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
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