Pieces of Me in Baghdad and Colorado
A poignant story today given that it’s about war and the consequences of it. An apt title too – Pieces of Me and it’s set in Colorado and on the battlefields of Iraq. What happens when people return from conflict and how do they cope?
The story has a strong message. Can you tell us more about it?
I think the book has several strong themes rather than messages and each reader will take something different from what they read. That was something I was very conscious of when I was writing the book – I can control what I write but I can’t control the way it is received. One of the central themes for me is that conflict affects everyone it touches in different ways, but no one gets out totally unchanged. The way people deal with the how they have been affected varies also, but the most difficult thing can be when people are silent and do not feel able to talk about their emotions or seek help. Silence can be a very damaging thing. I hope that my novel will encourage those who need support to seek it.
Heartache has no boundaries or borders does it?
I don’t think that any human emotion has boundaries or borders in the geographical sense, whether we are talking about pain or love. People carry their experience with them, whether they are soldiers coming back from conflict, refugees having to move countries, civilians coming from work abroad or people having long distance relationships. We live in a world where people now move around so much. You can have Iraqi refugees and US soldiers from the war in Iraq living in the same town in the USA. I think we have to ask ourselves what that might mean for these people and what kinds of challenges it might pose.
What is special about the locations you feature in your book?
The two main locations in my book are Colorado Springs and the International Zone in Baghdad. Colorado Springs is special to me because it is just stunning. It has been quite a long time since I last visited, but I don’t think I will ever get over the beauty of the mountains there. Everything feels so big and spacious (especially compared to London where I now live) that I really feel I can breathe there, which is ironic really because the altitude means that oxygen content in the air is actually quite low.
The International Zone in Baghdad is a fascinating place because of the mix of characters that it contains. Most people don’t realise the number of different jobs and roles that exist in warzones. Yes, there are soldiers but there are also civilians who work in all sorts of sectors (humanitarian, communications, research, political analysis, security etc) and also in the day to day business of supporting that number of troops – shops, cafes, the canteen, petrol stations, laundry services, cleaners. There is everything. I wanted to show the day-to-day functioning side of that kind of location.
How did you research setting?
I have spent time in both Colorado Springs and Iraq. When I was in Baghdad I was not based in the International Zone myself, but I have plenty of friends who were there. While writing the book I spent a lot of time talking to people I know and asking them about their time there. It didn’t feel like formal research as such, more just the sharing of experiences and memories. There was an intense nostalgia that came with many of those conversations. Often people don’t feel able to talk about the positive sides of those experiences for fear they will be misunderstood or it will be considered distasteful, but there were good times too. People find ways of making difficult times bearable. I think that is human nature.
Do you hope serving families will take comfort or at least identify with this book?
I hope the experience resonates with these families and they take comfort in the fact they are not alone. When my own partner deployed I really struggled to find books that exposed the spouse’s side of the experience, and when I did those books tended to focus on the need to be strong and stay positive and support your other half. Personally, I found having my partner deployed far more difficult than being deployed myself and I wanted the novel to reflect this.
What did you find out that surprised you?
I thought that the families of people working in conflict zones would be interested in the book, but the thing that surprised me (perhaps because of my own unfair assumptions!) was the number of men who worked overseas telling me what an important story I was writing. I received a huge amount encouragement on the topic I chose to write about. I think that perhaps it is because I am in the more unusual position of having spent a lot of time in conflict zones as a civilian myself, but also having had the experience of watching my partner be deployed. I feel like I have a strong understanding and empathy for both sides and I try to reflect this in Pieces of Me. I think that people put trust in me to represent the experience as truthfully as I could.
Thank you so much Natalie for an emotional book and an emotional chat!
BookTrail Boarding Pass: Pieces of Me