Lydia’s quiet expat life in Cambodia is dramatically turned upside down by the sudden arrival of Song, a young & vulnerable Vietnamese girl, and the flattering romantic attentions of a handsome, dashing local man. Just as she settles into this new-found happiness, everything is shattered as Song is kidnapped and sold into the child sex trade. Broken, Lydia returns to the UK, confirmed in her doubts about ‘God’, only to find the most unexpected guest on her doorstep one night many years later with the most incredible story to tell of hope lost and innocence restored.
Dear Reader is taking part in the Katherine Blessan Blog Tour. Although, to my shame, I haven’t read Lydia’s Song, I’ve asked Katherine some questions, and I’m letting her do the talking.
Question 1: What made you want to write about Cambodia?
I lived and worked in Cambodia, for two and a half years, on two separate occasions. I went to Cambodia initially for six months in 2006 with the organization Cambodia Action to work as a TEFL teacher. The second time I went for two years and worked for an international school called Logos International under the wing of a Christian NGO called Asian Hope.
The place and the people got under my skin, but the main reason I wrote about it was because my story idea was firmly set in Cambodia. Living there certainly helped me to get the sights, scents and physical imprint of the place accurate, as well as understanding something of my own character’s experiences and worldview.
Question 2: How do you deal with the pain and high emotional content of your story without making it unbearable for the reader?
For me it was all about artistic integrity in conveying the truth of the harrowing experience that young girls go through in sex slavery, but at the same time, as a Christian, wanting to avoid my narrative being too graphic. In the scene where Song is raped for the first time I presented this in an almost dreamlike sequence as Song psychologically distances herself from the event, so as to be able to deal with the trauma. These scenes weren’t easy to deal with emotionally but I’ve always been fairly resilient when it comes to handling difficult emotions and would rather confront the truth than hide things under the carpet. Also, the places where the emotional content of the story were high were in some ways easiest to write as they were the places where the narrative drive of the story compelled me forward most.
Question 3: Did the basic idea for the story come to you all at once? Or did you have to make many changes?
It did indeed come all at once! The first time I went to Cambodia in 2006 I was staying with a family in Ratanakiri province and, while there, I was resting on a hammock on their porch. A servant was sweeping underneath me and I remember feeling embarrassed by this. Suddenly the essential idea for the plot for Lydia’s Song hit me, almost like divine inspiration. I started the novel at that time, although it was just the beginning and needed a lot of fleshing out from my own experiences in Cambodia together with the research I had to do in order to make it authentic. I didn’t make any changes to the basic storyline – in fact it was the strength of the idea that kept me going through all the stops and starts of the writing process!
Question 4: How long did it take you to write this book?
It took me eight years from the initial idea till the completion. This was mainly because I was working as a teacher full time, experiencing life in Cambodia, getting married cross-culturally and starting to have a family of my own. The majority of the book was written in the four years after my first child, Joel, was born, during school holidays and snatched hours.
Question 5: Would you write about South East Asia again?
Yes, if a suitable storyline came to mind that needed a South Eastern Asian location, but my family and I don’t have any immediate plans to go back there, as our international focus is currently elsewhere.
Question 6: Is there anything else you would like to add?
I am currently writing another novel, which I’m about a third of the way through. It’s been on hold, however, for a year while I followed the pressing urge to write Lydia’s Song as a screenplay, the first draft of which is now complete! I’m desperately trying to get that finished in time for the London Screenwriters Festival in September.
It’s always interesting hearing about how other authors write, isn’t it? Reading that writing Lydia’s Song took Katherine eight years, I don’t feel quite so concerned about how long it’s taking me to get my novel finished!
Best of luck, Katherine!