Lydia’s Song – an interview with author Katherine Blessan

Just over a week ago I reviewed Lydia’s Song by Katherine Blessan. Today I’m interviewing the author…

Katherine, thanks for joining me here today! What sparked the idea for the novel?

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 found the NGO descriptions believable and entirely consistent with my own experience. Did you work for an NGO while in Cambodia?

Yes, both times I did. I went to Cambodia initially for 6 months with the organization Cambodia Action to work as a TEFL teacher, and 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.

I found parts of the story, Song’s experiences as a sex slave, harrowing. How were you able to write this?

It was emotionally difficult, but strangely, this was the part of the novel that I was able to write most quickly as the narrative force of the story was highest at this point so drove me forward.

One of the things that really struck me while reading about Song’s experiences was the banality of the life as a prostitute, that once initially traumatised, it became almost normal. Is this what it is really like for young girls and women?

Whilst I don’t know this for a fact, I can imagine that this is true as psychologically humans do adapt to the most difficult of situations.

I don’t want to give the story away, but there is a point where Song has a chance to escape and she fights against it… Do some girls or women choose to stay where they are if they are offered a chance to escape?

Prostitution is almost always a result of violence or abuse at some point. If women ‘choose’ to remain prostitutes it would usually because financially they see no other way, or if young girls, then because they’re being coerced or manipulated in some way. According to NGO Soroptomist.org “90 percent of prostituted women have been physically abused as children, 74 percent have been sexually abused by a family member, 50 percent have been sexually abused by a non-family member, and 75 percent have drug problems, damaging factors that further remove the “choice” from the equation.” (http://www.soroptimist.org/trafficking/prostitution_faq.html)

Why write a novel about child sex trafficking?

Good question! Because this is the idea that I felt compelled to write. Secondly, to highlight the injustices of this endemic problem.

How much time have you spent in Cambodia?

I was there for 2 and a half years altogether, first with one organization and then, after completing a PGCE in the UK, with the other.

And finally, are you writing another book?

I am indeed, although my second novel has been on hold for a year whilst I’ve been writing a feature length screenplay of Lydia’s Song! – watch this space for developments there. I also write a few short stories in response to competitions and try submitting them to various places – an interesting but not always fruitful task!

Thank you Katherine! Lydia’s Song is available from all good bookshops and also from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback. If you would like to read a sample, you can do so below.

If you enjoy stories that give you insight into another culture, that contain real characters and deliver an emotional kick, then I recommend Lydia’s Song.

About the Author

Katherine tweets @kathblessan
Check out her website at: http://www.katherineblessan.com/

As well as writing, Katherine works as an English and Creative Writing tutor and an Examiner, together with juggling parenting and volunteering in the community. She is married to Blessan – yes, her surname is his first name! – and they travel widely and love to meet new people. Katherine lives with her family in Sheffield, UK.

Other stories by Katherine Blessan include:
• ‘A Heart on Fire’ – a love story inspired by Chariots of Fire. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Heart-Fire-Katherine-Blessan-ebook/dp/B06XD2D2FV
• ‘Travels by Wheelchair’ was shortlisted in a Patrician Press competition in 2016 and published in an anthology. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Refugees-Peacekeepers-Patrician-Press-Anthology-ebook/dp/B01MUG2YIV/
• ‘Beyond her Scream’ – a story of a mother-daughter relationship strained by the effects of FGM. Short Story Beyond Her Scream from cutalongstory.com

Obedience and Reverence

There is a scene [SPOILERS] at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark where the lost Ark of the Covenant is opened. Everyone who looks into it dies in – if I remember correctly – a fairly grotesque manner. Only Indiana Jones has the sense to warn his companion to close their eyes, they both look away and are saved.

A fictional story based on history. As I’ve been reading the first book of Samuel recently, I came across this passage again:

“But God struck down some of the inhabitants of Beth Shemesh, putting seventy of them to death because they looked into the ark of the Lord.” from 1 Samuel 6 NIV

I can imagine many people today reading this for the first time and questioning how a loving God could slaughter seventy “innocent” people, just for looking in a box…

Well, what if the box contained plutonium? What if every person who even touched that radioactive substance contracted cancer and died? Whose fault would it be that those people died? The people who disobeyed a simple command to keep clear of the box, or the God who lovingly warned them to stay away?

Every person in Israel knew what the Ark was – the very throne of God on Earth. They knew they were to stay away, that the punishment for touching the Ark was death, that only the priests had permission to approach the Ark and even they were to be very careful when they did so. There’s a useful summary of the laws surrounding the Ark on Rational Christianity

It seems clear to me that God has given us certain commands for our own protection, but hasn’t always given us reasons why those commands exist. The God who created the universe and designed every living creature on our planet has to be more intelligent and have far more knowledge than we are yet able to comprehend. Quite often, even the most intelligent among us are nothing more than simple infants who have been told: don’t play with fire. We can either choose to be obedient to this command, or we can face the consequences of disobedience.

Yet I don’t think simple obedience is enough when dealing with God. Our curiosity, our doubts, our questions may get the better of us if all we rely on is obedience. I also think we need to develop reverence. The root of reverence appears to be “stand in awe of”

You were created by God. Every cell in your body was designed by him. You are a miracle of creation. One day you will stand before God and will be judged for your actions on this Earth. If you have followed his commands, if you have shown love to the poor and helpless, if you are sealed with God’s Holy Spirit, you will be welcomed into a second life on a renewed Earth where “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain”. Or you will be cast outside into darkness…

Your creator has the power to offer you life or death. I think he deserves our respect, our obedience, our reverence.

The highest point

I’ve been on holiday on Shetland all week. While the landscape of the islands is hilly, none of those hills are all that high compared to most of Scotland. The highest point is Ronas Hill standing at 450 metres, a relatively easy walk from the former military base on the neighbouring Collafirth Hill.

It’s been almost thirty years since I last climbed Ronas Hill as a child and wanted to try the walk again as an adult while we were up.

We set off on a slightly overcast day, with a steady breeze that immediately made me want to put a jacket and hat on.

The landscape on and around Ronas Hill is littered with boulders and smaller rocks, many of which are tinged red. If you like stepping stones, you can go a fair distance without touching the ground!

Ronas Hill is the highest in a range of three hills that you can walk up on the way to the highest point. As you reach the start of Ronas Hill proper you can see what almost looks like sand dunes or sand formed into waves:

As you get closer, you find these are made up of rocks and small stones:

It’s not a long walk up to the summit – it took us an hour and a half and we had plenty of stops along the way. Once there, apparently you can potentially see the whole of the Shetland Islands laid out before you on a clear day. It wasn’t that clear for us, but we did get good views of Yell and Unst, two larger islands to the north east. If you zoom in on the picture below you can just make out Sullom Voe oil terminal which still provides a large part of Shetland’s income.

To the north you can walk down to some fresh water lochs which are said to contain excellent trout fishing…

Our goal for the day was to walk up Ronas Hill and I can tick that one off. Next time I’m in Shetland I want to go further and head to the cliffs to the west of Ronas Hill. Apparently these are quite stunning with a red sand beach below…

We need more trees

I grew up on Shetland, famous, or infamous for it’s lack of trees. It always puzzled me as a child why there weren’t many trees on Shetland. There are some. Small woods have been planted, encouraged by government grant schemes. But most of the islands look like this:

Most of the time, the peat covered landscape copes well with the heavy rains the islands get, allowing the water to drain away. Every now and then the islands get longer spells of dry weather, the peat dries out and if it rains too hard before the peat has had a chance to recover, land slips can occur:

Several landslides occurred in Shetland in 2014. The islands were fortunate that more didn’t occur.

Soil erosion is a major problem affecting humanity around the globe. The loss of soil cannot be easily repaired and areas that lose their soil may never fully recover.

Planting trees is a long term solution to a very real problem. It takes decades and sometimes centuries for trees to build a system of roots that can hold soil in place and prevent landslides and soil erosion. Yet, if we do not start replanting the billions of trees that we have cut down around the world, our children and grandchildren may eventually have no soil left to grow crops on.

Just keep swimming…

I used to have a colleague at work who often used to say “Just keep swimming…” A layered statement delivered in Dori style that could either be taken as a positive message of encouragement or an ironic acknowledgement of the pressure we were all under at that time.

Are you under pressure?

I am. Self-imposed pressure to complete a first draft that is probably not healthy. I think I have a bit of writers block. I feel a pressure to write a story that matches what I think readers are expecting after finishing Fallen Warriors. A pressure to write a draft that requires less editing and proof-reading. Too much pressure to let the story flow.

It doesn’t help that I’m also supposed to be on holiday and spending time with my family…

I went swimming this evening. It was good. I think I need to take a step back the rest of this week and allow myself to maybe just be.

Fallen Warriors – What is it all about?

As best as I can remember, I had the idea for Fallen Warriors during a church service, where something said triggered off a series of thoughts about a story where Christians were like superheroes, using miraculous powers. Originally I thought this would make a great movie or TV series with lots of action and the miracles taking centre stage.

I started writing and the characters kind of took over. While the story certainly starts with a miracle, I found the real story lies in how the characters each react to what has happened.

The central character in the story is Emma Hunter, a young woman with her whole life ahead of her, who enjoyes clubbing and partying, whose life is cut short when she dies at the start of the book… She is brought back to life and this then started to intrigue me. What would that feel like?

The story of Lazarus being raised from the dead is familiar to many Christians, but the story gives so little detail and no insight into what it felt like for Lazarus to hear Jesus commanding him to come out of the tomb, to be wrapped in grave clothes and finding out he’d been dead for several days. I wanted to explore this through Emma’s experiences and the direction of Fallen Warriors started to take a different turn as the story became more about the consequences of miracles, especially for people who had no previous experience of them.

If you would like to try Fallen Warriors out, here’s a free sample:

Lydia’s Song – a book review

I was in tears by the time I’d finished this novel. Katherine Blessan has written a deeply moving story of a young girl’s experiences of being sold into sex slavery in Cambodia.

Lydia’s Song is not a book I’d have normally chosen to read. Neither thriller, nor crime fiction, nor mystery, yet containing elements of each of these that eventually hooked me in to the point where I finished the last half of the book in one sitting, desperate to know how it ended.

The novel starts from Lydia’s point of view, looking back on her time working for a Non Governmental Organisation in Cambodia. I found the beginning slow going initially as it could almost have been a romance as Lydia (the Westerner) develops a relationship with Radha (the Cambodian). I don’t read romance generally, so struggled with the start. Yet even in this, it was fascinating reading about the daily life in Cambodia and I enjoyed that insight. I worked abroad for a time myself, also for an NGO and could relate to some of the struggles and incidents.

Lydia finds a young Cambodian girl in her garden one night – the Song of the title. Song has effectively been orphaned and the story gently shows the developing relationships between Lydia, Song and Radha. Until it all goes wrong…

This for me is where the story really started to come alive as Katherine Blessan manages to create a sense of realism in her descriptions of a child being made into a sex slave, without titillation or eroticising the experience. Harrowing is one word I want to use, yet, because of the way the story is structured, there is a sense of hope throughout.

If you enjoy stories that give you insight into another culture, that contain real characters and deliver an emotional kick, then I recommend Lydia’s Song. If you would like to try it out, a sample is available below.

Available from all good bookshops and also from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback.

About the Author

Katherine tweets @kathblessan
Check out her website at: http://www.katherineblessan.com/

As well as writing, Katherine works as an English and Creative Writing tutor and an Examiner, together with juggling parenting and volunteering in the community. She is married to Blessan – yes, her surname is his first name! – and they travel widely and love to meet new people. Katherine lives with her family in Sheffield, UK.

Other stories by Katherine Blessan include:
• ‘A Heart on Fire’ – a love story inspired by Chariots of Fire. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Heart-Fire-Katherine-Blessan-ebook/dp/B06XD2D2FV
• ‘Travels by Wheelchair’ was shortlisted in a Patrician Press competition in 2016 and published in an anthology. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Refugees-Peacekeepers-Patrician-Press-Anthology-ebook/dp/B01MUG2YIV/
• ‘Beyond her Scream’ – a story of a mother-daughter relationship strained by the effects of FGM. Short Story Beyond Her Scream from cutalongstory.com

Out of my comfort zone

Book reviews… I became obsessed with getting as many as I could back at the beginning of the year, hoping I could maybe reach 1,000 for Fallen Warriors. At the same time I’ve realised that I should make an effort to review the books I’m reading and take more of an active part in the community that blogs about books generally.

This summer I’ve arranged to be part of a Meet The Author event at Cumbernauld Library on 16th September 2017, from 2-4 pm. With me will be Wendy H. Jones, winner of Books Go Social Book of the Year 2017 and author of the DI Shona McKenzie crime series and The Daggers Curse, a young adult novel; and Caroline Johnston, author of What If? a young adult novel.

We’ll be interviewing each other as part of the event and so I am reading both Wendy and Caroline’s latest novels in preparation for the event. I’m planning to review both books this summer.

Also, I’ve just finished reading Lydia’s Song, a novel by Katherine Blessan and will be posting my review of this tomorrow.

I have to say, these are not novels I would normally have chosen to read and I’m finding myself out of my comfort zone with genres I’m not familiar with, yet the stories are hooking me in and delivering an emotional punch that is the hall mark of a good story for me.

Tune in tomorrow for my review of Lydia’s Song…

[Spoilers] – The End Is Revealed!

I don’t like spoilers. Not for books, not for movies or TV. I want to be surprised, caught up in the story and blown away by the reveal.

At least when enjoying fiction. I’m quite happy knowing what’s going to happen in real life and conversely can get quite stressed by uncertainty.

Which is one of the many reasons I like the Bible so much. It contains spoilers. Lots of them. From the moment the first book (Genesis) was written down, hints and reveals and clues towards the end were added. As the books (66 individual books make up the Bible) were written down, more spoilers for events yet to happen were given and while a good many of those have now indeed happened, there are still a number we’re waiting for. Spoilers for the end of history…

Right at the end of the book of Revelation, the final spoiler is given. No matter what happens between now and the end, this world will be transformed and made new, we will all face judgement and some will receive entry into this transformed world while others will be cast out, the God who created us will walk among us, healing and eternal life will be freely given to all who are welcomed.

We are living with the end revealed. Everything we do contributes to how we will be received by God. It places an awesome responsibility on us to keep that end in mind.

The final proof!

My final proof copy of Fallen Warriors arrived! Well actually, two copies (not sure what went wrong there…)

The blurriness on the font on the matt version has been fixed and the corrections have been made to the interior. The paperback version is ready to go! I’ve ordered 100 copies from the printer (five of which will have to be sent to the British Libraries), leaving 95 copies available for sale.

I’ve had four pre-orders already from friends and need to figure out how to take orders through this site. For now – if you would like to buy a copy, use the contact form on this website. The price will be £9.99 per copy including postage for anyone in the UK. If you live outside the UK then contact me giving your address and I’ll send you a quote.

Fallen Warriors has 35 ratings and 21 reviews on Goodreads with an average rating of 4.7.