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.'


  1. This is a lovely account, Sita. I'm going to tweet a link!

    1. Thanks Adele, I got back quite late but was moved to write this.

  2. As I listened to you both talking about growing up with dual cultures, I was having butterflies in my tummy - thinking of my own children and wondering how THEY must feel with their two tone parents. Although I must say they are lucky to be growing up in much softer environment than what your mother and father had to cope with. I was also touched by your stories about your father and his passion for the NHS. Thanks for a thought provoking talk - I wish you had more time!

    1. Thanks Candy. I think living in London being of dual- heritage is pretty much the largest group of young people. So very different experience for our kids. Completely different worlds.Fascinating to hear Jamila's discussion about reppresentation in children's books in 1970's. Looking at and listening to the authors at the conference things have moved on. ps. Never hears of 'two - tone?' except in bands. Is it a term kids use now?