Read: Ishmael Beah: Words Conquer Weapons- Part 1

The 1990s seem a millennium away from where Beah is now. As a result, he remains a riddle. His broad toothy smile glows with the health of a man whose new life includes a marriage with a French woman, who is expecting the couple's first child in February 2014. He is as much at ease trading jokes with Salman Rushdie or pumping the hand of Nigerian bestseller Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie as he is fielding personal questions in front of 50 strangers. All three of those situations took place during the first edition of the Festival des Écrivains du Monde in Paris in September. Behind his mass of fuzzy dark hair and squat athletic body, uncomfortably squeezed into a leather jacket and jeans, it is impossible to find the teenager who, he says, only survived the war by "shutting down".

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"You couldn't cry. They'd shoot you. So you shut down your emotions, your expectations." His arms make a broad sweeping gesture as he reclines in front of a poster of the film classic Les Enfants du Paradis. "Even my face hardened. You had to look deep into my eyes to see I was a child."

Not any more. Nowadays, Beah brims with confidence and adult-driven conviction. He feeds his writing with regular visits to his homeland from his adopted city of Brooklyn, New York. He has many reasons to move away from non-fiction. He holds Radiance of Tomorrow in his hands like an excited child about to tear open his Christmas presents.

"Fiction allows you to amalgamate so many people's experience. It frees me to play with the timeline, so I've taken some events that happened before the war.

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And with fiction, you're freer to play with language and imagery. To go deeper into the culture, something I couldn't do with a memoir."

To achieve this Beah has created survivors of a burnt-out village he calls Imperi, ghostlike characters piecing together their shattered lives and led by Old Mama Kadi. She sifts through the village to collect the charred remains of neighbours and relatives who did not survive "Operation No Living Thing". This semblance of catharsis is not dwelled on since Mama Kadi insists that the past must be buried to better confront the future: "We must live in radiance of tomorrow," she tells fellow-villagers, "as our ancestors have suggested in their tales... That will be our strength. That has always been our strength."

By turning to fiction Beah will also avoid any resemblance to uncomfortable past his first publication provoked. At the time, a fierce campaign led by The Australian tabloid tried to prove Beah had misconstrued his military career and exaggerated his experiences in the armed forces.

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"The standoff has spanned four continents and bled into cyberspace", claimed Gabriel Sherman in a 2008 article, titled "The Fog of Memoir", that ran online in Slate magazine. The controversy did not prevent sales of A Long Way Gone reaching 1.6 million copies of the US edition alone and extracts appearing in the New York Times, The Guardian, Parabola magazines and several academic journals. Nowadays, Beah looks forward calmly to defending his new work and juggling the interest it will inevitably generate with the demands of being UN ambassador for children affected by conflict. For him, the most important part of his professional life is trying to extricate some of the estimated 300,000 child soldiers from over 33 conflicts around the world. Beah is on the frontline in negotiations to try to save the same youth of whom he was a member two decades ago. "I tell them all: you must be aware that you have this opportunity... You are telling a story that's much bigger than all of us, you have to remind people of that."

A task Beah is himself tackling with aplomb.