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Interview with the author of Operation Lipstick, Pia Hiekkila and excerpts.

What propelled you to write, Operation Lipstick?
I read a lot of chicklit and felt the genre lacked something – a proper heroine – someone who is silly yet heroic, sympathetic yet focused and most of all – fun. Also chicklit often felt little too sanitised for me – I wanted to add some spice and few sexy scenes because I think readers enjoy that – look at the popularity of 50 shades. My aim was to write about Afghanistan in a way that was accessible to a wider audience since the current crop of war novels are written by men for men

Is Operation Lipstick targeted at young women?
No, women of any age can read it and men will like the racy adventures too.

Was writing about a young woman journalist working in a conflict zone like Afghanistan a huge challenge?
Not really because I knew the place having lived there and having worked in conflict zones as a journalist for several years. I loved writing about a country I feel very passionate about.

Many would mistake the casual tone and language used in the book as maybe trivialisation of far serious issues, what do you have to say about that?
The book is entertainment and its aim is not to address the huge problem that is Afghanistan’s future. At the same time, I was trying to portray the Afghans as sympathetic and plucky and somehow tease out the fact that it is a country where 35 million people go about their daily lives under the shadow of a war – something that the world sometimes forgets.

The book is written from a journalist’s point of view, would common women across the borders strike a chord with the same?
I hope so — because whilst Anna is a heroic character who is dedicated to her work, she also has plenty of faults, neuroses and is full of self-doubt. Just like everyone else, she worries about the size of her bum or whether the man she fancies, fancies her back. And so on.

How much of the book is biographical?
Some characters and scenes may have resemblance to real life but I’m not revealing more.

Do you plan to write more books on the same subject? Are there any projects planned in the pipeline?
I would love to because Anna is such a fun character!

What would you advise young women, wanting to cover the problems of conflicted zones, war areas?
To become a war zone journalist requires decades of hard work in the business and even then you may not be suitable working in very hostile conditions. If you have a curious mind and enjoy world affairs, then seek for a job at a foreign desk first and learn the “news craft” well.

Excerpts from the book Operation Lipstick
Kabul-a dream base for a single female war correspondent. Not because it’s beautiful, scenic or otherwise culturally significant, but because there are too many single men .And so many parties to meet them in. Aid workers, embassy staff, and private contract workers and of course journalists congregate at guesthouses, makeshift bars or embassies where the booze is free and about ninety per cent of the party goers are men .It is an intoxicating mix of international people-reckless ,carefree boozing , with an added danger element. Want a taxi ride across town to a party? What you get on the way is a dozen checkpoints manned by armed men, and you’re not quite sure whose side they are on. Want to go legless in a bar? Sure, but aside from fiery tequila, you might also get blown up in it, since it’s been insurgents number one target for a while.

It’s a recipe for success, if you ask me- Anna S, thirty two, single and horny beyond belief.

After an uneventful landing at the Kabul military airport, I strolled out of the plane accompanied by about fifty battle weary soldiers. My step was light despite the fact that I was still wearing my dusty blue body armour, which weighed a ton, and a rucksack full of camera equipment and survival kits. And a few pairs of frilly knickers.

Everyday life for a single girl in Kabul is same as it is in London, Reykjavik, or Mumbai. We work, go out, and look for love. Admittedly, in a war zone there are challenges .Fashion is one of them. Sometimes we have to wear big padded blue vests and unflattering helmets. Not a good look if you ask me, but worth it if you like staying alive.

Everything looked as it should on my way back from the airport. Out of the taxi’s window, the scene was soft focused and seemed far away…okay, so the window was filthy. Shabby little kiosks selling almost anything-from car engines to chewing tobacco; women hurrying around in their burkhas with a gaggle of children trailing behind; an endless parade of gun toting soldiers. This city is anything but easy, even its roads were like dirt tracks-bumpy and unyielding. The taxi inched past the sandy coloured walls which lined the street. Someone once said that Kabul is a city of walls and behind them, many stories lay hidden .It couldn’t be more true.

– Preeti Kulkarni

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