Interview: The Guantanamo author

Yesterday, allegations of British collusion with American intelligence forces in the torture of a British resident in Guantanamo Bay hit the media. Today, children’s author Anna Perera has her book on the prison published, with plotlines featuring Britain assistance with extraditions to the camp. asks how a book for teenagers finds itself pre-empting front page headlines.

What’s the book about?

It’s a teenage novel based on a story of a 15-year-old boy from Rochdale who is kidnapped in Pakistan and taken to Guantanamo Bay. It’s based on true events but it’s a fictional story.

Why write about Guantanamo Bay?

I attended a benefit for Reprieve at the Globe theatre in August 2006 and Clive Stafford Smith stood up and said children were held at the prison. I’m a children’s writer and I was so appalled by this fact I chose to write a novel based on it. I think in all there are 22 children in the bay. They call them juveniles. That’s the figure that’s banded around anyway.

How difficult was it to write?

Well, I’d not written a political book before, nor a thriller. In fact, I’ve never written a teenage book before. I did tons of research. I read everything there was to read on the prison, on what was happening there.

There’s also lots of dramatic things to take account. I didn’t want to enflame things. I didn’t want it to promote radical Islam in any way. It’s a book of peace. Hopefully, the story will provoke compassion and desire for peace. Did I find it difficult? Yes. It was difficult.

What are the politics of the book?

I’m not a human rights activist. I’m a very ordinary children’s writer. So at no point did I want to comment on the ‘war on terror’ except to say I always thought of it as the ‘supposed war on terror’. How can you have war on an abstract subject such a terror? It seem ridiculous to me to tell you the truth.

Once you read the book you can see I’ve made it clear Britain was to a certain extent complicit in the extraditions. I don’t want to point a finger at anyone, that’s not my job. I’m a children’s writer. But most people that have investigated this subject will come quite quickly to the same conclusion.

How does it feel writing political material?

Some people say: ‘how dare you cover political issues?’ I dare because I’m an ordinary individual. I used to teach teenage boys. I’ve always avoided politics – at all levels – because I don’t want to jump in where other people would fear to tread. But for this book, the title came to me immediately and then the story that I would base it on. It felt like we were one step away from this happening. My angle was to promote compassion for these inmates and for the situation they had found themselves in, especially the children.

Anna Perera was talking to Ian Dunt