Photot of Hels Ryan


It’s been a long time coming – my debut novel that is. Not my first novel, but the only one so far to see the light of day. Like every other author, there has been an apprenticeship, one that is continuing and I hope will do so for a long time.

My first book I wrote when I was seven or eight, Lucky the Little Sparrow. It was about, you guessed it, a sparrow I had rescued from a flooded gutter and tried to nurse back to health. Unfortunately, his name didn’t reflect his reality. He died in spite of the family’s best efforts.

Then there were the angst-ridden poems of adolescence which won me the occasional recognition. I guess the crown back in those early days was my poem Peru about an earthquake in said country. The fact my world consisted of Timaru with the occasional outing to the big smoke, Christchurch, and I had never experienced an earthquake, didn’t stop me from winning first place in a national competition.

Since those days, I have done some considerable travel and come across some amazing people, many born to countries way less blessed than ours. Sometimes I stop and wonder what it would be like to be forced to flee your home, leave behind your security and your dreams and any hope for the future.

It’s easy to write off those people as some homogenous blob that we don’t see as individuals; they are simply refugees living somewhere we don’t know, fleeing countries and circumstances we can’t begin to understand. It is those people and their stories that I have woven through the pages of The Boy With a Suitcase. I hope they come alive and show how they cope in the worst of circumstances with the only hope a distant one that their children will someday have all the important things they have lost – security, community and love.

I always thought it would be a life changing moment to produce that elusive first novel and in a way it is. It’s certainly doubled my workload. It feels like I now have two full time jobs. Is it worth it? Absolutely. There is a degree of satisfaction in giving birth to a whole community of characters and watching them grow and develop and go off into the world on their own terms. And they do. Some of the outcomes and actions in The Boy With a Suitcase were certainly not in my mind when I sat down to a pile of blank pages.

I fervently hope you enjoy the journey.