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Meet Justin Huggler Author of Burden of the Desert
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Norm Goldman


Reviewer & Author Interviewer, Norm Goldman. Norm is the Publisher & Editor of Bookpleasures.com.

He has been reviewing books for the past fifteen years when he retired from the legal profession.

To read more about Norm Follow Here






 
By Norm Goldman
Published on February 12, 2013
 



Norm  Goldman, Publisher & Editor of Bookpleasures.com Interviews Justin Huggler Author of  Burden of the Desert






Author: Justin Huggler

Publisher: Createspace

ISBN: 978-1479352043


Today, Bookpleasures is pleased to have as out guest Justin Huggler author of Burden Of The Desert.

Good day Justin and thanks for participating in our interview             

Norm:

Justin, please tell our readers a little bit about your personal and professional background. 

Justin:

I was born in the Channel Island of Jersey, Great Britain. After graduating from Oxford, I became a journalist and worked as a foreign correspondent for The Independent, a British newspaper. I started out in Turkey, where I covered the war wth Kurdish rebels. Then I was sent to Prague to cover Eastern Europe, where I reported on the overthrow and arrest of Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia.

I covered the 2001 war in Afghanistan, travelling with the Northern Alliance, and reported on the prisoner uprising at Qala-i Jangi and the capture of John Walker Lindh, the “American Taliban”. In 2002 I was sent to the Middle East and covered the second Palestinian Intifada, based in Jerusalem and reporting regularly from Gaza and the West Bank.

I covered the occupation of Iraq from 2003 to 2004, travelling throughout the country independent from US or British forces. In 2004 I moved to India to cover Asia, where I reported on the Kashmir conflict, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and India’s economic emergence. I lived in India for eight years and moved back to London last year.

Norm: 

What do you think over the years has driven you as a writer? 

Justin:

That’s an interesting question, because for me there’ve been two separate parts to my writing, as a journalist and as a novelist. I think what unifies them is the desire to tell the story. As a foreign correspondent you’re experiencing things and finding things out that people at home don’t know about, and you want to tell them. As a novelist you still have a story you’re burning to tell, but it’s one you’ve made up. In the case of Burden of the Desert, it was a story set against a real-life historic background, the occupation of Iraq, so there was a lot of what I’d really experienced in Iraq I wanted to convey: even though the story is fiction, the world in which the characters live, and the situations they face, are real-life situations. But it was still the story, first and foremost, that I wanted to tell.

Norm: 

Burden Of The Desert is your first novel. Did you enjoy the process and did you write the story to express something you believe or was it just for entertainment?

Justin:

I wrote Burden of the Desert because I felt I wanted to tell more of the story than I could as a journalist. I felt that, all around me, people’s lives were going on. To people at home, Iraq was a news story, a series of bomb blasts and political decisions. But the people there were falling in love, trying to take care of their families, earn a living, the things we all face in life -- and they were trying to stay alive at the same time. I felt I’d witnessed something extraordinary in Iraq, how an entire country had slid into violence and inhumanity, and I wanted to tell the whole story of what had happened there, not just the politics or the bombs that went off, but how it felt to be there, how it felt to live there.

Yes, I enjoyed the process. In fact, it was cathartic for me, I think writing the book was the one thing that helped come to terms with what I’d experienced in Iraq. 

Norm:

How did you decide you were ready to write the book and what served as the primary inspiration for the book?

Justin:

The primary inspiration came from one night in Baghdad. I was in the hotel, tired, stressed, and I could hear the shooting outside. By that time the insurgents were kidnapping people and beheading them, and I was pretty scared and angry about it. I felt that we weren’t neutral observers as journalists any more, we’d become part of the story. It’s hard to stay impartial about some one who wants to kill you. The streets had become incredibly dangerous, the American soldiers were under fire all the time. And it came to me that somewhere across the city there was an American soldier my age, trying to survive the war and do his job. And somewhere else there was an Iraqi insurgent my age who wanted to kill me. And somewhere a victim of the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse. And somewhere a civilian just trying to stay alive. And I realised you couldn’t understand the war without seeing all these points of view -- even though you might disagree with them. Even though I did strongly disagree with the insurgent. After that I started carrying these different viewpoints around in my head, trying to imagine how they would see the things I experienced. That’s how the book was born, and from that moment on I always wanted to write it. But it was a long time till I was ready. Iraq was still too raw for me, I needed some years before I felt able to sit down and write the book. I don’t know how I decided I was ready, there just came a time when I wanted to start writing.

Norm: 

It is said that writers should write what they know. Were there any elements of the book that forced you to step out of your comfort zone, and if so, how did you approach this part of the writing? 

Justin:

Yes, very much so. The sort of book I wanted to write forced me to do that, because I wanted to write from all these different points of view. I knew Iraq, but I only knew it as a journalist. But I think that a fiction writer should be prepared to put themselves in other people’s shoes, and imagine their characters’ perspectives on things. I tried to imagine how I’d feel. I steered clear of what I couldn’t possibly know: the minutiae of family life in Iraq, or of US military life, little details like that. I think this approach worked for my book because it’s about the sort of things that are universal, like reacting to hearing your father’s been killed, or being in love with some one your society won’t let you love, or trying to get those you’ve taken responsibility for home alive. I think those things are the same whether you’re Iraqi or American or British or wherever you’re from, and we can all imagine them.

The other thing that forced me out of my comfort zone was having a female principal character, but I approached it in the same way, by trying to imagine how she would see things.

Norm: 

Do you feel that writers, regardless of genre owe something to readers, if not, why not, if so, why and what would that be?

Justin:

Yes, definitely. I think in non-fiction writers owe readers the information they’ve come looking for, and in fiction writers owe readers entertainment. I think people read novels first and foremost because they want to be entertained, and a novel that’s not a pleasure to read has failed at the most fundamental level. That’s not to say it has to be light or easy: there are lots of different ways a novel can be enjoyable, I’ve loved novels that gave me a headache! But if it’s not a pleasure to turn the pages it’s not working. I think a writer owes a reader who has given their time that.

Norm: 

Is there much of you in your book?

Justin:

There are a lot of my experiences, but I don’t think there’s much of my personality. I had so many extraordinary experiences in Iraq that were just obvious material for the book: being in a 120mph car chase through an area known for kidnappings; going to a small town and getting told to leave at once because there were people “hunting” for us; being in a crowd of pilgrims when the insurgents started mortaring them; hanging out at a cafe the insurgents frequented until I was warned to leave. And there were the crazy nights at the hotel where we used to stay, where the journalists used to sit up drinking late and telling stories. There was this pianist who’d been famous before the war, and at times it felt like being in the movie Casablanca. So I divided my experiences up between two of the journalists, Zoe Temple and Jack Wolfe. But neither of them is like me. I was more experienced than either of them when I got to Iraq, I’d already been in wars, I’d been in Afghanistan, I’d covered the Middle East. I wasn’t as idealistic as Zoe, but I wasn’t as cynical or opportunistic as Jack.

Norm: 

How did you go about creating your principal character Zoe Temple? Is she someone you knew?

Justin:

No, Zoe is a character I invented. Basically I wanted a way of making sure my principal journalist character didn’t become autobiographical, especially as I was giving her so many of my own experiences, and I decided the best way of avoiding that was to make her female. That way I wouldn’t be tempted to write the character as myself. So I basically came up with the character, this young, ambitious but inexperienced journalist, and then imagined how she’d react to the situations I put her in. Of course, I just ended up making another problem for myself, since I had to try and write from a woman’s perspective, so you could say I ended up making my job harder! 

Norm:

Where can our readers find out more about you and Burden Of The Desert? 

Justin:

The best place is at my WEBSITE which is home to my blog, and has a selection of some of my published journalism as well.

Norm:

As this interview draws to a close what one question would you have liked me to ask you? Please share your answer. 

Justin:

That’s difficult, when you’ve covered everything already! I think I’d have liked you to ask me whether I wanted Burden of the Desert to be a political book, a book that takes sides on the whole question of whether the Iraq war should have happened. Because I absolutely didn’t want it to be that sort of book. Of course I’ve got my own views on that, inevitably after spending time in Iraq, but I don’t think they belong in the book. A large part of the reason I wrote the book was to get away from that. I’d spent years as a journalist writing about the debate over the war, I wanted to write a book that deal with the war in a different way, a book about the emotions and experiences of people caught up in the war.

Norm:

Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors

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