Thursday, 25 May 2017

'Let not this stunt your growth'

Let not this fill your open hearts with hate
Let not this stop you dancing, singing, playing
Let not this stunt your growth

This earth on which you lay your flowers of loss
is bruised and tender
The willow weeps
But still it grows in splendor

Underneath these concrete paths
Rivers flow
Entwined our branches far and wide
Drawing water from deep courses
All flowing to a human sea

Make it not poisoned
Drink from the earth with love not hate

Let not this stop you dancing, singing, laughing, playing
Protest, stand up, speak out
Sit together in candle light
Find comfort in each other
Let your tears of pain and love teach others
Let not this stunt your growth

Sita Brahmachari

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

'Tender Earth' 'A coming of age story for young protestors everywhere'

It's taken time to mull and write this book and as I've written the earth has come to feel more and more tender....

Over the last few years I have thought almost everyday about how it must feel to be growing up in the world today. This book is for my twelve year old daughter Esha and her generation who must find ways to be nurtured by this tender earth.

Here are the beautiful new covers for all three books. 'Tender Earth,' edited by Venetia Gosling, is a stand alone story but this generation of readers may want to go back and read the earlier novels and I feel honoured that Macmillan Children's Books have given all three books such wonderful new covers. I love the golden threads painted on each book. To me they represent the bonds of friendship, love and family across generations and landscapes.


I am so delighted with these beautiful covers created by Rachel Vale and hope that readers love them as much as I do.

Tender Earth's publication date is June 1st. 2017.

'Amnesty International UK endorses Tender Eatth because it illuminates the importance of equality, friendship and solidarity, and upholds our right to protest against injustice.' 
Nicky Parker (Publisher)

"Inclusive Minds are delighted to welcome the arrival of Tender Earth on the children’s book landscape. We embrace a book like this that has been so thoroughly researched and demonstrates such authentic inclusion.”
Alexandra Srick and Beth Cox  (Inclusive Minds) 


Thursday, 16 March 2017

We Stand Together

Young people from Oakland School at Amnesty Internatonal Headquaters 
There have been many wonderful events around 'World Book Day' over the last few weeks!  One of the great joys for me as an author writing for a diverse audience of young readers and creative writers, is to tell other naratives than those they hear day after day in negative depictions of them in the media. It feels vital to me and so many of my fellow author friends to attempt to counter those narratives by writing stories that strive to be more nuanced, empathetic, representative and humane.   



With Reading Hack at Watford Libary ay a shelf help event for The Reading Agency  profiling stories that can help to support young people's mental health.  

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Here I Stand

What are human rights stories? How do they speak for freedom? 



You could say that all  stories that lead us to empathise with others we may not have met or even thought about before are, broadly speaking, human rights stories. Whenever I am asked to speak about human rights in my stories I almost always end up talking about a character and sharing something of the process by which I 'met' them and discovered their story.

A conversation between two great human rights leaders
Over the Christmas and New Year holidays I read what I think is a profoundly important book about being part of an interconnected human web and standing up for human rights. It's called 'The Book of Joy' .  It charts a week of conversations between Nobel Laureate his Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Their discussions and insights are mediated by the writer Douglas Abrams, I knew that this book would ask searching questions about human rights in our world today as both men have experienced exile and violent oppression and have made it their lives work to uphold universal human rights and freedoms.  



It's a book that I will re-read many times. What struck me as I read was that the act of stepping into the minds, hearts and lives of characters other than ourselves through writing and reading is a joyful and liberating act. It's what keeps many writers going and the spur that gets many readers motivated too! 

Do empathy and compassion change anything? 
But what is the value of empathy and compassion?  In 'The Book of Joy' The Dalai Lama tells a story to explore the relationship between  empathy and compassion with his characteristic humour. He observes that if someone falls under a rock the aim is not simply to get under the rock and find out what it feels to be there too! We would naturally, once feeling another's suffering, want to act to push that rock away and do what we can to help the person. 

In my life I have found reading and writing has been an active process and stories that I read when I was a young person like 'I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings' By Maya Angelou, still have a profound impact on the things I feel I want to write about and stand up for today.  

'Here I Stand' (Published by Walker Books and Amnesty International)  contains powerful stories and poems on the subject of upholding precious universal human rights from the following writers:



What can we do? 
My story in 'Here I Stand' is about a young girl who hides the fact that she is pretty much the full time carer for her mother. If reading this story makes some people behave differently towards other young people and families in the same situation then that is an act of compassion in itself. However, what I love about being part of this anthology is that Amnesty International offer a Human Rights route for so many young readers and educators who may be inspired by the stories they read to assist in removing some of those rocks by getting actively involved in Amnesty's Young Activist programmes.

Here is a link to how to join or set up a youth group: 
https://www.amnesty.org.uk/what-amnesty-youth-group 

This link might be useful for teachers and educators:
https://www.amnesty.org.uk/get-involved-human-rights-education


Speak up for freedoms with us .... February 3rd - 7pm Waterstones Picadilly! 
I am so looking forward to discussing human rights in stories with the inspirational writers Frances Hardinge and A. L. Kennedy on a panel chaired by Nicky Parker (Publisher Amnesty International) 
Come along, bring your questions and be part of 'Stories That Speak for Freedom.' 



Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Give a book to help homeless people this Christmas

As we approach the festive season many of us struggle to marry the idea of a homely, joyful time of plenty for some while millions of people throughout our world and within our society are displaced and homeless. 

'I'll Be Home For Christmas' is an anthology of stories with the theme of 'Home' in support of  Crisis, a charity dedicated to ending homelessness. Stripes Publishing has already promised to give £10,000 to the charity. In addition at least £1 of every book sold will go directly to Crisis.

 'I'll Be Home for Christmas' is a thought provoking anthology containing a wide variety of stories for young people all set around Christmas time. I'm honoured that my story 'Amir and George' is part of this collection alongside the work of these wonderful authors... 

Edited by Ruth Bennett (Commissioning Editor for Stripes Publishing) with contributions by: Tom Becker, Holly Bourne, Sita Brahmachari, Kevin Brooks, Melvin Burgess, Katy Cannon, Cat Clarke, Tracy Darnton, Juno Dawson, Julie Mayhew, Non Pratt, Marcus Sedgwick, Lisa Williamson and Benjamin Zephaniah 

Cover Illustration by William Grill
Diverse voices 
Each story offers a distinctive take on the idea of 'home' from the quirky to the heart-warming and surprising to the hard-hitting and poignant. All the stories got me reflecting and questioning.

What makes a home?
What makes a family?
How do you come home to yourself?
How stressful and crushing can prescriptive visions of 'family' and 'home'  be for many people especially at this time of year?     

'Amir and George'
My contribution - 'Amir and George' belongs to fourteen year old Amir Karoon who arrives in Britain as an unaccompanied refugee from Iraq. He has been in a British school for just one year when he enters The George Orwell public speaking competition in order to tell his story in his own words. 'Amir and George'' is set on the day of the finals which takes place just before the start of the Christmas holidays... but not everything goes to plan when Amir stands up to speak.... 

‘I am Amir Karoon. This is my story. When I heard of George Orwell competition, I went to my teacher Mr Shaw and I observe to him … my English is not so good, but I can tell you something about this subject:' If liberty means anything at all it is the right to tell people what they don’t want to hear...This is the moment when I ask you to switch off pictures you see on news, step sideways out of your everyday mind, like when doors slide from real world into dreams. '

When fiction and reality meet 
As I read through the stories in this anthology I realise that each one invites readers to build bridges between  real and fictional worlds ....as Ruth Bennett explains in her introduction:
  
 'By using fiction as a means of raising money for Crisis and increasing the awareness of the struggles faced by those who experience homelessness, this collection bridges the gap between the real and the imagined.'
Ruth Bennett - Commissioning Editor

Last weekend I was privileged to sit and listen to a refugee man reading 'Amir' and George' to a group of men and women who wish to work on their own public speaking skills in the hope of gaining greater understanding of their experience of displacement in our society. It was an emotional reading but one of great warmth and recognition too.  

When I was writing this story I asked my character Amir the same question that his classmate Mo asks of him. Why would you put yourself forward to tell this painful story?  Who would want to hear it? No matter how difficult Amir feels he has to have his story heard.  In the words of Maya Angelou
"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you." 

But who has come to listen to Amir speak? Who is the mysterious 'Reflection George?' and why has he appeared in this brightly lit grand hall festooned with fairy lights and a beautiful Norwegian Spruce?   


'I'll Be Home for Christmas' has a beautiful spine




Crisis at Christmas offers support,companionship and vital services and the chance for homeless people in UK to take up life changing opportunities all year round. To donate, volunteer or campaign for Crisis, visit www.crisis.org.uk   

YA Salon team up with 'I'll Be Home for Christmas'
7th December
Waterstones Gower Street, Wednesday 7th December 2016, 7pm.

    



Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Lighting a birthday candle for 'Here I Stand'


Here I Stand edited by Amnesty International UK and published by Walker Books  is a collection of stories and poetry by Young Adult authors standing up for human rights that are under threat today.

I was honoured to be invited by Nicky Parker at Amnesty to make a contribution about the plight of children in the UK who work long hours caring for their families, missing out on school and all the carefree freedoms that  are the right of every child.



Children's Book of The Week -  Sunday Times

'Twenty-four celebrated authors contribute to this inspiring anthology of stories, with a smattering of poems and drawings, exploring the experiences of refugees, underdogs, prisoners and outsiders, often through the ordinary lives of young people....The threats to freedom might be bleak but these tales of hope suggest that awareness is a step towards making the world a better place.'

Nicolette Jones (Sunday Times Review July 31st 2016) 


The Fragility of Human Rights 
It may be tempting to think that human rights abuses take place somewhere else... in someone else's mind, hand, heart, government, legal system and country. Perhaps it is more comfortable to imagine that the struggle for universal human rights has been won in a country in which very often we may take for granted the freedom of speech that allows each one of us authors to have written our stories that speak for freedom. But what the tales in this anthology reveal over and over again is the fragility of these rights and the need to be aware that they can be eroded, threatened and lost.



Research for my story 'Stay Home' 
In the process of writing my contribution 'Stay Home' I was shocked to discover through Daniel Phelps of The Carers Trust that the right to a childhood enshrined in the Geneva Convention of The Declaration of The Rights of the Child (1959) is being denied to at least 700,000 children in Britain today as they struggle to care for members of their own families.

The child is recognised, universally, as a human being who must be able to develop physically, mentally, socially, morally, and spiritually, with freedom and dignity.” ( Universal Declaration of the Rights of Children)  
http://www.humanium.org/en/childrens-rights-history/references-on-child-rights/declaration-rights-child/

Fiction rooted in truth

The idea to write my story was seeded when I sat in a school reception and a young girl of around thirteen arrived late. She said she had been taking her mum to a medical appointment. The receptionist replied that she would call home and check.The girl explained that her mother never answers the phone because she's not confident with her English 'She needs me to translate.' The receptionist made a note of this and the girl carried on into school. I have often thought of the exhausted looking girl.

Writing and reading for change
When we write and read we don't allow a thought or concern about something that is unjust, unfair, complicated or difficult to express to slip from our attention. When we read we do not switch off from something or someone we may find troubling or unsettling but instead choose to engage and enter worlds that we may have previously had little real understanding of or empathy for. This choice of writing and reading wider than our own worlds is the beginning of action...in the process we can change our minds and hearts, begin to imagine, step beyond  given, pre-conceived and stereotypical stand points to move beyond a position of fear of meeting another person and their experience.

As a reader of Here I Stand
When my copies of' Here I Stand arrived I was excited to sit down and read a collection of writing of writers whose work I so admire. I read all the stories in one day and felt a kaleidoscope of emotions from compassion and curiosity to anger and outrage and the wish to stand up and act against the injustices explored. Looking at the book in its entirety I found that it is an invitation to meet and engage with so many stories concerning human rights violations and erosions, not as bystanders but as participants in change. Wherever the stories are set (in the UK, different countries or continents or imaginary lands, in our times or in an imagined future) they are a reminder of the inter-connected world in which we live; that one person's rights being denied here or in another part of the world has an impact on all of our rights.

'I believe that repressing ideas, spreads ideas.' Neil Gaiman
There is a refrain through many of these stories and poems that is expressed so clearly in the credo of Neil Gaiman illustrated by Chris Riddell -

 'I believe that repressing ideas, spreads ideas.' 

Reading these brave, hopeful, poignant, shocking stories about human rights violations and abuses that affect us all, made me feel this belief all the more strongly.  

Communal  Voice for Human Rights
In her story 'When the Corridors Echo'  Sabrina Mahfouz's narrator observes of the young school girl Ayesha.... 


 'She had learnt not to talk with too much voice, as that is something nobody likes.'

That is a position of repression that this anthology wishes to blast apart. The authors of these varied and individual stories and characters they portray speak with all their individual voices and with a communal voice in 'Here I Stand' to spark the minds, hearts and spirit of  readers at a time when universal human rights are under attack by governments all over the world. Amnesty's credo seems to me to shine brightly through all the contributions in this anthology. 


'It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.' 




Happy Book Birthday 'Here I Stand.'



All royalties go to Amnesty International UK

Thank you to:
Nicky Parker for commissioning and including 'Stay Home' as part of this collection. To Emma Lidbury at Walker Books for her sensitive close editing of the story. Daniel Phelps at Carers Trust, Saimo Chahal (QC) at Bindman's LCC in London for their experience of representing child carers and Farhana Yamin Yule for Urdu references. 


Resources

Amnesty Resource for ' Here I Stand' for teachers and librarians:

From the Introduction to 'Here I Stand':
https://www.amnesty.org.uk/blogs/stories-and-rights/introduction-here-i-stand

https://www.amnesty.org.uk/blogs/stories-and-rights/here-i-stand-against-hate

Interview with Nicky Parker (Publisher):
http://www.booktrust.org.uk/books/writing/online-writer-in-residence/blog/839/


 







Monday, 18 July 2016

Summer Hearts!

The sun is shining brightly today and I thought I would share a few lovely moments from meeting readers and young writers  this summer term that make writing for young adults so rewarding.


From the students of Beaconsfield High School  ( July 14th  - Where I also bumped into the brilliant young blogger @LexiLoves


This term following school exams I have been invited to hold creative writing workshops in schools and it's wonderful to see young people write with freedom from curriculum rules. I would like to thank the inspirational librarians and teachers who create these beautiful displays and motivate young readers and writers to explore their creativity.

At Bishops Hatfield School I told students that there will be a book for each of them that turns them into a reader... they might just not have found it yet. A young girl came up to me in the librarry afterwards and said that my books have been that for her: What a prvilege it is to be a writer for young adults.

'Reading Sita's books is what turned me into a keen reader. Before I discovered them I didn't read much, but now I'm really enjoying it. The characters in her books are really well-drawn, I loved the character of Mira, and could imagine her as someone I would like in real life.'
Hely - Bishop's Hatfield School


From the students of Hadley Learning Community, Telford for Pop Up Festival ( 27th June) 

(Each leaf layer contains a wonderful story about a reason why a character has needed to place a protective layer around their hearts. Student work clearly showed how deeply young people empathise with characters very different from themselves.) 


The first school creative writing artichoke drawn by artist Grace Manning at Highfield Primary School, London 2015


Wishing readers and all those creative writers out there a very happy summer with plenty of days lost in books, doodling, writing for the sake of it and daydreaming!

Sita X