When I began work on Shine, several years ago, there was a terrible flood in Manila. My brother described how the ground floor of his house was swallowed by Typhoon Ondoy and how he had to swim down the stairs, past the floating fridge and piano, to fetch food from the kitchen. I was thinking about Typhoon Ondoy when I created the setting for Shine: the island of Mirasol where it never stops raining. I was so affected I made this video of photos from the storm, using words from one of my favourite books, Not the End of the World by Geraldine McCaughrean.
I have noticed over the years that a recurring theme in my writing is that people on the inside are not the same as on the outside. In my first book Tall Story, giant Bernardo endures everyone's sometimes magical expectations of who he could be – but all he wants is to be part of a family. In Bone Talk, Samkad thinks he knows what it means to be a man but discovers that there's more to it than having your own spear. In Shine, Rosa feels perfectly ordinary, but in the eyes of the superstitious people of Mirasol she is a monster because she suffers from the Calm. The Calm is not a real disease. But there are many real conditions – Aids, disfiguring diseases, leprosy, anorexia, obesity – whose victims suffer stigma like Rosa.
Perhaps this turns up in my writing because of my experience of being a foreigner here in the United Kingdom and having people make up their minds about who I am before they even get to know me. Once, walking with my pale skinned children someone stopped me and asked how long I’d been their nanny. Once, a fellow author asked me if I came to the UK as a cleaner.
Shine also explores that strange feeling when you have chosen a place to be your home, but the place refuses to choose you. Do you leave or do you stay?
Cover study for rejacketing of Philippine edition of Shine. Illustration by Rommel Joson