This week, I’m delighted to welcome author Sue Searles to talk about her new release, Finding Freedom.
Naïve Emily Garrett discovers that her safe, secure upbringing has been a devastating lie. Snatched on the day she was born, apparently by the same people she calls her parents, she is forced to learn the reasons for their desperate actions.
Ifetayo Ayassou finally finds the courage to escape her hellish existence as a trafficking victim and, coupled with the difficult healing process, she begins a search for the child she was forced to give away eighteen years ago.
Two women plunged into the underworld of human trafficking, both in search of freedom and truth—and each other. But, will their paths collide?
And an excerpt to tempt you . . .
Her plan was set in motion. Lea would take her usual long walk to the market as if nothing was different. But then instead of returning to the house at the end of the day, she’d go in the opposite direction. Destination Togo—wherever that might be.
A wave of terrifying exhilaration washed over Lea as she stepped out of her mistress’s house for the last time. A collection of painful memories was contained under that roof, each room telling its own horrific story. The idea of living alone on the street was beyond frightening. She’d done the unthinkable, and while the idea made her panic she had a plan, up to a point.
But, she was free.
For the first time in her life she had a purpose—to find her mother and see for herself if the woman still remembered her or cared about her. Until then, Lea would have to watch her back and find a way to survive. She bit back tears, too afraid to let them fall. For now, the sweet taste of freedom would be her main concern, and it was more gratifying than she could ever have imagined.
The congested marketplace drew her in with its roadside bukas, each stall taunting her with its enticing smells of smoked fish and snacks sizzling in palm oil. Despite the comfort of the familiar surroundings, Lea felt unusually restless today, second-guessing her decision for the hundredth time. She was still in familiar territory and it wasn’t too late to turn back. She took comfort in the busyness of the jostling vendors and the colorful stalls, a sight she knew so well. It would be tempting to return to a life that was at least predictable, even if it was horrendous. No! She had made up her mind. Perhaps there was still a trace of the spirited girl she once was, after all.
The unforgiving Nigerian sun sliced through a thick, gray blanket of cloud, enveloping the village in a shroud of dreary smog. Lea made sure she’d sold about half her quota of loaves, before immersing herself in the crowd and taking her first steps of freedom. The sense of exhilaration mingled with pure terror, but she had to keep going. Freedom must be foremost in her mind. She tried to picture her mother’s face, even though the memory was hazy. Perhaps that would keep her calm and help her to press on. She thought of Mother’s arms around her and wondered if she’d ever see her again. Lea swatted away angry tears. This was no time for pipe dreams; she had to be strong.
Soon Lea was in unfamiliar territory. The crowds thinned and she was alone in a labyrinth of back streets with old, neglected buildings and overgrown gardens. Obeche trees drooped overhead, pinning her with dense overgrowth. She felt claustrophobic and trapped in this strange, lonely world. She kept going, the early stage of blisters searing her swollen feet. She rounded a corner and was thankful for the bustling activity up ahead. An elderly man buzzed past on a whining scooter and a pair of stray dogs chased each other across the street. A family of six sat on the side of the road sharing an afternoon meal. Lea had never been this far down the end of town and she started to panic. It was too late to turn back now. In a few hours it would be dark and Alina would know she wasn’t coming back. She determined in herself that she could not—would not—get caught.
As the crowds thickened, she clutched the baskets carrying the remaining loaves of bread. They were her only possessions, apart from the threadbare notebook wedged deep in her waistband. She kept checking to make sure it hadn’t fallen out along the way, and walked until her feet ached.
Before long, buildings cast elongated shadows across the narrow street and darkness wrapped its arms around her. Lea’s anxiety multiplied as her mind wandered to Auntie Alina. Did the woman know yet that she wasn’t coming back? The thought choked her with fear.
It sounds like a riveting read, Sue. Human trafficking is a very relevant topic at the moment. What made you choose it as a basis for your book?
I’d heard about human trafficking and right from the start, I was intrigued. I couldn’t believe human beings could do such terrible things to one another. I decided to look a little deeper and see whether it would be possible to weave a story around such a delicate topic. There wasn’t much information on the Internet so I knew it would be a challenge, but wanted to create more awareness in the only way I knew how.
Did you have to do a lot of research?
Hoo boy, did I ever! When I started on this book, the topic of human trafficking was extremely hush-hush. The Internet was fairly quiet on the subject in terms of worldwide developments and statistics. There were literally zero articles about the topic (at least, not where I was looking), like it simply didn’t exist. I knew I’d have to dig deep for case studies and information.
Through the course of researching and writing the book (which took me 3 years, by the way), slowly but surely I noticed little snippets of information being released in the media. It was incredible to watch something so secretive and sinister, gradually be publicized and exposed.
Now we have Human Trafficking month (January), worldwide campaigns, and law enforcement units dedicated to fighting this evil. It’s been amazing to sit on the side-lines and watch it unfold at the same time my book was taking shape.
I would find it a very distressing and emotive thing to write about. Did you find that side of it difficult?
The manner in which human beings can treat one another is sometimes barbaric. I found it distressing to learn about these things, especially the more intimate crimes, and to somehow include it in the book. Hopefully Emily’s scenes balance it out a little and soften the impact, although it’s still important to understand the extent of this tragedy that touches so many lives.
Finding Freedom is presented in novel format with realistic characters, because I want to help people grasp the intricacies of human trafficking in an easy-to-understand manner.
Which aspects of Emily’s and Ifetayo’s characters do you as the author appreciate most?
Emily is your average girl-next-door, somebody most of us can relate to. I like that about her. She’s also frustratingly naïve about life, leaving her dangerously vulnerable to those who may want to do her harm.
Ifetayo’s tenacity is admirable, considering her years of abuse and everything she’s been through. Somehow she’s managed to hold onto the last dregs of humanity that have kept her alive and sane. I think the reader will be rooting for her all the way.
Thank you for visiting, Sue. Wishing you every success! 🙂
You can buy Finding Freedom at the links below:
Praise for Finding Freedom:
- This is a story that I recommend that everyone reads as I couldn’t put this book down. This is one of those books that will forever change the way I think of abuse and living conditions in other parts of the world to include human trafficking and slavery – that still goes on today! This story really makes me analyze and appreciate my own life and gives me some motivation to reach out and try to help others – even more than I already do. As an avid reader of at least five books a week, this is the first time I felt compelled to write a review. I highly recommend this book! (Leah Raeon)
- Kudos to Sue Searles for taking the reader on a beautifully written roller coaster ride. This author weaved these two parallel tales together seamlessly. We were taken on Emily’s ride and Ifetayo’s journey with such detail. As one looking for my own birth mother I was able to feel the pain in this book. I will never look at another working child the same after learning about child trafficking. This is one of those books I couldn’t put down and a book all should read. (Rosa L. Ferguson)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Sue Searles has written several books, ranging from women’s fiction and short stories to poetry and children’s books. Having worked on various forms of storytelling since childhood, writing has been a lifelong passion.
Now somewhat older and wiser, she is passionate about thinking outside the conventional box, and conveys messages that are thought-provoking and life-changing.
Her inspiration comes mainly from studying people, reading, and daily life.
Sue is happily married and lives in sunny South Africa with her husband and son.
You can find Sue at the links below:
and at Instagram – Sue Searles