Books: Interview: Bristol author Sanjida Kay

Joe Melia, April 3, 2017

After several acclaimed literary novels, Bristol writer Sanjida Kay is now establishing herself as a great exponent of domestic thrillers. Joe Melia hears about thriller number two, The Stolen Child

The Stolen Child is your tenth book. Do they get easier to write?
Ha, I wish! Matthew Syed wrote that one needs at least 10,000 hours of purposeful practice to succeed at anything. I’ve definitely put those hours and those words in, so I have an idea of what I need to do, but I don’t think it makes it easier. Partly, it’s because every novel is a new challenge, and partly because I’ve changed direction. My first Sanjida Kay thriller, Bone by Bone, is a departure from the kind of books I used to write, so for me it was a steep learning curve – and I’m still learning.

How did you find switching from historical fiction to domestic thrillers?
My previous two novels, The Naked Name of Love and Sugar Island, were both set in 1859; the former in Outer Mongolia, and the latter in the American Deep South. So to set a novel where I live (Bone by Bone is based in Bristol) and another where I used to live (The Stolen Child is set in Ilkley) is a joy! I love immersing myself in another land, culture and time, but there’s also something wonderful about seeing someone on the bus, or overhearing a conversation in a café, and knowing you can turn it into an event without worrying whether that person would have been travelling in a barouche or knew what a flat white was.

What sparked the idea for the plot of The Stolen Child?
A friend of a friend wanted to adopt a child from birth and she’d heard of a woman who was being forced to give up her baby because she was a drug addict.
I thought, ‘what if that child was adopted and went to a lovely home, but then the father discovers what has happened, and he wants his child back? What lengths would he go to find the daughter he believed had been stolen from him?’

The settings in all your novels are very strong – what’s the significance of Ilkley Moor in The Stolen Child?
For me, place is important – it’s like another character in my fiction. From the age of eight, I grew up living on the edge of Ilkley Moor and it exerted a powerful hold over me. Right next to Ilkley, you can find ancient Neolithic sites, such as a stone circle, and stones with strange markings on, that could have been used for blood sacrifices.
It’s also near where the Brontë sisters lived. As a teenager I loved Wuthering Heights, and I wanted, in some way, to pay homage to such a wonderful, dark and savage story, which has inspired me throughout my life.

You’ve been working with First Story as writer-in-residence at Fairfield School. What impact has that had on your writing?
First Story is a charity that aims to change young people’s lives through writing. I love trying to inspire the students I work with, and it’s also wonderful to be able to give something back to the community where I live. When I first started I told my students that I had an ulterior motive (always a good thing to give a fictitious character!). Mine is that I’m currently writing my third thriller, The Perfect Family. One of the protagonists is 14, so working with students of a similar age is helping me with her character!

The Stolen Child (Corvus, £12.99) will be launched at Waterstones Galleries on Friday, April 21 at 7pm. For more info, visit www.evensi.uk/launch-party-for-the-stolen-child-waterstones-bristol/201125794

For more on Sanjida Kay, visit www.sanjida.co.uk