AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Paul Alkazraji

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…part of the BLOG TOUR for Paul’s thriller!

Your new novel, The Migrant, has a very strong sense of time and place. It is set in 2012 in Albania and Greece, during a time of enormous social upheaval because of the toxic mix of austerity, national debt, illegal immigration, the conflict between Greece and the European Union and the rise of far right nationalism.  When you wrote the book, did you have any idea how relevant some of the themes would be to those living in the UK in 2019?

Living abroad, I catch less UK domestic news, perhaps one item in seven. When I do see UK events, it is from the outside, at a little distance. I’ve been more aware of incidents and public concerns in Germany, Austria, Hungary, France and Greece: Europe wide. With a background in journalism and an interest in current affairs, I’m very conscious of the value of topicality in writing, but with this story I went with what was close at hand to me and genuinely compelling at the time. I hope the story may have value in that it could hold up a mirror for Brits to reflect on what we might learn from looking at others. ‘That’s those people over there; what about us too?’ It is one step removed and lacks a direct portrayal we might take personal offence from. I think too that as a believer, if you are subjecting your heart and mind to the Sprit, it can give an extra capacity to be relevant: to catch what’s in the air and read the signs of the times. So, I’d be very pleased if readers thought it had that.

How much of the story is based on your own personal experience and how much did you have to research?

I live and work with people whose lives are very much like the character of Alban in The Migrant. For example, one young Albanian man came to see me the day before he planned to make a night crossing of the mountains between Albania and Greece in search of work, and left me his mobile phone. It felt like he was giving me a token for his safekeeping, and that incident was reworked into the book. I’ve listened to many Albanians recount their experiences of being in Greece. The dangers, attitudes, dialogue and details I’ve collected like a magpie writer over time and altered for the purposes of fiction. I made sure too that I placed myself in all the locations the story is set in Greece and Albania: in the forested borderlands, round the back of Mount Parnassos, peering through the broken columns of The Parthenon watching the shadows move. By reading, watching video footage and imagining, I was able to put my characters in amongst the rising nationalism and anti-austerity violence of the time.

It’s a book containing Christian themes and characters, but it is also a dynamic thriller with strong male characters who are not afraid to take risks and step out of their comfort zones. It’s a refreshingly different portrayal of Christianity than in some other Christian fiction where protagonists can sometimes come across as holier than thou. Was this deliberate, or is it a reflection of your own Christian faith?

As a fiction writer, I’m aware that interesting characters are neither too bad, too predictable, nor too good. If so, they can seem a little cardboard. I was conscious of building that into the character of Pastor Jude Kilburn. You see his struggles to balance the priorities of family and ministry, the tension in the dialogue with his unbelieving father who cannot grasp his Kingdom priorities, and his temptation when faced with imminent threat to use of violence.

I know of others in Albania who have, at considerable personal risk, gone to the aid of those who have fallen into serious trouble in emigration. Whilst that particular task hasn’t fallen to me yet, it could do one day. The Migrant is an imagination of how that journey could be. There are undoubtedly risks in being in Christian service on a foreign field, but there is assurance of His protection and guidance too: that I have experienced.

What do you hope your readers will take away with them on finishing your book?

I hope they will be transported into another time and place and most definitely feel well entertained, and that they might become more aware of the lives of others caught up in similar true circumstances. I also hope they might take inspiration from the story to go those extra kilometres for someone when they may be the only person who can turn their situation around.

The ending satisfyingly resolves many of the plot lines, but leaves an opening for a sequel. Have you any plans to continue the story?

Yes, I do, possibly set in Rome.

What has been your most rewarding experience as an author?

Taking the essence of my own life experience and telling others about it, and knowing that through the medium of fiction I have the reader’s company with me in that, albeit for a brief period of time, on my journey to all He has in store for us.

Click here to read the thrilling first chapter of The Migrant.

  • Paul Alkazraji

    Paul Alkazraji worked as a freelance journalist in the UK from the mid-nineties. His was published in Christianity Magazine...

  • The Migrant

    Paul Alkazraji

    Fascist populists, callous sex-traffickers and violent anti-austerity riots – these were not what Pastor Jude Kilburn had expected to face when he moved to Albania.

    But when vulnerable 19-year-old Alban disappears...