Heather A. Clark always dreamed of writing her own book—ever since reading the ‘Little Miss’ series as a child. Today, we’re celebrating Heather’s dream come true in er first novel, Chai Tea Sunday a story about one woman’s courage while facing personal tragedy.
See how Heather developed the story, the emotions she felt while during the process, and what influences her writing.
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Q&A with Heather A. Clark
Kobo: What inspired you to write?
Heather A. Clark: My cousin, Rachel, went to Kenya to volunteer at an orphanage. When she returned, I couldn’t get enough of her stories, particularly about the children at the orphanage. It wasn’t the sad stories that we hear so often or her chronicles of the devastation that exists there, but what connected all of these stories together: hope. It was her tales of the children at the orphanage who have nothing — less than nothing, actually — and still have so much unconditional love to give.
Kobo: What were some of the difficulties you had while writing Chai Tea Sunday?
HAC: I really need to answer this question in two parts — technically and emotionally.
Technically, this novel was difficult as I’ve never been to Kenya, so I knew I needed help. I approached Rachel with my idea for the book and interviewed her at length about her experiences. I videotaped our conversations, and scoured her journal and photos. However, it was when she returned for the second time that I was really able to get the information I needed to make the story come alive. Rachel’s journey in Kenya, including all of her experiences that were as heartbreaking as they were heartwarming, became the story that Chai Tea Sunday is based on.
Writing this book was also very emotional for me. Firstly, Nicky and her husband deal with complicated fertility issues; although their story is not the same as ours, my husband and I required fertility treatments and it was a very painful and complicated time. I was reminded of that difficulty when I did the research for this book. Secondly, I learned a lot about what it is like for a child to live in an orphanage in Kenya. They often don’t have enough of anything they need. I became emotionally connected to the children at Rachel’s orphanage, even though I’d never met them.
Kobo: How was it to become Nicky? Do you feel your characters speak about different facets of your life?
HAC: It was wonderful. Because I primarily wrote Chai Tea Sunday after my kids went to bed, I would curl up on my couch with my laptop and become absorbed in Nicky’s journey. I cried alongside Nicky during the tougher times and celebrated her successes in the more joyful moments. On so many nights, tears flowed onto my keyboard as I typed – and this wasn’t just because I was writing a true story, but because it was a true story happening in real time. I knew that the stories I was typing into the manuscript were happening to my cousin at that very moment, twelve thousand kilometers away in the tiny little town of Ngong.
Kobo: What was the feeling you had when you finished writing the book? Was it hard to let go of your characters?
HAC: One of the most rewarding experiences since publishing Chai Tea Sunday is reading the emails and letters I’ve received from readers. Quite a few of them reference how they had a tough time letting go of the characters once they finished, and some have even said they still think of their favourite characters long after they’re done the book.
Kobo: What books do you feel influenced you the most when writing Chai Tea Sunday?
HAC: I tend to read a variety of different books and genres, but at the top of my list are plot-driven stories with strong characters who go through very emotional journeys. A few that stick out, which have really inspired me over the years, are The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill and A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini.