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):