Carly Rheilan was born in Malta and lives in the UK. She was educated in the grand cloisters of Oxford University (which she hated and left) and then at Brunel (a small-town technological university where she discovered new worlds and stayed for a PhD). She is a psychiatric nurse. She has done research into criminal justice. She has children of her own and has also fostered two children with mental health problems. She has worked many years in the NHS. Her novels address issues at the edges of psychiatry, crime and personal trauma.Carly Rheilan is shy and private person. If you want an image of her, you may picture her working late into the night in the rain of an English village, in a conservatory full of tropical plants, hunched over a computer and drinking too much coffee. When not working or writing, she spends time with family, rages against the politics of her unequal country, and battles against acres of nettles in a community garden.
Welcome to the Asylum! Take a seat by the firn chaae, have a beverage of your choice and tell me something about yourself!
Thank you, Ma’am. I must explain, my friend Ms Rheilan asked me to come in her place. She says she is too shy. She has told me I must answer your questions and tell the truth, Ma’am.
About me? I think I am eleven, Ma’am. I’m not very interesting. I have not done much in my life because there is a war in our country. Of our household, only me and my little sister escaped. My Master is dead and all his wives and servants. My sister and I have been travelling across Africa for a long time, I don’t know how long. We were in a camp but we had to leave, because… well, it was about my sister. I look after my little sister…
Tea? Thank you, Ma’am, you are very kind, but I am not thirsty, Ma’am. I have drunk already this morning.
Oh, hello! I’m sorry Ms Rheilan couldn’t make it. But I’m glad you could come! Can I have your name, please? I was expecting your friend, so these questions might be confusing for you. Please let me know if you are uncomfortable, or don’t understand something!
My name is Mustaf, Ma’am. A social worker told me it was short for Mustapher, but I am not sure if this is right. I do not know my family name. My Master’s name was Mudane Al-Hassan.
Okay, Mustaf then. Say, you can live in the fantasy house/lair of your dreams. What would it look like?
At the moment I live with Ms Rheilan. She has a fine house, like the house of a General or a big trader. It has 2 rooms downstairs and three more upstairs and a separate room for cooking and another just for washing! But just for me? Well, around Ms Rheilan’s house there is a bit of land and at the end of her land there is a little house made of wood. It has a window, and it also has a strong roof that does not leak. There is room in it for a bed for my sister and me, and also for my bag. I would so love to have a house like that when I am big!
That sounds wonderful! How did you become a writer? Was it a childhood dream or something you realised you wanted to do in later years? What is the hardest part of being one?
I am not a writer yet, but my teacher is showing me. In my country I could not go to school: the war started when I was a baby, I think, but yes, it was always my dream to learn to write. And yes, in later years I would like to be a writer like Ms Rheilan. I think the hardest part of being a writer must be making the letters the right way round. That is very difficult.
Well, that is really difficult indeed, but I’m sure you’ll learn how to do it properly very soon. Do you know any other authors beside Ms Rheilan? Which author would you say is your greatest influence to become a writer?
I do not know any authors except Ms Rheilan, Ma’am. Do you know other authors? I am blessed to have come to a country where there is an Author! And such a great and important author! (Even though she only makes books with very small writing and no pictures). My teacher is making me read a book called ‘Pip and the Puppies’. I do not think Ms Rheilan wrote it: she is a respectable lady and would not write such a filthy book. It is about a boy who has dogs come into his house! Yes, actually into his house. It’s terrible. I do not know who let the dogs get in, but it is very bad. And the big dog has had puppies inside the house. It is disgusting. I have not finished the book yet though. I expect his father will kill the dogs. But Pip and his family may not be able to live in the house afterwards. It will be unclean.
Having dogs inside a house is something that’s considered bad in your country? In many other places – such as the UK – it is considered to be normal. People who have pets treat them as family and often they let their dogs live with them in the house. I’m sorry this upsets you.
Ha ha ha! Unclean animals inside the house? Animals that bite? With the people? I do not believe that this happens in any country Ma’am. I think perhaps you are making a little joke! Oh… but perhaps I have not understood your English right… I have been learning English since I came to this country but I still make mistakes. Please forgive me.
No, you've understood me well... But, umm, let's move on. What inspires you to write? Do you listen to music, stare into the fire, listen to the whispering of the wind, make deals with the Devil?
I do not make deals with the Devil, Ma’am! It is not true! Did someone tell you this? On the road, when we came here, we did sit round a fire and make music sometimes, that is true. But only to pass the time when the nights were cold and we were frightened of bandits. There was never any sorcery in it and we did not ever listen to the words of the Wind God! There is no god but Allah!
Please calm down, here, drink a bit of tea. No one accuses you of anything. I just fancy myself to be funny, and apparently it doesn’t work as well with people from different cultures. I apologise.
Thank you for your kindness, Ma’am but I am not sure… if I should… if it is clean for me… I mean… please forgive me, I am sure your tea is very nice but I have drunk today already.
How do you relax after a long writing/research session? Do you have any hobbies (writing not included :P)?
I think that by hobbies you mean a kind of playing, Ma’am. Is that right? I am not lazy, Ma’am. I do not spend time playing. I have to go to school and learn to write, Ms Rheilan insists on it, but I would be happy to work for you before that or afterwards, if you have need of a servant. I can do many things: I can clean, and carry things, and load lorries. I know how to bury bodies, and check roads for landmines…
A hobby is something we do out of pleasure and to have fun. I guess you can say it’s a kind of playing, yes. I think it’s important for children to have some playing time too. I know you work hard, but sometimes you do need some relaxing. No one would think you are lazy, and I’m pretty sure Ms Rheilan would let you play once you finished with your lessons. Is there something you’d like to play?
Sometimes I play with my sister Ma’am. She is only a child still. Her name is Semira. But I am big now. Ms Rheilan sometimes tries to make me play children’s games. I do not know why. I think she forgets how old I am; perhaps it is because I am not tall like the children in your country… And Ms Rheilan is forgetful and… I am sorry: I don’t mean to say any bad thing about Ms Rheilan. She is very kind. I can play football though. Have you heard that there are men in this country who are paid money to play football? I am not sure if this is true, but I have heard people say it. I would like to be paid money to play football.
Oh yes, football is very popular and players are among the ones who get paid the most. If you practice a lot, you can become a professional player, if you want. What was the most exotic place you’ve visited? Did it inspire any of your work? How that experience affected you personally?
I have come here from Somalia, Ma’am. I have been in many countries, but until I came here, I had not been anywhere exotic. I am sorry. Because of the war in our country, and the years that we have spent on the road and in the camps, I have little experience to tell you. But there was one thing… when I first came here off the boat, Ms Rheilan took me to a huge Food Temple. Outside it there were hundreds of cars, and inside there was more food than you have ever seen – enough food for a million people, I think, even for all the people in the camp at Dadaab perhaps, all piled on shelves lined up in rows so that people could walk along, like pilgrims on a road, pushing little carts, looking at the food and putting some of it in their carts, for themselves. And at the back of this Temple there were many clothes, and Ms Rheilan took for me these trousers and trainers that I am wearing and many other things. It was a wonderful place, Ma’am. I do not know where it was, or I would tell you, so you could visit it too.
Oh, I think Ms Rheilan took you to a Market. Those are indeed magical places with a lot of things to see and buy.
Oh no… it was not a market. We have markets in our country. And there were markets on the road sometimes. This was quite different. It was in a huge building, like a temple, with many cars outside. And nobody was looking after the food on the shelves or saying what price they wanted… And people were just picking up the food and putting it in their carts. But.. but… perhaps you are saying another word… I think Ms Rheilan did call it something like that. I think she said the super Market. Sometimes I get words confused in English. Sometimes different words sound the same.
Why did you chose an asylum as the setting for Asylum? Did you do any research regarding such institutes? What was the most interesting thing you found out?
I am confused now, Ma’am. I did not choose where to seek Asylum: I did not know where the boat would go. But your Palace, Ma’am – Ms Rheilan tells me that this it is really a hospital for people whose minds are troubled, as anyone’s might be, and that they come here to find asylum from their troubles, just as I have come to your country to find asylum from our war. This place is important for me, because it is here that my dearest friend lives. (I expect you have met him? His name is Cabdi and he is troubled in his mind; I think he may be a lunatic. I think he needs asylum both from the troubles in his mind and also from the troubles in our war, but he is a good man, he is my friend). Ms Rheilan told me I must not say ‘Lunatic’. She knows about these things. She said I must explain to you that she has worked in asylums for many years, since before I was born, even perhaps before my Master and his wives were born (they are dead now, they were all killed in our war).
No, I guess people don’t really choose where they seek asylum. You should listen to Ms Rheilan, she knows a lot about these things.
Yes Ma’am. Ms Rheilan knows about many things. But there are also things she does not know… sometimes she thinks that… but no, I do not say anything bad about Ms Rheilan. I’m sure she knows everything really. It is only that sometimes I don’t understand her.
Which character of your book do you identify with the most and why? Who would you like to live with in an asylum?
Well… in my current book – ‘Pip and the Puppies’ – I think I identify most with the little boy. I’m sure he cannot have been the one who let the dogs get into the house – he does not seem to be a bad boy, but I am afraid that he will get into terrible trouble for it, when his father gets home. He will probably be beaten.
Are you suggesting that I might come to live with someone in your palace Ma’am? Of course, if I came here I would like to be here with my friend, but actually my mind is not troubled Ma’am, so I would rather stay with Ms Rheilan.
I don’t think the boy did anything wrong, as I explained before, so he doesn’t deserve a beating. Actually, no children deserve a beating, even if they did something wrong. And I understand you want to stay with Ms Rheilan. She must have a nice place and be really friendly to you.
Ha ha ha! Children don’t deserve beating even if they do something wrong! Ha ha ha! That is a funny joke! Or do you… Do you think…? Some children are very disobedient and defiant and if they weren’t beaten they would become bad and in the end they might become bandits. My Master used to beat me if I did not do as he instructed me. I am a good boy now. I am not disobedient to Ms Rheilan and she has never beaten me. My sister though… sometimes she is very naughty but Ms Rheilan still does not beat her. Even if I try to chastise my sister, when she is defiant, Ms Rheilan does not allow me. I am afraid that if Ms Rheilan never beats her, my sister may grow up to be a bad girl. I do not think Ms Rheilan really understands about children. I do not say anything bad about Ms Rheilan though. She is a very kind lady.
In our culture, we teach children differently. I'm sure Ms Rheilan means well and won't let your sister become bad. What are you working on now, what are your future plans? Will you attend any cons or other literary events?
Currently I am working on my reading and writing, Ma’am, and in the future I would like to have a little stall and sell baskets – my sister could weave them. I do not know what ‘cons and literary events’ are, but if rich people go to them, I would be happy to come and sell baskets.
Well, some people who are rich indeed show up at these events, but don’t you think you could have bigger dreams? Now that you live with Ms Rheilan and go to school to learn all the things, you could choose any profession you want. But then, seeing as you are a smart boy, you can have a business of selling baskets.
You are very kind Ma’am. My master was a big trader. Yes, you are right: I have big dreams. I would like to have a big shop like he had, and sell many things as well as baskets – mobile phones, and footballs and also perhaps some chickens. But please… I do not mean to be proud, Ma’am. My life is whatever Allah ordains. But it may happen one day… Ms Rheilan says if I study hard at school, I could do anything at all… even have a big shop like my master had!
That's fine, I think it's important to have goals in life, so we know where we are heading. I wish you good luck! While you are locked in here for eternity, we will allow you one book – what would you choose?
Locked in here for eternity? What? No! Please! Do not lock me up Ma’am! I am sorry, please let me go now… Ms Rheilan said it would be safe for me to come. NO! I don’t want a book! Please don’t lock me up! It wasn’t me who let the dogs get into the house! Please! I want to go now!
Well then, we hope you’ll enjoy your stay in the Asylum! Any last words? *locks door*
Ms Rheilan! Ms Rheilan! You said I would be safe here! Help me Ms Rheilan!
I’m sorry, I’m sorry, please calm down. You are safe here. It’s just my terrible humor again. There, drink a bit more tea. I promise you can go home unharmed, ok? Please come back to visit me if you have time. I won’t play such terrible jokes on you again.
I am so sorry Ma’am. Thank you. I am sorry. Please excuse me Ma’am. My English is not good… Sometimes I don’t understand your jokes… the jokes in my country are different. But you do make some good jokes all the same – your joke about the dogs in the house, that was funny, I think – though a bit rude. I think Ms Rheilan would beat me if I made a rude joke like that… Oh yes – and your joke about children being allowed to be naughty and not beaten… I liked that joke. Thank you ma’am. I am grateful for you offering me tea. As I say, I have drunk already this morning, but perhaps I could take a little tea back with me for Ms Rheilan? I think she would like this sort of tea. I hope that you will tell her that I have been a good boy and have answered your questions properly. Thank you very much for your time ma’am – and if ever you are in need of a servant….
If you’d like to get in contact with Carly Rheilan, you can find her on social media:
Check out Carly Rheilan‘s crime novels, the Asylum and BirthRights which will be released on September 27th and can be pre-ordered now! Clicking on the cover will take you to their Amazon pages!