Life in a war zone leads to fiction
Overwhelmed by her diplomatic experience in Afghanistan and wanting to share her story, Patricia McArdle turned to fiction instead of memoir to protect her contacts. The result, Farishta, was the recipient of the 2010 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award—it took first prize out of 5,000 entries.
Describe your book in one sentence.
Farishta is the fictional war memoir of an emotionally damaged American diplomat, whose one-year tour of duty at a remote outpost in northern Afghanistan takes her life in an unexpected direction.
What was your reaction when you found out your first novel would be published?
I was one of 5,000 novelists who last year submitted manuscripts in the general fiction category of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition. After a five-month process of elimination, I was awarded first prize and a publishing contract with Riverhead Books in June 2010. I was stunned. I still am.
As a diplomat, you traveled around the world. Of all the places you've been, why did you choose to set your novel in Afghanistan?
I've been in some difficult situations during my diplomatic career, but until I went to Afghanistan I had never served in a war zone. I've always kept a journal and did so during the year I spent there. I was overwhelmed by what I saw and when I came home I wanted to share my experiences with others. A memoir would have been difficult since many of the Afghans and foreign soldiers I'd worked with could not be identified without compromising their safety. Placing my composite but fictional characters in real settings with real events was the device I chose to make my points about Afghanistan, while still protecting my contacts. With Farishta I hope to share my perceptions of that country, its environment, America's longest war and the effects of PTSD with an audience that might never pick up a non-fiction book about Afghanistan.
Besides reading and writing, what do you like to do for fun?
My hobbies are watercolor painting, pastel drawing, photography, swimming and walking on the beach. I used to ride horses until I took several bad falls going over jumps at a riding stable in Paris. Since I returned from Afghanistan at the end of 2005, I have been consumed with two things—writing Farishta and promoting solar cooking technology around the world. The writing and editing of Farishta is now complete and I fervently hope that people who read my novel will be moved by this fictional account of the effects of war on the lives of civilians and soldiers in Afghanistan.
My work with solar cooking, which began in Afghanistan, will never end. My involvement with this technology is much more than a hobby. It has now become an obsession. I know that simple, inexpensive solar cookers work. I have seen them used around the world. I also know that this technology could allow millions of poor women to cook their food and boil their water using only the endless and free light of the sun. The fossil fuel industry is doing its best to keep us dependent on coal, oil and gas for several more generations. I know there is a better way. Promoting solar cooking is my small contribution to a clean, renewable energy future for our planet.
Name one book you think everyone should read, and why.
City by Clifford Simak. This slim, offbeat work of science fiction, written in the early ‘50s, offers a quirky, possibly prescient and (for me) thought-provoking take on the future of humanity. It's been out of print for a while, but copies are still available on Amazon. Every few years I take out my dog-eared copy, sit down with a tall drink and lose myself in the eight tales. Definitely worth a read. You will never again look at dogs, ants, the planet Jupiter or the city of Geneva in the same way.