Sieni A.M. is a Samoan author whose debut novel, ‘Illumine Her’, has won the hearts of hundreds of readers all over the world. If you want to know what this sweet, lovely, and funny lady had to say about her book, life, and work, just read the interview.
Pasifika Tales: Your first book, ‘Illumine Her’, is categorized as a Paranormal or Supernatural Romance. Do you like this genre?
Sieni A.M.: I do! I was a reader before I became a writer, and the supernatural/paranormal genre is what hooked me in. There’s something about this genre that can embed messages in a subtle way, or in a way that might appeal to readers that they may not otherwise want to read about straight up. When I started writing ‘Illumine Her’, Chase was the first character to evolve, and I knew he would be different. He was a lot of fun to develop.
PT: What was the inspiration for the plot? It is, I must say, very intriguing and unusual.
S. A.M.: Thank you! I wanted to write a love story – one that focused on a connection that served to draw out one’s purpose in life and the difficulties one might have in achieving them. This is what I love most about Alana’s character. She knows what she wants and tries hard to get there despite a little adversity along the way. After her father’s death, she mourns for him for years. It consumes and changes her. The element of death and the afterlife is something that has always interested me – it’s inevitable and shouldn’t be something to be feared – and I attempted to portray this in as reverent a manner as possible.
PT: Samoa plays a big role in your novel. I would even say that it is one of the characters. Your descriptions of the island life and traditions are beyond amazing. Was it hard to depict the place so faithfully?
S. A.M.: To be honest, it was the easiest part of the writing process because I drew on my experiences growing up there – the humidity, the rain, the power outages, etc. all plays a role. You’ll hear writers say this over and over again, ‘Write what you know’, and I followed that advice. But I also learned that if you’re unsure about something, research it. I did that, too. Everything fell into place afterwards.
PT: Your book contains a lot of Samoan words and phrases, which is absolutely fantastic. Do you think they make the whole story more realistic, ‘more indigenous’?
S. A.M.: I think they do. It can enrich the reading experience for both Samoan speakers and non-Samoan speakers, and there’s a glossary at the beginning of the book with the translations in English for ease of reference. I initially worried that some readers wouldn’t be able to connect to it for this very reason, but the message in the book is a universal one, and as a result I’ve had readers contact me from around the globe, which has been so encouraging and subsequently quashed my worries away.
PT: You were born and raised in Samoa. Now you’re living in Israel. How did you end up there? Would you like to come back to your home country one day?
S. A.M.: My husband and I moved here after university to work. It’s been our home for ten years and our kids were born here, but there’ll always be a place in our hearts for Samoa.
PT: What are you working on right now?
S. A.M.: I’m currently working on my second novel entitled ‘Scar of the Bamboo Leaf’. It’s a coming of age, inspirational contemporary romance about an intuitive 15 year old girl who’s an artist and an angry 17 year old boy who’s trying to find his way. It’s a story about love in all of its forms, where it only becomes real when it is tested.
PT: When can we expect it?
S. A.M.: I’m aiming for an April or May release. Finger’s crossed! (and if I can get volunteers to look after my kids, I’ll write quicker!).
PT: Do you plan to write and publish more?
S. A.M.: I hope to. As long as the ideas keep coming in, I’ll always be drawn to penning them down.