Looking at the Stars – what’s it all about?

My brand new book, out in less than two months!
My brand new book, out in less than two months!

So it occurred to me that I should probably say something about my new book 😉

Looking at the Stars is a book I’m very proud of. It’s the book that’s taken the longest to write, so it comes to something when I say that even after six years and umpteen re-writes, I still love it. And it makes me cry, even though I wrote it.

So what’s it about?

The central character is Amina. She lives with her parents, older brother and sister and younger sister, in a hand-built house somewhere in the Middle East. You don’t need to know anything about geography because Amina’s country isn’t a real one: I made it up. However, it’s under a really harsh regime, rather like the Taliban. Women and girls must wear headscarves (only in my book they have a different colour depending on their age, so you can tell by looking at a girl exactly how old she is) and they’re not allowed to go to school or work. Amina hates this because she can remember the time before the Kwana came to power, when she loved going to school and had a lot more freedom.

Amina’s family isn’t happy with the way things are run, but they don’t dare speak out because the Kwana can arrest people they don’t like or whip them in the streets. So everyone is secretly thrilled when a foreign army comes to the country to get rid of the tyrannical government. BUT the trouble with these things is that you can’t just get rid of a whole regime like that – and soon Amina’s family finds they’re worse off than ever. The traders won’t trade with them at market, the older brother runs off to join the rebellion, and worst of all, Amina’s father is killed by the Kwana. The three sisters and their mother decide they have to leave, but that’s not easy either.

Amina has always had a good imagination. She’s been told off for it before: her parents say she shouldn’t be making up stories or pretending things can be different. But when everything she loves is taken away from her, Amina discovers that her imagination is the most precious thing she could have. Together with her older sister Jenna, she walks to a refugee camp, and along the way she tells stories about the stars in the night sky…

Jenna sighed, and I knew she was thinking about Potta and Mamie and Vivie. In another moment, she would be crying, and then I would be too, and then neither of us would get any rest. I looked around in desperation. What could I say to take her mind off things? The night sky glittered overhead. ‘Did you know,’ I began without any real plan, ‘that those are not actually stars?’

‘What?’ said Jenna, momentarily distracted from her sadness. She looked up. ‘What are you talking about?’

‘They’re not stars,’ I said again.

‘Mini . . .’ Jenna sounded tired. ‘This is another one of your silly stories, isn’t it?’

‘Stories aren’t silly,’ I said obstinately. ‘And how do you know they’re stars? Have you ever actually seen one up close? Have you been to a star?’

Jenna rolled her eyes. ‘All right then, have it your way. What are they if they’re not stars?’

‘They’re . . .’ I cast around for a suitable answer. The events of the past few weeks swam before my mind. ‘They’re soldiers.’

‘Mini, not more soldiers,’ said Jenna. ‘Please, let’s just go to sleep.’

‘Oh, not the sort of soldiers we’ve seen,’ I went on hurriedly. ‘These are a noble race of warriors.’ Warriors sounded much better than soldiers, didn’t it? ‘They’re from an ancient time. Thousands of years ago.’

Jenna yawned. ‘Then what are they doing up there in the sky?’

‘I’m about to tell you,’ I said. ‘Give me a minute.’ I could tell she was smiling. ‘It’s the best story you’ll have ever heard.’

Looking at the Stars will be published in hardback (very exciting! my first hardback!) at the end of January. And if you watch this space, I’ll tell you all about the launch party I’m planning – to which YOU are invited!

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