Melanie Schnell's passion for the people of Sudan is reflected in her debut novel.
Schnell discussed her book, “While the Sun is Above Us,” during a reading at the Estevan Public Library on August 25. A few dozen people, including family members and friends, gathered to listen to Schnell, who grew up in the Lampman area.
Schnell read excerpts from her novel, spoke to the audience about the current political climate in Sudan, and shared some of the challenges facing women and children in that country.
“While the Sun is Above Us” shares the account of two women, Adut and Sandra. Adut is a Sudanese woman who was captured and taken as a slave in that country's northern region during the long-running civil war. Sandra is a Canadian aid worker stationed in Sudan.
A chance meeting between the two women is the key point in the novel.
“Their meeting changes both of their lives,” said Schnell.
Schnell said she spent nearly a dozen years working on the book. Her inspiration for the novel came in 2000, while she was reading about Sudan in MacLean's magazine. The characters of Adut and Sandra were born in her mind.
“After a couple years of writing, I realized I would have to go to Sudan,” she said.
She would travel to Sudan for aid work in 2003 and 2005. After her first experience in the country, Schnell said she really wanted to return, even though she thinks she had enough information to write the book after her first visit.
There were long breaks, including one that lasted about two years. Schnell estimates that if she would have spent three or four hours a day on writing, that she would have be able to finish the book in a few years.
"While the Sun is Above Us" was released earlier this year.