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Debut novel inspired by Syrian conflict takes to the Radio 4 airwaves

Kingston University graduate Sumia Sukkar's writing career has been given a major boost with her debut novel being turned into a Radio 4 drama

Kingston University graduate Sumia Sukkar

The 22 year old’s book ‘The boy from Aleppo Who Painted the War’ tells the story of the ongoing war in Syria through the eyes of an autistic teenage boy. Since its release in summer 2013 it has garnered positive reviews from a number of well-known critics but has now been thrust even more firmly in to the spotlight after being dramatised for Radio 4 as part of a series highlighting different aspects of the Syrian conflict. The adaptation, which aired on Saturday 8 November, followed an interview with Sumia on Radio 4’s arts review programme Front Row on Friday 7 November.

Sumia, who is of Syrian-Algerian heritage, said the reaction to the book had taken her completely by surprise. “I wrote it because I felt compelled to, rather than in any expectation that it might sell, so the way it's been received has been slightly bewildering but wonderful,” she admitted. “I've even received messages from people as far away as Japan saying how much my book has moved them.” Adam, the main character in the story, had been born out of a meeting with a friend’s brother who had Aspergers, Sumia explained. “The way he spoke with such total honesty made me realise that this would be an ideal mechanism to tell the story as I wanted - without sugercoating anything,” she added.

Having put so much time and effort into bringing her story to life, however, Sumia then faced a new challenge - entrusting it to someone else to adapt. “I was very apprehensive at first as I was worried that the producers might change things too much and take away from the essence of what I'd written,” she recalled. “You have to let go, though, writing is an intensely personal experience but publication is a very public one, so I think you have to learn to deal with that.” 

The story pulls no punches in its depiction of the reality of war in Syria and Sumia admitted that there were times when putting her thoughts down on paper had been a harrowing experience. “There are parts that I still don't like reading but in some ways writing it was like an out-of-body experience,” she said. “I went to the darkest parts of my mind and found things that even I didn't know were there but when you're in the writing zone you have to turn off your own personality and just go where the words take you.”

  • Date published: 13th November 2014
  • Written by: Bernadette Griffiths

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