The Invisible Crowd is my first novel. It was inspired by a case I worked on when I was a barrister. It's a multi-voice story about immigration and asylum in the UK, the serendipity of who we meet and the kindness of strangers. It features a diverse cast of characters, and delves behind a set of real tabloid headlines. The story follows Yonas, an Eritrean asylum seeker, from when he’s smuggled over to the UK in a boat to when he claims asylum and has to face an immigration tribunal.
It was awarded a Victor Turner Prize, and was a Guardian readers’ book of the year.
It’s had some glowing reader reviews on Amazon, and I’m so grateful for every one. Whatever you think of Amazon, reviews on their site really make a difference to an author, so please do consider writing one if you enjoyed it.
Similarly, if you’re in a book club that might be interested, please do get in touch. I’ve loved meeting, Skype-chatting and answering questions from various book groups about it. One of the regular comments I’ve been most happy about has come from those readers who’ve said they would not normally have chosen to read a book about a refugee, but that they really enjoyed this one.
I am always delighted to read from the novel and discuss it with reader-audiences at festivals and events.
A bit more about the story:
Jude is a junior barrister (as I was when I started writing), who is on the brink of quitting law when a new asylum case lands on her desk. She notices that she shares a birth date with the Eritrean client, Yonas – and yet their lives could not have been more different. She starts to imagine more about what his experiences must have been like, beneath the sparse accounts set out in the legal documents. The novel brings this to life.
Every other chapter is narrated from Yonas's point of view – beginning in a fish factory near Grimsby where he’s been smuggled, and ending up in London where he makes his asylum claim. Every alternate chapter is narrated by a different person he meets along the way, from a bin man to an artist, a teacher and a Home Office interviewer. There’s drama, satire, and a bit of romance along the way. Throughout writing it I was conscious of just how much difference one chance encounter, and one small act of kindness, can make to the rest of your life.
It features brand new translations of the poetry and prose of nine literary writers from three generations in this fascinating country.
Alongside the translations, it explores the writers’ incredible lives through extended interviews, revealing what it was like to live and work under one of the world's most oppressive censorship regimes, before and during the age of the internet.
Some of the writers were jailed for their work; some used creative literary strategies to communicate messages and get them past the censors; and some sought to break through taboos.
The book should appeal to anyone with an interest in Myanmar, literature in translation, censorship and international literature and culture.
I researched the book while living and working in this fascinating country as a human rights lawyer in 2013, just after it opened up and some of the most repressive censorship laws were repealed.
It is suitable for courses such as comparative literature, literature and culture, and literary activism.
I am researcher and curator-director of live literature, exploring fiction in performance and the synergies between research and creative practice..
I am the founder of Ark, an experimental live literature project to stage immersive short story performances in library spaces. Our aim is to push the boundaries of live literature through cross-arts collaborations, reanimating both library spaces and the short story form in creative ways. Our most recent show was at the British Library in 2018.
I am doing a PhD on live literature at the University of Stirling, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. I write ethnographies of live literature events, and I am particularly interested in the performance of fiction and in the qualitative experiences of participants, and in the intersections between creative practice and research. My book on Live Literature will be published by Palgrave as part of their new Literary Anthropology series in 2019. I have recently had an essay on literary anthropology published in the journal Ethnography.