A Conversation with Penny Parkes

Penny Parkes survived a Convent education largely thanks to a ready supply of inappropriate novels and her passion for writing and languages.

She studied International Management in Bath and Germany, before gaining experience with the BBC. She then set up an independent Film Location Agency and spent many happy years organising shoots for film, television and advertising – thereby ensuring that she was never short of travel opportunities, freelance writing projects or entertaining anecdotes.

Penny now lives in the Cotswolds with her husband, two children and an excitable dog with a fondness for Post-its. She will often be found plotting epic train journeys through the Alps, baking gluten-free goodies or attempting to attain an elusive state of organisation.

A gripping and heartfelt story about overcoming the past and finding where you belong.

Anna Wilson travels the world as a professional housesitter – stepping into other people’s lives – caring for their homes, pets and sometimes even neighbours. Living vicariously.

But all Anna has ever really wanted is a home of her own – a proper one, filled with family and love and happy memories. If only she knew where to start.

Growing up in foster care, she always envied her friends their secure and carefree lives, their certainty and confidence. And, while those same friends may have become her family of choice, Anna is still stuck in that nomadic cycle, looking for answers, trying to find the courage to put down roots and find a place to call home.

Compelling, rich and evocative, Home is Anna’s journey to discovering that it isn’t where you settle down that matters, but the people you have around you when you do. 

I loved this warm and touching story about home, belonging, and finding your way in the world. Vivid, evocative and beautifully written, with a message of hope at its heart. Holly Miller, author of The Sight of You

It is such a pleasure to welcome Penny to the blog. I’d like to thank her for writing about her writing life and novel Home – which I am sure will be a fantastic contribution to care experienced literature.

  • Tell us of your journey as a writer

My journey into writing began with an abiding obsession with books. Whether for simple escapism, or to live other lives vicariously, I have always found comfort in the pages of a book and longed to create my own fictional worlds. Of course, back when I was at school, becoming an author wasn’t really considered a valid career choice, so my life took a few tangential turns and I was actually well into my thirties before I felt ready to take the leap. I wrote my first novel without telling anyone except my husband, still doubting the validity of anything I might have to say. Hearing the wonderful responses to my five novels has gone a long way to quashing that imposter syndrome, yet still I am filled with nerves every time I submit a manuscript!

  • What made you choose to write about care experience?

My protagonist Anna was one of those characters that quietly evolved in my head as I was writing – the book itself began from the concept of a nomadic housesitter and Anna’s background was the puzzle piece that made the whole jigsaw make sense. “How do you find a place to call your own when you don’t know where to start looking?” is the tagline on the cover, and it truly sums up the emotional journey that carried me through writing this book.

  • Do you have any personal experience with the care system, fostering, children’s homes etc?

My only experience of the care system has been through the extensive research I did for this novel – I spent a lot of time with an amazing professional in social care, quizzing her endlessly (and annoyingly probably), but also really drilling down into the experience of that kind of childhood – the gaps that maybe readers wouldn’t even consider – like having no baby photos, or even a full medical history, relocating in the middle of the night – and that’s just on the surface. It quickly became apparent to me that there’s a kind of shared shibboleth, a shorthand, between children who have experienced life as a looked-after child and I was determined to do that justice.

  • Orphans, those in foster care or children’s homes, often feel they are stereotyped by their past. How aware of this were you whilst writing your novel?

As I was writing, there was a constant echo in everything that Anna did, every decision she made and every relationship she formed – for me, it felt as though her past experiences had given her a very distinct perspective and shaped her expectations of how her life could be. Neither of these could be truly shared by her loved ones, no matter how willing or empathetic.

  • What is the meaning of the title?

The title was actually the inspiration for the book from the very beginning – that word ‘Home’ is so emotive and means something very different to all of us. Is it where we live? Who we live with? Or perhaps how we present ourselves to the world? I believe our own unique experiences of ‘home’ can form such an intrinsic part of our identity, whether it’s an accurate reflection of our lives or not…

  • What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?

I’m currently working on another stand-alone novel – imaginatively titled ‘Book Six’ on my laptop! A contemporary story and hopefully relatable for all of us after the last few years we’ve been through. It feels to me as though our understanding of how our lives fit together has evolved through the various lockdowns, not least our priorities and our friendships.

  • What #diverse characters do you think are missing from literature?

I would like to see more characters with health limitations and invisible disabilities in mainstream fiction, without them becoming the ‘sidekick’ or the best friend. It’s a hard sell at times, editorially, but I think it’s disingenuous to pretend it’s not a pressing issue.

  • If you could recommend one book for your readers, what would it be?

I utterly adored Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason this summer – one of those incredibly insightful novels that stays with you long after the final page. Heartbreaking at times, but ultimately uplifting, it reads like a modern classic to me.

  • Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

I was an unashamed fan of A.A.Milne and the characters of the One Hundred Acre wood from a very early age – but later, while unwell for many months, I became obsessed with memorising his compilation of children’s poems – When We Were Very Young –  and the tale of poor Edward bear falling off the ottoman and lacking the energy to clamber back has stayed with me. Always.

  • What one piece of advice would you give young people leaving the care system today?

I would, in all honesty, consider myself ill-equipped to advise anyone, other than to repeat what I say to my own children: childhood is just the beginning, the finding out who you are, and who you want to be, part of life. The whole story isn’t written already and you can change the plot at any time.

 

Follow Penny on Twitter & Instagram: @CotswoldPenny

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A Conversation with Daniel Ingram-Brown

Daniel Ingram-Brown is the author of The Firebird Chronicles series for children aged 9-12, published by Our Street Books. He is the recipient of the Taner Baybars award for original fiction in the field of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Magical Realism, awarded by the Society of Authors Authors’ Foundation. Daniel is currently undertaking a PhD at Leeds Beckett University exploring adoption through creative writing and is also part of the university’s Storymakers Company, who seek to develop creative, artistic, child centred learning opportunities for young people through story making in educational and community settings.

Daniel is a First Story Writer-in-Residence for secondary schools in Yorkshire, he chaired the Leeds Big Bookend Festival from 2013-16 and is on the committee for the Society of Authors, Authors North. He is also a theatre director and playwright and is Artistic Director of Suitcase and Spectacles Children’s Theatre. Daniel has overseen a number of community writing projects, including The Leeds Story Cycle (2014) and Stories from the Forests of Leeds (2015/6), both of which resulted in the publication of a book of short stories. He lives in Yorkshire, UK. Daniel lives in a house built from the stones of a ruined castle with his wife, son, their bearded dragon and one-eyed cat!

The future can be rewritten.

Aimed at a young adult readership, Bea’s Witch is adoption fiction crossed with magical realism and historical fiction. On the eve of her twelfth birthday, Beatrice Crosse runs away from her adoptive home only to encounter the ghost of England’s most famous prophetess. The witchoffers her treasure, but can she be trusted? Bea must wrestle her past to discover the witch’s secret and find her way home.

A deft blending of historical, fantasy, contemporary and adoption fiction. I was genuinely transported. Dr Rachel Connor, Novelist and Dramatist.

It is an absolute pleasure to welcome Dan to the blog. I’d like to thank him for writing about his new novel Bea’s Witch – which I am sure will be a fantastic contribution to adoption and care experienced literature.

  • Tell us of your journey as a writer.

I grew up in a creative home, full of music and story – I remember my nan singing a lot! When we were little, my sisters, cousins and I used to write and perform plays and pantomimes – I particularly remember a version of Snow White we wrote on a canal boat holiday where Snow White was a feminist who refused to do the housework and the dwarfs were part of the miners’ strike! As I moved into my teens, I got involved in my parents’ amateur dramatics group, taking small parts (I played Tiny Tim in a Christmas Carol) and also working backstage. When I was seventeen, I directed my first play, Woman in Mind by Alan Ayckbourn, and after finishing school, decided to train as a Stage Manager, although I soon realised that I preferred creative rather than managerial roles. I studied philosophy at university but spent a lot of time directing plays as part of the Student Union Theatre Group, where I met a good group of friends. We took the play Accidental Death of An Anarchist by Dario Fo to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I re-worked the play, setting it in the London Docklands during John Major’s time as Prime Minister. After university, my friends and I decided to set up a theatre company. We lived together and wrote, acted and directed our own plays and performances. It was during this time I began to take my writing more seriously. I’ve been part of running small scale touring and community theatre companies ever since and have written and produced around twenty plays and two musicals. I particularly enjoyed running large scale community productions, which involved people of all ages and backgrounds working together to explore common themes. After about ten years working in touring theatre, I decided to turn my hand to writing a novel, partly because we were preparing to adopt, and I felt that writing would be more practical than theatre, which can be intense and demand working evenings and holidays. My first book, The Firebird Chronicles: Rise of the Shadow Stealers came out in 2013, followed by the next two books in that series. My new book, Bea’s Witch: A ghostly coming-of-age story is a standalone book that draws on my experience as an adoptive dad and is out in July 2021.

  • What made you choose to write about adoption?

Being an adoptive dad, I think it would have been hard to avoid. The process of adopting, learning about the challenges adopted and looked after children face, carrying my son’s own story with him, working through the responsibilities and ethics of becoming an adoptive father, are all such a core part of my life – it would have been hard for those themes not to flow into my work. I think we do ‘write what we know’ even if we’re not doing it consciously. I found certain themes around identity, parenthood and sonship spilling into The Firebird Chronicles, and so I decided to write about adoption more consciously in Bea’s Witch. I also wanted the book to raise awareness about some of the challenges adopted children can face and to grow empathy and understanding for those involved in the adoption system. And perhaps most importantly, I wanted to write the book as an act of love for my son, as a way of attempting to step into the shoes of an adoptee in order to understand that experience more fully.

  • Do you have any personal experience with the care system: adoption, fostering, children’s homes etc?

Yes, as I say, I’m an adoptive dad, which has involved training, working with foster carers, social workers and other professionals, meeting my son’s birth mother, keeping contact with his birth family, life story work, therapeutic parenting, working with schools and teachers, and, of course, growing together as a new family with all that entails.

  • Adopted children/adults, often feel stereotyped by their past. How aware of this were you whilst creating your characters?

Writing Bea’s Witch is part of my PhD, through which I’m mapping the construction of magical realist adoption fiction for young adults, so I was aware of some of the stereotypes and archetypes often found in adoption fiction, but I’ve definitely become more aware of common portrayals of adoptees through the process of writing and researching. One of the things I’ve learnt is that no one story can represent the adoption experience fully – they will all rely on certain recurring images and motifs, although these will be different for each story, and so honest representation can only be found through multiple voices and perspectives. I was aware of wanting the perspective I presented in Bea’s Witch to be authentic and truthful – I felt that responsibility. Through the process, I received feedback from adoptees and others involved in the adoption system to help me achieve that, and the reviews of the final book have been encouraging, although, as I say, one perspective will always be partial and limited.

  • What is the meaning of the title?

The story is about a girl called Beatrice – Bea – who encounters the ghost of the historical 15th/16th century prophetess – Mother Shipton – the witch of the title. Mother Shipton was accused of being a witch by Henry VIII’s right-hand man, Cardinal Wolsey. In the book, she reclaims that title, using it as part of her influence and power. It’s ‘Bea’s Witch’ because the reader is never quite sure whether the encounter is real or whether it’s something Bea is imagining. I was also playing with the word Bewitched, and so felt the title had a good ring to it.

  • What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?

At the moment, I’m focusing on writing my PhD. As I mentioned, part of my research entailed writing Bea’s Witch. The second part of the research involved working with two secondary schools, using the book as a prompt for the students to write their own stories, exploring themes such as family, belonging, loss and hope. I’m now writing the final part of the PhD, which reflects upon that experience. I’m writing it as a narrative, which is fun. In it, the reader is taken on a tour of the town in which Bea’s Witch is set. Through this tour, the reader learns about my writing process, the theoretical influences I drew on and the practical work in schools. I have two years left to complete it, after that I’m not sure what I’ll write. I have a few ideas, including revisiting my nan’s story. Her mum was an orphan, brought up in a convent in India. She came to the UK with a Scottish soldier during the First World War. My nan lived through various tragedies, including seeing her brother burn to death because of the poor housing in London’s east end, being evicted due to racism and being bombed out in the Second World War, just after she married. She had a big influence over my childhood. I knew her as a woman who was always singing, loved a party, was active, walked, loved her garden. I didn’t discover much of her history until I was in my early 20s and have wanted to write about it ever since. But whether it will be my next book, I’m not sure.

  • What #diverse characters do you think are missing from literature?

One of the things I’ve become aware of in my research is that books about adoption tend to be dominated by female characters, which is something I’ve fallen unknowingly into with my own book, partly because I wanted to distance my main character from my son and making her a girl was a clear way to do that, and also because she encounters ‘Mother’ Shipton, which means the book focuses on the relationship between mothers and daughters. But boys and men are under-represented in adoption fiction. It would be great to see books that address that imbalance. As a male writer with a son, I’m particularly aware of that now.

  • If you could recommend one #diverse book for your readers, what would it be?

I think it would be Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories. It’s a magical realism book set in the fictional ‘Valley of K’ by the ‘Dull Lake’ which the appendix says is named after the Dal Lake in Kashmir. The main character is a child, Haroun, a boy with an absent mother and a father who is a professional storyteller but has lost the ability to tell stories and has fallen into depression. Haroun travels to the ‘Sea of Stories’ to try to restore his father’s imagination. Many of the book’s names – places and people – are related to storytelling, for instance the antagonist is called ‘Khattam-Shud,’ which means ‘the end’. I read the book when I started to take myself seriously as a writer and loved all the literary references. It had a big influence on my first series The Firebird Chronicles which is also set in a world that’s self-conscious of its own literary construction.

  • Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

The book I remember loving most as a child reader was called The Silver Pen. It was about a boy who leapt into other worlds with the aid of a magical pen. I don’t remember the name of the character, the author, or any of the details of the story! I’ve looked for the book but can’t find it! But I remember taking it out at the library, a feeling of excitement as I held it, loving the story, the atmosphere, and being enthralled by the possibility of being able to leap into alternate universes. It obviously made a big impression on me, as my job now entails leaping into other worlds with the aid of a pen! I think it must have also influenced my ideas too, as much of my writing revolves around the fluid boundaries between different worlds and the power of story. It would be lovely to find the book again one day.  

 

Bea’s Witch is due to be published by Lodestone Books 30th July 2021. Pre-order here.

Follow Daniel on: Facebook or Twitter

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Call Me Auntie: My Childhood in Care and My Search for My Mother by Anne Harrison

Anne Harrison was brought up in care. She was a shop assistant before she joined the Warwickshire Police. From there she became a residential social worker and social care manager for local authorities in the West Midlands and Warwickshire. She lives with her husband in Coventry.

Anne’s story is a compelling account, not just of her search for her birth mother but of her extraordinary journey from being a child in care, then qualifying as a social worker and finally becoming a magistrate…I read it at a sitting and could not put it down. Her account of life in a children’s home in the 1960s and 1970s deserves to find a place on every social work training course‘– Retired Judge Robert Zara.

Call Me Auntie: My Childhood in Care and My Search for My Mother is a truly original story of life in and after care. The author’s own account of being left behind by her mother as a one year old and her life in foster homes and institutions. When eventually traced, ‘Call Me Auntie’ was the best her mother could offer, but this was just the start of a bizarre sequence of events.

Call Me Auntie is a telling account of abandonment, ‘Heartbreak House’ care homes, family history and survival. It is also one of resilience and personal achievement as the author discovered she also had a brother left behind in the same way, forged a professional career, searched for her long lost relatives in Barbados and eventually came to understand that she ‘may be a princess after all’.

A story of survival, Call Me Auntie charts the resilience and changing attitudes to racism and ethnicity as the author forged a successful career beginning as a Woolworth’s shop girl before joining the police, then moving into social work.

It is an absolute pleasure to welcome Anne to the blog. I’d like to thank Anne for writing about her memoir Call Me Auntie – which I am sure will be a fantastic contribution to care experienced literature.

Tell us of your journey as a writer.

Because I was brought up in care, I didn’t have parents or family to tell me stories about my childhood. Unlike other children leaving care, I was not given my care file when I left care, and later I was told it had been destroyed. So I had lots of blanks.

I had my own memories, as well as some letters and photos. I’ve always had my own stories to tell about my life in care and afterwards. I had no plan to write a book. Then, when I was already in my late fifties, my care file turned up with hundreds of pages of records. With the urging of my family, I decided to put into order all the stories that I thought I knew and match them up to my records. I wanted to fill the blanks and correct my own misunderstandings. For the first time I was able to put it all together. So, the reason I wrote my book was in order to know my own life story.

What made you choose to write about care experience?

I wrote about my childhood in care because my story is my own, and it is different. It doesn’t play out in the way that anyone would expect. It pulls together so many issues. I was an African-Caribbean baby, abandoned by my mother at birth, eventually fostered by a very loving white family, but then abandoned again when they emigrated and left to the mercy of a depersonalised and brutal care home regime. In the middle of all this, my mother was found, but the most important thing she had to tell me was: “Call me Auntie.”

Do you have any personal experience with the care system, fostering, children’s homes etc?

For the first months of my life, my mother made a private arrangement for me to be looked after by an unregistered foster carer. After that I was taken into care. After a short spell in an orphanage, I was placed with white fosters carers, and I stayed with them until I was nine years old. When my foster family emigrated to Australia, I was moved into a children’s home, where I stayed until I was 17.

Orphans, those in foster care or children’s homes, often feel they are stereotyped by their past. How aware of this were you whilst writing your memoir?

These are things that I understood long before I began to write. In my foster home I was just treated like a member of the family. I became more aware of my “looked after” status in the children’s home. How we dressed, how we were treated in the home, at school, or at church, we were the kids from the children’s home. We were not treated as individuals. We were not expected to amount to much in life. We were just required to conform.

For me at this stage, being black was an unwelcome complication. I understood that I was different, but not in a good way. I didn’t want to stand out in that way; I would rather have been white. I also understood that being black was one reason I couldn’t accompany my foster family to Australia. I was full of denial about being black. While my social worker could see this, no one helped me with it.

What is the meaning of the title?

My mother was found when I was 12. She wrote to me at the time, but we were not to meet for another twenty years. In her first letter, she probably realised she would have to sign it somehow, and she did not want to acknowledge that she was my mother. So, she signed it with her given name, adding: “Call me Auntie.”

What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?

Now that I know how, I might write a book about the funny and memorable things that happened to me or that I did after leaving care, briefly in the police, then over many years in social work.

If you could recommend one #diverse book for your readers, what would it be?

Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I can’t help adding Lemn Sissay, My Name is Why.

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

As a child I loved to lose myself in Enid Blyton’s “Famous five” and “Malory Towers” stories. These are the exciting adventures of white middle-class children; Malory Towers is a fictional girls’ boarding school. Like me, the girls at Malory Towers had to negotiate an institutional environment that was imposed on them. But in every other way their lives could not have been less like my own. Today these stories are rather disdained, but for me at the time they were the perfect escape.

What advice would you give young people leaving the care system today?

Learn about your history – who were your parents, how you came into care. This is part of who you are. Don’t trust everything to memory, because sooner or later, you will forget. Write it down or get someone to help write it down.

Find a buddy.

You will move accommodation many times. Find a safe haven or a trusted keeper for your most precious belongings, so that you do not risk losing them with every move.

Learn to cook and learn to budget.

Find a hobby – especially one that involves others.

 

Call Me Auntie was published by Waterside Press in October 2020.

 

Follow Anne on Twitter: @anne4harrison

 

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Bea’s Witch by Daniel Ingram-Brown

Book Review by Jane Teather.

Daniel Ingram-Brown is the author of The Firebird Chronicles series for children aged 9-12, published by Our Street Books. He is the recipient of the Taner Baybars award for original fiction in the field of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Magical Realism, awarded by the Society of Authors Authors’ Foundation. Daniel is currently undertaking a PhD at Leeds Beckett University exploring adoption through creative writing and is also part of the university’s Storymakers Company, who seek to develop creative, artistic, child centred learning opportunities for young people through story making in educational and community settings.

Daniel is a First Story Writer-in-Residence for secondary schools in Yorkshire, he chaired the Leeds Big Bookend Festival from 2013-16 and is on the committee for the Society of Authors, Authors North. He is also a theatre director and playwright and is Artistic Director of Suitcase and Spectacles Children’s Theatre. Daniel has overseen a number of community writing projects, including The Leeds Story Cycle (2014) and Stories from the Forests of Leeds (2015/6), both of which resulted in the publication of a book of short stories. He lives in Yorkshire, UK.

The future can be rewritten.

Aimed at a young adult readership, Bea’s Witch is adoption fiction crossed with magical realism and historical fiction. On the eve of her twelfth birthday, Beatrice Crosse runs away from her adoptive home only to encounter the ghost of England’s most famous prophetess. The witchoffers her treasure, but can she be trusted? Bea must wrestle her past to discover the witch’s secret and find her way home.

A deft blending of historical, fantasy, contemporary and adoption fiction. I was genuinely transported. Dr Rachel Connor, Novelist and Dramatist

Bea is 11 going on well 12 and is struggling with big changes in her life. She has gained a new mother and a new school but feels she has to leave all her old life behind because Bea has just been adopted after several years in care. On a trip to see Mother Shipton’s Caves with Denise, her new mother, Bea has a strange experience and thinks she can hear a voice talking to her. Unthinkingly she takes a coin from the wishing well and feels a strong connection to it. But is Bea being haunted by Mother Shipton or her own demons?

I didn’t want to put this down. I felt so much of Bea’s pain, her unwillingness to trust because she has been let down so many times and her own certainty that because of things she has done in the past, that she is unlovable. I really liked the glimpses of the past that have brought Bea to this point: Nelson, the poster and the warm day on the dock. And ultimately I liked Bea and like Denise, just wanted to give her a hug.

Although this is clearly a standalone novel I would now like a story about Bea and her new and old circle of friends, where she just is adopted, not that that is the centre of the story. I want to know more of what happens to Bea next. Nicely done, Daniel!

Follow Daniel on: Facebook or Twitter

Jane Teather, is an adopted child and parent to two unadopted children of her own. She is a member of Hatfield Book Club.

Bea’s Witch is due to be published by Lodestone Books 30th July 2021. Pre-order here.

Thank you to Lodestone Books for the review copy.

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Beyond the Orphanage by Deborah Dzifah Tamakloe

Book Review by Dee Michell

From the age of 11, Deborah Dzifah Tamkloe lived in a Baptist Orphanage in the Eastern Region of Ghana.  She is the founder of Charis Touch Foundation, an NGO which provides practical support and training programs for children in orphanages or on the street, and she received an Amazing Woman Award from the International Women Association in 2020.

In November 2020, Deborah Dzifah Tamkloe published her book, Beyond the Orphanage.

Beyond the Orphanage tells Deborah’s story from when she first went into foster care. Deborah was born into a Catholic polygamous family in Nkawkaw, south Ghana, which means, as she says, she had “three additional mothers”. One day, her life changed inexplicably; her mother took Deborah to live with a friend in a nearby village, supposedly because school was closer and Deborah would not be punished for arriving later than 7am anymore. Deborah returned to her mother on weekends and for holidays.

In January 2005, about a year into this new living arrangement, 11-year-old Deborah was taken to the Baptist School Complex and Orphanage (BASCO). She thought she was going to boarding school …

As Deborah Dzifah Tamakloe writes in one of many thoughtful reflections on what is needed to improve the lives of children in care and care leavers, “the child should be well informed of why they are being taken [to the home], the harsh realities among others even if at that time their mind cannot process the information.” Without this information children are confused and may grow bitter, as she did, not reuniting with her father for 11 years.

Although Deborah felt homesick, she also writes with fondness about the bonds she developed with other children, the sense of community in The Home.

What we learn from Deborah’s book is that a free secondary school education—something I take for granted in Australia—was not available in Ghana until 2017. This meant that even though Deborah passed the requisite exams, she needed to wait until she had a sponsor who would cover the costs of her education at Ghana Senior High School.

Similarly, when it came to tertiary education, Deborah knew she could not afford it. And yet eventually she made it to the University of Ghana by dint of desire, persistence, determination, intelligence, and the help and encouragement of others.

As Deborah rightly says, institutions should offer scholarships and awards to those who are in financial need “such as care leavers and not only those who produce the best/excellent grades. That way, care leavers would benefit more.”

In August 2016 when she had concluded her degree and a year of national service (a program in Ghana where graduates work with a variety of organisations “to help build the nation”), Deborah, with the help of 2 partners in the project, founded the Charis Touch Foundation. She began small, raising funds to buy shoes for the children in BASCO and continued with that work while returning to university to get her Masters.

Reading Beyond the Orphanage is a wonderful opportunity to witness life in a different country, and to understand that Care Leavers around the world have similar experiences—of wanting to understand the circumstances they find themselves in, of needing to be treated with respect and dignity, and of—with support and encouragement—having the ability to make important contributions to their societies.

I finished Beyond the Orphanage with considerable admiration for Deborah Dzifah Tamakloe; she is a role model for Care Leavers everywhere.

Beyond the Orphanage is recommended reading for Care Leavers and social workers internationally, and for policy makers, those who can influence change in a positive direction for the most vulnerable in all communities.

 

Thanks to Deborah Dzifah Tamakloe for a review copy of Beyond the Orphanage.

 

Follow Dee on Twitter: @DrDeeMichell

Follow Deborah on Twitter: @DziDebs

Follow Deborah on Instagram: @dzifahtamakloe

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Care Experience & Culture

Press release: For immediate release
For more information contact:
(UK) Rosie Canning / (AUS) Dr Dee Michell
Email: careexperienceandculture@gmail.com

Care Experience & Culture, a Digital Archive, the first of its kind will feature care experienced literature, spoken word and academic material.

Dr Dee Michell and Miss Rosie Canning are delighted to announce a new digital archive Care Experience & Culture. The website will launch 11th April – via Zoom – which will coincide with Care Experience History Month. Invitations to the launch will include an invitation for people to let us know their favourite care experienced characters represented in foster care, adoption, kinship care or residential settings.

‘We’d like people to join in and advise us on care experienced literature, film, theatre, television, radio and academic material that can be included’ say Rosie and Dee. Contact them if there are books, people, film and televisions you want to make sure are in the archive.

Children and young people in social care, and those who have left, are often subject to stigmatisation and discrimination. Being stigmatised and discriminated against can impact negatively on mental health and wellbeing not only during the care experience but often for many years after too.

Although there are occasional ‘success stories’ in the media about care experienced people, in the main a single story is told about this group, ie, that they are over-represented in the prison, mental ill-health and homeless populations.

The project aims to contribute towards changing community attitudes towards care experienced people as a group. Instead of only being seen through the current single lens (that they are over-represented in the prison, mental ill-health and homeless populations), they will be seen as a creative group, despite (and/or because of) often experiencing hardship and trauma.

Rosie Canning (UK) and Dee Michell (Australia) are scholars with lived experience of care and a lifelong passion for books. They have experienced many benefits from reading as a pastime and are aware of the historical representations of care experience over time. Both are influenced by Lemn Sissay’s Origin Stories and Superman was a Foundling exhibition at The Foundling Museum in London. Rosie and Dee are collaborating to develop a Digital Archive, a one-stop accessible site with information about Care Experienced characters in fiction and on-screen, as well as Care Experienced writers, artists and actors.

For children and young people in care, and their carers, social workers, teachers etc, Care Experience & Culture will provide a significant source of material to which children and young people can be directed for characters they can relate to. As Ryan McCuaig who was in care has said, characters like Harry Potter are for those who’ve left care too. He was in his twenties when a conversation with another care experienced person about Harry Potter made him realise that he “was already part of something bigger” whereas he’d often struggled with not fitting in.

There are many other care experienced characters the sector may not be aware of but which will be found in the Digital Archive.

Care Experience & Culture will be a boon to educationalists and researchers too. Researchers could, for example, select characters other than Harry Potter and run research projects to find out how children and young people are affected by them. They can also analyse representations of care experience over time and in different fora.

Jamie Crabb, Psychotherapist and care experienced, will advise on the design and maintenance of the website.

Rosie and Dee would like to thank the The Welland Trust, a charity founded by Jan Rees OBE in 2019, for the financial contribution they have made which has enabled Care Experience & Culture to be launched.

Sarah Saunders, a Trustee from the Welland Trust said “We are proud to support the development of such a creative and exciting project that we believe will be of great benefit to many people”. Welland Trust supports projects and initiatives that benefit adults who have experienced care.

How to find us:

Email: careexperienceandculture@gmail.com

Twitter: @CareExp_Culture

Facebook: Care Experience & Culture

Website: Care Experience & Culture

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The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff

Pam Jenoff is the internationally bestselling author of several novels, including The Kommandant’s Girl, which was a finalist for both the Quill awards and the American Library Association’s Sophie Brody Medal. Pam draws inspiration for her books from her service as a diplomat for the State Department in Europe working on Holocaust issues, and her experiences as the politically-appointed Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army at the Pentagon. She also practiced law at a large firm and in-house, and is on the faculty of Rutgers School of Law. Pam received her bachelor’s degree in international affairs from The George Washington University, her master’s degree in history from Cambridge University, and her juris doctor degree from the University of Pennsylvania. She lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and three children. Pam’s latest novel, An Orphan’s Tale is based on real events.

In Nazi-occupied Holland, seventeen-year-old Noa snatches a baby from a train bound for the concentration camps, fleeing with him into the snowy wilderness surrounding the train tracks.

Passing through the woods is a German circus, led by the heroic Herr Neuhoff. They agree to take in Noa and the baby, on one condition: to earn her keep, Noa must master the flying trapeze under the tutorage of mysterious aerialist, Astrid.

Wonderfully compelling… The story grips from the very first page, and the atmosphere of the circus is entrancing – you feel all the terror and thrill of the flying trapeze.’ – Margaret Leroy, author of The Soldier’s Wife

Soaring high above the crowds, Noa and Astrid must learn to trust one another or plummet. But with the threat of war closing in, loyalty can become the most dangerous trait of all.

Pam says of the book:
A few years ago while researching I came across two remarkable stories in the archives of Yad Vashem. The first was a heartbreaking account of the “Unknown Children” – a boxcar full of babies, ripped from their families and headed for a concentration camp, too young to know their own names. The second was a story of a German circus that had sheltered Jews during the war. There was a rich history of Jewish circus dynasties that spanned centuries, and other circus families which had ten or more siblings performing and/or running the circus. Sadly they were largely annihilated by the Germans. Reading the remarkable histories of the Unknown Children and the circuses, I knew that they somehow had to come together. 

I have taken great liberties with the nature of the circus acts and the ways in which they lived and performed during the war. But I was so inspired by the real people I’d met in my research. When the circus owner Adolf Althoff received the honour of being named Righteous Among Nations by Yad Vashem in 1995, he said, “We circus people see no difference between races or religions.” I consider this book to be a tribute to the courage of these people.’

Tell us of your journey as a writer

My stories come out of my years in Poland working on Holocaust issues for the State Department. I was profoundly moved and changed by those experiences and knew I wanted to write a book about them in novel form. But while I had inspiration, as well as the childhood dream of becoming a novelist, I never quite got started. The turning point was 9/11. I had gone to law school and began practicing as a lawyer on September 4, 2001 – exactly one week before 9/11. That day was an epiphany for me: I realized I didn’t have forever to fullfill my novelist dream. So I took a night course and began writing. It wasn’t a smooth path from there. I was an attorney and had to write from 5-7 in the morning each day. Also, it was 5 years and 39 rejections before a publisher accepted my first work.

How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?

Most of my books center around World War II. I consider them love songs to the people who lived through that era and I feel a great responsibility to tell a story well, accurately and with respect.

Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?

I often write dislikeable characters. I find them more interesting. The question is to see what motivates them. For example, I once wrote a book about a Nazi Kommandant and then wrote a prequel exploring how he had become that person as a result of the Great War.

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

One thing I love is to explore the gray areas in people. So, for example, if I am writing about the war, my German characters are not all bad, my Jewish characters are not perfect and my ordinary folks (Poles, etc.) are somewhere in between. Some readers are not comfortable with diverse characters who are drawn in more complex and nuanced ways, but I think it makes for better storytelling that is more true to life.

If you could be transported instantly, anywhere in the world, where would you most like to spend your time writing? And why?

That’s a tough question. I have written in palaces in Europe and in mountaintop retreats in Banff. But I have also written in my doctor’s waiting room and in my car and I can tell you which coffee shops in my neighbourhood open at 6am on a Sunday. Being away is great but ultimately I prefer being close to loved ones, in an ordinary day’s routine and writing in my office.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

Many! But of late, All The Light We Cannot See. Just such beautiful prose.

What advice do you have for would be novelists/writers?

Be disciplined. You have to carve out and protect your writing time really zealously. You make the time to do it. Be tenacious. Don’t give up. It took me a long time to get published and I think that the only thing that stands between me and lots of other really more talented writers who are not published is that I just kept going.
I also think the ability to revise makes a huge difference. The ability to take feedback from an agent or an editor or a peer group and incorporate that into your work makes all the difference.

What can we look forward to reading?

The Orphan’s Tale, has been described as The Nightingale meets Water for Elephants. Inspired by two true stories, it tells of Noa, a young Dutch girl who has been cast out by her family, and who finds a boxcar of unknown children, taken from their parents by the Nazis too young to know their own names. She takes one of the infants and flees and finds shelter with a German circus that has rescued some Jews. She must learn the aerialist routine in order to fit in from a Jewish trapeze artist in hiding. The question is whether they can save each other or whether their secrets will destroy them both.

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

Huge fan of Mary Poppins from the P.L. travers books. Those books inspired my desire to travel, which has led to my whole career and life.

Thank you to HarperCollins for the review copy

Follow Pam on Twitter @PamJenoff.

 

*First appeared on Greenacre Writers 1st March 2017

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A Conversation with Katharine Norbury

Katharine Norbury trained as a film editor with the BBC and has worked extensively in film and television drama. She is a graduate of the Creative Writing MA programme at UEA. The Fish Ladder was her first book. It was longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and was a book of the year in the Telegraph, Independent and Guardian. Katharine was chosen by the Observer as their Rising Star in non-fiction for 2015. The book was longlisted for the 2016 Wainwright Prize for nature and UK travel writing and nominated as a National Reading Group Day 2016 real life read. She lives in London with her family.

 

Katharine Norbury was abandoned as a baby in a Liverpool convent. Raised by loving adoptive parents, she grew into a wanderer, drawn by the beauty of the British countryside. One summer, following the miscarriage of a much-longed-for child, Katharine sets out – accompanied by her nine-year-old daughter, Evie – with the idea of following a river from the sea to its source. The luminously observed landscape provides both a constant and a context to their expeditions. But what begins as a diversion from grief soon evolves into a journey to the source of life itself, when a chance circumstance forces Katharine to the door of the woman who gave her up all those years ago.

“What a delight! The Fish Ladder is a luminous sort of book, beautifully written, darting here and there like a kingfisher over a stream. A beautiful, strange, intoxicating and utterly unique story ” –  Philip Pullman

Combining travelogue, memoir, exquisite nature writing, fragments of poetry and tales from Celtic mythology, The Fish Ladder has a rare emotional resonance. A portrait of motherhood, of a literary marriage and a hymn to the adoptive family, this captivating story of self-discovery is, most of all, an exploration of the extraordinary majesty of the natural world. Imbued with a keen and joyful intelligence, this original and life-affirming book is set to become a classic of its genre.

“There is much to learn from The Fish Ladder about how the memoir can tell a story as well as be a meditation; how language can be both profound and sensuous. It’s an unsentimental but extraordinary exploration of how we use narrative to understand our place in the world” –  Amit Chaudhuri

(A Conversation with Katherine Norbury first appeared on Greenacre Writers in 2016.)

Tell us of your journey as a writer

To be honest, I don’t think of myself as a writer. I have written – one book, published when I was 50. I am writing. But I don’t define myself by the medium. Rather, I am interested in certain things, and in communicating thoughts and ideas. In the case of The Fish Ladder, creating a work of prose/life-writing seemed to be the best way of realising what was happening at that time. It began as a very private project, an account of one summer spent with my young daughter in Wales but, as the summer progressed, it became apparent that the story might have a wider “reach” than that of my immediate family. The reason I was keeping a notebook that year was because I find digital photography difficult to master, believe it or not, and so when pharmacists stopped developing photographs I was obliged to find another way to “capture the moment”. Moments of joy – when a cloud passes over the sun, or a fish leaps out of the water. Or moments of transcendence – when your child smiles at you from a rock pool, bucket and net in hand, an orange crab wriggling on a nylon line. And so it was that I picked up a pen. The Fish Ladder is an “origins” story borne out of the notion of following a river from the sea to its source and this journey eventually became a metaphor for a more personal quest to discover who my natural family are and to contemplate the role of the adoptive family, with the landscape providing a counterpoint to the human story.

How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?

To bear witness? To explore the world. To ask questions. And I wouldn’t necessarily say I like the role though I find it rewarding and consider it essential.

Anything written has the potential to withstand millennia – the clay tablets of the Epic of Gilgamesh, Homer’s Odyssey, Beowulf. More recently, witness accounts such as Anne Frank’s diary have adjusted the moral compass of whole nations. There is an inherent moral weight on the writer.

Much of what we, as a reading public, know about environmental debate comes to us not through scientists or politicians but through writers such as Bill McKibben and Al Gore in the United States; Tim Winton, Verity Burgmann, Tim Flannery in Australia; Mark Cocker, Rob Cowen, Melissa Harrison, Kathleen Jamie, Robert Macfarlane, Michael McCarthy, Richard Kerridge and George Monbiot in the UK. So writers are at the forefront of disseminating knowledge.

Freedom of expression is important to me and I have watched it being enthusiastically and voluntarily forfeited – in university “safe spaces” and in ideas about “cultural appropriation” to name but a couple of recent examples. The writer must therefore be robust, with a rhinoceros skin, and they must reserve the right to offend in order to articulate the ideas that motivate them. And we must all trust our readers to be the judge of whether what is written has any value or not, and not forget to disentangle the views of the writer with those expressed by their characters. And accept that, as with Pandora’s box, this position opens the lid on all kinds of demons!

The role of the storyteller has been central to human experience since we first sat around the fire entertaining and reassuring ourselves through the long dark nights, questioning our actions, and learning from them. It is with good reason that stories have been elevated and safeguarded throughout the ages by librarians, parents, teachers, priests and shamans. However, it is important that we don’t lose sight of the true role of those guardians of “story”. The stories are there so we can learn from the experiences of those who have gone before us, so we can think about complex moral issues in a truly safe environment, and also, to be entertained. That isn’t necessarily the impression that you get when you look at the atrocities committed in the name of certain books today and throughout the ages.

Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?

This question had been crossed out although I think it is relevant to the life writer. There is no imperative for the reader to like a character in a work of memoir or biography. Some readers have loved the “I” of The Fish Ladder, others have taken against her/me. But I don’t think it matters. One of the least likeable characters in literature is Emma Bovary, but who among those of us who have met her hasn’t put their fingers to their lips, and read through tears and gasps as Emma stuffs her mouth full of arsenic powder after reducing her family to penury over curtains she couldn’t afford and the bills of her student lover? (I think it was the draper’s bill that finally tipped her over the edge!). It’s the human condition that we empathise with – the “there but for the grace of God go I”.

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

The Fish Ladder is, at one level, a travelogue and there is a tradition in travel writing to respect the privacy of your fellow traveller. The people I met along the way ranged in age, class, religion, race, nationality and I simply presented them all as they appeared to me, while respecting their relative privacy. (So I didn’t say so-and-so had a nose like a melon, for example!) As a rule of thumb I don’t say anything about anyone that I wouldn’t be prepared to say to their face and in company! This is obviously a very different state of affairs to that of the fiction writer – think of Dickens’ character studies for example – where the writer can wallow in characterisation.

If you could be transported instantly, anywhere in the world, where would you most like to spend your time writing? And why?

Oh. That’s two different questions. If I could go anywhere in the world I’d very much like to go to Australia. But as to where I would like to write? Proximity to mountains and the sea are ideal, as I think best when I am either swimming or walking. The Llyn Peninsula, the English Lakes, Catalonia. But I agree with Tim Winton who says that because he spends so much of his time outside, he writes in an austere room that doesn’t even have a picture on the wall, because a picture is a kind of window. Writing, for me, is an interior experience and the less distractions the better. But I do need to walk and swim in the gaps between writing so London (where I am now) isn’t the best place for me to work as it is packed with distractions!

What is the one book you wish you had written?

My goodness. That is impossible, forgive me.  Wishing you had written something by someone else implies a desire to get the credit for having done it! I think any kind of artistic endeavour is about paring down the ego, not inflating it. I’m just glad there’s a wealth of good stuff out there to enjoy! The book I read the most is the Odyssey of Homer translated by Richmond Lattimore, and it is always at my bedside, but I have no desire to lay claim to it!

What advice do you have for would be writers?

To work hard. To heed the lived experience of writers you admire. To listen to Samuel Beckett, on failure, for example: “No matter, fail again. Fail better.” Or Hemingway: “The only kind of writing is rewriting”. To learn to accept criticism and see it for what it is. Your work can always be better. And your critics can be wrong. So don’t ask a member of your family to give you notes! Find someone you trust, a former school teacher, not your friends who are simply going to say: darling it’s marvellous! It probably isn’t! And also, to know when to walk away, and when something is finished.

Exciting news, Katharine’s new book WOMEN ON NATURE is finished. It is a landmark anthology which collects together the work of women, over the centuries and up to the present day, who have written about the natural world in Britain, Ireland and the outlying islands of our archipelago. Alongside the traditional forms of the travelogue, the walking guide, books on birds, plants and wildlife, Women on Nature embraces alternative modes of seeing and recording that turn the genre on its head.


Katharine has sifted through the pages of women s fiction, poetry, household planners, gardening diaries and recipe books to show the multitude of ways in which they have observed the natural world about them, from the fourteenth-century writing of the anchorite nun Julian of Norwich to the seventeenth-century travel journal of Celia Fiennes; from the keen observations of Emily Brontë to a host of brilliant contemporary voices.

Women on Nature presents a groundbreaking vision of the natural world which, in addition to being a rich and scintillating anthology that shines a light on many unjustly overlooked writers, is of unique importance in terms of women s history and the history of writing about nature. It is available in Waterstones and on Amazon for pre-orders (as the copies on Unbound’s site are sold out) Hopefully the indy bookstores will look out for it! Published: 13th May 2021

You can follow Katharine on Twitter: @KJNorbury

 

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A Conversation With Alex Wheatle

Born in 1963 to Jamaican parents living in Brixton, Alex Wheatle spent most of his childhood in a Surrey children’s home. He returned to Brixton in 1977 where he founded the Crucial Rocker sound system and performed his own songs and lyrics under the name of Yardman Irie. He spent a short stint in prison following the Brixton uprising of 1981. Following his release from prison he continued to write poems and lyrics and became known as the Brixtonbard.

Alex’s first novel, Brixton Rock, was published to critical acclaim in 1999. Many more novels have followed including East of Acre Lane, The Seven Sisters, Island Songs, Checkers, and The Dirty South, and more recently Home Girl, and Cane Warriors, all highly praised.

His books are on school reading lists, Alex takes part in Black History Month every year, works with Booktrust and the Children’s Discovery Centre to promote reading. He is representing English PEN. He teaches in various places including Lambeth College, holds workshops in prisons and is frequently invited to schools to speak to students, inspiring in them with his own story a passion for literature.

Alex also appears regularly on BBC1’s The One Show and on radio. He wrote and performed his own one-man autobiographical show for Tara Arts, Uprising, and took the performance on tour in October 2012 and in 2013 all over the country. His play, Shame and Scandal, was performed at the Albany Theatre. Brixton Rock was turned into a short film and also a play performed by young care leavers with the Big House Theatre.  Crongton Knights was on virtual tour! Alex has appeared at many festivals including Harrogate Crime Writing Festival, Hay Festival, Bristol Festival of Ideas, Edinburgh Book Festival and some years ago at the Finchley Literary Festival.

Noel Clarke of Unstoppable Films is adapting the Crongton series into a TV series. In Autumn 2020, Steve McQueen based one episode in his six-part SMALL AXE series for BBC on Alex’s life.

A new stage adaptation of Alex Wheatle’s Home Girl is to be staged at Derby Theatre through a “unique and exciting co-creation and collaboration” between Wheatle, the theatre, Derby’s Cultural Education Partnership, professional writers, care-experienced young people and other young theatre-makers.

He was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list for services to literature in 2008. A favourite of reading groups and libraries, he is the UK’s most read Black British author.

Awards include:

2020 – Shorlisted for the NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature
2017 – Winner of the Renaissance Quiz Writers’ Choice Award for Crongton Knights.
2016 – Winner of the Guardian’s Children’s Fiction Award for Crongton Knights.
2008 – MBE for services to literature.
1999 – London Arts Board New Writers Award for Brixton Rock.

He lives with his family in London.

The following conversation first appeared via Greenacre Writers in 2016:

  1. Tell us of your journey as a writer

My journey as a writer began in my mid teens when I used to write lyrics for performances on reggae sound systems. I dreamed of becoming the next Bob Marley, Barrington Levy or Dennis Brown!  The discipline I gained from producing something every week for performance moulded and honed me into the writer I am today. From a sound system MC, I progressed to poetry and short stories. I performed my work at poetry jams and venues like the Brixton Brasserie and Under The Arches near Brixton train station.  My first novel, Brixton Rock, was published by Black Amber Books in 1999. For the themes in my debut work I used much of my own real lived experiences and those of my friends too.  I repeated the trick with my second novel, East of Acre Lane.

  1. How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?

Primarily, I see my role as a writer to tell a good story and entertain. If within that story I can educate, show readers a narrative and a slice of life that they are unfamiliar with, bring a certain truth to the setting and theme of a story and make people reflect about the characters in my tale that might challenge their preconceived views, I’ll take that as a bonus. I really don’t see myself as any different from the story-telling sound MCs of my youth or the griots of my ancestral past to what I create today.

  1. Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?

I created Noel in The Dirty South who initially I disliked. He had a foul mouth, was rude to women and could be very violent. As my story developed I became very fond of him.  He had aggressive traits but possessed a tender core. He was very loyal to those close to him. In the end he simply craved his mother’s love.

  1. Last October, GW organised #diverseauthorday. What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

The diversity debate has been raging on both sides of the Atlantic with the furore about the Oscars are so white controversy and the writers of colour I know who feel excluded from the major literature festivals within these shores. When I was a kid one of my heroes was Mark Lester who played Oliver Twist in Carol Reed’s multi award-winning film musical. I cried on his low points and cheered on his successes. Although Oliver Twist was white I could totally engage with the character and I was desperate for him to consider myself as his friend. My point is (and this is for any film, drama and fiction gatekeepers out there) all we writers of colour are asking is for you to love, appreciate and value our narratives, themes, characters, heroes and villains as much as we love, value and appreciate yours.

  1. If you could be transported instantly, anywhere in the world, where would you most like to spend your time writing? And why?

I have been very fortunate to have developed ideas for novels in the South of France (a beautiful place called Vauvert near the Carmargue) Jamaica, Washington DC and Miami.  I’d love to write somewhere like Hawaii – one because of its people and culture and two because I was a huge fan of Magnum, the series starring Tom Selleck and three because I’d get away every day with wearing Hawaiian shirts, three-quarter pants and sandals! I probably wouldn’t get any work done!

  1. What is the one book you wish you had written?

The book I’d have loved to have written is Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin, a phenomenal author and essayist. In fact I’d be extremely proud to have written any of his work.

  1. What advice do you have for would be novelists?

My advice for aspiring novelists is to try and produce something every week – even if it’s a page or so. Develop your discipline not just to create but to edit and improve. My next tip is to write the book that you want to buy – be passionate about your subject matter.

You can listen to Alex Wheatle speaking with Nihal Arthanayake, via The Penguin Podcast. In this episode, Alex chats to Nihal about his latest YA book ‘Cane Warriors’, based on the true story of Tacky, a slave who led an uprising on the plantations of Jamaica in the 18th Century.

You can follow Alex on Twitter: @brixtonbard

 

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