Book Nerd Interview
Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
Storytelling isn’t just found between the pages of a novel. It’s everywhere and in everything we do. Politicians tell stories to win your vote. Advertisements tell stories to make you buy things. We think about our lives in terms of stories. Stories give our lives meaning, and if we can take control of the story and learn how to tell a better one, we can improve our lives.
What’s one thing that readers would be surprised to find out about you?
That I grew up in Libya and only moved to the UK when I was eleven. I am not Libyan, however. I am half English and half Bangladeshi.
Beyond your own work (of course), what is your all-time favorite book and why? And what is your favorite book outside of your genre?
I don’t think I really have a preferred genre. I like many different kinds of books. One of my favourite works of fiction is The Lord of the Rings – a great adventure that I fell in love with as a teenager. One of my favourite works of non-fiction is Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez, an immersive, powerful work of creative non-fiction.
What was the greatest thing you learned at school?
That’s a really good question! Perhaps the fact that all a teacher needs in order to be inspiring is to have a sense of humour and be kind.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?
I don’t remember who gave me this advice, but someone once pointed out that writers plateau. When you write, you try to get better at it. Sometimes you know you’re getting better. But sometimes you feel you’ve hit a plateau, your writing is not improving, you are not advancing. What’s really happening here is that you are assimilating the new things you have learned. Once you’ve mastered them, you will feel as if you’re progressing again.
Can you tell us when you started Cinders & Sapphires, how that came about?
Cinders and Sapphires is a publisher led book, which means the publisher – Emily Meehan at Hyperion – came up with the concept and characters. My job was to turn these into a novel. I was amazed but delighted that they chose me, a relatively unknown British author who had never written in this genre or for this age group before, to tell the story. Sarah Davies at the Greenhouse put us in touch and handled the deal. Without Sarah and Emily the book wouldn’t exist.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating Rose?
Do you mean in terms of the research for the character? I had a pretty good idea of how hard a housemaid’s job was already, but one of the things that is constantly horrifying is how vulnerable they were to sexual exploitation. Not being allowed locks on their bedroom doors is pretty bad.
If you could introduce Sebastian to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I think Sebastian has had to grow a spiky, witty shell to protect himself in his life. But underneath I think he’s romantic and gentle and would love to return to his childhood – you see that from the way he acts like a big kid around the Set. I think I’d introduce him to Winnie the Pooh and let him play in the Hundred Acre Wood for a while.
For those who are unfamiliar with Ada, how would you introduce her?
On the surface, Ada is the perfect English gentlewoman. Underneath, she’s unconventional. She’s determined and intelligent and honourable… perhaps too much so for her own good. Someone as strong-minded as her is always going to find it difficult living in a world where women can’t even vote. And someone like her, who likes to be in control, is going to find falling in love a big shock.
What part of Ravi did you enjoy writing the most?
I liked the dinner party scene, where he sticks two fingers up at the British establishment. That was fun to write.
You have the chance to give one piece of advice to your readers. What would it be?
Wow. Um. Can I handle this responsibility? J If it’s a general piece of advice, I might say, don’t take women’s rights for granted. There’s a long way to go.
When asked, what’s the one question you always answer with a lie?
Not a lie, but when asked where I am from I often simplify and say ‘I’m British’ rather than ‘I’m British but I’m half Bangladeshi and have lived most of my life outside the UK.’
Where is the best place in the world you’ve been?
I’ve been to so many wonderful places – the ruins of Cyrene on the Libyan coast, the beaches of Bermuda, Singapore, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Italy, Belgium… I love anywhere that has ruins and mountains.
What would be harder for you, to tell someone you love them or that you do not love them back?
Probably to tell them I love them. It’s difficult to be vulnerable.
When was the last time you cried?
Probably soon after my baby was born, when he wasn’t sleeping!
What decade during the last century would you have chosen to be a teenager?
Definitely the 1970s. I am a David Bowie fan. I like his Berlin phase.
What's the loveliest thing you have ever seen?
The words: “We are delighted to make an offer of publication for your wonderful novel…” !
Where can readers stalk you?
On twitter at @leilar
Rose Cliffe has never met a young lady like her new mistress. Clever, rich, and beautiful, Ada Averley treats Rose as an equal. And Rose could use a friend. Especially now that she, at barely sixteen, has risen to the position of ladies’ maid. Rose knows she should be grateful to have a place at a house like Somerton. Still, she can’t help but wonder what her life might have been had she been born a lady, like Ada.
For the first time in a decade, the Averleys have returned to Somerton, their majestic ancestral estate. But terrible scandal has followed Ada’s beloved father all the way from India. Now Ada finds herself torn between her own happiness and her family’s honor. Only she has the power to restore the Averley name—but it would mean giving up her one true love . . . someone she could never persuade her father to accept.
Sumptuous and enticing, the first novel in the At Somerton series introduces two worlds, utterly different yet entangled, where ruthless ambition, forbidden attraction, and unspoken dreams are hidden behind dutiful smiles and glittering jewels. All those secrets are waiting . . . at Somerton.
Author Leila is able to bring a pot of characters into one book that delivers plenty of conflicts and problems to keep readers interested. The story plot thickens with each page turned building the need to know what would develop. The setting has been described like the one in the British period drama Downtown Abbey. Even for readers who are not familiar with the setting, they will find enjoyment to its universal theme of longing for love. Leila’s writing style is very in-depth with details without overdoing it. The pace of the story is well-balanced and readers will get to know the characters really well. Each character has an important role in the story and they all played it well. Cinders & Sapphires is a beautiful story about the strong bond between people that went entirely against the rules of society. There is still much to the story and the second book is certainly going to be exciting.