I hope that they see that there is always a story behind how and why an immigrant has come to their country and that people around the world are struggling with the same things: discrimination, fear, hate, and sorrow. I would also hope readers would see that if they look hard enough, we are more alike than we are different.
What have you taken away from writing this book?
Although I was aware of trouble and conflict in other parts of the world, it’s different when you hear someone’s personal story. I couldn’t help but wonder as I wrote about the dangers and risks Gentil and his family faced, how I would have reacted. I wonder if I could have remained as positive and optimistic as Gentil has.
Where did you get the idea to write Gentil’s memoir?
My editor, Solange Messier, noticed that Gentil was honoured as one of Canada’s Top 25 Immigrants of 2014 and pointed it out to me. The little blurb beside his name was intriguing and the deeper I delved into his background, the more I knew that this was someone special whose story needed to be told.
Why was it important to you to write about this topic?
My mother is an immigrant and growing up I saw the way she was treated at times because of her accent or misunderstanding of Canadian culture. I know, too, that despite those incidents she is fiercely proud to be a Canadian citizen and call this country her home.
This is your first time writing a creative non-fiction book. How much did the writing process differ from the typical non-fiction books you write?
I found this process to be a fascinating blend of fiction and non-fiction writing. In information non-fiction I spend a lot of time researching interesting facts, but here I was also looking for the story behind the facts and the emotions that came out of the events. It was difficult at times because unlike fiction, if part of the story needed more embellishment or explanation, I couldn’t just use my imagination to fill it in, I had to go back and bug poor Gentil again.
What was it like to interview Gentil?
Gentil is a genuinely warm and welcoming person and never once complained about long interviews or the endless questions I had for him. I was constantly impressed with his attitude and enthusiasm and he always ended our interviews or emails with a note that he would be happy to answer more. He has probably spoiled me for any future interviewees!
Do you have a typical writing routine?
I typically begin my writing day by answering email and doing paperwork, generally trying to clear up any odds and ends that might distract me. Then I get down to writing whatever project I’m working on. Sometimes I am working on two projects at the same time, which works well for me. If I get stuck or bogged down with the writing on one manuscript, I switch to the other.
Do you have any other books in the works that you can tell us about?
I am currently working on two more novels: a quirky middle grade and a humourous young adult, both of which are lots of fun to write. I am also thrilled to have been asked to write another book in the Arrivals series.
Visit Natalie's website to find out more about her many fiction and non-fiction books!
Stay Strong: A Musician's Journey from Congo is available now!