Today, Aisha Bushby joins Dean Boddington in #TheRealm to talk about her moving, magical debut A Pocketful of Stars…
Safiya asks Elle; “Would you rather a chocolate flavoured poo or a poo flavoured chocolate?” Come on then, which would you choose and why?
It would have to be poo-flavoured chocolate because I can’t fathom the idea of putting actual poo in my mouth.
It is great that you’ve written a female protagonist who loves gaming. Are you a gamer? What is your favourite game (computer, board, playground or drinking… it’s up to you)?
I love playing video games, and have done since I was a child. From about the age of 9, I played a lot of Crash Bandicoot, Rayman, and Spryo. My recent favourites have been Zelda and Animal Crossing. As for board games, I recently learned to play Cluedo (years too late, I know), and I love a casual game of Bananagrams.
Throughout the story, Safiya learns to stick up for herself and begins to learn more about what she wants rather than going with what her friends think. What advice would you give any young readers who are struggling with friendships or identity at school?
It’s hard because if someone had given me advice when I was a teenager, I probably wouldn’t have listened to it until I was ready. I think it’s all about where you are personally.
But my advice would be to act like yourself, and don’t feel as if you need to fit a mould. People who really like you will accept you for who you are.
I still struggle a lot with this, but I do think it’s easier to own your quirks as an adult.
Safiya’s story has some pretty heavy themes. Why did you chose to write a children’s story about bereavement?
I never set out to write something about bereavement, it was just the story that came into my head. Then, of course, it developed and I became more aware of what I was doing. That’s when I knew I had to be very deliberate about the way I approached my themes. In particular, I worked a lot to balance out the sadder moments with humour and light. It was much more difficult than I anticipated, but I hope people take away something positive from the book.
Senses are very important in the story. What are you strongest or earliest sensory memories?
I have quite a bad memory, and often I struggle to know what’s actually a memory and what I made up from a dream. I think I just have a bit of an overactive imagination. But recently, whilst working on STARS I bought bakhoor, which is like Arabic incense except you burn it in a pot. And, when I first smelled it, it was like being transported back to Kuwait. Scents, for me, are the closest thing to time travel.
If you could choose anyone (actor or mere mortal) to read A Pocketful of Stars as an audiobook who would you choose?
I am completely obsessed with Sophie Turner at the moment, so it would have to be her.
Recently you tweeted about how you nearly gave up whilst writing A Pocketful of Stars. Many would-be-authors fall at the first hurdle. What has been the most frustrating part of your career so far and how did you get over it?
The waiting, and the in between moments. Writing can be very isolating, especially when you don’t know what’s happening behind the scenes (because you’re not in an office everyday) and it can sometimes feel like you’ve been left behind. But I’m learning, slowly, to realise that this is mostly my insecurity speaking and that there’s always something exciting just around the corner.
You are very well travelled and have lived in many different countries already. What have each of these countries brought to your writing?
I would say Kuwait and the culture in the middle east has had the biggest impact on my writing so far. Mostly because it’s where I spent my early years, so a lot of my nostalgia comes from there.
I’m currently working on a project that was actually inspired by a trip to Cornwall a couple of years back. It’s very far-removed from that now, but you never know where inspiration might strike, and what form it takes!
Whilst waiting for your book to be published you worked in Waterstones so you must be pretty well versed in books… Who are your current favourite authors?
Too many to mention, so I’ll go for my top middle grade authors at the moment:
– Katherine Rundell
– Kiran Millwood Hargrave
– Anna James
– Cat Doyle
Lastly, as someone who lost a parent I can’t thank you enough for this book. I know that it will help anyone struggling with bereavement. You nail the emotions perfectly. How much of you is in Safiya?
I’m sorry to hear that, but I’m glad to think STARS might help anyone going through a similar struggle. I have lost a parent too, so the emotions of Safiya’s experience were based on that, but I would actually say I’m actually more like Aminah. I say the wrong thing without meaning to, and I can bulldoze into a situation without thinking about it enough… I’m working on it.