Wednesday, 21 June 2017

'I believe that everyone's voice deserves to be heard and everyone's big starts from small'

Yesterday, World Refugee Day, was the community launch day for 'Tender Earth.' It was full of emotion as young people from Fortismere School and Archer Academy expressed their feelings about our world.

Following a moving speech about being heard and finding your voice with the wonderful Nina Mansourian Year 9 student from Archer Academy. She and her friend Avisha Patel helped with the research for the book back in year seven.  Nina and Avisha were awarded their new roles as Inclusive Minds Inclusion Ambassadors. 

What did I do to deserve this?

I write inter-generational stories that I hope will be read by young people and shared across the generations...The following quotes are taken from young readers, parents, grandparents, librarians, authors, teachers, editors, literary agents, directors of refugee organisations and journalists attending the Archer Academy Book Launch .. written in response to the opening quote of 'Tender Earth.' 

'Days are scrolls: Write on them what you want to be remembered.' Bachya 

'In times like this,when it's so hard to make sense of painful and unjust events, truthful stories are ever more important. If these stories can give hope , meaning and agency to young people are vital.'

' Everyone should read children's and YA fiction and remember what it was like to be a child and learn what it is like for children now.' Venetia Gosling ( Editor of 'Tender Earth')

Grenfell Tower
'I was very moved this evening. I can't wait to wrestle Sita's book from my daughter and have a read myself!' 

'Roses are red
Violets are blue 
Voices are many
But the heard are few!'

' I believe that everyone's voice deserves to be heard and everyone's big starts from small' 

'What a very special event, seeing a wonderful inclusive book being launched and meeting one of the young people who helped inspire it.' (Alex - Inclusive Minds)

'Looking into the children's eyes and knowing that they, I and Alex as well as Sita who brought us all together will never forget tonight. Words change the world, they bring us together' # Everybodyin Joanna Sholem (Inclusive Minds)

'I've really enjoyed your books so far, they have inspired me to write...'

'So far the book has been powerful and flabbergasting. There's a snake in the kitchen!????'

'Sita's speech was very inspiring and the book is very well written with carefully thought through humour.'

'Everyone laughed at the part of the opening when Laila was contemplating whether a snake was all tail!' 

'I was very moved this evening. I can't wait to wrestle Sita's book from my daughter and have a read myself!'

'At my age of over eighty I sometimes remember things I had forgotten . A shock sometimes!' Bill Tyler

'Sita's speech was very inspiring and the book is very well written with carefully thought through humour.'

' I wish humans hadn't evolved to act negatively to those who are different.'

'I wish for all the world to be happy and for everyone to love each other as equals one day.'

' No one should be alone'

'My grandmother came to this country in 1896 from Russia, married happily and produced nine children, her husband my grandfather died early and she raised her family under such difficult circumstances. She could not read or write. Their youngest child,who was born an uncle,became a best selling author and won a Diamond Dagger Award. How proud  my grandmother would have been, and how proud of her children and grandchildren who have benefited not only from the far reaching liberal politics of this country, but also from her and my grandmother's energy, philosophy and wisdom - and their hard work.'

"This book fills me up with hope'

"Listen to the children" #Tender Earth @Fortisilibbie

"This books sounds serious and really funny too."

'Don't think that your individual votes don't matter because you're only one person'

'You only have one life, make it count.'

'So wonderful to bring a book ' home' to us, in our lives. Inspiring, powerful message of community in these divisive times. Thank You.'

'Both my son and I will read your books and compare our experiences.'

'Hope for better news to have a future with peace, community in London will be re-built'

'Our world will never be perfect'

'I was very moved this evening. I can't wait to wrestle Sita's book from my daughter and have a read myself!' 

'This has been really inspiring and it made us realize how important it is to find your voice'

Amnesty Banner

Thank you to two inspirational librarians Gill Ward from Fortismere School (where I was Patron of Reading) and Gill Wolfe of Archer Academy (where I will be Patron of Reading from Autumn 2017) 

Librarians are our national treasure. Without them young people like Pari in 'Tender Earth' who have no books at home will be all the poorer... and as a consequence the whole world will be poorer. I leave you with Pari's voice.

'I'm telling you so you know this is why we're here like this. I'm going to be the best at things. I'm going to be a teacher like Mrs Latif and find somewhere good to live for my mum and dad."  Pari

Pari, like all the children I worked with on World Refugee Day hold banners up for a better future for all the families in their community... 

Thanks to Pickled Pepper Books, Crouch End who provided books for the workshop at Fortismere School and Children's Book Shop Muswell Hill for selling books and supporting the book launch event at Archer Academy.

Resources on 'Tender Earth' and other novels about our contemporary world published by Macmillan Children's Books are available to all schools:  

Tender Earth 
'Tender Earth is a book of our time. Sita Brahmachari’s words offer comfort and hope and a tangible way to heal our bruised and tender earth.' Gill Lewis - Author

Inline image 1   Inline image 2Inline image 4

Tender Earth is endorsed by Amnesty International UK '
because it illuminates the importance of equality, friendship and solidarity, and upholds our right to protest against injustice.'

Thanks to Pickled Pepper Books, Crouch End who provided books for the workshop at Fortismere School and Children's Book Shop Muswell Hill for selling books at the book launch at Archer Academy, and their beautiful display in the shop window.

Friday, 16 June 2017

A round trip with many tracks from despair to hope.

This article is dedicated to the late Jo Cox MP and her vision of a just, equal and more united society. Her words will always walk with me.

'We are far more united than the things that divide us.' 

The dedication in the front of 'Tender Earth'
In the world of fast reaction, tweeting, facebook and sensational headlines I find myself drawn to reading longer editorial pieces that are not sound bites, but offer a deep consideration of someone's point of view and experience. I hope that if you stay with me to the end of this article you feel it is worth the read whether you are a young person, parent, teacher, librarian, publisher or fellow writer.

One of the questions that young readers often ask me is -

 'How do you keep going writing a book when it takes so long?'

The word 'motivation' always features in my answer.

It's why, when I have so much else to write I find myself HAVING to write this. For me, as with so many authors I know, writing is a compulsion. It's the way I express some deep elements of what I'm feeling and thinking, it's the way I attempt to distill and find some truths about some of the things in our world that sometimes seem to be too complex, too horrific, too painful to express in words.

Taken at the Vigil following the terror attacks on London Bridge
Over the past months with the terror attack on Westminster Bridge, Manchester Arena, London Bridge and now the continuing horror of the fire in Grenfell Tower I have heard many people say the phrase... 'There are no words to express....' but it is a writer's work to try and find words, to offer narratives and stories that may help people find a way to move forward in their lives.

A personal journey 

Journey:  London to Telford as part of Pop Up National Festival 

Yesterday, at just after sunrise I left my home and walked to the station. The local park was empty of people but full of crows. I, like so many others, felt and feel deeply troubled and saddened by the suffering taking place in Grenfell Tower.

My first employment out of university was with Kensington and Chelsea Council, in a job that spanned community work and expression through writing, I was seconded by the council to work with young people in the borough to give access to resources of The Royal Court Young People's Theatre (then located in Ladbroke Grove). I worked on community projects in youth clubs, under The Westway and in and out of school centre at the bottom of the famous high rise Trellick Towers. I remember fondly many of the young people I met there and their families. These same people and people like them are now experiencing the trauma of the hideous fire that took hold so violently in Grenfell Tower this week.

On my walk to the tube I wrote these words:

Sunrise on charred dreams
Embers float through London skies
Crow shrieks questions to the dawn
Hearts and prayers.

On my early morning tube journey people were reading the papers with the image of the burning tower block printed large on the front page accompanied by the words 'hell' and 'fire' as headlines. There was silence in the carriage.

I love visiting Telford normally as it's a place I lived for some years and went to sixth form college. It's where my community minded dad, who died 2008, had his GP practice working with my mum as practice nurse, but yesterday I felt heavy-hearted. Asking myself 'What would Dad have made of the world as it is today?'

In 'Tender Earth' the young people have to find a way to live with the images that they see in the news as well as what they experience day to day.  Psychiatrist and Psychoanalyst Carl Jung talked about the role of artists in tapping in to 'the collective unconscious' and that is what my journey with 'Tender Earth' is beginning to feel like.

'Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will control your life and you will call it fate.'
Carl Jung

On the tube I was reflecting on the last time I had visited Hadley Learning Community in Telford which was just after the Brexit vote when teachers at the school had spoken of how they feared the referendum, greater division and the way leaders and those in public life speak,  would impact on social cohesion and morale and the way they can teach in schools. Of course that was a whole general election away in the past!

It caught the 6.20 train from Euston carrying a bag of objects to share with young people with ' Kite Spirit' the name of one of my books embroidered on it. Much of that book is set in The Lake District where I went to Primary school.

I have practiced mindful meditation for some years and our ' homework' this week from the group is to focus on the visual world - what we see.

As part of this I was looking around the station in a way that I might not normally do. If I had not been doing my homework I would probably not have noticed the name of the train!

It cheered me because the Lake District has always been a place of great peace and comfort to me, as it is for Kite in my story ' Kite Spirit'.

I had a brief idea that I would get on the train and stay on....  I smiled to myself and in my mind's eye saw my Dad's smile. I could see him shaking his head at me!  I began to focus on the children I would be meeting in Telford.

On the train I had an email correspondence with Dylan Calder, founder of Pop Up Festival - an organisation with 'a vision of a more literate, creative society where reading, writing and storytelling are widely valued, enjoyed, practiced and celebrated.' We discussed the power of stories to tap into the collective unconscious and to find something there that might serve to provide hope.

I fell asleep on the train and had a nightmare that Pari (the child of Iraqi refugees who lives in a dilapidated tower block in 'Tender Earth') was stuck in the Grenfell Tower and a woman was screaming for the child to come down. I walked towards the woman and she turned to me. She had my face.

Dreams are a big part of the creation of stories... the conscious and the unconcious and how they flow together have throughout time always been a rich seam in all forms of art, and after I awoke and started thinking about my dream I realized that what I had done was imagine myself to be one of the mothers who are searching for their lost children.

Why am I telling you this? I am not that mother. Those are not my children. I am safe. I have my family. They are safe. I have a home and garden I can walk out into, breathe and plant flowers in. I am privileged, educated, I have a voice. We all have nightmares... mine are no better or worse or more worth sharing than anyone else's.

My point is this  - I am an author for young readers who tries to write stories that can help them navigate their way through this world with a sense of hope, warmth, laughter, imagination and joy. I hope my stories give young people a sense of agency, purpose and potential. I have lived a good few years on the planet. I have experienced many things, met many people. I have a safe home, a close and loving family and a voice to speak the words i want to say... and I am struggling to find a place of equilibrium. How then are young people coping?

There is a crisis in mental health among young people in this country and resources are woefully limited. I awoke from my nightmare with these pressing questions running through my mind.

What will be the impact of these international and national traumas on young people feeding on fears both real and imagined?

What legacy are we sowing for the future?

Street Wishes inspired by the children in 'Jasmine Skies' The wish words showing through are ' I wish for a home'

I find working with young people a truly joyous aspect of my work. I began the session by putting on my hat and introducing them to the voice and character of Grandad Bimal in 'Jasmine Skies' and I was away on another storytelling journey.... we travelled to the orphanage in Kolkata to where Mira volunteers and the students from Hadley, Telford with their diaspora roots and tendrils from all over the world, became those children, took on their roles and parts and stepped into their shoes. They showed me the wishes of the street children encased in re-cycled rubbish, and in those wishes they expressed their own hopes for the world. We explored together reading and writing as a treasure hunt of the imagination.... and, as so often happens when working with children and young people, my sense of hope returned.
A still from the patchwork of storytelling animation by Grace Emily Manning - a creative writing resource based by
 Sita Brahmachari for Pop Up Festival

On the way home at Wolverhampton I was feeling much more light-hearted as I remembered  Diwali and Durga Puja festivals we attended there as children. My mind was full of the wonderful children and inspiring dedicated educators I had met.

I got on the train from Wolverhampton to London, found my seat and then heard the announcement that I was heading for Oxenholme and The Lake District! (I clearly by then had forgotten my mindfulness homework!)

'Perhaps you should stay on!' The woman sitting next to me suggested.

The next available stop to return me to my family, friends, safe home and community - was Crewe. Instead of giving myself a hard time for being such a day-dreamer, I looked out of the window and enjoyed the unexpected re-routing of my journey. The evening sunshine and the countryside opened up in front of me.

Eventually... back on the homeward track and the tube I read articles about how members of the multi-faith  Kensington and Chelsea community had spent another day in a communal outpouring of support and common humanity as they face the still unraveling tragedy of the fire in Grenfell Tower.

I tweeted this:

Moving away from politics of immigration. What we see in #GrenfellTower humane, multi-faith community response is what makes Britain great.

Being an Amnesty Ambassador and conscious thoughts...

In the schools in and around Kensington and Chelsea  and Manchester educators are now having to work with young people ...  to  help them to cope with their unfolding trauma. I hope that some of the funds collected and most importantly - public funding - will go towards desperately needed increased resources for mental health provision in schools, and ensuring that the investigation that takes place after #GrenfellTower will address that young people, like my character Pari, will never have to live in sub-standard and unsafe housing or go hungry at school again.

I was honored to be invited to be one of the Amnesty Ambassadors and to speak up for the universal human rights of young people.

When I met with Kate Allen, Director of  Amnesty International UK and Nicky Parker, Human Rights Publisher to talk about how I might explore this role, I spoke of my wish to highlight: poverty inequality among young people and poverty of opportunity.

These are the universal human rights that the young characters in 'Tender Earth' their families and teachers are struggling to uphold in today's world. These are the hard fought for, precious rights enshrined in the United Natiions universal rights of the child that must be upheld.

Tender Earth is endorsed by Amnesty International UK '
because it illuminates the importance of equality, friendship and solidarity, and upholds our right to protest against injustice.'

Some more tracks to follow! Who knows where they will take you!

On activism

On empathy

In celebration of the life of the late MP Jo Cox

Stories of hope to reach children

I will speak more on this subject at The Guardian Teacher Conference.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

June 1st - Reflections on not letting the nettles grow and Tender Earth

Writing is a lot about thinking, walking, not reacting, thinking again, imagining, dreaming, making discoveries, picking up threads of characters and story lines and finally, many days (or years!) of walks, dreams and word weaving later... a book emerges. 
Tender Earth published June 1st is edited by Venetia Gosling

Tender Earth is Julia Eccleshare's One of picks of the month

'A sharply observed and warm-hearted story about change and transition in adolescence, Tender Earth also carries a powerful message to all young readers about tolerance, integration and the need to stand up for what you believe in.' Julia Eccleshare/ Good Reads

'Tender Earth is a book of our time.Sita Brahmachari’s words offer comfort and hope and a tangible way to heal our bruised and tender earth.' Gill Lewis - Author

I am lucky enough to live near a park where there is a beautiful statue of Oliver Tambo for many years Leader of The African National Congress who lived in exile in Haringey. The memorial was erected following the death of Mr Terry OBE who was the executive secretary of the British Anti-Apharteid Movement from 1975 - 1994 and also a teacher in my community at Alexandra Park School.

I love this statue and the words written there by children of Rhodes Avenue Primary School and Alexandra Park School.

Occasionally, on a dog walk  I'll go out with a pair of shears and cut the nettles down so that you can read the words that young people have written.

'There is no black or white
Instead we fight for the deed of equality 
Which shall be written
Upon books, upon land, upon the mind
For all human kind are equal'

Excerpt from a poem by Sitara Amin-Tilly - Alexandra Park School 

Sitting in the sunshine reading these words on the publication day of Tender Earth I reflected, as I have done in writing Tender Earth on what a long walk to freedom it truly is, how hard fought for these freedoms were and are today and how proud it makes me feel to write for young people who are willing to walk that walk. 

On the 'Refugees Welcome' march
For these reasons I am honoured by Amnesty's endorsement of Tender Earth 

Tender Earth is endorsed by Amnesty International UK 'because it illuminates the importance of equality, friendship and solidarity, and upholds our right  protest against injustice.'

Yesterday I was so moved to be invited to be an Amnesty Ambassador, a platform I will use to speak up for the freedoms of young people. There are many people in my life who have inspired me to do this in my stories, the spirit of these people inspire Laila Levenson and I hope that they inspire readers too. 

Rosie Harrison my bohemian artist mother in law who inspired Nana Joise in Artichoke Hearts  (her Anti Apharteid membership card) and our family friend Simon Gould  the inspiration behind  'Protest Simon 'who Laila meets in  Tender Eatrh 

Tender Earth is a book that I offer with all the layers of my heart to young people growing up today.
There are plenty of reasons why this generation may look at the world and feel disempowered, but there are also plenty of examples of where people have stood up to injustice. In Tender Earth  twelve year old Laila Levenson hears the chime of an older generation of protesters calling to her across time. With their guidance she explores what it means to stand up for what you believe in.... not only on the noisy march but also through small acts of kindness, friendship and quiet vigils where we all have the power to tend the earth and stop the stinging nettles from taking over.

I don't take for granted even for a moment what the right to speak of a young girl's freedom, the right to be educated, to dance and sing in safety and protest against injustice means to so many young people living in the world today.

At Children's Book Shop Muswell Hill on Publication Day admiring the beautiful banner display by Grace Emily Manning.


"Inclusive Minds are delighted to welcome the arrival of Tender Earth on the children’s book landscape. We embrace a book like this that has been so throughly researched and demonstrates such authentic inclusion.” 
Alexander Strick (Inclusive Minds) 

Julia Eccleshare's One of Picks of the Month for June 2017
A sharply observed and warm-hearted story about change and transition in adolescence, Tender Earth also carries a powerful message to all young readers about tolerance, integration and the need to stand up for what you believe in. Moving to secondary school coincides with big changes at home and Laila finds herself struggling with all the differences she now faces. Her best friend is striking out on her own; her new friend has secrets which Laila doesn’t know how to unlock. When Laila discovers her grandmother’s ‘Protest Book’, a listing of all the protests she attended, Laila decides it is time for her to get her own voice heard. Leila’s coming of age experiences intelligently reflect today’s society while her gradual realisation of her own opportunities will inspire others. Julia Eccleshare - Good Reads

Tender Earth - How young people will be the ones to defeat hatred through empathy & protest. Gill Ward Senior Librarian at Fortismere School.

"Each layer in this beautifully written book peels back to reveal another, challenging assumptions about ethnic origins, family ties and the stories from the past which affect the present day. Running through the book like a golden thread are Kez’s preparations for her bat mitzvah. The ceremony in the Reform synagogue, so well-drawn and integrated into the story by Brahmachari, is possibly the first time a bat mitzvah has appeared in such detail in a UK children’s book.  Kez has also been on an important journey and bringing together all the parts of her life for the ceremony allows Kez and Laila to renew their friendship on more mature terms. A book about friendship and the power of protest, this book will have a wide appeal across age groups in our bewildering times. Thoroughly recommended. "

Miriam Halahmy YA Author,  June 2017.

"I love this big, beautiful and important book with wonderful and diverse characters at its heart.  Sita explores the complexities and joy of friendship, growing up and realising how you can find your own voice in a world that is sometimes be cruel and difficult.  One of the main characters, Pari, is a refugee.  For young refugees to be able to see themselves in a book is so important, and encouraging empathy and understanding by others for children like Pari is crucial.  Being an asylum seeker or refugee in the UK can be very hard.  Many have escaped war and terrible human rights abuses.  They have often had terrible journeys.  Once here, there are immense practical and emotional issues to overcome.  Friendship and acceptance from those in your community can really help.  All young people should have the chance to get to know Pari! " 

Jo Cobley Director of Young Roots Refugee Organisaton, Croyden, London.  

June Events Diary:

Last week I was invited to be on a panel by the Children's Book Circle with fellow Waterstones winner Catherine Rundell at Waterstones Kensington about the place of politics in children's fiction.

June 1st ( Publication Day) I am off to the Children's Book Shop Muswell Hill to sign some copies and see the human rights window that my friend and artist Grace Emily Manning has created banners for.

I'll be taking part in an election month blog tour talking about my character's exploration of racism, women's marches,  child poverty, refugee experience and empathy in Tender Earth organised by Publicist Nina Douglas.

On June 13th I will raise awareness around the much needed world's first Empathy Day on 13th June in support of Empathy Lab

20th June is World Refugee Day and I'll be at Fortismere School in the morning and The Archer Academy in the evening for a  celebration of  young people's contribution to the research for Tender Earth.

22nd Jun , as part of Refugee Week I will take part in a panel focusing on sanctuary and refugee experience in my stories as part of a week long programme of events.

Blog Posts:

How reading can change your world

On Racism and religious intolerance in Tender Earth

On the Women's Marches in Tender Earth