Writer inspired by glimpse of Garcia Marquez

Orange nominee's career kick-started by chance sighting of Nobel Laureate at breakfast

Irene Sabatini had long held ambitions to write a novel, but had never quite mustered the confidence to do so. All it took, in the end, was a glimpse of the Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez eating breakfast in a hotel.

This unexpected sighting of the novelist in a hotel in Colombia back in the Nineties gave her the self-belief to kickstart her own writing career. That career reached a high point yesterday, when her debut novel, The Boy Next Door, was shortlisted for the Orange Award for New Writers.

"It was seeing [Garcia Marquez] in the breakfast room at a hotel in Cartegena... He was just sitting there with a companion and I thought, wow, a real living author, and such a great one. They really do exist," Sabatini said. "It was so inspirational for me. I had been doing some writing, but at that point I thought maybe I could be a small bit of the big writer he is."

The 42-year-old, who was born in a coal-mining town in Zimbabwe and grew up in Bulawayo, moved to Colombia after studying at the University of Zimbabwe with her husband, who works for the United Nations. Now living and working in Geneva, she has about seven unpublished novels on her computer – all written since her encounter with Marquez. She began writing her first published work of fiction after rejecting her American editor's suggestion that she write a memoir about growing up in Zimbabwe, and she completed the book within a year.

"I didn't want to write a memoir, but one day I got a phone call from Zimbabwe telling me that a neighbour at my childhood home had been murdered in a fire. That sparked my idea for the novel," she said.

The result is a love story between a white man and a black woman, set in the politically volatile and repressive Zimbabwe of the late-20th century. The novel begins with the murder of a white neighbour who dies in a fire, a crime motivated by a domestic feud.

"It is essentially a love story in which two people come together, but because they are living in Zimbabwe over this period of seismic change, politics naturally comes into the story," she said.

Also shortlisted for the prize are the British author Jane Borodale, who was selected for The Book of Fires, a period novel set in 18th-century England; and Evie Wyld, for After Fire, a Still Small Voice, which has already gained critical recognition.

Orange Award for New Writers: The nominees

The Boy Next Door by Irene Sabatini

Lindiwe Bishop's white neighbour is murdered. She strikes up a friendship with the boy next door, until he departs for South Africa. Years later, they embark on a relationship, contending with racial prejudice and the hostility of Lindiwe's mother.

The Book of Fires by Jane Borodale

A historical novel which tells the story of 17-year-old Agnes Trussel, who is carrying an unwanted child. Stealing a neighbour's savings, she runs away to London and soon becomes lost in the dark, labyrinthine city.

After Fire, a Still Small Voice by Evie Wyld Frank Collard travels from Canberra to a small town in eastern Australia after breaking up with his girlfriend. He makes a new home for himself in his grandparents 1950s shack amidst the cane fields.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star