I’m delighted to be welcoming F J Curlew to my hot seat today on tour for Don’t Get Involved.
Find out about her inspiration, research, about her characters and more.
A missing shipment of cocaine. Three street-kids fighting for their lives. A Mafia hitman intent on killing them. A naive expat who gets in their way. Who would you bet on?Ukraine, 2001. A time of lawlessness and corruption. Three street-kids stumble upon a holdall full of cocaine belonging to the Mafia. Mafia hitman, Leonid, is given the task of retrieving the cocaine and disposing of the street-kids. To do so he is forced to step back into his old life and he doesn’t like it. The children run on their wits. Leonid hunts them down. Nadia, a young woman with her own dark past, arrives in Ukraine looking for a fresh start. She wasn’t expecting this!”She had no idea of what, or who, she was supposed to be running from. Right now everything was a threat. Definitely militsiya but who else? Everyone. Right now it felt like everyone.”
Don’t Get Involved by F J Curlew is available to purchase in digital and paperback formats.
Hi Fiona, welcome to Jera’s Jamboree.
Thank you so much for hosting me!
Please summarise Don’t Get Involved in 20 words or less.
A missing shipment of cocaine, three street-kids, a Mafia hitman, naïve expats. The hunt is on!
What was the idea/inspiration for your novel?
I lived in Ukraine for four years. The country, its history, and its people had a strong impact on me. Some of the people I met, the things I saw, the stories I was told, just wouldn’t leave me alone – they were heartbreaking, inspirational, and horrifying – and I had to write about them. It began with short stories, but I soon realised that a novel was scratching away at me. Once I had the premise, the threads that held everything together, it just took off.
How do your characters come into existence? Do they have a bio?
Yes! I like to write a monologue for each central character to help me get under their skin. Then I pad out the details on a bio sheet. It usually changes as the story progresses and I learn more about each character, but I need that base to begin with.
Please tell us about the characters in your story.
The street-kids, Sasha, Dima, and Alyona, are all based on children I met and tried, in some small way, to help. Sasha and Alyona are brother and sister who have (in real life and in the story) the most horrendous life, yet they had this gentleness, this soft acceptance, which I found both disturbing and beautiful. I hope I have done them justice. Dima is a conglomeration of several street-kids I met. The tough kid who won’t be beaten. The sceptic. The survivor.
Hitman Leonid is purely fictitious. A former street-kid himself who found favour with the Mafia. He’s pure evil, because life has made him that way. In his world there is no room for anything or anyone that might get in the way of his climb up the Mafia ladder.
The expats, Maggie and Nadia, are both English teachers, again, fictitious, but sprinkled with people I knew over there. They had no intentions of anything happening other than a change, an adventure in a foreign country. They got a whole lot more than that!
What scene did you enjoy writing the most? Why?
The ending. I had no idea of how to finish the story off. Everything I tried just wasn’t right. Something was missing. Unsatisfactory. Then a little bit of magic happened! I had a dream and I woke up with a “Wow! Of course!” That was it. The perfect ending.
Did you do any research? What resources did you use?
My own experiences from living in Kyiv gave me a decent amount of knowledge but it simply wasn’t enough. As the story progressed I researched the Mafia and their workings in Eastern Europe through videos, books and the internet. The Holodomor – the forced famine of 1932/3 – was researched through anecdotal memoirs found on the internet and in historical papers. I read the selected works of Taras Shevchenko (the bard of Ukraine) and listened to Yarmak (a Ukrainian political rapper) to help me get into Ukrainian mode. To jog my memory I retrod the streets of Kyiv by walking along Google maps (what an invention that is!) Oh, and I learned a lot about crows!
And did you travel to any places? Undergo any new experiences?
It was through my job as an international school teacher that I ended up in Ukraine so my travelling was retrospective!
Favourite place you go to for inspiration or a favourite activity?
I am fortunate enough to live in a very beautiful part of Scotland where I have miles of coastline, woods, and open countryside to stroll through with Brockie, my Springer Spaniel. He zooms, I dream, and stories are created! My best thinking is done walking in nature – the sea for big ideas, the woods for detail.
Finally, can you share with us what you are working on now?
I am currently working on a novel based on Estonia and its survival through, and emergence from, the Soviet Union. I lived in Estonia for seven years and completely fell in love with the place, not least because of its history, and the gentle strength of its people. The story spans from 1945 to 1996 and I am drowning in a sea of research!
Thank you for being my guest. Wishing you success with all your writing projects.
Fiona spent fifteen years working as an international school teacher, predominantly in Eastern Europe. Much of her inspiration comes from her travels. Her writing has been described as, “Human experience impacted upon by political situation, interwoven with a love of nature.”
She now lives on the East Coast of Scotland with Brockie the Springer, and Fingal the rescued Portuguese street-cat. Her days are divided between dog-walking in beautiful places and working on her stories. Not a bad life!
Don’t Get Involved is her third book.