Thanks to my interview with Joseph Lewis, author Elfary Detorres reached across the Atlantic to express his interest in Books Uplift. And with Elfary’s release of his new fantasy book, Ayara, I knew he’d be a perfect fit for an Author Q&A. And what a wonderful story Elfary has to share both in his book and on his life.
This author spends his days teaching and uplifting children, many with special needs, and creating stories that were originally intended to be the scripts and backstories of video games. But what I love most is how a teacher inspired him to write and that this journey has come full circle. So, come along with me to the United Kingdom and get to know Elfary, a gifted author and teacher.
You are an author, but it is your day job? I am currently an Assistant Head Teacher/Inclusion Manager in a mainstream primary school. I support vulnerable children and families and it is a role that I take very seriously. The joy of experiencing children reach their learning potential, not just in academia but also socially and emotionally, is priceless. When I am not supporting families or writing stories, I enjoy boxing and cycling because the discipline needed for both sports helps me to structure my days and it ensures that I can always perform at my best.
Did you always want to be an author? No, when I was a boy, I wanted to be a video game designer as I grew up in the 16-bit era of consoles. In primary school, I used to plan sequels to games that I love together with intricate instructions on how the game would work and how the control system will improve on the previous game. But what I really enjoyed was creating backstories for the characters and the plots for my sequels. I shared my ideas with my friends, and they were fascinated with the new stories I created for our beloved characters.
I was soon spending more time writing the plots for the characters than the control systems the players would use, so I turned all my attention to writing stories. When I was about eleven years old, I was sitting in the assembly hall of my primary school and talking with my friends about the forthcoming football match we were going to have with another class. We were rolling the football back and forth between us as we talked, and my year six teacher entered the hall and said he was going to read a story. I was in deep conversation with my friends when he started reading. After he had read a few lines my ears pricked up and I stared at him incredulously. I turned to the rest of the school who were also sitting in rows and I saw that everyone had stopped what they were doing and were captivated by the words. I returned my eyes to my teacher and mouthed the next lines with him as he spoke. He was reading my story and the whole school was listening! When he had finished, he announced that I had written it, and everyone turned to me and applauded.
After leaving the hall, all thoughts of the forthcoming football match were forgotten as not only my friends but complete strangers from different classes approached to congratulate me. That experience will always stay with me and it was at that moment that I decided that I wanted to be an author. I believed that I had what it took to do it. I believed so much that I studied creative writing with English literature at the University of Roehampton with faith that one day I could reach more people with my stories. Araya is my first novel. And I have poured all my love for storytelling and belief in myself into every written word.
What is your most recent book and what inspired you to write it? Araya is my debut novel, and my inspiration came from working with children with additional needs. I am an autism specialist teacher by trade, and I have worked in Special Educational Needs (SEN) primary and secondary schools. I am currently the Assistant Head Teacher/Inclusion Manager in a mainstream primary school and was shocked at how little mainstream teachers knew about SEN, especially autism. I wrote Araya after leaving my SEN school because I missed working there and I had so many great stories about my time in the educational setting.
Araya gave me a chance to share my stories by creating a fantasy world that is populated with my experiences at my previous SEN school and the lessons that I have learned. The children that I work with can experience anxiety more acutely than other people and it is often regarded as their predominant emotion (but not their only emotion). Araya is set in Hell’s Heart, the forest that tries to recreate the level of anxiety experienced by these unique people, and I share my knowledge that I have accumulated over the years to help others understand how to support these amazing people. Araya is in many ways my love song to the teaching profession and to these special individuals that I have enjoyed teaching. The story has allowed me to explore mental and emotional well-being and how we can support ourselves and others by understanding our emotions and developing emotional resilience.
How do you hope your book uplifts those who read it? I hope Araya can uplift anyone who has found themselves in the season of winter for too long and provide them with hope by reminding them that only when the night is at its darkest, does the sun emerge. I want educators to read this book to steel them when undertaking their noble profession because they do so much to nurture children and make a difference in society. Admittedly, Araya is a dark story, but it is intentional because we must be reminded of the responsibility we all wield in creating future people of the world. I wanted the darkness to highlight the joy of teaching and working with children. The story explores mental and emotional well-being and how kindness can go a long, long way, and I believe that the reader will come away from the book not only impressed with the story but they will look at the world differently and have the urgency to do all they can with the short time that we are given to make the world a better place.
What are you most excited about with this book? I wrote the story almost five years ago after leaving my SEN school. I have been so busy at work that I had to leave the story and focus on my job. But Araya always remained, lodged in the back of my mind like a thorn hooked under my reptilian brain, and I have finally released it. I am excited because I know that people will love this fantasy thriller that deals with the human condition and working with such unique people. I am certain that readers will fall in love with my characters and their stories.
How did writing a book help your career take off? Well, I haven’t made it yet. But writing supported me in my day to day job at my mainstream school because I was able to tell my stories using a fantasy setting to help me explore things that were very close to my heart.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to succeed in your professional industry? To keep writing and remember why you do it. I write because I love writing. In the same way that I work in schools because I love working with children to facilitate in drawing out their potential. Writing helps me to draw out my own potential and helps me keep my perspective on the reasons why I do the things that I love.
How do you handle setbacks and criticism? I listen to feedback and lean into any uncomfortable emotions. I consider this my trade, just as teaching is also my trade, therefore I’m willing to endure the dark moments as well as dance when things are going my way.
How do you structure your day and make time for writing? When I was writing Araya, I first planned the story meticulously. Everything that happens in Araya is by design and that in a way reflects my personality and teaching background. I plan relentlessly in order to provide the reader with an unforgettable experience. Yes, I like a good plan. I consider it one of my superpowers. Before writing anything, I plan, then revise the plan, then plan some more. It took me about a year to write it (despite taking me additional years after finishing it to finally publish the book), and the first three to four months was generating my ideas and planning how I wanted to structure the story. I would then write the story, and this would normally occur during the weekends. At times, I would write for an hour or so during the week, but the majority of the morning involved waking up at five am on Saturday and Sunday and typing frantically on my keyboard. When the story was finished, I started the process of editing which, again, normally happened on the weekend.
What do you find most fulfilling in the career that you’ve chosen? I am still currently teaching, and it has always fulfilled me, but sharing my stories and experiences with other people is immensely fulfilling. I would love to do this as my full-time job, but I will always feel guilty about leaving the children. Perhaps there could be a compromise further down the line but at some point, I know that the urge to write will soon overcome any other desires.
What book uplifts you? I have an MA in psychology and therefore I read a lot of psychology books and other books regarding the human condition. Among my favorite are: Flow: The Pursuit of Happiness by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi; and Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change and Thrive in Work and Life by Susan David. These books inspired my psychology thesis that was titled ‘Flow in Teaching’ and explored the phenomenon of flow experiences and the emotional well-being of teachers in UK schools. I received a distinction for my research, and I hope to publish my paper soon.
Other books that uplift me are also stories that inspired Araya. They are: If This Is A Man/The Truce by Primo Levi; and Man’s Search For Meaning by Victor E. Frankl. The last two books really helped me in creating the atmosphere of Hell’s Heart, the forest in the book where most of the action takes place. They are about concentration camps and some parts are very dark, but they are stories that give me hope because people can endure such hellish experiences and still advocate peace and kindness afterward. Yes, those books are incredible.
Anything else you’d like to share with your readers? Araya may be a fantasy novel, but it is more than just monsters and bloodshed. I believe that everyone will be able to relate with the characters and the trials they have to overcome because most of the barriers exist in the characters’ minds and the techniques they use to push through them are applicable to all.
I have been teaching for more than ten years and I’m going to start my doctorate in Education Psychology in September 2021. I hope to get the majority of writing for my new novel that is set in the Araya universe completed by then and reading your reviews will further motivate me in achieving my deadline and provide you with another uplifting book.
Connect with Elfary and get your ticket to the world of Ayara at his website.
Images Courtesy of Elfary Detorres