A Saskatchewan author formerly from Lampman held a reading from her first novel on Saturday at the Estevan Public Library.
Melanie Schnell's novel, While the Sun is Above Us, is inspired by and modelled on her experiences in Sudan.
The work of fiction got its beginnings in 2000 when Schnell was transfixed by an article in MaClean's magazine about women and children in South Sudan (which is now independent) being taken as slaves by the North.
Twelve years and two trips to the African nation later, Schnell's debut novel is on the shelves.
"I always knew I was going to be a writer, ever since I was about six. It took me a long time to actually commit to the writing life because it's very hard in a lot of ways," she said.
"After I read this article, I became rather obsessed with what was happening there, and then these characters walked into my head and I soon realized that this was going to be my first novel. I was writing it on and off for a couple of years and then I realized I'd need to go to Sudan."
Schnell went to South Sudan in 2003 and again in 2005-06 to research and get an up-close feel for what the people were going through. She got into the country by volunteering with Canadian Aid for South Sudan.
"Obviously I needed to research the background as best as I could to give it as authentic of a feel as I could," she said.
"In 2003 the war was still happening, but in 2005-06 they'd signed the peace accord. There was still some violence happening, as there always has been there ever since."
Schnell said she needed to take breaks from writing every now and then, particularly when she came back from Sudan, when she said she felt post-traumatic stress. She went as long as two years without touching the book at times.
During her stay, Schnell interviewed returned slaves, families who had lost loved ones to slavery, widows of war and former child soldiers.
She also stayed with a South Sudanese family in their hut for a period of time. The family consisted of a former commander in the South Sudan Liberation Movement along with his five wives and their children.
The women could not speak English for the most part, but Schnell hired a translator to help them communicate.
"You take two steps and you meet a travesty there. They've been in intense war for decades," she said. "I just absorbed myself as much as I could, physically, emotionally, mentally, into that world so I could tell the story of the Dinka woman who was taken as a slave."
While the Sun is Above Us is told through the eyes of two narrators, one being an ethnic Dinka woman named Adut from South Sudan, and the other a Canadian named Sandra.
"Their narratives are intertwined. They're speaking to each other. They have a meeting, and this meeting changes both of their lives permanently and irrevocably," said Schnell.
"The things that happen to (Sandra) are influenced by some of the events that happened to me when I was there. I saw a lot of traumatic things that changed me permanently."
While the Sun is Above Us is available online from Amazon and Chapters as well as at local independent bookstores.
For more information on the novel or on Sudan, visit Schnell's website at melanieschnell.com.