'More stories to tell': Author spotlights lesser-known histories

Khalil Ali

Collier Row author Khalil Ali has published his latest book - Credit: Khalil Ali

A Collier Row author has published a new book about the role of indigenous people in protecting the world’s rainforests. 

Khalil Rahman Ali, 71, has lived in the area since 1984 after moving to the UK from the South American country Guyana in 1970. 

His latest book, Daughter of the Great River, follows the journey of Onida, an indigenous woman living in her country's rainforests. 

The novel is set in the fictional land of Kayana, which Ali said holds many similarities to his own birthplace. 

Khalil Ali book

Daughter of the Great River explores the empowerment of indigenous women in their struggle to protect the rainforests - Credit: Khalil Ali

Khalil said: “I come from the only English-speaking country in South America, and thankfully they are trying to preserve the rainforests there, with the help and support of the Amerindian people who live there. 

“The role of indigenous people in preserving and protecting rainforests against tremendous odds is very important. 

“That is why I created the story of Onida and her mission to save the rainforest in her fictional country." 

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The author said he had been a keen writer since high school, but chose to pursue a career in accounting and worked as a senior management accountant in the NHS for many years. 

Upon retirement in 2010, Khalil began to explore his own ancestry and discovered the story of his great-great-grandfather Hussein Ali, an Indian labourer who moved to Guyana and decided to settle there. 

His first fictional novel, Sugar's Sweet Allure, was published in 2013 and is about the migration of Indian indentured labourers who worked on British-owned sugar plantations in the 19th century.

Khalil Ali novels

Khalil Ali has written several historical novels - Credit: Khalil Ali

“I captured the sense of what it was like in the villages of India,” Khalil explained. 

“It's a powerful story but it never gets heard in this country, and so we are trying to raise awareness. 

“People are trying to find out where we came from, and what makes us who we are.” 

After the success of his first novel, which saw the author invited to speak at historical conferences around the world, Khalil was hungry to continue writing. 

He said: “I realised I had more stories to tell.” 

Now he hopes children will read his books in local libraries and schools, and learn about this lesser-known part of history. 

“Through my fiction, I can write about important things that really happened,” Khalil said.