I’m delighted to be taking part in the tour today as the last stop for debut novel Things Bright and Beautiful by Anbara Salam.
Things Bright and Beautiful is based on Anbara’s own experiences living on a Pacific island for 6 months where she witnessed the rituals of a religious cult there. Today she is sharing with us her experience and how it shaped Things Bright and Beautiful.
Publisher: Fig Tree (5 April 2018)
Available to purchase in digital, paperback and hardcover formats.
When Bea Hanlon follows her preacher husband Max to a remote island in the Pacific, she soon sees that their mission will bring anything but salvation…
Advent Island is a place beyond the reaches of Bea’s most fitful imaginings. It’s not just the rats and the hordes of mosquitos and the weevils in the powdered milk. Past the confines of their stuffy little house, amidst the damp and the dust and the sweltering heat, rumours are spreading of devil chasers who roam the island on the hunt for evil spirits. And then there are the noises from the church at night.
Yet, to the amusement of the locals and the bafflement of her husband, Bea gradually adapts to life on the island. But with the dreadful events heralded by the arrival of an unexpected, wildly irritating and always-humming house guest, Advent Island becomes a hostile place once again. And before long, trapped in the jungle and in the growing fever of her husband’s insanity, Bea finds herself fighting for her freedom, and for her life.
Things Bright and Beautiful was inspired by my real-life experiences living on a small island in Melanesia. I grew up in London, so the move to the South Pacific came with a rude awakening for me about my own incompetence – even for basic things like growing vegetables or climbing trees. I began to write the first draft of the book while I was living on the island, partly as a way of communicating what was a difficult experience to express to my friends and family. When I returned to work on the draft several years later, I wanted to capture the difficulty of adapting to a challenging environment, and the sort of sink-or-swim mentality that my characters would have to adopt when confronted with such an unfamiliar way of living. One of the things that I personally struggled with was the sense of isolation living in such a remote place – we had one telephone in the village and another in a village a few hours’ walk away, and perhaps an hour of electricity on a good day from a diesel generator. So in the months when there was no post, or the telephone lines were down, there was no way to communicate with people outside of the island. When I read through my South Pacific diaries for research, I was struck by how much the physical and psychological distance from my friends and family affected me, and there were plenty of bizarre moments where I felt I had almost slipped through into a strange alternate universe where I didn’t really exist. So while I was writing Things Bright and Beautiful, I tried to capture the ways in which isolation breeds a certain kind of claustrophobic intensity, as well as a surreal emotional reality where the limits of the characters’ resilience would be truly put to the test.
Anbara Salam is half-Palestinian and half-Scottish, and grew up in London. She has a PhD in Theology, specialising in apocalyptic death cults, and is now a research associate at the University of Oxford. She spent six months living on a small South Pacific island, and her experiences there served as the inspiration for this debut novel.
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