Author Ann Napolitano“I needed that little boy to be OK and I couldn’t imagine how.”

As heard on The Ryan Tubridy Show

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The true story of a boy who was the sole survivor of a plane crash was the inspiration for Ann Napolitano to write her latest novel Dear Edward, as she told Ryan Tubridy today. Ann says that when the story of the crash in Libya hit the headlines back in 2010, she could not let it go:

“It obsessed me immediately.”

Ann says she was drawn to a photograph of 9 year old Dutch boy Ruben van Assouw, pictured alone, lying in a hospital bed. He had just survived a plane crash which killed everyone on the plane but him –  103 people, including his parents and older brother.

“He was so beautiful. And so small and broken-looking. And I just kept looking at that image and how he was going to be able to climb out of that hospital bed and how he was going to walk out of that hospital without his parents and his brother. How was he going to be OK?”

Napolitano was herself mother to two small boys, and when she couldn’t get her head around how things would work out for the little boy in the news story, she made it happen in a book.

“I had two little boys at the time, they were one and three, and that was certainly part of it, where I needed that little boy to be OK and I couldn’t imagine how it would take place. So I ended up writing a set of fictional circumstances in which that could be the case.”

The novel re-locates the story to the US, and Ann has invented a colourful cast of characters to fill the doomed plane, unaware that for almost all of them, this is their last day alive. Ann says the book is not about a plane crash as such, but about the choices people make and how they live their lives:

“A recurring theme for me is how to lead a meaningful life and stories that circle around that subject are what call to me most strongly.”

Awareness of her own mortality came younger than most for Ann, as she spoke about the Epstein-Barr virus that hit her at age 20 and changed her outlook on life. She says it was tough going at times, but that it made her into a writer:

“I felt like I was about 80. But it helped me figure out that life was short in a way that I don’t think you normally realise when you’re 20. It made me commit to, I had always wanted to be a writer but I don’t know that I would have had the courage to actually do it if I hadn’t gotten sick at that age.”

You can hear more about Ann’s research into black box flight recorders, how she developed each of the colourful characters on the plane, and her childhood book obsession in the full interview with Ryan Tubridy here.

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano is published by Viking Books.

Ruth Kennedy

© The Listener 2020

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