Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Interview with...Allan Stratton

With several award-winning YA novels under his belt (one of them turned into film), Allan Stratton explains why he writes and how it inspired him.

In your first book, "Chanda's Secrets", you tackle the issue of AIDS. The sequel, "Chanda's Wars", deals with child soldiers. When was the first time you learned about child soldiers? What was your motivation behind both stories?

I had a lot of friends in New York and Toronto die of AIDS in the 1980s; I wrote Chanda's Secrets because I wanted to put a human face to the disease. I guess I first heard about child soldiers when reading European medieval and renaissance history, and remember being aware of the continuing global problem when reading about the Lord's Resistance Army in the 1990s. The impulse to write Chanda's Wars came from a dream I had some months after finishing Chanda's Secrets. I woke up out of a violent dream of fire and screaming -- dreaming as Chanda -- that my little brother and sister, Soly and Iris had been kidnapped and I had to save them.

"Chanda's Secrets" was turned into a film called "Life, Above All" and received worldwide acclaim, and even being considered as a contender for an Academy-Award for Best Foreign Film. Did you ever anticipate the success of both the book and the film adaptation?

Never. You always work as hard as you can to do the best work possible. Sometimes serendipity steps in and magic happens. Success is something you can work hard for, but it's not something you can plan.

Besides "Chanda's Secrets" and "Chanda's Wars", you've written "Leslie's Journal" which deals with relationship abuse and "Borderline" that outlines the dangers of racial and religious intolerance. How do you get inspired when coming up with a story idea?

I've mentioned the inspirations for the Chanda novels. Leslie's Journal came about because in my five years teaching I observed so many girls in abusive dating relationships. Also, more personally, my mother fled my father, who was extremely violent towards her; it's one of the many sound decisions she made. she passed away a year ago; I love and miss her so much. Borderline was inspired by wondering who my father was deep down inside. Also, by a childhood fear of being hanged for a crime I didn't commit; I don't trust the justice system to be just. However, I don't think of my novels as issue novels. The deeper themes are always about identity, secrecy, imagination and coming of age.

Is there any advice you would give to an aspiring writers?

For the writing: Write for the joy of it. And write what you care about. Don't be afraid to write about what you don't know factually -- what's important is to write about what you know emotionally. I've travelled the world and can say with experience that, cultural and class surfaces aside, under the skin we are all, emotionally, the same: full of fears, loves, hates, jealousies, kindnesses, despair and grace.

To learn more about Allan and all of his books, including the film "Life, Above All", visit his website.

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