healing others to self-healing - as for Zaidaâs mother.
Syria was an appropriate country to explore the tribulations of nomadic families, especially returning refugees. The civil war interrupted the writing and triggered memories of two hospitable people I had met on holiday in 2010. Their presence helped me pen down Zaidaâs Syrian father and grandfather. Did they survive the forthcoming slaughter? This nagging uncertainty made me twist the epilogue into a kind of a never-ending tale.
A last word:
The novel was brought to fruition by my husband. Once a poet and now a historian. Watchful, he read the text tirelessly, underlining for the umpteenth time Gallicisms and many other blunders. Doing the job of an old-fashioned copy editor, he generously claimed. He did far more: he respected my voice.