Tuesday, 7 June 2011

An Act of Love by Alan Gibbons

This month's recommended read on The Faded Bookmark is An Act of Love by Alan Gibbons, an extremely powerful and topical read. 

Alan was also kind enough to answer some questions about the book from our reviewer Tamsin Jupp...

An Act Of Love by Alan Gibbons
Waiting to collect his medal at a high profile military ceremony, Chris receives a text message from his childhood best friend. A bomb is about to go off. The only problem is that the last time Chris saw Imran, Imran told him he was a kuffar, pressed his fingers to his head and pretended to shoot him. They chose very different paths in life, Chris joined the army and returned injured from Afghanistan; Imran, having lost his best friend and older brother, drifted angrily through life until he found what he thought was his cause, a radical Islamic group, wanting to bring war to infidels. The type of group who spawned the 7/7 bombers.  Chris has to decide if he can really trust his old blood brother, or have ten years and life choices driven them too far apart?  Using flashbacks and changing viewpoints between the two main protagonists, Gibbons creates a pressure cooker of tension.

Having grown up in the Middle East, I was interested to see how this delicate subject would be broached, and I can't fault the research that has obviously been put into this book. Gibbons captures the anger, frustration and sense of isolation that a teenager of any faith or colour feels. "You think you're in control of your life but you're not. Not really. It's like you stumble through the years with a hood over your head.  Nobody knows where they're going."  We all make mistakes growing up, sometimes we choose the wrong path but, with knowledge, sometimes you can get back on track.

An Act of Love is about friendship, growing up in a multi-racial country and looking at everyday people as well as the extremists. I remember the riots and unrest of the 1980's, and had to double check the dates in the book, with the depressing conclusion that history is repeating itself. All these events happened in the last ten years, not thirty years ago, which is a sobering thought about society. Maybe if more people read this book, understanding differences can help break cycles.

This is an enormous and heavy topic to cover, but An Act of Love is not just boy meets girl, Muslims vs the West, it's about a love that fights and conquers hate. A sometimes uncomfortable, but intuitively written and compelling read.  Gibbons gives the invisible a voice. 

Alan answers Tamsin's questions about An Act of Love.

Which came first, the story or the time line?

The story came first. Obviously, the research was integral but I only drew up the time line on request from my editor to give the readers an overview and reference point.

The story has strong similarities to what was going in 1981 especially the Toxteth riots in Liverpool. Did that influence you in any way?
I have lived in Liverpool since 1979 and lived in Liverpool 8 during the riots so it was one of my reference points.

Did you have a specific age group in mind when you wrote this (as adults can learn a lot from your book!)?
I think it was Philip Pullman who said he writes for people. Me too. There is a term crossover, but essentially I think when you write Young Adult fiction it always spills back to younger readers who are mature enough to handle the themes and forward to adults who will appreciate a well-researched, deeply felt story.

What inspired you to tackle this subject?
I had written on the implications of George Bush and Tony Blair’s decision to respond to 9/11 with military invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan indirectly in Caught in the Crossfire. I felt I had unfinished business and it was time to grasp the nettle and deal with the material directly.

I would love to think that this book goes some way towards giving people a more informed perspective, but do you think that things are going to get worse before they get better this country?
I believe the word crisis in Chinese contains the concept danger and opportunity. That is where I think we are. There is an unfortunate and ignorant strand of deep hostility to Muslims in the UK, but there is also a disenchantment with the policies that produced it. We have the opportunity to create a respectful country of many faiths, cultures and energies or slip into distrust and division. On the whole I am optimistic but there are always sinister forces in the wings. It is up to good people to promote the idea of a united community which generates a positive identity out of the many strands of our people.

An Act of Love is available on Amazon and in all good bookstores. I thoroughly recommend you buy a copy...