We love picking up a book and getting lost for hours on end, which is why we were so pleased to catch up with author Christy Lefteri to hear all about her newest book Songbirds, as well as find out about life being an author.
Tell us a little bit about your new book Songbirds?
The story is about a domestic worker called Nisha who has crossed oceans to give her child a future. By day she cares for Petra's daughter; at night she mothers her own little girl by the light of a phone. Nisha's lover, Yiannis, is a poacher, hunting the tiny songbirds on their way to Africa each winter. His dreams of a new life, and of marrying Nisha, are shattered when she vanishes. No one cares about the disappearance of a domestic worker, except Petra and Yiannis. As they set out to search for her, they realise how little they know about Nisha. What they uncover will change them all.
Songbirds was inspired by real life events where five domestic workers and two children went missing in Cyprus and nobody searched for them because they were foreign. The Plice specifically refused to launch an investigation and said that they were not interested in concerning themselves with the lives of foreign maids.
While I was on tour for Beekeeper I was often asked a very important question which got me thinking. “How can we get people to understand that refugees are not like migrants, that they have no choice?” what really saddened me about the question was our obvious need to categorise, label and put people into boxes. I knew from the stories that I had heard that people make journeys for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes they are frightened, sometimes they have no other choice, but sometimes they are searching for a better life. Can we condemn people for wanting a better life? Don’t we all? What does wanting a better life mean to one person and another? It was these thoughts and these questions which compelled me to want explore further and eventually to write about migrants.
Have you always wanted to be an author?
Yes, always. I had a teacher when I was nine years old. I used to write stories for him. I made such an effort to write and illustrate those stories, spending hours lying on my stomach in the living-room in front of the TV, not watching but imagining. He told me I would be a writer one day and that I would do a PhD. He was right about both. Writing was a comfort and a challenge. I could make sense of life and the world when I was writing; writing made me pause and think, it made me link the dots or see patterns, it made me feel what others might feel, or understand more deeply what I was feeling.
What is your home like? Do you have a specific set up that you find motivating for when writing?
I live in a flat in Southgate, North London, with my one year-old Havanese dog, Alfie. My flat is small and cosy. I love it here because it’s a great neighbourhood. There are a row of shops and cafes downstairs and I’ve made so many friends here. I can see Bruno’s café – which is actually called Cibos - from my living room window. Before lockdown, I used to spend way too much time in there chatting to the neighbours. I wrote some parts of Beekeeper in there too. There’s a really pretty green opposite and further down the road is Broomfield Park where my brother and I had a cherry tree planted for my mum after she died as she was buried in Cyprus. I walk down to the tree with Alfie almost every day. I love to see how the tree changes day by day, season by season. On the weekends, Alfie and I go and stay in Walthamstow with my boyfriend. I’ve really got to love that area and feel at home there too. It’s so nice to go for walks in the village and grab a coffee or venture into Epping forest which seems endless!
I don’t really have a specific set up. I tend to write on the dining table. It sits in the bay of the window where I can glance out onto the street below and over the wall into the car lot to the right. Next to me is always my writing journal notepad which tends to be filled with notes. On the windowsill is the 2020 Aspen Words Literary prize awarded for The Beekeeper of Aleppo, which both inspires and scares me.
When I was in Athens writing some of Beekeeper I would wake up every morning and go to the same café to write. They sold crepes and lovely coffee and I would sit there all day from 9am to 5pm.
Where do you find your inspiration when writing?
Absolutely everywhere. Books. Life. People. Conversations. Something on the news. Something that catches my eye. But in order for me to be able to write it has to get inside me and touch my heart.
What are your three favourite books?
It’s so hard to choose. I’ll go for:
Murakami – The Wind Up Bird Chronicle
Virginia Woolf – Mrs Dalloway
Olga Tokarczuk – Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead
But there are so many more!
You can invite three people to dinner, past or present, who would you invite?
My mum, my grandmother and my grandfather. I would love to be able to have dinner with them one more time. Ideally I would make a nice Greek meal that I know they would all like and we would spend just one more evening together. I would love that more than anything.
Do you have any advice for any aspiring authors?
Finish what you have started! Get to the end of the story! Many people don’t get published because they don’t believe enough in what they are doing to get to the end of it.
Favourite Sophie Allport collection?
ALL the beautiful bee things. I’ve got a lovely pair of Sophie Allport bee wellies that I bought on a rainy day while I was on tour in Yorkshire.
If you've read The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri then you'll love her new book Songbirds, which is available to buy in many book shops and online, including bookshop.org, who support indie bookshops all across the country.