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 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   

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)

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 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. 


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

From the Introduction to 'Here I Stand':

Interview with Nicky Parker (Publisher):


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 

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Looking for books, workshop materials and ideas to explore in Refugee Week?

The Oxford English Dictionary has declared 'Refugee' children's word of the year 2016

It is a poignant fact in our world that the word 'refugee' is known to the youngest child and is experienced by so many millions of children, many of whom travel alone and are in great danger. 

This time last year I wrote a blog post for Book Trust inspired by working with artist Jane Ray with refugees and migrants at Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants where we are artist and writer in residence.

Taken on 'The Refugees Welcome' March . These children held their banners with pride.

From Jide Jackson in 'Artichoke Hearts' (a refugee from Rwanda) to Aisha (an unaccompanied refugee from Somalia in ' Red Leaves,' to a stage adaptation of 'The Arrival' I have explored the stories of children and families forced to leave their homelands through war or economic hardship. Telling stories of exile and  the search for a safe place to call home is central to my stories and those of many other writers. There are some wonderful picture books, novels and plays that explore refugee experience with subtlety, empathy and compassion. With the help of  librarian friends I have put together this small collection of ideas, links, resources and articles. There are books I know and love here and many I am looking forward to reading.

Graphic novels and Picture Books - Some personal favourites

Picture books I love on the experience of exile, odyssey and migration.

'The Arrival' by Shaun Tan
I love this book so much. It is for all humans about the universal story of migration. For a beautiful visual tour of the book see The Guardian gallery:

Here is a link to the stage adaptation co-created by myself and Kristine Landon Smith for Tamasha Theatre Company and Circus Space. The play script is available from Bloomsbury and has been performed  by schools and colleges adding students own stories.

'Footpath Flowers' by Jon Arno Lawson and Sydney Smith
This gentle, hopeful book has been given free to every Syrian Refugee in  Canada by IBBY Canada

'Ahmed and the Feather Girl' by Jane Ray
A magical and beautiful tale of the right for all children to be safe and free

Alpha by Barroux Bessora  
A heartfelt and beautifully drawn story of the epic journeys refugees face. 
'Alpha is emblematic of the refugee crisis today ”“  Nicky Parker Publlisher Amnesty.

A Book List on Refugee experience by Islington Libraries and Free Word.

Recommends by Librarians:

Sean Edwards  – Principal Librarian Children and Youth, Wood Green Library, Haringey 'one to watch out for' recommend is 'The Bone Sparrow' by Zana Fraillon about an 11 year old child born in an Australian refugee camp. To be published in 2017

Pam Dix - Chair of IBBY
The Breadwinner Trilogy by Deborah Ellis (Stories from Afghanistan)

Azzi in Between by Sarah Garland

'The Good Braider' by Terry Farish (Published by Skyscape in the USA.) An epic and poignant journey from war torn Sudan to America. 

Gill Ward, Senior Librarian of Fortismere school recommends: 
'Gaye Hicyilmaz writes excellently about the refugee experience, eg. 'The Frozen Waterfall' and 'Girl in Red.'  But my favourite still has to be 'The Weight of Water' by Sarah Crossan, a story about alienation and an amazing girl.'

2016 Carnegie Winner Sarah Crossan has been to Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants to a book group at the centre. Members loved hearing her read and talk about her work. All could relate to this beautiful story of a young girl integrating into a new society.  

#Refugeeweek at Southbank Centre

Museum Visit

A moving and informative, interactive exhibition telling the stories and journeys of refugee people into Calais.

When I visited the museum in London a school group were just leaving. They and their teachers were all so moved by their experience. I challenge anyone to leave this exhibition un-moved.

To find out more:

Book lists, articles and Blog posts

Guardian Article 
What if it was you? Gillian Cross author of 'After Tomorrow'

14 children's books on refugee experience from Humane Education


Book List for Refugee Week

Book Trust 

Written during my Writer in Residence period at Book Trust:

Books that help children navigate our complex world.
Diverse characters in fiction
Blog about Miriam Halahmy's work, and her novel ' Hidden'  Hidden tells the story of two teenagers who hide an asylum seeker to save him from being deported.

Mirrors and Windows 


Refugee Council
Films, stories, Teaching resources to use in the classroom.

Amnesty International

8 Educational Resources to better understand the refugee situation

Using Fiction to talk about Human Rights 

Book List, description and resources

Kate Greenaway and Carnegie Shortlist - novels with Human Rights hearts

Events in and around Refugee Week

I am Writer in Residence at Islington centre for refugees and migrants. the Centre offers practical support, education, friendship and sanctuary for refugees and migrants. I work with celebrated illustrator Jane Ray - Artist in Residence in the art and creative writing class.

For Refugee Week these are events that we are involved in as part of the wonderful community that is Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants where Jane and I run a weekly session together.

Full details of these events and more are on Islington Centre website


View this moving film with Patron Juliet Stevenson following a day in the life of Betty who attends the art and writing group

The exhibition 'Drawing Our Stories' features paintings, photography and writings by refugee people at the centre from the art and writing workshop.

'Stories of Each Other: Do We Care?'

Eve of Referendum  - artists and communities  in solidarity
Free Word - Wed 22nd June 6 - 10pm
Members of Islington Centre will join poets. novelists and community activists and those working in the refugee sector to read from their work followed by panel discussion. All proceeds go to Islington Centre For Refugees and Migrants.

Book a place at: .

The event will include an exhibition 'Drawing Our Stories' (Previously exhibited at Amnesty International HQ) featuring paintings, photography and writings by refugee people at the centre from the art and writing workshop run by artists and writer in residence Jane Ray and Sita Brahmachari.

'All on a Journey'
World Harmony Orchestra and Islington Centre Choir
Tuesday 5 July - 7.30pm
Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants, Cross Street Baptist Church, London, N1 2BG
Music related to refugees and exile: Two world premieres by Arian, a Syrian refugee composer. Songs performed by the Refugee Choir from the Centre, composed by Romain Malan, inspired by the work of members of the art and writing workshop led by Sita Brahmachari and Jane Ray at Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants.

'Drawing Our Stories' exhibition of art and writing from the class previously at Amnesty International and Free Word will be on display here too. 
To Book your ticket: 

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Books on Prescription

Essex libraries  shelf help

Books on Prescription - The Reading Agency

'Kite Spirit' (Macmillan Children's Books)

'An outstandingly beautiful story about a girl coping with her friend’s death. 'Sita Brahmachari’s haunting novel set amidst the rugged beauty of the Lake District is perfectly pitched and written with the utmost sensitivity and truly uplifting charm, this is a book to read and treasure, to gain wisdom and understanding, and to comfort and console. Kite Spirit is a masterclass in wise and sympathetic storytelling and a superbly constructed lesson in the joys of friendship, the human heart’s ability to heal itself and the importance of acceptance and renewal. A moving and unmissable treat for both teens and adults
Pam Norfolk - Lancashire Evening Post

Books on Prescription scheme
I was so happy that The Reading Agency have selected 'Kite Spirit' amongst a wonderful list of books as part of their vital Books on Prescription scheme launched by Libraries up and down the country on April 12th. Public and school Libraries now display a shelf of these books (a selection of fiction and non-fiction titles) which have been chosen by an eminent team of health professionals to help young adults navigate their way through some complex questions.

I have often found solace in reading. The private relationship between a book and the reader can create a safe world in which to explore thoughts and ideas that a young person might find it difficult to express to anyone. Yet through empathising with another's story one can begin to learn to articulate one's own emotional world.  

On the healing power of books
My late Dad was a GP. I often heard him say that when people came to the doctor's what was needed in many cases was not medicine but for people to have a meaningful engagement. To feel that their situation, feelings and anxieties have been recognised.... that attention had been given to their story. Many GP's today would love to be able to spend more time with their patients. One thing a book can provide is the space to explore at your own time at your own pace. 

We have seen mental health provision for young people being severely cut at a time when doctors are reporting a massive increase in anxiety depression and mental health problems amongst the young.
Organisations such as Young Minds are doing vital work in raising awareness about the extent of the crisis in Mental Health and Young People.

I wrote 'Kite Spirit' with a great deal of care, research and passion to tell a story about the profound pressure young people face in today's society to find a sense of peace and self worth. The book is told through the eyes of Kite who will wish all her life that her best friend could have found a voice or a container to speak about her feelings of sadness and depression.

When I visit schools to talk about 'Kite Spirit' I hold writing workshops with young people to encourage them to explore the themes of the book. Time and again schools have decided to use the writing that emerges from students as a basis from which to generate open discussion about the pressures young people face in today's society.    

Perspective from Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist
Alessandra Marsoni (Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist, working for the Tavistock and Portman Foundation NHS Trust) commented on reading 'Kite Spirit':

'There is something very evocative in imagining the power of the kite, its spirit: there is a good spirit, when the kite flies confidently through the sky, its direction clearly determined by the wind. There can also be a bad spirit;  the kite soars frantically,all direction lost.  We all have both spirits in ourselves, one, to use Wordsworth’s words,  “enables us to mount...and lifts us when fallen”, the other one brings us down with a “deadly weight”.

Young people, beginning to grapple with life and its complexities, are particularly prone to experiencing both states of mind. The fall can be so overwhelming as to obliterate the idea of a recovery, the kite ever flying again; or it can be seen as a painful stage which can be overcome. Through the story of Kite and Dawn, Sita Brahmachari vividly illustrates these two possibilities: Dawn experienced Wordsworth’s “deadly weight” so powerfully,  she felt so alone with it, unable to speak, that death appeared like the only solution. By contrast, Kite, is able, thank to the support of her family and her friends, to go through the turmoil, the fall, but also to come out of it. Young people, like Kite and Dawn, have a lot to contend with, internally and externally (pressure of exams, university, finding a job...). The capacity to seek help, that of friends and family in the first instance but , at times, also professional help, is vital. As Sita writes in her initial note to the reader, “no matter how hard the fall there is always someone who can have the courage to speak”.

Libraries and Books on Prescription
That The Reading Agency recognise that 'Kite Spirit' can  help to explore this sensitive subject means I hope that many more young people will find in their personal exploration of the book a safe place to go, to navigate their way through some of the difficult and tangled paths of living.

During my time as Book Trust Writer In Residence (2015) I championed the role of libraries and librarians in giving access to all readers. How tragic would it be if the threatened library system and the inadequate provisions of mental health services for young people meant that this collection of books and many others would not be available to a young person who could benefit from reading them?  

I think my Dad would have seen great value in sending young people to the library with a prescription to read any of these wonderful books.

Books on Prescription @ReadingAgency #ReadingWell

Further Information on 'Kite Spirit'

'Kite Spirit' Book Trailer

'Kite Spirit' was nominated for the prestigious UKLA Book Award

'Kite Spirit' is an audio book recorded by the celebrated actress Juliet Stevenson

On Libraries 
Sean Edward - a homage to the many roles a library serves

A historical look at the role of the school Library and Librarian. Interview with Pam Dix

Young Minds

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

What perfect gift would you give to your favourite fictional character?

'There is so much to this deceptively simple story that it can be read over and over again and still reveal more each time you read it.'

Books For Keeps

'Sita Brahmachari writes about family lives and family relationships with real sensitivity and insight.'
Andrea Reece LoveReading4Kids

'Fourteen-year-old Hudson knows his brain works differently. A 'super readable' book from Barrington Stoke, this is an entertaining and uplifting story, revealing there is more than one way of looking at life and its problems.'
Book Trust March 1st 2016

Here's a pic of a snow dome all shook up. It's how Hudson's world sometimes feels for him... and not unlike sitting in a drive through car wash.

In exploring a day through Hudson's eyes I tell a story of family viewed through the eyes, mind and heart of a boy with Aspergers or, as Hudson has it, a boy with ' very Zedish thoughts.' Despite these he could beat most people at  scrabble any day of the week!

I do tend to get a bit over- attached to my characters and usually end up finding some trinkets for them that I can't help but add to my collection of story telling objects! I blame the habit on my first book 'Artichoke Hearts'....where a certain charm from the book was gifted to me. Since then I have quite a collection of objects related to each of my stories.

I couldn't resist this  key ring with a scrabble Z for Hudson. 

When I get caught up in a character's world... I have so many questions...

 'Where would Hudson feel safe? Who would he find it easiest to talk to?  What would Hudson like for his birthday?!!! My own children sometimes protest. 'Mum! He's not real!'

I think they just want the key ring!

Hudson's real to me and I hope he holds the key for others too to enter his way of seeing and feeling the world. 

What perfect gifts would you give to your favourite fictional characters? 

For the Book Trust review of 'Car Wash Wish' see: