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I Felt a Conviction

Michelle Peach Author Interview

Michelle Peach Author Interview

Gazelle in the Shadows follows Elizabeth as she navigates a dangerous web of lies, betrayal and murder. What was the inspiration for the setup to this intriguing novel?

The inspiration for this book came many years after the events happened in my life. Over the years, I rarely spoke about my former life as a diplomat in Yemen during the Iraq/Kuwait war nor my student life in Damascus but to those I opened up to, I was encouraged to write a book. Then in 2011, the civil war in Syria began and I felt a conviction to let readers know about the traditions and kindness of the Syrian people and the history and beauty of the country I had witnessed before the devastation.

Elizabeth is an interesting and well developed character. What were some driving ideals behind her character?

Elizabeth’s driving ideals are to make her father proud by proving herself to him and to find love. Once a daddy’s girl, her relationship with her father deteriorates in her teenage years as her father implements stricter rules on her than on her older brother. She had always been an avid reader, dreaming of traveling to foreign lands. Her travels help her to escape her father’s harsh judgment and provide her with an opportunity to prove her worth to him and to herself. Because of her sheltered life, first with a Catholic upbringing and then in a diplomatic bubble, she is both emotionally and physically unprepared for her journey to Syria. She is remarkably naive and trusting of others and lacks rudimentary information about the country in a pre internet era. Her journey opens her up to the harsh realities of life where people are not always as they appear and after a series of innocuous and seemingly unconnected events, she not only discovers love but betrayal too. Facing many dangers, her strengths and courage are put to the test and ultimately she comes to appreciate her family and herself in new light.

You are a former employee of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London. How has your experience helped you write this book?

I worked in the Foreign Office between 1986 and 1991, initially in London and then in the British Embassy in Sana’a, Yemen Arab Republic. My experiences undoubtedly helped me to write my novel as the genesis of the story was born from my three years serving in Yemen. As told in the book, I unwittingly met the infamous George Habash, the founder of the PFLP, in Aden. This actual encounter played a crucial part in the story. Other true stories from my service involving MI6, the British secret service and foreign diplomats helped to create the twists and turns in the story arc.

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?

After graduating from Durham University, I went to work in Dubai, UAE for an oil shipping company. As I like to write fiction based on reality, the sequel is based in Dubai and my experiences working there. I am currently writing a story which follows Elizabeth who enters the ranks of the MI6. She is sent undercover to Dubai where she unearths an Iranian plot to undermine British and American interests in the region. The question is, will she meet Hussein again?

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Gazelle in the Shadows by [Peach, Michelle]In the mid 90s, Elizabeth Booth is a young British college student studying Arabic at Durham University. With some travel and work already under her belt, she excels at her studies and is sent to Damascus to immerse herself in the language. Taken aback by the generosity and kindness of the people there, she easy slips into a life in the ancient city. She has friends, her studies, and even a handsome boyfriend. But things aren’t always what they seem. Soon, in a world where mistrust and disloyalty are commonplace, Elizabeth finds herself navigating a web of lies, betrayals, and even murder involving MI6, deadly terrorist factions, and the shadowy Syrian secret police.

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East of Mecca

East of Mecca

East of Mecca,by Sheila Flaherty, details the journey of Sarah Hayes from a wife and mother of two to a woman forever changed by her time spent in Saudi Arabia. Set in the 1980s, Sarah’s story begins when her husband Max, a highly-motivated but fairly unstable man, accepts a job with Ocmara, a lucrative oil company, and moves his family overseas. Sarah and her two young children soon experience oppression, fear, and an overwhelming sense of hopelessness as residents of Al Hassa. Sarah’s life in the Middle East spirals out of control as she fights to keep her family together and save the life of a woman she never expected to adore.

Though I have fought hard to avoid the cliche, I have to say East of Mecca is a book I could not put down. From the moment Max tells Sarah of his job offer and their impending move, Sarah’s experiences flowed awkwardly with all the grace of a line of shaky but properly placed dominoes. I found myself holding my breath and waiting for the next collapse of Sarah’s world. At every turn, I expected her world to crash around her and ached alongside her while she slowly realized that her passport was not her own, nor were most of her choices–least of all her ability to work or make decisions.

Flaherty paints a bleak picture of life in Saudi Arabia while at the same time giving credit to its purity and breathtaking beauty. She manages to build a type of fear in the reader that I have yet to experience in any other book. Sarah, a strong woman in her own right, is the ideal character for the setting and events Flaherty creates. As I watched her virtually unbreakable spirit tested page after page, I was able to visualize with frightening ease the true depth of suffering and shocking brutality endured by women within the culture. Watching Sarah feel herself falter and face her own vulnerabilities drove home the plight of the other wives of Ocmara’s employees and the Saudi women. The author reveals heart-wrenching details of abuse and a sense of control by males that seems to spread like a virus to those who linger long enough within the country’s borders.

Sarah’s gradual meeting and ensuing friendship with Yasmeen is stretched throughout the storyline and keeps the reader yearning for just one more tidbit–one more clue. Flaherty manages to provide an element of mystery with Sarah’s sightings of Yasmeen, aloof and lonely on the beach, and then masterfully weaves it into a tale of two friends sharing a common bond of love and tragedy.

I am wholeheartedly rating East of Mecca a 5 out 5. Within its pages lies a tale all too true and far too common. There is an education of sorts to be had from absorbing oneself in Sarah’s utter desperation and final rebellion. The first person account is a must-read for women everywhere and a reread for myself. Flaherty’s Sarah and Yasmeen represent two ends of a spectrum, two cultures, yet they are one.

Pages: 300 | ASIN: B00FMY2CWI

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