While Oldham is still in lockdown, other parts of the UK are loosening their grip. The British Museum opened yesterday and seeing the inside of my beloved London bolthole tugged at my heartstrings.
I used to spend a lot of time in London. But since March I haven’t been there and I don’t think I will be going back for a long time. I always stayed in Bloomsbury, near to my spiritual book home and withing walking distance of the South Bank and Covent Garden, as well as theatreland.
Staying alone in hotels is no fun after the initial novelty wears off. So I found myself wandering endlessly around the exhibits in the fabulous British Museum. It’s there I found Sanaa.
A while ago, after a 23andMe DNA test I found out that my genes held a secret – I am 18% Balochi. This was a huge surprise for someone who had been told little about their ancestry and been led to believe they hailed form Ireland.
It was almost unbelievable that when, 20 years earlier, I had stool in Aleppo in Syria and not known that my ancestors’ origins were there. I decided that I would find out as much as I could about it. I found myself standing in the Assyrian room in the British Museum looking at the origins of language.
I thought about Aleppo being raised to the ground and me leaving Cyrpus because the Iraq war started in 1990. I had recently read a series of spy thrillers including I am Pilgrim and one things that struck me was the role of women. the portrayal of women around war and terror as either servile or in the background.
I decided to write a book about three women – British, US and Iraqi – and their roles on the peripheral of a deadly battle. Sanaa came to me in the British museum through the artefacts, her art shining through the pieces and providing a solid base. The Truth Keepers was born.
Kate and Juliette are written around strong women who have to work extra hard in a man’s world. While the main locations in the novel are London, New York and Baghdad, I could not have avoided writing the British Museum itself into the plot,and the very room where I first found Sanaa.
I will miss the British Museum for the time being, but I am extremely fortunate to have writing memories such as this one that, for me, bring my characters to life.