Sunday, 2 August 2020

When Secrets Set Sail - patchwork pieces to publication

 When Secrets Set Sail

20th August
Hachette Orion

You're invited to step through the Globe Window in my story.
This window at The Children's Bookshop Muswell Hill is painted by illustrator and author Jane Ray. 

‘Truly unforgettable … deserves to be read and studied by all’ – Onjali Q. Rauf, bestselling author of The Boy at the Back of the Class

A gorgeously timely story of heritage and belonging and ghostly voices that won’t rest until their secrets are uncovered –  it had me mesmerised!’ 
Jasbinder Bilan, Costa award winning author)

'A wonderful, big-hearted story that shows how history connects with the present. Multi-layered, it upholds rights to identity, justice, equality and community.'
(Nicky Parker, Publisher, Amnesty UK)

When Secrets Set Sail is a scintillating adventure and a superb introduction to complex historical themes. (Waterstones says...)

'So much of our time and yet for all time. Sita weaves such magic in her writing. I absolutely loved it.  'When Secrets Set Sail' will be super for stimulating oral histories. It will be a gorgeous stimulus for looking at buildings, places and the history they can hold and unlock across generations.' Kate Agnew 

'Beautifully structured, magically told, this story reflects our times as different groups demand to be heard with equal merit in our society.'  Miriam Halahmy (Award Winning Author)

My childhood doll, conch shell and notebook on the steps of Ayahs' Home, Hackney. 
(Photo credit Farzanah Mamoojee)

Photo 1962 On arrival to work in NHS with fellow doctors. Illustration by Jane Ray from  'Gift of Time' in
 'Book Of Hopes' Ed. Katherine Rundell 

The dedication for this story is to my parents and their tireless work in the NHS.

Diary to publication....

In the lead up to the launch and publication day on 20th August I discussed the historical background to the  story at  a Webinar with Farhanah Mamoojee @ayahshome and Natasha Junejo founder of #SouthAsianWriters . The conversation explored the journey from fact to fiction followed by a Q&A, fielding questions via twitter. Thank you to South Asian Heritage Month for hosting this event.  

Look out for a Book Trust Blog about readers setting sail on their own local histories and research journeys during the summer holidays. I hope that this book will be a catalyst for young people to explore their own histories and untold stories and a generator of new diverse voices. Libraries and librarians are an important part of my character's Imtiaz and Usha's adventure and  I'm looking forward to engaging with libraries around this story with the fantastic resources being created by Felicity Highet at Hachette.

On the steps of Ayah's Home, Hackney with Farhanah Mamoojee @ayahshome 
(Photo credit Farzanah Mamoojee)


For families, libraries and school projects. Discover your own local/ global histories with this
downloadable #WSSSBluePlaque resource available from The Reading Agency:

Sincere thanks to the inspiring author Rozina Visram whose lifelong research into the Ayah's Home and South Asian people in Britain I credit in my book. To Natasha Junejo at #Southasianwriters and  Farhanah Mamoojee @ayahshome and Sanchita Basu De Sarkar and team at Children's Bookshop Muswell Hill and for  Jane Ray for painting the beautiful launch window. For Amnesty International for endorsing this book. The Book Trust and The Reading Agency. ( There are many more friends and family thanked in the acknowledgement of the book)

With huge thanks to my agent Sophie Gorell Barnes of MBA Literary Agents and the whole wonderful creative team at Orion in particular my editor Tig Wallace and desk editor Ruth Girmatsion, Designer Samuel Perrett  Publicist Dominic Kingston and Marketing Felicity Highet. To Sam Swinnerton for our early brainstorming.  So many thanks to Sarah Lambert, Ruth Alltimes,  Emily Finn, Hannah Cawse, Helen Hughes, Rachel Boden, Tracy Phillips, Annabel El-Kerm, Eshara Wijetunge.  It matters that you're all named... and placed in the story of the making of this book.

Finally thank you to illustrator Evan Hollingdale for creating this beautiful top deck of the ship house... the perfect launch pad for the imagination to roam.

Happy Dreaming ...

When Secrets Set Sail

Available in paperback, kindle and audiobook 

The first signed copies  at:


Sunday, 14 June 2020

Lockdown readings from Sita and Billie in #Refugeeweek2020

Getting ready for storytime in #Refugeeweek2020
Thanks for the serious hand from my film crew (Steady iphone cam - daughter and a patient companion here!)

In #RefugeeWeek many children's and Young Adult authors who have written into  the experiences of child refugees past and present, would be in schools or libraries reading and talking about their work.

In lockdown I have decided a read short extract from one of the refugee children or adult characters in my stories each day. I'm doing this in the knowledge that teachers, parents and carers home schooling children may be looking for opportunities to discover alternative stories to those they may hear in the news.

Last week was Empathy Day and many children's authors talked about the power of deep listening and the importance of facing rather than shying away from events in the real world, and that fiction provides us with a way of nagivating the world, and of  growing empathy for our fellow humans.

The wonderful activist and author of 'Boy At The Back Of The Class'  Onjali Q Rauf and i spoke about the power of reading stories to grow empathy and putting it in action. I'm missing the energy of meeting readers so I thought to  read from refugee characters in my stories. You'll find a new one each morning on twitter..

If you enjoy them I ask you to use this as an opportunity to discover how to support groups in your area and I hope these discoveries  might even lead you to see how you might help in your school or community.

I offer you.... my storytime schedule each morning on twitter and a few surprises thrown in:

Monday -  From Baba Suli the beekeeper in 'Where The River Runs Gold (Hachette Children's Books) whose knowledge may save food production in the world.

Tuesday - From the short story Amir and George - where the ghost of George Orwell comes to hear Amir speak. ( In ' A country to Call Home'  Ed. Lucy Propescu , Unbound - an anthology of writing by Young adult writers First published in 'I'll be Home for Christmas.

Wednesday - Readings for younger readers Years 2 and Upwards from 'Worry Angels' (Barrington Stoke) and  short story ' Rabina's Robin' from ' One snowy night'  ( Stripes)


Thursday - Bubbe Dara - a Kindertransport refugee reflects on the treatment of child refugees today.
'Tender Earth' - Macmillan Children's Books - endorsed by Amnesty UK and IBBY.

Friday - Aisha, a Somali Refugee survivor wishes people could understand what she's been through. Set in an ancient city wood 'Red Leaves'  ( Macmillan Children's Books- endorsed by Amnesty UK Resources:

Saturday -  Back to my beginning as a novelist. Jide Jackson tells his story of loss during the Rwandan genocide in 'Artichoke Hearts' (Macmillan Children's Books)

My ask of you...

In return I ask you to explore these links to a few examples of Refugee Charities whose work makes such a difference to the lives of refugee people and see if and how you can affect change.

This centre is where the wonderful illustrator and author Jane Ray and I run an art and writing class. Currently resources are being sent through the post - you can find out more on the video from actress Juliet Stevenson and discover the beautiful poems and art by members of the group on on the website now.

Find out about...#FamiliesTogether

And at this time when we are all missing seeing and connecting to our families -  find out more about the #FamiliesTogether campaign supported by a coalition of refugee organisations.

Saturday, 8 February 2020

'Where The River Runs Gold' - a forest of creative responses

Since publication of  Where The River Runs Gold in July 2019 I have been overwhelmed by the creativity that it's brought forth. From the beautiful window displays by Waterstones stores to the incredible creations by students, librarians and teachers at festivals and in classrooms. 

 I have been asked to put together a sample pallette of activity inspired by the book.

Trafalgar Square window boxes July 2019

I hope this selection of  creative responses inspires readers and to feel empowered to make a difference to improving their own environments.

Shifa and Themba, the brave, bold and true young protagonists of my story, are right there with you. Warning! Once you enter the story hive the creative potential for reading, writing and art for pleasure are endless and can be far-reaching...

Actions so far....

  Bee hives set up
Banners made
School Environmental Manifestos drawn up
Seeds scattered in window boxes, gardens, allotments, railtracks, unused land and meadows 
Seed packets made and used daily
 For every Graffitree created in school a tree has been planted. 

A hand painted tree by Waterstones artist

Seed Packet making

'What Shifa loved most about the path between the warehouse and the Orbitol Bridge was that the street clearers could never keep speed with the pace at which the weeds and wildflowers grew between the cracks. There was always traces of green shoots growing among the crumbling buildings.'
Page 23 Where The River Runs Gold

Origami seed packet making is catching on.... these decorated with scenes from the story

'From one random page she'd learned how to make a flower shaped origami envelope out of scraps of paper, When she squeezed the top the flower head opened like a mouth allowing her to place her precious seed finds inside.' 
Page 57 Where The River Runs Gold

Graffitree Art

Trees are springing up everywhere ... I'm hoping to collect them together to form the
  Where The River Runs Gold Graffitree Forest.

'Shifa thought she understood why the artists took the risk of breaking ARK Law. These trees took up space and could be enjoyed by everyone. Except for the private parks and gardens of the paragons where her papa worked, it was ARK policy that all other land in Kairos City be turned into housing compounds or Freedom Fields allotments to grow food.'
 Page 20 Where The River Runs Gold

Amy Willoughby from Beck school Sheffield with the first ever school Graffitree

Empatree hands... children reaching out to the natural world

Jane Ray touring Graffitree  first outing at Imagine Festival 2020

At Little Green School, Buckinghamshire

A beautiful golden river by  Krishna in Wood Green, London

Shifa had heard about an underground movement of artists breaking ARK Law by painting trees, flowers, plants and bees on walls all over the city.' 
Page 19 Where The River Runs Gold

Banner Making

'Nabil and Lottie dropped a rainbow-coloured sheet over the ledge; on it, in deep blue paint, were written four enormous words.
Pg 94 'Where The River Runs Gold' 

Banner inspired by Where The River Runs Gold  made by Friday for Future protesters.

Banner making.... The first banner was created by Friday For Futures Campaigners and since then many banners have been made, some of which have been carried on marches by young people and others displayed in schools. Students respond powerfully to the urgency of the environmental call for action in the book as in the real world they are inspired by the bravery of young activists like Greta Thunberg and Maya Rose Craig in villages, towns and cities all around the globe. 

Beautiful banner spied on The People's Walk for Wildlife 2019

Story Hive building

Shifa and Themba escape some of the harsh realities of their world  by creating a safe storytelling haven. Students have started creating such spaces in classrooms and around the school inspired by their own beautiful imagined landscapes from stories or their own lives.

'Here they had read contraband pages that they had discovered in unlikely places around the city, and with these finds their story hive had expanded into wild deserts, alien planets, raging rivers, bird and butterfly aviaries, the tallest snow capped mountain ranges and the sweetest flowering meadows  - a world away from the rules and regulations of Freedom Fields.'
Pg 57 Where The River Runs Gold

A necklace depicting the 'Hare in the Moon' story. The allegory told to them by their father that keeps Shifa and Themba strong throughout their perilous journey

It's been a real joy to see Story hives being created to inspire creative writing of new allegories based on the natural world.

Creating a secret language/ signs

A skep is a small hand woven bee hive.... 

In Where The River Runs Gold Shifa and Themba and other 'Outlanders' make the 'skep-heart' signal as part of a secret language. Readers have enjoyed inventing their own secret languages. 

Making the skep-heart sign of environmental protection

Enjoy creating and storytelling.... in the storytelling hive. 

Sita X


Where The River Runs Gold:
Longlisted for Blue Peter Book Award
Nominated for Carnegie
Waterstones Book of the Month ( July)
Times Book of the Week