Thursday, 10 November 2011

News - November 2011

I was so delighted to get a call from my editor Sam Swinnerton last week asking me to look up who was on the Carnegie Long-list. I could not believe my eyes when I saw Artichoke Hearts. This has been a year of asking people to pinch me to make sure I'm not just imagining things (a hazard of being a writer). What an honour to be placed among such brilliant writers. I spent half a day looking at who was on the list dating way back to the 1930's. Check it out. I now have loads more books to add to my Christmas list for myself, my children and all my nephews and nieces.

It's so lovely to come to my email this morning and find out that the free books have arrived with year Seven in schools up and down the country thanks to the Book Trust's excellent scheme. Thank you to all of you who chose Artichoke Hearts. I am so delighted to hear that you are enjoying it and it's particularly wonderful that some of you have been told off by your teachers for not wanting to put it down and get on with your lessons!

You can post your comments and reviews on this site, MyKindaBook  and also the Book Trust's site.

I'm starting to get 'Butterflies in my belly' (like Mira!) about Jasmine Skies my next book to be published by Macmillan in April 2012.

The cover is a real treat... a beautiful sunset palate and Mira's been at it again, with her doodle pen! There are pimped up converse, Jasmine flowers, a kingfisher, saris, ear phones, old letters and Mira and a mysterious boy running across a crazy Kolkata street.

I met actress, singer and director Renu Arora to talk about making a book trailer for Jasmine Skies...Since I've started writing it there's only ever been one soundtrack for this book..... 'Summer Breeze' sung by The Isley Brothers has been 'blowing through the Jasmine in my mind!'  But if Mira's DJ cousin Priya has anything to do with it...there'll be a drop into dubstep somewhere along the line!

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Hazelwood School Story Circle

In the Story Circle
A visit to Hazelwood School 11 October 2012

"Thank you very much for an amazing workshop yesterday-so inspirational- not only for the children! This morning parents came up to me and thanked me for inviting you as their kids were full of writer's energy when they came home from school yesterday. Touch of your magic! I also encouraged children and year 6 teachers to write reviews and post them on the Mykindabook website."
Justyna Powrie - Head Of Literacy Hazelwood School

It's always a pleasure visiting young readers and writers to talk about the process of writing. On Tuesday I had a very special morning with the year six children of Hazelwood School, Palmers Green. The visit  was arranged by my neighbour Stephanie's daughter and grandaughter. They were visiting one Sunday just after Artichoke Hearts had been published, and Stephanie asked me if I would drop in to talk about my book. Stephanie is the kind of special grandmother (like Josie in Artichoke Hearts) who arranges these sort of interractions for her grandchildren. Stephanie's granddaughter Megan then read Artichoke Hearts and championed the book at Hazelwood school.

Megan has now moved on to Secondary School where I'm told that other children are choosing Artichoke Hearts as their "Booked Up" scheme book for year seven.

At Hazelwood I was greeted by The Head of Literacy Justyna Powrie who has a passion for encouraging children's creative writing. It seems that grandparents are very important inspirational characters in the lives of many young people. As part of the writing workshop children wrote character portraits of people who inspired them, and many of them chose their grandparents... 'because they have the time to listen to me'  'because they spoil us'... 'because my Granddad has the best stories ever!'

We talked about symbols like the Artichoke Heart charm and  the children picked their own symbols to capture the spirit of their inspirational characters. These included a paintrbrush, a butterfly, a woven basket (this from Justyna belonging to her grandmother in Poland) and a bow and arrow from Iran that's been owned by four generations of the same family and is now residing in a house in Palmer's Green. We talked about what histories the objects must have lived through and, if they could speak, what stories they would tell.

I also took in my story box, in which I place the ingredients of my stories, while they're in the mix. I asked some of the students to guess what the next story might be about. Among other things they picked out an intricate wooden carving of a jungle I bought in Kolkata two years ago and a pair of ornate slippers with bells on them. Both of these objects now firmly belong to the characters in my next book Jasmine Skies to be published by Macmillan in April 2012. 

As I walked out of the school I felt priveleged to have met this young group of creative writers and their teachers. I feel that being in contact with readers of the books that I'm writing is an essential part of my work; one aspect seems to feed the other in a circular journey.

Towards the exit of the school I noticed that a corner of the playground covered by an all weather canopy had been developed into a story circle with a throne like 'Story Chair' and benches in spirals laid out around it. It got me thinking what a gift it is when teachers are so passionate about their subject (like Pat Print in Artichoke Hearts and Justyna Powrie at Hazelwood school) that they inspire children to join the story circle.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

A week that flew past - The Arrival

Tamasha and Circus Space present  The Arrival. A second year degree show at Circus Space.

Sita Brahmachari - Diary of a week of Flying 

Wednesday July 6th 2011

Family outing to see The Arrival at Circus Space last night.

The moment of leaving the homeland (Photograph by Barry Lewis)

We took the overland into Old Street and I was able to show everyone the derelict house in Finsbury Park that I've always imagined that Obi in The Arrival (on the left in the photo) bought in the sixties and gradually renovated to become a refuge for new arrivals in Britain. This morning at breakfast the children were still talking about the show. My youngest daughter (aged six) asked  me if, when I wrote the story, I was thinking of Granddad. Children always amaze me with their insights.

My eldest daughter said it's the kind of theatre people her age want to see. My son said 'yeah, actually Mum it was really good!' Praise indeed! They're going back to see it with some of their mates on Saturday. They loved the fact that the work was an ensemble melding images, text, circus art, choreography, music and acting. It's been a privelege to see this piece brought to life by the energy and skill of so many wonderful artists and actors.

Thursday 7th July 2011

The final moments of The Arrival - The gift of flight
(photograph by Barry Lewis)

Grahame Barker-Smith author of FArTHER (Winner of the Kate Greenaway award for children's literature) come along to the show. This is what he said about the work...

"The words, though spare, were beautifully weighted and apt. This was a feeling that ran through the whole piece, nothing overpowered, not the projection or the music, nor the words or the performers evidently advanced acrobatic skills. The acting too was measured and focused, but all together it expressed something that built from beginning to finish, like the making of an edifice, until what you had was something that satisfied and lingered in the mind. The experience of being an immigrant - though not my experience - was contactable somewhere inside me through the power of this art. It evoked a sort of unbidden empathy. Only something made and performed with heart, intellect and energy can do that."

Louise Millar who is to publish her amazing novel 'Playdate' (Macmillan) next year also came along with me. We were both remembering when we set up our writing group to share our work, with no real thought that either of us could realise our dreams to be published.

Friday 8th July

My father Dr Amal Krishna Brahmachari. (1931 - 2008 holding the pidgeons in Trafalgar Square)
Arrived 1959 off the ship from India, with other doctors  to work in the then new National Health Service.

Didn't  go to the show because my son was performing at his school fundraiser and I had to chop vegetables for the BBQ! He played in a band and solo and he seemed to have his very own fan club (other than his Mum) cheering him on. There were so many talented young people performing their work. It made me think of the bravery of performers and artists who give something from very deep in themselves to their work. At some level we all draw on our own experiences in expressing an artistic vision.

This is a particular skill that Kristine Landon-Smith has as a director, to bring the culture, background, language, history and skill of the individual artist to the texture of their work. In the case of The Arrival a company of international multi-lingual circus artists and actors are bringing themselves and their extraordinary art of flying and falling to a narrative about the eternally human story of migration. Kristine and I wanted the piece to explore, as Tan's novel does, how this city and so many countries in the world are built through the imagination and work of generations of migrants. Obi, the old man in The Arrival is at the end of his life but he looks through memory's porthal and remembers the moment of Arrival as if it was yesterday...

"Mists of memory, fog, what did they call it? Smog, fog... so dense I felt as if I was falling through clouds. Then through the rain mist I saw it for the first time, just like in a story book, text book, all glittering, the river flowing through the centre, and I think yes, this is my dream to make a home in this country... to bring my wife and son here.."

Saturday 9th July

Who doesn't dream of flying?
Photography by Barry Lewis

My daughter and friends made it to the show... just! (leaving three seconds to spare!) having got carried away in the vintage clothes shops in Camden Town!

I want to thank all the friends and colleagues who came along. There's nothing like having the people who've shared part of your history and helped you on your way, come and see the artistic work you're engaged in.

Some friends came along with their children. At the moment when Kat, the trapeze artist flew, I watched the children's faces.... they were literally lit up with the exhilaration of  live flight.  It's wonderful to think that we might be able to create a show that appeals across age ranges.

My human rights activist friend Simon (name check Simon in Artichoke Hearts) said the storm at sea was like watching a Fellini film.

Sunday 10th July

Photograph by Barry Lewis "Suspended between worlds"

Took my youngest to Queen's Wood because she wanted to fly on the swing suspended from the great oaks. It's too late for me (even though, since working on this show I have taken to getting on this swing when out on my morning run, if there is no one else around!) Watching her arch her back and glide through the air looking up through the leafy canopy the thought occurred to me that one day we may have a daughter run away to the circus!

Today I've been thinking about honing the narrative, pulling through threads of the storyline and exploring what's next in developing this piece into the full blown show along with the wonderful collaborative artistic team we are building... and all of us inspired by Shaun Tan's wonderful graphic novel.

Kristine- Landon Smith - Director

Sita Brahmachari - Script
Adam Wiltshire - Designer
Felix Cross - Composer
Mike Furness - Sound Designer
Rita Ray - Sound Artist
Barry Lewis - Projection Designer
LX Designer - Andy Purves
Image Consultant - Gerry Pilgrim

With thanks to Ice and Fire (A company exploring Human Rights Stories Through Perfomance) for giving  us access to Verbatim stories of contemporary refugees and economic migrants. Some of these stories have been integrated into The Arrival .

Watch out for Tamasha Theatre Company and Circus Space staging of the full production of The Arrival in 2012 -The Olympic Year. (Co-created by Kristine-Landon Smith and Sita Brahmachari incorporating the work of a host of extraordinary artists.) For updates look up:

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Inspirations for Jasmine Skies

I probably have the tiniest writing room in the world. But it's a room of my own! I call it my eyerie; it's where I nest to write my books. There's not much space in here for anything else except me, my chair and computer but I always keep a few objects or photos by my desk to inspire me....

For Artichoke Hearts I had a family photo album, a holey stone and (when they were in season) an artichoke! As my creative writing teacher says in Artichoke Hearts when you are writing you've got to 'let the random in!'

For The Arrival I simply had the photo of my Dad that I've posted in the blog below, and a mind full of wonderful memories.

While writing Jasmine Skies (which is to be published by Macmillan in April 2012) I have a little Jasmine plant that smells gorgeous, and photos I took last year when I went to a cousin's wedding in Kolkata. This beautiful carved door, and what happens behind it is part of Mira's story in Jasmine Skies.  I'll post some more photos from time to time.

In memory of Dad - The Arrivals at Circus Space

It's so exciting to see the vision of Kristine-Landon Smith and myself really take flight in this second year show at Circus Space. The piece is a co-production between Tamasha Theatre Company and Circus Space. For me the Arrivals is a very personal story. So much negative press is given to migrants of many kinds, and yet people do not uproot themselves from their homelands easily... as one man says... 'The history of humanity is the history of migration'. The text of Arrivals is formed from a combination of a poetic text I have written, inspired by Shaun Tan's extraordinary graphic novel, and verbatim texts (recorded and donated by the company Ice and Fire) charting the experience of refugees and ecomic migrants.

My father, Dr. Amal Krishna Brahmachari was a doctor. He came to this country as did many in the late 1950's from the 'Motherland' countries to help found the then new National Health Service. Those doctors he arrived with on the long ship journey from India are now retiring. In creating the narrative for Arrivals  I wanted to explore the debt this country owes to its migrant population. Sadly, my father had an unsuccessful heart operation in 2008 from which he died. I was so moved to see the respect that his Polish Consultant showed him at the end of his life.. saying 'I take my hat off to you, who paved the way.' It reminded me of the man in the hat in Shaun Tan's Arrival.

My father was always compassionate to new 'Arrivals.' I think he never forgot what it was like to leave his homeland behind and to try to reinvent himself in another country, language and culture. The character of Obi in our production of Arrivals sees and hears stories of new Arrivals, their trials and tribulations, and makes them welcome in his house in Finsbury Park. At the end of his life they recognise his kindness and courage.

I am looking forward to taking my whole family along to Circus Space tonight and I will explain to my children how their Granddad was an inspiration in this work performed by actors and circus artists. He often used to say that when he was making the long passage to Britain by ship that he felt that his life would always be suspended between worlds. It has been moving to see how Kristine Landon-Smith has worked with Circus Artists to stage this narrative; capturing the emotional landscape of flight, falling and suspension of the migrant experience so closely.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Check out Photos From Tamasha's Rehearsals for The Arrivals

Next week sees the showcasing of The Second Year Degree Show at Circus Space. As my son said, that must be the most awesome degree in the world! This is the third phase of a Research and Development process with Circus Space to investigate potential collaborations between theatre and circus artists. Tamasha's final production will be staged in The Olympic Year 2012. Watching Circus artists fly, fall and do generally super human feats, can have a worrying effect on you! Whilst going on my morning run through the woods I found myself compelled to jump onto a swing suspended from a great oak. Now I've been tempted before...but no one was around and well....let's just say I was inspired!  Tamasha Theatre Company's director Kristine Landon-Smith and myself and the multi-media creative team are striving to create a show in which a poetic text, image, beautiful epic music, theatre, choreography and circus art  intertwine. The sepier world of Tan's potent images seemed to come to life today, as the artists stepped into their costumes... 
Photos by Anna Ngugen

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Booktrust's Booked Up Scheme

What an honour it is for Artichoke Hearts to be chosen for the Booktrust's "Booked Up" scheme. This fantastic initiative, that was nearly cut earlier in the year, means that all year seven children whose schools are signed up for the scheme, get given a book for free. The Booktrust have just put in an enormous order for Artichoke Hearts. The Booktrust is a charity, so it's not about selling books, but about widening your profile. This is any debut novelist's wish; to have your novel widely read. Mira the heroine of Artichoke Hearts is in year seven in a large London school so I'm hoping readers who receive this book will easily step into her shoes.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Waterstone's Barnet Prize Giving

Lovely event at Waterstone's Barnet last week. These are the talented winners of the 'Write Place Right Time'' competition. The store had over 600 entries. It seems that there are no shortage of young aspiring writers in Barnet! Look out for these authors in the future... In a chat before the prize giving I shared a few of Pat Print's (creative writing teacher in Artichoke Hearts) writing tips...