I have been super lucky to be sent a copy of Shankari Chandran’s new book The Barrier. I was then given the chance to interview Shankari.
If you haven’t checked out this book then you definitely need too!! It’s an amazing read. Now on to the interview with the lovely author….
About the Book…
War, disease, biotechnology and religion intertwine in a gripping near-future thriller.
Twenty years ago an Ebola epidemic brought the world to the edge of oblivion. The West won the war, the East was isolated behind a wall, and a vaccine against Ebola was developed. Peace prevailed. Now Agent Noah Williams is being sent over the barrier to investigate a rogue scientist who risks releasing another plague. But why would a once-respected academic threaten the enforced vaccination program that ensures humans are no longer an endangered species?
Hunting for answers amid shootouts, espionage and murder, Noah will have to confront a fundamental question: In the fight for survival, can our humanity survive too?
Set in the year 2040, within a complex, volatile political climate that is wholly immersive and unnerving, The Barrier is a blazing, fast-paced thriller in the vein of Michael Crichton and Matthew Reilly; with the subversiveness of John le Carre. But also, one man’s story of overcoming grief in order to recapture his faith.
About the Author…
Shankari Chandran is a dystopic thriller writer and a lawyer.
Shankari worked in the social justice field for a decade in London. She was responsible for projects in over 30 countries ranging from ensuring representation for detainees in Guantanamo Bay to training lawyers in Rwanda to advising UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
Her work helped her understand the role and limitations of international humanitarian law in conflicts. It also showed her what happens to society when governments subvert civil liberties. These issues form major themes in her writing.
Shankari wanted to write from childhood but kept her stories and her courage inside her head for a long time. She finally committed to creative writing when faced with the dual upheavals of migrating from London back to her home in Australia, and the birth of her fourth child in 2010.
She started with blogging for Mamamia.com.au where she became a columnist, writing on parenthood and multiculturalism. She quickly realised that 500 words was not enough and she began her first novel in 2012.
In January 2017, she published her first book, Song of the Sun God with Perera-Hussein. Her second book, The Barrier, was published by Pan Macmillan Australia in June 2017.
It asks, what would happen to the world if an Ebola pandemic and religious wars converged?
Shankari is now researching her third book, a thriller also set in Sri Lanka, because she can’t leave the place alone. She has created a character she hopes will have many adventures and books.
Shankari lives in Sydney with her husband, her four children and their cavoodle puppy, Benji.
Questions and Answers…
In The Barrier “war, disease, biotechnology and religion intertwine in a near-future thriller”. Where did your inspiration for the story come from?
I grew up in a family of science and spirituality geeks. My dad’s idea of a home movie is a clip of him doing brain surgery. My mum taught us to spell using human anatomy as our ‘golden words’. I could spell tracheotomy at six-years-old but couldn’t ride a bike.
My parents are also Hindus who taught us about many world religions (they liked to cover all bases). So, my upbringing, according to my husband, was unusual.
I love dystopic fiction. The End of the World fascinates me. I secretly stock up on bottled water and canned chickpeas from time to time. The Barrier is set after the kind of apocalypse that I worry Trump and the ultra-nationalists of the world might precipitate.
I also love history. I am fascinated by the idea that the history of our species is the history of war and contagion. A history of almost-annihilations. My history teacher at school was always saying to us that modern-day wars began deep in history.
My final inspiration for this book was swimming. Stay with me, I’ll explain. In 2014, I had to sit by the local swimming pool watching my children swim. I have four kids who each swam three times a week. That’s a lot of time by the pool. Initially, I just hoped an asteroid might hit the planet, thereby excusing me from swimming duties. Realising the selfishness of this, I began to wonder instead, what would happen if both war and contagion attacked us at the same time. What kind of order would prevail? I started writing by the side of the pool and didn’t stop.
What effect, if any, has working as a lawyer in the social justice field had on your work as an author?
My work has had a huge effect on my fiction writing.
As a lawyer, I felt like I was an observer to the worst kind of human behaviour, our selfish and savage side. I was also an observer to the best kind of behaviour, our brave and just side. I also watched the moral compromises people make, those subtle shades of grey that exist between the binaries of good and evil. My characters reflect these shades.
Working as a lawyer with incredible organisations like the International Committee of the Red Cross helped me understand the role and limitations of humanitarian law in conflicts. The law tries, people try, but often they fail. Those failures are always accompanied by immense human suffering. I’ve tried to highlight that suffering and honour those who try to stop it, in my writing.
As a lawyer, especially post 9/11, I was very interested in the way governments changed laws in order to ‘protect’ society. Some of these laws undermined our civil liberties. That tension and quiet erosion of certain rights, also features in my work.
I could go on and on about this but I’ll stop.
What is one piece of advice you would pass on to aspiring writers that you wish you had known when starting out?
I wish someone had told me that writing is far more about the editing than anything else. It took me awhile to get on board with that process of constantly editing and rewriting. Now I look forward to it. I treat it like a friend (weird, I know) – I realise editing will only help my work improve, it will help me and my words to be the best words they can be (Oh God, did I just paraphrase Donald – I have the Best Words – Trump?).
Do you have any specific routines or rituals that help break through writer’s block?
This question made me laugh. I am a little obsessive so I have lots of routines (some of which drive my family bonkers). For me, writer’s block is a block of fear and self-consciousness.
To blast through it, I write. Yep. I take the kids to school with the dog. Then I come home, change back into my PJs (or trackies when I remember my basic hygiene), I sit down and I place my main character inside a room in my mind so she can do her thing. Then I bash away. I don’t re-read my work for months later. I keep bashing until I need to wee. And then I come back and keep going. I remind myself not to judge myself.
I like that saying by Jodi Picoult: You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.
Can you share a little bit about any book ideas or stories you have planned for the foreseeable future?
I’ve just finished the first draft of my third book. It’s a political thriller set in Sri Lanka at the end of the civil war. A high-profile journalist, Ameena Fernando, is executed in the streets of Colombo in broad daylight. No one knows who did it or why – was it the government or someone else?
My main character is Ellie Ryder, a human rights lawyer for the US State Department. She is called back to Sri Lanka to investigate the murder. Seven years before, she left the war-torn island, broken by a tragedy. Now she must work with the same people she let down all those years ago. She must find justice for Ameena, a dead woman she never knew but grows to respect and understand. Ellie becomes embroiled in an international conspiracy as well as her own desire for redemption.
There are a few (perhaps many) more drafts to go but I’ll get there.
Who thinks this book sounds amazing?!! 🙋🏻🙋🏻🙋🏻🙋🏻