Taleban tales

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 March, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 March, 2005, 12:00am

Deborah Ellis had her first book for young adults published six years ago. Since then, she has won several literary awards in her native Canada.

She has been invited by the local branch of the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators to conduct some sessions at this year's Man Hong Kong International Literary Festival from March 7 to 15.

Ellis is an author driven by passion and conviction. 'I write from the belief that people have a right to decide for themselves what kind of planet they're going to live on and that we have the power to take action to make that happen,' she says.

Following the success of her first book, Looking for X, about poverty and social deprivation in Toronto, Ellis spent several months in Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan and Russia talking with women and girls about their plight under Taleban rule in their native land.

The result was the Breadwinner trilogy. The books document the courage and fortitude of families - particularly the female members - struggling with economic, political and social hardships in the war-torn country.

Ellis writes with compassion, but without unnecessary sentimentality, and her sensitive depiction of the lives of real people creates a more vivid picture of life than heavily-edited news coverage.

Her interest in female rights may have been a touchstone for much of her work, but she says she began writing about Parvana the main character of these books, 'because I thought it would be easier for me to do and that was the person who started talking to me in my head'.

Her next book was Company of Fools, a medieval tale set against the backdrop of Black Death, monks and choir boys. 'I didn't think I could write about boys until I did this book, which is all boys and men. And it is possibly my favourite of my books.'

Ellis does more than simply write about the plight of people in troubled parts of the world. Various organisations including Unicef and Street Kids International benefit form her generosity.

The proceeds from the Afghan books go to a group in Canada called Women for Women and fund small women's initiatives in Afghanistan and the refugee camps.

Ellis is convinced of the enormous power of the written word.

'History is made by the people who write it,' she says.

'And if people write their stories, it becomes a part of history, a very valuable document. I use [this idea] as a motivator for young people to get a sense of worth and importance for what they write.'

She considers herself lucky to be able to combine her beliefs and her love of writing.