Monday, 26 November 2012

'Jasmine Skies' travels 'home' to Kolkata

November has been a busy month! It began with a visit to Kolkata with my daughter Maya. We visited family and took part in a book event organised by Maina Bhagat of The Oxford Bookstore, Kolkata and Rachna Kalra of Pan Macmillan India.

It was a real honor to be interviewed by Sujata Sen, Director, British Council, East India and the renowned Manipuri dancer Priti Patel.

 'Jasmine Skies' was presented to the audience through dance, song, music and readings. My cousin Jhuma Basak (Dance) and fellow artist Anuttumaa Banerjee (Singing) and Nishad Pandey (Guitar) presented a performance exploring themes of identity, history and diaspora in 'Jasmine Skies'. In my story Mira questions the nature of her 'connection' with her Indian family and it was a deeply moving and connected experience to perform with my cousin and read excerpts to our Kolkata family in the city that inspired the story.

Article in Bengal Post
I couldn't hide my pleasure as I walked into the beautiful Oxford Bookstore to find 'Artichoke Hearts and ' Jasmine Skies' displayed alongside J. K Rowling's new book!!!

Here are some pics of our week in Kolkata linked to lines in 'Jasmine Skies' that somehow see to fit...

Beautiful Pandals for Durga and Kali Pujas.

I don't think I've ever felt such a mix-up of emotions as I''m feeling right now, as I take my first steps into India on my own'

( From left to right. Myself, my daughter Maya and cousin Jhuma)

'To meet a whole side of your family in the flesh, for the first time in your life, is the strangest feeling in the world, sort of like coming home.' 

A girl carries her baby sister outside artisan's workshops

'The workshops are all floodlit, like mini theatre stages. In each shop an artist is working on figures of idols - gods and goddesses, with their multiple arms outstretched. Some of the artists are dwarfed by the giant limbs of clay.'

The Howrah bridge at sun-set
... we watch the sun sinking through the sky... 'You see, no language between us, and we hardly know each other, but we are like Howrah - no matter what happens, strong standing family.'

Bathing in the Ganges

'The family bathing in the river have darkened into silhouettes. And I suppose when they look at us, that's all they see too... Suddenly I feel smaller and less important than I've ever felt before. I'm just a tiny speck among millions and millions of people'

Outside Howrah Station
'Now you need to stay close!' Janu tells me, wrapping one arm around my waist and taking my other hand as we walk under the metal grid that is the roof of Howrah station. It seems as if the whole world is living inside these red brick arches.'

And of course the ' Mishti' were delicious!

'A few paces up the road we come a stall stacked full of Indian sweets of every colour and flavour: pistachio, orange, carrot halwa, sonpapri (Grandad's favourite), creamy Rasamalai (my favourite), syrupy rosogolla and curds...'

...And the sweetest news of all to come home to was that ' Jasmine Skies' has been long listed for the Carnegie Prize. 

Hope you've enjoyed this little taste of out trip to Kolkata...

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Jasmine Skies News

I'm really looking forward to visiting my cousin in  Kolkata for the October Half Term with my eldest daughter. I will be having a book launch of 'Jasmine Skies' at the Oxford Book Shop in Kolkata at which my cousin Jhuma will also dance. So Priya and Mira will appear in some form or another! (Photos to follow!)

Here's a link to a lovely review For ''Jasmine Skies' on the Guardian Review Website.

I was delighted to hear today that 'Jasmine Skies' has been voted a Recommended Read in the 12 - 16 Category by the School Library Association.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

'Dear Mira' diaries...

It's been lovely to receive summer post cards, notes and emails from readers. It seems that 'Jasmine Skies' has been summer reading for many of you. I was particularly touched that one reader was inspired to write a  'Dear Mira' diary, confiding  her feelings and thoughts of travelling in India with Mira. She took a copy of 'Jasmine Skies' with her!

Macmillan Children's Books were so impressed with Chloe Spinks' 'Dear Mira' diary that they have published it on their site and launched a competition for aspiring authors to write about their summer travels, with the promise that Mira will write a reply to the winning entry!
You don't have to have travelled far from home at all to enter!  Guess where this photo was taken...
... The Lake District where my next book is set. Look out for this sunset in 'Kite Spirit.'
At talks and festivals people ask 'Where do you find your inspiration?' I answer... 'In the real world, in my imaginary world and in memory.'
I kept a travel journal when I went to Kolkata as a child and in some scenes in 'Jasmine Skies' I have drawn on moments from my own journal. The baby hand through the taxi window on page 104 of 'Jasmine Skies' is one of my most potent childhood memories. Click on the link below to enter the competition.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Jasmine in bloom

I could not resist taking this photo of the Jasmine blooming outside my door. It has never looked so lush as this year. Maybe it's because I've been thinking a lot about Jasmine with the publication of 'Jasmine Skies.'

I love the fact that this reviewer picked up a copy of 'Jasmine Skies' at Delhi airport. She could have bumped into Mira waiting for her suitcase!

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Farewell photo diary- Residency in The Sherwood Forest

No Sign of Robin Hood but even so this has been a truly magical residency week in the Sherwood Forest. Here are a few photographs charting some lovely moments. The residency has been a real inspiration to me in exploring the natural world for my next book 'Kite Spirit' (to be published by Macmillan Children's Books in 2013)

Flying the 'Kite Sprit'

Collecting pine cones

Dwarfed by nature

Tiny bright poppy
Fruits of the forest

The view while working on my next book 'Kite Spirit'

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Creative writing workshop in the woods

The sun was shining again today as  aspiring writers, film makers and poets stepped into the Sherwood Forest with me.

Yesterday myself and Esha-Lily (aged eight) attented an inspiring nature walk by Christine Poulson - the Forest Holiday ranger- and we discovered the perfect glade for me to set up our open air creative writing workshop.  In this peaceful woodland live all manner of butterflies, birds and wildlife.

An amazing bug creation by Ollie
Ollie's mobile
We learned how to identify deer tracks through the woods, afterwards the children created their own art works made from nutural treasure that they had collected on their walk.

Today I returned to the same glade and placed objects that inspired me to write 'Jasmine Skies' among the woodland. After reading from 'Artichoke Hearts' we took a walk in the sunshine into the symbolic world of 'Jasmine Skies'. The workshop participants hunted around the wood for objects and symbols that fed my imagination in the process of writing 'Jasmine Skies'.

Afterwards the groups of aspiring writers began to explore their own inspirational characters, places and symbolic worlds. We freed our imaginations with the help of the holey stone (Nana Josie's favourite symbol in 'Artichoke Hearts'). As we passed it around the circle we thought of how the woods inspired us all and wrote our own communal tribute to our Sherwood Forest Holiday.

Here are the words we shared all wrapped up in a poem for you....

By: Ellie Wright, Amanda and Niamh Cottingham, Leih, Matthew and Rebecca Foley, Christine Poulson, Charlotte Howell, Sean, Dylan and Sinead Power, Danielle Hart and Sita Brahmachari.

Holey Stone Poem!
We are lying on a magic blanket
Inside a circle
Eyes closed
Listening to the trilling, knocking creepy, clanking echoing of the wood
This glade is a privilege...a goldmine for the imagination

Dappled green sunlight
Echoing spirits
Squirrels skitter up the trees
Rabbits hide in the hollows
Among the tree trunks
In this glade
green grasses

Gnats hover around itchy heads
 the imagination
Who would have thought that all these were hiding here?
highway men
So many characters past and present sheltering under these branches

If you were to step out here at night
placing your bare feet in mud still warm where deer have trod
You would find a haunted hollow
Twisted branches 
Rotting wood
In the distance the scent of a fox
The bark of a dog
A bat diving down down
Uncertain sounds...
creeping forms, shapes, smells
A russling and a skitting underground

We are lying on a magic blanket
Inside a circle
Eyes closed
Listening to the trilling, knocking creepy, clanking echoing of the wood

Thanks to the lovely staff at Forest Holidays, Sherwood Pines for hosting such an imaginative, happy and sunny residency.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Blissfully lost in the woods...

We've been blessed with the most amazing weather for my writing residency in the Sherwood Forest. Today I woke early and took our puppy Ringo for a walk in Sherwood Forest. He was in heaven following trails through the high bracken. The smell of pine was too delicious a temptation for him!  What a way to wake the senses. I have sometimes compared the process of writing to entering a woodland and following paths, being guided by your senses and instinct as you follow trails into your own story.

I returned home with Ringo and set out again, this time in running gear with the intention of getting well and truly lost in the woods. As I went off the main tracks taking me further and further into the woods I was transported back to my childhood wonderment in woodland scenery to a time when a whole day might pass in the simple pleasure of building a den.
It's little wonder that  so many of our favourite children's stories are set in woodland. Even as an adult the feeling of not quite knowing which path will lead you back to the familiar can be slightly unnerving and yet in that 'uncertain' moment lies new discovery... you begin to rely on your senses and your memory in a way that we're not often called on to do in a highly technical world.

In the afternoon I was joined by a wonderful group of people with their children who had come to hear me reading. I read from 'Artichoke Hearts'  and then the heat of the day helped to transport us to Kolkata where the young people took roles in a scene in the children's orphanage in 'Jasmine Skies'. Finally I returned to the woods, giving them a sneak preview of a woodland scene in my next book 'Kite Spirit' which is set in The Lake District..

On Thursday I will be holding a writing workshop in a shady glade where I will be playing the game of ' Closing your eyes and opening your senses' to the wonders of the woodland. Who knows what  strange and extraordinary creatures,characters and stories will emerge... If you go down to the woods today...

Thanks to the lovely team of people at Sherwood Forest Pines for planning such a special residency.

A Radio 4 journalist making a programme about wonderful experiences in the British countryside asked why this was such a special holiday. 'Does the sun help?' She asked ... the sun is definitely helping but the best thing come rain or shine is to remember the joys and excitement of being well and truly lost in the woods...

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Forest Holiday Writer in Residence In Sherwood Forest

I am really looking forward to my first ever Writer In Residence in Sherwood Forest this summer.

I love woodland walks in every weather, and so does our new puppy Ringo Star. We are lucky enough to live near ancient woodland in London and although I have never actually hugged a tree I have been sorely tempted, as I often feel creatively re-charged by walking amongst the ancient ones.

I appreciate the woods in every season because they are always places of discovery. While running or walking through our local woods I have often been able to follow mind trails through my stories. In fact I often think getting lost in a wood is pretty much the same process as writing a first draft of a novel.

I am currently writing the first draft of my third YA novel 'Kite Spirit' to be published by Macmillan in 2013. A first draft is all about following trails, sometimes you turn a circle and  find yourself back where you started, but when all is flowing well it's like walking in a woodland you thought you knew well and finding a completely new and undiscovered path... and that's a magical walk.

So as I am at first draft stage with 'Kite Spirit,'(a stage of writing in which I am irrepressably puppy like in my enthusiasm)  it seems fitting that I should be taking up my first writing residency in Sherwood Forest, a place that has captured so many children's and adult's imaginations.

I fully intend to get lost in the woods but readers, and my wonderful editor Sam Swinnerton will be glad to hear that I'll be fairly ruthless in cutting down brambles in the next stage of writing!

We will be taking our new puppy with us so that he can explore a few new trails of his own....

Here's Ringo's first walk in the woods... wait till he sees Sherwood Forest! I can  just see him donning a Highwayman's hat! Come to think of it, I always quite fancied one myself...

I will be in residence from July 23th to July 30th at Forest Holidays’ Sherwood Pines <>  site. While I'm there, I'll be working on 'Kite Spirit' my latest book, and will also conduct interviews, hold a writer’s workshop for aspiring authors and host a reading of extracts from her novels. or call 0845 130 8223.

If you would like more information on the Author in Residence programme or would like to arrange an interview with Sita Brahmachari during her stay, please contact Yasmin Sethna on 020 8630 9487 or at

Friday, 20 April 2012

School's Workshops/ talks on Jasmine Skies

Schools on Tour

"We were delighted with Sita’s presentation to Year 7 in assembly.  She talked about writing, and how she had really started thinking about themes for her books when she was a young teenager – like the students she was talking to.  She talked about her experience of India, and asked the students how many of them had family from, or living in, other countries. She drew out many themes of history and a sense of place. She spoke of her father’s life, coming from Calcutta to Britain as a medical student.  Sita’s mother is English, and she grew up in the Lake District.  She talked about her love of photography, and used the large screen to show the photos of Calcutta that later inspired scenes in the book – such as the photo of the building that then became the old family home in Jasmine Skies.  She read this extract from the book.
The highlight of the session was probably the beautiful Indian bag full of objects, which she passed round the students, and the illustration of walking in someone else’s shoes, when she swopped shoes one of the boys – Sita in his lace ups, while he had some lovely Indian slippers. The students enjoyed this very much. This illustrated that we need to “walk in the character’s shoes” when writing imaginatively."  Miranda Mc Allister, Librarian Latymer School.
In order of school visits from March 2012....
Alexandra Park School, Haringey, London.
Heartland's High, Haringey, London.
Wood Green Library, Haringey, London.
Marcus Garvey Library, Haringey, London.

Broxbourne School - Hertfordshire

Simon Balle School. Hertfordshire
Sir John Leman School, Suffolk.

Horringer Court Middle School, Bury St Edmonds, Suffolk.
Latymer School, Enfield, London
Enfield County School, London
Peter's Book Sellers, Birmingham
Heart Of England School, Coventry
Camden School For Girls, Camden. London.
Acland Burghley School, Camden. London.
City Academy School, Islington, London.
St Angela's Ursuline Convent School, Forest Gate, London.
Haberdasher's Aske's School, Herfordshire.
Queen Elizabeth Girl's School, Barnet, London.
Sacred Heart High School, Newcastle Upon Tyne.
Dame Allan's School, Newcastle Upon Tyne.
Shrewsbury Book Festival Schools. Packwood Haugh and The Priory, Shropshire.
Worlingham Middle School, Suffolk.
City Of London Girl's School.
Princes Risborough School. Chiltern's.
Halesworth Middle School, Suffolk.
St Felix' School, Suffolk.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

New Review

I was so happy to find this lovely review of Jasmine Skies from 'Weartheoldcoat'

'I looooooved Artichoke Hearts so much. Mira, our twelve year old narrator, had such a fresh and realistic outlook on life and I couldn’t help but fall in love with her. Add in a handful of fantastic characters and a wonderfully British setting, Artichoke Hearts was one of my favourite reads of 2011.
Jasmine Skies was even better.
The story picks up two years after the events of Artichoke Hearts and sees Mira travelling to Kolkata to visit her cousin Priya after the death of her Grandad Bimal.
I’m going to try and stay away from talking about the plot of this story because I don’t want to spoil either of these books and it would be impossible to talk go into it without doing so. Apologies if this reviews ends up being a bit vague as I know you’re used to the most in-depth and intellectual reviews on my bit of t’internet.
I just love how Ms Brahmachari writes. I’m trying to think of a way to articulate the way I feel about it but I’m failing miserably. If I could describe it using only one word, I would use ‘vibrant’.
Seriously, I underlined so many passages on my Kindle it became silly.
The setting of this book is immaculately imagined. I’ve never been to India but I could really relate to the experience of being overwhelmed that Mira feels when she first steps off the plane. The descriptions of the market places are absolutely magnificent. You’ve got the colours of the materials, the feel of the sweltering heat and… yes, fine, you can almost smell the… *scowls*…jasmine.
It’s obvious that Ms B has a story to tell and a message to convey but it never felt clunky or heavy-handed. Mira’s journey, both physical and emotional, is told with brilliant subtlety and restraint and it was so glorious to read. Anyone who says that YA books can’t be deep are going to get a hardcover of this book slammed across the back of their head by moi.
Luckily, Mira hasn’t changed one jot since Artichoke Hearts. She’s still compassionate, funny and as inquisitive as ever. One of my favourite things about AH was how Mira struggled with her identity as a mixed-race girl growing up in Britain, so I was ecstatic when I got about two chapters into Jasmine Skies and realised that there was going to be more of that.'

The full review is on the following link.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

'Double the world, not half'

At the Federation Of Children's Book Group Conference, I was honoured to share a seminar presentation with Jamila Gavin. Having just completed my second novel Jasmine Skies, I am in awe of the body of work written by Jamila from her latest book 'Tales Of India' published by Templar with beautiful illustrations by Amanda Hall, to her highly acclaimed award winning novels 'Coram Boy,' 'The Surya Trilogy' and 'Grandpa Chatterji,' to name but a few.

Jamila Gavin and I at The Federation of Children's Book Group Conference. April 14th 2012

In preparation for the seminar entitled  'Childhood Worlds' Jamila and I met at The British Library and started talking about our common experiences of being of mixed heritage (both of us have English mothers and Indian fathers.)  We explored how our backgrounds have informed our work and sharing this common understanding I was extremely touched by Jamila's lovely comments about both Artichoke Hearts and Jasmine Skies.

'I've just finished reading Jasmine Skies and absolutely loved it. Sita Brahmachari has such a loving touch with the way she delicately and compassionately picks her way through experiences, families and relationships. She has an absolutely sure voice when writing about adolescence and teenagers.'

Had I known of Jamila's work in the 1970's I would have devoured her books as there were, in those days, very few stories that seemed to represent my own experiences, so for me it was a real honour to share a platform with Jamila. In our talk we explored themes of history and identity in our work and we discussed where our experiences converged and differed. At the end of the seminar one thing was clear; our dual heritage identity has fed our work and creative worlds and led us to feeling like Uma (Mira's mother)  in Jasmine Skies that she has 'double the world, not half.'

'I remember someone once calling my mum a ' half- caste' and I asked her what it meant because I'd never heard that term before. She told me it's the description people used for 'mixed heritage' people when she was a little girl . I think ' half-caste' is a horrible way to describe someone, it sounds like some sort of reject pottery. Mum says it never bothered her because Grandad Bimal and Nana Kath always made her feel like she had double the world, not half.' Pg 179 Jasmine Skies

From the 1960's till today we have gone on an extraordinary journey in the representation and stories of children from diverse backgrounds in children's literature. When people ask me what it was like to grow up with an Indian father and an English mother in the English countryside my answer is often this... ' My parents were the ones who fought the battles' (they married in Grassington, Yorkshire in 1964). It seems to me that they paved the way for a world in which the fastest growing population in Britain is of mixed heritage.

I have been trying to put my finger on why I felt so honoured to be talking alongside Jamila (apart from the fact that she is a truly lovely person) and now I know what it my parents, artists like Jamila embarked on a journey that has opened a door to many more writers. Novels like Jasmine Skies are now part of a canon of work that young people can explore. Inheritance is a recurring theme in Artichoke Hearts and Jasmine Skies... and my birth as a writer is in no small part due to the work of artists like Jamila. In the words of one of my favourite authors, Maya Angelou...

'Know that history holds more than it seems. We are here alive today, because our ancestors dared to dream.'

Monday, 2 April 2012

Birthday for Jasmine Skies!

'Jasmine Skies'  birthday!
March 29th 2012

I have been spoiled by having two wonderful launches for Jasmine Skies. The first took place in Hampstead Waterstones. I was so touched that so many people from Macmillan's Children's Books came along to the launch and for the kind words of Belinda Rasmussen (Publisher), Sam Swinnerton (Editor) and Sophie Gorell Barnes (Agent)  of MBA Literary Agents. I was so happy to welcome journalists, Waterstones store staff,  book groups, friends, and family and also honoured that the event was so well supported by Librarians; so important in getting stories and books into the hands of young readers. I have been honoured by their response to my books. Sean Edwards of Wood Green Libary organised a wonderful local book tour of Haringey Schools to mark Jasmine Skies birthday.

Every person pictured here (and many who couldn't squeeze into the photo) have had a part to play in bringing about the birthday of Jasmine Skies. The event was beautifully organised by my publicist Sally Oliphant at Macmillan who also accompanied me on my local tour. Thanks to Haringey young people I met at Alexandra Park School, Heartlands High, Wood Green Library and Marcus Garvey Library for a lovely and memorable launch week. A highlight of the Waterstones launch for me was hearing from Chloe Spinx about  why her book group has taken Mira to their hearts and how she planned to travel with Mira in India over the Easter holidays. (She'll be writing a diary for MyKindaBook website on her return)

Family and Friends celebrate the birthday of Jasmine Skies

And then... On April Fool's Day
When Kolkata meets Deli!

Neha Patel ( In her finery) Anya Patel and Jai Patel with Sita Brahmachari at the launch

What fun and foolishness was this?  A Book Launch in a deli? With readings, author talk and signing. Tasty Indian bites prepared by chef Simon Owen, shop window transformed into a Kolkata sari store by craft queen Sarah Owen, live Kathak dance and launch of the trailer made by local cameraman Shaun Cobley of War Horse and The Iron Lady, featuring local children.

Artist, Sarah Owen of Owen's Deli, Alexandra Park Road.

Sarah transformed the shop into a Kolkata Sari store in the way that only Sarah can. Here she is pictured with her own pottery cow head. The sacred cow appears in Jasmine Skies. Also on this beautiful display table are: my own fourteen year old shoes, a photo of my Dad with other Indian doctors in 1959, Kali, and old letters, all of which feature in Jasmine Skies.

Hanging in the window is the most beautiful Kingfisher hand made by Sarah for me. I shall treasure it. It's made of recycled fabrics like the 'street wishes' and quilts sewn by the children in the orphanage in Jasmine Skies

'A Jewel bright kingfisher lands on a piece of gnarled driftwood, its turqoise feathers and amber breast are the most stunning combination of colours I have ever seen in nature'
Mira Levenson Pg 271 Jasmine Skies

The event was a wonderful gathering of much loved local businesses. The Children's Book Shop Muswell Hill has long been one of my favourite Independent bookshops. It was a real honour to share the launch with Kate, Meena and Sanchita. (I loved our sari folding at the end. It had the feeling of winding down after a wonderful party.)

Also hanging in the beautful shop window were Mira's personalised converse, Priya's dancing shoes and one of Priya's vinyl singles for her Dubstep mix. Sarah created a shop window to match the beautiful borders of my books created by illustrator Kate Forrester. I took a lot of photos because it was hard to dismantle such a work of art at the end of the day.

I was overwhelmed by the support of local people and authors at this event.

I spoke about the book being written in memory of my father Dr. Amal Krishna Brahmachari for my mum Freda Brahmachari. I spoke of my father's love of community and how much he would have enjoyed the event and tucking into Simon's delicious food!

'Grandad always used to say that one of his strongest memories when he was a little boy was eating bubbling hot puri from street-side stalls.'
(Pg 38) Jasmine Skies

I also talked about 'Pixie Punky Priya' the inspiration behind the classical dancer in her being my late aunt Mira (My heroine's namesake) and my cousin Jhuma with whom I have always had a strong connection. Jhuma and I have written letters since childhood and though there were no secrets hidden between the thin air mail folds of our correspondence, letters play an important role in Jasmine Skies.

I was so happy to be able to thank local people who have helped to give this book its birthday and to explain how local film maker Shaun Cobley, sound artist Julian Portinari and Epoch films had been involved in creating the booktrailer for Macmillan.

The gathering was, as I explore in Jasmine Skies, a true connection between the local and the global. Front right of this photo is the lovely Shrabani Basu of The Kolkata Telegraph!

 Neha Patel ended the event with a beautiful barefoot demonstration of Kathak dance on the pavement in N22. A young girl passing by exclaimed 'Mum.. I can see an Indian dancer on the pavement.' The little girl's rapt face said it all... as Mira says in Jasmine Skies when she sees her cousin Priya dance...

'There's nothing to say when you see someone as talented as Priya. You just have to watch and feel and let her spirit carry you away so that you almost feel like it's you dancing.'

Jasmine Skies is about the sustaining power of memory, and thanks to everyone's warmth and generosity at these launches the birth of Jasmine Skies will be for me, and I hope others, a treasured memory.