Nisha’s War is Dan Smith’s latest novel and we are thrilled to share a blog post from Dan, sharing his inspiration for Nisha’s story.
When I wrote Nisha’s War, I didn’t set out to write a World War Two story. I set out to write a book about a lonely girl struggling to find the treasures she has lost; a girl who is torn from a warm and colourful home full of love, and taken to a place that is cold and unwelcoming. Here, Nisha must find her lost treasures if she is to see the colours in the world again.
I toyed with the idea of setting the story in an imaginary time and place, but nothing felt right. As luck would have it, I was browsing through photos of a trip to Singapore, when I came across some that I had taken at Fort Siloso. Fort Siloso is a decommissioned artillery battery, once part of Singapore’s coastal defences. It now stands as a museum to the invasion of Malaya in Dec 1941, and the surrender and occupation of Singapore. Seeing those photos was my lightbulb moment; South East Asia was the perfect home for Nisha.
Imagining South East Asia wasn’t difficult for me – I grew up there, and have many happy memories of it. I also came to school in cold and grey England, so I have a good idea of what it’s like to be torn away from home and sent somewhere that feels unwelcoming – just like Nisha is. In many ways, Nisha’s War is my most personal story because Nisha lives in the house I lived in when I was a child. She sits under the tree I sat under, and she is afraid of the ghosts in the banyan tree, just as I was.
The way it all fit together so perfectly, meant I had accidentally stumbled across a story that gives what I think is an unusual perspective on World War Two. This is not a typical ‘life on the home front’ World War Two story. Not only because the backdrop is the invasion of Malaya and the evacuation of Singapore, but also because Nisha has mixed heritage. Her father is English, and her mother is Indian. I didn’t come up with this idea to be inclusive or diverse, it is simply a reflection of my own family, and Nisha’s race is not the focus of the book, though she does face some prejudice when she arrives in England. In fact, I was keen to play down this aspect of the story. To me, Nisha’s War was never about race, it was about displacement, trauma, loneliness and, above all hope.
NISHA’S WAR by Dan Smith out now in paperback (£7.99, Chicken House)
Find out more at dansmithbooks.com and on twitter @DanSmithAuthor