Thank you to Natalie C. Anderson for stopping by my blog to share her thoughts on her new book City of Saints and Thieves!
About the Book:
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo meets Gone Girl in this enthralling YA murder mystery set in Kenya.
In the shadows of Sangui City, there lives a girl who doesn’t exist. After fleeing the Congo as refugees, Tina and her mother arrived in Kenya looking for the chance to build a new life and home. Her mother quickly found work as a maid for a prominent family, headed by Roland Greyhill, one of the city’s most respected business leaders. But Tina soon learns that the Greyhill fortune was made from a life of corruption and crime. So when her mother is found shot to death in Mr. Greyhill’s personal study, she knows exactly who’s behind it.
With revenge always on her mind, Tina spends the next four years surviving on the streets alone, working as a master thief for the Goondas, Sangui City’s local gang. It’s a job for the Goondas that finally brings Tina back to the Greyhill estate, giving her the chance for vengeance she’s been waiting for. But as soon as she steps inside the lavish home, she’s overtaken by the pain of old wounds and the pull of past friendships, setting into motion a dangerous cascade of events that could, at any moment, cost Tina her life. But finally uncovering the incredible truth about who killed her mother—and why—keeps her holding on in this fast-paced nail-biting thriller.
About the Author:
Natalie C. Anderson is a writer and international development professional living in Boston, Massachusetts. She has spent the last decade working with NGOs and the UN on refugee relief and development, mainly in Africa. She was selected as the 2014-2015 Associates of the Boston Public Library Children’s Writer in Residence, where she wrote her debut novel, City of Saints and Thieves.
1. What do you do when you’re not writing?
These days it’s a lot of assembling Ikea furniture. My husband and I moved to Switzerland with just a couple of suitcases, so we’re still sorta sleeping on the floor in sleeping bags. And I’m trying to learn French, which is what’s spoken here. Emphasis on trying! I really like to cook and I like eating even more, so I do a lot of that, and then reading, taking walks in the summer, skiing in the winter, and I will happily nap at the drop of a hat. One day we’ll be settled in and then it will be time to do some European exploring! I’m really looking forward to that.
2. How much of your characters’ experiences were realistic or drawn from what you’ve seen while working in Kenya?
The refugee histories are pretty accurate. I heard hundreds of similar stories while working with refugees. While the back-stories in the book don’t come from a particular refugee (for obvious reasons), that sort of story is typical. Militias and government troops both commit terrible crimes against the civilian population. And the conflict in Eastern DR Congo really is tied up with international mining companies. There’s just not enough infrastructure to monitor working conditions, and mining is a great way for militias and others to get cash. Gold smuggling, specifically, is a problem. A few ounces of gold is worth a truckload of tin, so it’s easier to get gold that’s been mined under really awful conditions across borders and out of Africa without much notice. The Enough Project has some great literature on all of this, if you’re interested.
Sangui City is fictional, but there are some elements I stole from both Nairobi and Mombasa, Kenya. Mombasa and coastal East Africa generally is Swahili, and heavily influenced by hundreds of years of trade and connections with the Arab world, India, even China. That was the “look” I wanted. But the coast tends to feel pretty relaxed, and I wanted Sangui to have Nairobi’s hustle and verve. And in Nairobi there are the huge class disparities Sangui has, along with all the corruption and wild-west type entrepreneurship.
3. What did your writing space for this book look like?
**rubs hands gleefully** I was very, very lucky to be chosen as the 2014-2015 Associates of the Boston Public Library’s Children’s Writer in Residence. They gave me a stipend and maybe the most incredible working space in all of Boston. I’m not even exaggerating! This was a little room off the main BPL ballroom complete with secret stairway, mahogany paneling, and a view over Copley Square. It was incredible. I was there three days a week and wrote 90% of the book in that room. It was one of the most magical times of my life. Now I write from home, usually spread out on the couch, which has its merits too. (naps!)
4. If you could hang out with any fictional character for a day, who would you pick?
Ooo, all my favorites are a bit prickly and intimidating. I’m not sure they’d be into hanging out, and I’m definitely not cool enough for them. ☺ (Katniss, Laia from the Ember series, Princess Leia…) Maybe Tarzan, so he could teach me how to swing on vines through the jungle. Or Sam from My Side of the Mountain, by Jean Craighead George, because I’ve always loved the idea of running off into the wilds and trying to be self-sufficient. I’d probably annoy Sam, though, by bringing along too many books.
5. This might be the first exposure that some readers have had to the situations Tina and other women in your story face, so are there any particular nonprofits or other basic information you’d recommend they look into?
YES! There are a few that I mention in the author’s note at the end of the book which are not very well known, small, locally-based organizations that do work much like the mission hospital in the book. Giving financially to small agencies often packs a much bigger punch than if you donate to the big ones. Just make sure you do your research and the place is reputable, and has safe ways to donate. I’ll vouch for these ones being well-worth supporting: In DRC’s North Kivu Province, there’s Solidarité Féminine pour la Paix et le Dévelopment Intégral (sofepadi.org). Sister Angélique Namaika’s Center for Reintegration and Development is in Orientale Province. There’s also Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, and HEAL Africa in Goma. All do work with women who are survivors of violence, focusing on medical, psychological and social assistance to get women healthy (medically and psychologically) and back into their own communities.
6. If you could tell aspiring authors one thing, what would it be?
Writing is too hard to not be fascinated by your subject, so write about that thing that you can’t not write about. Even if people tell you it won’t sell because it’s setting and characters aren’t relatable enough (been there!), even if it’s a story everyone gives you funny looks for when you try to explain what it’s about (you think JK Rowling didn’t get some side-eye when she told people she was writing about a school for witches and wizards?). And find a few people who you can trade work with. Believe me, they’re out there, and they’re looking for you too. Writing is a solitary pursuit, so it’s nice to crawl out of your cave and find other writers blinking into the sunlight – people you can geek out with and who care about writing and stories as much as you do. (Okay, that’s two things, sorrynotsorry.)
Thanks for sharing & congratulations on your new book!
Thank you for having me on the blog!!
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