Cleave spent his early childhood in West Africa, which he credits for having partially inspired The Other Hand. Further inspiration came from Cleaves's temporary employment while studying experimental psychology at the University of Oxford. During the summer, Cleave painted underpasses, gardened and picked up litter, and hoped to use this experience to write a book. His final job was at Campsfield House in Oxfordshire, an immigration detention centre. Cleave spent three days serving food to residents from war zones including Somalia, Eritrea and the Balkans. He explained: "I got talking with some of them and said why are you here? Why are you in prison? It's not illegal and yet we concentrate them in these places. It's a text-book definition of a concentration camp. The conditions are appalling. I was shocked enough for that to be the end of my light comedy book of my amusing summers working as a labourer. " Cleave believes he would not have written the novel were he not a parent, as he does not wish for his children "to grow up into a world that is callous and stupid. "