Today I’m pleased to welcome Aneesa Marufu to the blog for an interview about her new YA fantasy novel The Balloon Thief which has just been published recently by Chicken House on the 3rd March! 🙂 I haven’t had the chance to read the book yet but I’m looking forward to reading it soon, it looks and sounds amazing! 😀 Today though I’m so happy welcome Aneesa to the blog to answer my questions and I hope you enjoy the interview. More details about the book and author are below…
1. Can you tell us a little bit about your book and the inspiration behind it?
The Balloon Thief is a South Asian inspired YA fantasy that focuses on main characters Khadija and Jacob from two opposing races and their battle for their friendship in a racially segregated society. The inspiration for this book stems from my own experiences with racism and Islamophobic bullying as a teenager, growing up as a British Pakistani and a Muslim I often felt I never quite fitted in, I didn’t know where I belonged, and I didn’t feel wholly accepted by society. I wanted to write a book that tackled these issues in a fantasy world, where I would be free to explore these themes without the constraints of the real world.
2. Did you have to do any research for this novel?
Yes! LOTS. Despite the book being fantasy, I still had to research Indian history and culture to ensure the time period and setting of the book was accurate. I also did a lot of research into South Asian folk and fairy tales as a starting point for the book, as well as Islamic myths and legends, particularly surround the jinn kings and queens mentioned in the story, who are all very real figures within Islamic mythology. And finally, of course, the practicalities of hot air balloon travel!
3. There’s some South Asian folklore in the story, did you find it important to include this and are there any particular favourites?
The Balloon Thief is definitely inspired by South Asian and Islamic folklore surrounding jinn, which are seen as spirits that can be either good or evil. I’ve always enjoyed listening to the stories and superstitions surrounding these creatures―I remember being told as a child to never walk beneath a tree at night because that is where jinn are rumoured to sleep! They were certainly an inspiration for the book.
4. Do you think fantasy stories are a good way of exploring serious issues like racism, discrimination, terrorism, etc.?
Absolutely! Exploring everyday themes within the fantasy genre adds that sense of realism to a story that can make it much more relatable, even if readers cannot relate to a story about two friends saving the world in a hot air balloon, they can resonate with the feelings of prejudice and unbelonging that the two characters are facing.
5. What do you like to do when you are not writing?
When I am not writing, my 2 children definitely keep me busy! I also enjoy reading widely across all genres, particularly children’s and YA fiction.
6. Are you working on anything new?
There may or may not be a sequel to The Balloon Thief in the works. I am also working on another fantasy standalone, which I can’t say too much about, only to expect that it is similar to The Balloon Thief in that it’s another YA fantasy drawing from the myths and magics from another culture.
7. What’s the best thing about being an author?
Definitely the flexibility of being able to work how and when I want, which I can then fit around my children. I also love the escapism that comes with being an author. Writing gives you that ability to construct a whole new world with just a pen and paper, and the power of your mind. There really are no rules or limits to what you can create, and that’s why it’s so much fun!
8. If you could live in any book, which would it be and why?
This is a hard one because some of my favourite books are set in often quite dangerous and hostile fantasy worlds that I would have no hope of survival! I am a huge Harry Potter fan however, and I think I would quite fancy attending Hogwarts.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions today. 🙂 I’m fascinated by jinn and can’t wait to find out what happens in the book! Also a huge thank you to everyone reading this blog post and you can see more about the book and the author below.
About the book
For Khadija, the only escape from her father’s arranged betrothal is the sky.
When she spots a rogue hot air balloon fighting against its ropes, she leaps at the chance for adventure. Khadija soon finds an unlikely ally in a poor glassmaker’s apprentice, Jacob.
But Jacob is a hāri, and Khadija a Ghadaean. The hāri are oppressed and restless – their infamous terrorist group, the Hāreef, have a new fearsome leader. And the ruling Ghadaeans are brutal in their repression.
Soon, a deadly revolution threatens their friendship and their world. The Hāreef use forbidden magic, summoning jinn – wicked spirits made of fire – to enact their revenge, forcing Jacob and Khadija to choose what kind of a world they want to save …
About the author
Aneesa Marufu lives in Manchester and was the winner of the Kimberley Chambers Kickstart Prize for underrepresented writers in 2019. Her debut novel, The Balloon Thief, is inspired by her South Asian heritage and her obsession with hot air balloons, though she is yet to fly in one!
When she isn’t dreaming up stories set in the clouds, she has both feet on the ground, running after her two children or hunting for her next fantasy book to escape into.
Visit author’s website Visit author on Twitter Visit author on Instagram
Did you enjoy this interview? Would you like to read The Balloon Thief? Let me know what you think in the comments below 🙂