Interview with Claire Morley, the author of Tindog Tacloban

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Today we have Claire Morley here with us to discuss her novel, Tindog Tacloban. Welcome, Claire!

The inspiration for the novel / Typhoon Yolanda

Your novel is called Tindog Tacloban. What does this mean and why did you choose this as your title?

Hi Kendra, firstly thank you very much for this opportunity to speak about Tindog Tacloban.

The meaning of the title is Rise Up Tacloban and when I was volunteering in the city of Tacloban after the devastation wreaked by typhoon Haiyan (known locally as Yolanda) there were banners all over the place with those words on. I wanted to use it in the title as a testament to the amazing spirit of the Filipino people, who had suffered so much, but were rebuilding their lives.

What is the story about?

The story is centred around three main characters. A father, Izel, who desperately tries to save his children from the wrath of Yolanda, his eldest daughter, 11 year old Lika Faye, who gets ripped from his arms in the flood water and is unwittingly recruited into the world of Webcam Child Sex Tourism and Helen a volunteer in Tacloban who is trying to come to terms with her own tragedy.

One of the themes I picked up on was the fragility of family life and the importance of children to a community (both in Tacloban but also with Helen in England when she loses Charlie and her entire life seems to fall apart). This added a fascinating layer to the story as it showed that, despite our thinking otherwise, Westerners are just as vulnerable as those who live in poorer countries, if for different reasons. This was a very democratising and brave element to add into the story. If you had to describe the theme of your novel, what would that be?

How interesting, I hadn’t thought of that as a theme, but it is a very pertinent point. There are two themes to Tindog Tacloban really, firstly the effect of a natural disaster, not only on the day it happens, but also the recovery afterwards and secondly raising awareness of a previously little known form of sex trafficking, that of Webcam Child Sex Tourism, which is rife in the Philippines.

I understand that you were a volunteer in the Philippines following the devastation of Typhoon Yolanda. What was that like and how did this experience feed into your novel?

It was an incredible experience. I remember flying to Tacloban and looking out of the plane window as we came in to land and seeing everything flattened. It was always the coconut trees which struck me the most, if they hadn’t been uprooted, their fronds had been stripped from them and they looked so sorry for themselves. And then on the journey from the airport to the volunteer house, we drove through the tented cities, where thousands of people were residing after losing their homes, their belongings and often family members. It was very emotional for me and I wanted to try and illustrate the plight of these people and what they had gone through.

Claire at Sagkahan School Tacloban small

Claire at Sagkahan School, Tacloban

I was very much drawn into the world of the Sombilon family as they struggled to survive Typhoon Yolanda and its devastating effects. Your writing really seemed to capture the experiences of the Filipino people and the terrible effects the typhoon had on their lives, from the immediate lack of food and water to the longer term psychological effects of poverty, the loss of family members and the general uncertainty such an event brings. How did you manage to achieve this?

I was very lucky soon after I had arrived in Tacloban to be introduced to a man called Fred Jaca, who had been a radio presenter before the typhoon. He kindly took me to meet survivors (and acted as interpreter when necessary) who I was able to interview and it was their experiences which I wove into the book to give, hopefully, a sense of reality of what it had been like for them during the typhoon and trying to survive afterwards.

What would you like readers to come away with, after reading your book?

Hopefully the understanding that it’s not only the day of a natural disaster that people are suffering, struggling to survive, but it is a long slow process to rebuild and of course, awareness of Webcam Child Sex Tourism, which I hadn’t heard of until I volunteered in the Philippines. And maybe to inspire people to volunteer, it is an amazing experience.

I understand that all profits from the sale of the novel will go to benefit organisations helping in disaster hit areas. What else can readers do to help?

There is an online petition to pressure governments to adopt proactive investigation policies in order to protect children against webcam child sex tourism which people can sign at: http://www.terredeshommes.org/webcam-child-sex-tourism/

IDV, the organisation I volunteered with, works with communities worldwide which have been affected by or are vulnerable to disaster. They help survivors to achieve sustainable recovery and build more resilient communities both before and after disaster. People can find out more on their website: http://www.idvolunteers.org/

Raul and his feeding programme, featured in the book were inspired by the Mobile Soup Kitchen for Kids (MSKK) set up by Reynold De Vera. MSKK is saving and changing lives, one soup bowl at a time. People can support and join them as they provide much needed help, nutrition and sustenance, to the children of Tacloban, Leyte, and many other areas affected by Typhoon Yolanda Their Facebook page is: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1556492901241816/?fref=ts

The writing of the novel / the author

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The famous creative writing instructor, Robert McKee, said “Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.” What is your opinion of his statement?

After my time volunteering I wanted to write a book and my initial thought was non-fiction. My partner suggested that more people would be inclined to read a novel. I believe you are more likely to appeal to a greater audience through telling a story and if it is done well, it can inspire, provoke thought and encourage action from its readers.

What do you feel you gained through the writing of Tindog Tacloban?

Writing Tindog Tacloban has given me the opportunity to raise awareness of some subjects I feel very strongly about and provide further funding for the organisations I worked with. However, personally, it has given me a chance in a way to thank those people who gave me their time and sometimes heart-breaking survival stories.

Could you talk us through the evolution of Tindog Tacloban? How did you go about publishing the novel?

To be honest, like all authors, I was hoping to get the interest of an agent and have Tindog Tacloban on the bookshelves and be jetting around the world attending book signings! However, the reality is that it is such a competitive world out there and unless you have an ‘in’ with an agent or publisher, it is almost impossible to get a publishing deal. So after countless rejections or non-replies from agents, I decided it was time to try and self or indie publish. I decided if I was going to do it, I might as well go it properly, so I spent time and money on some courses about self-publishing and social media marketing – my background is marketing, but I wasn’t so up-to-date on social media, so thought it best to learn. And once I felt I have enough information, I did it all myself.

I understand that you are a graduate of writingclasses.co.uk. Do you feel that taking a course assisted you in writing your novel? And which came first, the class or the idea for the novel?

Taking the course with writingclasses.co.uk was a huge help with writing Tindog Tacloban. I had already started the book when I came across the course, but I felt with no novel writing experience, I would benefit from the guidance of my tutor and fellow course students. Not only did I benefit from the course, but my tutor, Anne Hamilton, thought my book showed promise and agreed to work with me as my mentor and editor once the course was finished and her input has been invaluable. Not only from the technical aspect, but she was always there with encouragement when I felt the book wasn’t good enough.

Are there any future novels in the works?

I have the seed of an idea, but to be honest, since taking on the publishing of Tindog Tacloban I have been so busy, I haven’t yet had time to put pen to paper. Having spent so much time learning how to publish and market an ebook, I felt I could put all that knowledge to good use and have set up a business to provide a service to help other authors and am currently working on a case study to show how people can benefit.

Thank you for the interview and a big congratulations on the publication of Tindog Tacloban!

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Kendra’s review of Tindog Tacloban:

Izel realised their only hope was to try and stay afloat in the foul water swirling beneath him. He could feel the debris twisting and turning in the sea water as it eddied around his legs. Adrenaline kicked in and his only thought was how to save his family.

‘Grab my neck,’ he screamed to Lika Faye, hoping she could hear the words before they were swallowed by the howling winds.

Tindog Tacloban is a gripping debut novel about the effects of Typhoon Yolanda on one family, especially their daughter.

When Typhoon Yolanda hits land in Tacloban, the Sombilon family are ill-prepared. As the wind grows stronger, Izel Sombilon, the head of a household of seven which includes his parents, his wife and their three children, realises they must reach higher ground, and quickly. But when the black water crashes through their home, he loses sight of eleven year old Lika Faye and five year old Ellijah. Are they gone from him forever, or might they have somehow survived?

As they search amongst the remains of Tacloban, a neighbour tells him she thinks she may have seen Lika Faye, though she isn’t certain. Will a chance sighting be enough to sustain Izel’s search for her? His wife, Adelaida, would rather they put the disaster behind them so they can gather enough strength to rebuild. After losing their home and being without food or water, they need all they can muster just to keep going.

Meanwhile, back in England, Helen Gable decides to volunteer with World Disaster Response in the Philippines. When her group of volunteers meet Izel at a local school where he is helping to provide hot meals to children, they decide to take him on as a driver. They need help and Izel needs work. Helen learns that Izel’s daughter, Lika Faye, is still missing. Still recovering from the loss of her own son, Charlie, some months before, Helen can’t help but feel an affinity with Izel. But is Lika Faye still alive, and if she is, will they be able to help find her amongst so many missing and dead?

Tindog Tacloban is a powerful story which resonates far beyond its pages. It should be read and understood as much for its hopeful message of survival in the face of adversity as for what you will learn about the conditions of life in disaster zones and human trafficking. Morley crafts her story with skill and care, and her lifelike characters bounce off the pages in their need to be heard. This is an unforgettable story which will stay with me for a very long time.

Readers can obtain Tindog Tacloban from http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B014JGI0H0

You can follow Claire Morley on Twitter at: @clairemorley15

Catch up with her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/clairemorleyauthor

Learn more about her publishing business, My ePublish Book, which works with authors wanting to indie publish. As it is a time consuming process, they provide support to publish and market a book to get the best results for their clients. http://www.myepublishbook.com/

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