Weaving Pages

Monday, 3 July 2017

"Children are just children where ever they come from." - Kate Milner on My Name is Not Refugee

What was your main motivation to create a book about the refugee crisis? 
        At the end of 2015 I was so incensed by the tabloid view that the refugees coming across Europe from Syria were an invading army of zombies out to destroy us and our way of life. I asked myself if there was anything I could do to challenge this.“My Name Is Not Refugee”, was my answer. 

How did you start as an illustrator?
        I was one of those kids who never got the message that they were supposed to stop drawing once they got to senior school. I just kept going. I have done print making, pub signs painting, graphic design and editorial illustration but after raising my own children I returned to study on the superb MA in children's book illustration at Anglia Ruskin. “My Name Is Not Refugee” was basically conceived in the last few weeks of the course. 

As the book says, you very deservingly won the V&A Student Illustration Award. What process did you go through in deciding which illustrations best portrayed the story you wanted to tell?
        There really was no process. I worked out the idea for the book while driving home from Cambridge one night at the very end of November 2015.  I begged my husband to stop me working on it, I’d been chopping and changing from one project to another for months and to start another book just 12 days before the end of the course was monumentally stupid. I simply didn’t have the time. My husband didn’t put up much of a fight. I drew the three images which are, for me, the centre of the book; a boy faced with food he doesn’t recognise, a boy surrounded by language he doesn’t understand and a boy sleeping on a train station then I sent them off to the V&A in passing while working frantically on a  project I had no hope of finishing by the deadline. Obviously I am very pleased I did but there was very little calculation involved.  

What kind of response have you had so far to your book?

        Wonderful. I remember showing it to one of my tutors, (after the deadline), and realising that she was moved by it. I had found the right words and pictures to get my message across. The book insists that the little boy at it’s centre is a just a child like any other child and what ever the mayhem going on around him he is not to blame.

What actions do you think readers can take to help those who find themselves having to flee their homes like in your book?

        Ask yourself what you would want from people around you if your life had been totally disrupted through no fault of your own and you had landed in a new country where everything was strange. Nothing difficult or expensive I imagine; a smile at the school gate perhaps, or an invitation for your kid to join the football game.

How do you want your readers to feel after reading your book? Is there a certain message you hope stays with them?
        Children are just children where ever they come from. It shouldn’t need saying but in this new age of right wing nationalism where we seem to want to lock ourselves up behind high walls and divide the population of the world into us and them, it is worth repeating. 

Kate Milner is the author of the new picture book My Name is Not Refugee. Published by Barrington Stoke, it is a wonderfully moving tale depicting the very real trials and obstacles faced by a young boy and his mother as they leave their home country. To find out more about Kate and her book, take a look at her website at katemilner.com.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017


Sophie scholl bust
Bust of Sophie Scholl, placed in Walhalla in 2003. Sculptor: Wolfgang Eckert” by RyanHulin is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

The twelve long years that encompassed 1933 to 1945 mark one of the most oppressive and violative period of human rights, as the rise of National Socialism led to the deaths of approximately 11 million upon the twisted justification of manufacturing an elite race. Thus the story of Hitler’s attempted conception of an 1000 year reich is forever a chilling reminder of how we, as humans, can freely adopt a cycle of hate and obsession into our lives as Germany and the rest of the world failed to foresee the momentum such contempt would gain.
These were times which revealed the worst of humanity, where a pulsing stillness invaded the streets in solace with the suffocating fear of millions. Nonetheless, these were times when the best of humanity also flourished, bringing with it an inarguably potent strength that rooted itself in the fragile scraps of hope that were left; a promise that entire world was not yet poisoned.

That promise was found in Sophie Scholl, vital as it is to not only learn from the mistakes made in those twelve years, but also from the moving acts of courage that define what it means to be human more so than the wrongs committed. Born in 1921 to Magdalena Muller and Robert Scholl, a liberal politician and Nazi critic, Scholl grew up around libertarian views which meant that despite her initial enthusiasm, she soon saw past the illusion of new found abundance that had smothered Germany in the 1930s, particularly as society grew more restrictive and she found her freedoms to continually be controlled. By the time she reached university in 1942, Scholl was a firm opposer of the Nazi dictatorship and found the opportunity to express this through her older brother’s -Hans Scholl- newly founded White Rose Movement: an intimate, unofficial Anti-Nazi group who disagreed with the way the regime imposed upon the basic rights of the German people. Thus from 1942 to 1943, the group created six leaflets hoping to stir Germany into a much needed awakening of the need for revolution, their eloquent acts of defiance only ending when their spontaneous scattering of the 6th leaflet from the university’s atrium balcony led to a series of interrogations and trials that ended with the execution of Sophie, Hans and Christoph Probst on the 22nd February 1943.

Despite its painful ending, the story of The White Rose Movement and consequently, the story of Sophie Scholl, should not be seen as a tragedy, but rather a poignant portrayal of what it means to be young, to be curious, to question the world and not simply accept what you are told. Their acts are not a self righteous display of a defence of the weak, but an outcry against the infringement of basic human rights. They grow from a craving to speak the words they wish, to read what speaks to their souls, to write on a page whatever is in their mind, and predominantly from a strong empathy with every person’s desire to do so.

For someone so young, who had so much to live for, it would have been infuriatingly easy for Sophie to have succumbed to Nazi rule, yet with her actions, it is irrefutable that she has created a legacy for the young people who follow her. Undeterred by the fact she had barely made it past twenty, she took it upon herself to take a stand in the face of oppression, to fight for the freedoms of herself and others. Like her father had wished for her family, Scholl fought for everyone to be able to “live in uprightness and freedom of spirit, no matter how difficult that proves to be”, putting herself on the front lines of a war against the oppression of civil liberties; a war which threatens to wound us all but which many who are decades older than she ever got to be shy away from. Traudl Junge, Hitler’s last private secretary, admits exactly what Sophie Scholl symbolises:

I could see that she had been born the same year as I, and that she had been executed the same year I entered into Hitler’s service. And, at that moment, I really realised that it was no excuse that I had been so young.”

I believe that to be the essence of Scholl’s story; a tribute to our moral consciousness and basic humanity to be able to distinguish right from wrong, and a reminder that every one of us has the ability and the power to oppose the violation of our freedoms, with no excuse. To me, she demonstrates that no matter my age, my gender, my nationality or any other trait, I will always have the ability to find the strength to do what is right, and make a difference, because as Sophie’s last reported words declare:

How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause. Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?”

It is these words that paint the clearest picture of the girl Sophie Scholl was: selfless, just and free. An ordinary girl- a student who liked art, working with children and reading the works of philosophers and writers alike. She was like any other girl in Munich, any other student in Germany or the rest of the world, but what set her apart was her choice to reject the defilement of her humanity. Hence she is symbolic of the fact that what defines me is not who I am born, but who I choose to be.

We live in a world where our nature means there is always a new oppressor, always someone willing to exploit others for their own means. More often than not, there are too many unwilling to confront them, to stop them from unleashing an onslaught of hate and prejudice onto a world that already witnesses too much. Still there are people like Sophie Scholl who are willing to uphold the unparalleled compassion of humanity, who remind us that we can use each day to fight the world’s injustices and we must overcome our fear of doing so. She poses such an agonizing question in her last words: if we don’t, who else will?

When you are young, you spend your entire life dreaming of what you will do one day or of what you will at achieve. There is an unquestioned sense of impossibility surrounding the thought of making a difference at this age, a seemingly impassable barrier that no matter how hard you try you can not overcome. Sophie Scholl is to me, a symbol that even in the world’s darkest times, there will always be good to be found, and whether I be sixteen or twenty one or sixty five; that good can be me.

Strikingly enough, I’m reluctant to allege that Sophie Scholl would have liked what I have written here; she did not set out to be a hero, an inspiration. That, was simply a by-product of the actions she knew in her heart she had to take.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

DEBATE: "This House Believes Feminism is Equality."

There must be two statements considered when asking whether feminism is equality. The first of these is what is feminism? Defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as the ‘advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of equality of the sexes’, it must be understood that feminism is not about female supremacy or male oppression, but about a larger social movement, which seeks to recognise that as human beings, we all have the radical right to be treated equally. Yet even I will admit this definition is somewhat out-dated; feminism is no longer as easily confined into a box, because as it stands now feminists fight for so much more than ‘traditional women’s rights’.

Even more important in considering this statement is the definition of what equality is. Too common is the response “I’m not a feminist, but I believe in gender equality” or “I’m not a feminist but I’m an egalitarian or humanitarian.” Perpetuating such a statement is to ignore what equality in this context means. You want men and women to be equal? Go ahead. 

For equality to exist as society stands now, men would have to experience the same levels of oppression that women do currently. This would mean that a man would not have yet been the President of the United States (but he could have won the popular vote), and only 15.6% of men would be professors at Cambridge, or 1 in 5 men from the age of 16 would have experienced some form of sexual violence. This is not equality, at least not as a feminist would have it, because it does not involve the erasure of prejudices so as to ensure the equality of all the sexes. The so-called ‘gender equality’ many claim to support actually involves dragging men down to the unequal standards women live at now.

Therefore, feminists, in their attempts to make women equal to men, actually aim to elevate the social standing of women so as make it the same as that of men and in doing so benefit men too. What is crucial is that many of the oppressions men face actually stem from the preconceived gender roles that society has established for women. Men are less likely to get custody of the children in court, because women are stereotyped as the home-makers, the maternal ones. Boys from a young age are taught not to cry or show emotion, because weakness is for girls and if you run or throw like one that’s even worse. Perhaps what is most defining, however, is that the people who fight against these detrimental social constructs are the feminists in the first place. It was the Feminist Majority Foundation that organised the “Rape is Rape” campaign which caused the FBI to change the definition of rape to include men. It is the feminist organisation The Representation Project that demands that the media change its representation of men, producing documentaries like The Mask You Live In which examine the effects of toxic masculinity on young boys and why the dropout rates for males are so high. In advocating the rights of women, true feminism advocates for the rights of men also, because it is only by ending our interconnected social oppression that we can progress into a truly equal society.

All of the above is still a highly westernised view of feminism. Today, Feminism has moved beyond the typical definition provided into a movement which considers that women are not a homogenous group. Women are made up of all different races, genders, sexual orientations, nationalities, social classes and a multitude of other variables. Arguably, ‘true feminism’ embraces intersectionality and acknowledges that women will face different forms of oppression depending on their varying identities. 

Feminism as such is so much more than the fight against sexism, but instead comprehends that society is a complicated mess where sexism, racism, homophobia and xenophobia all intertwine. However, as is found in any other social movement, political ideology or group of people in society, there is not always consensus as to how exactly this can be achieved. Admittedly, it is a feature of any movement that there will be disagreement, and there will be individuals who misuse the label for their own gain. But it is misuses like these that must be renounced and admitted so that the real inclusive and diverse nature of feminism is predominant. 

As was acknowledged on the signs of many marchers at the Women’s March this month with a quote from Audre Lorde, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are different from my own.”

This is the opening statement for a debate proposing the statement, "This House Believes Feminism is Equality."

Thursday, 29 December 2016

How do we define 2016? Death? No, Hope.

Portuguese tradition has it that at midnight on New Year's Eve you eat twelve raisins, and each time one passes your lips, you make a wish; twelve raisins, twelve wishes. The minute action is barely perceptible in a room which fractures with the mellow dreams of twenty people, their thoughts glittering with the promise of the coming year. Three hundred and sixty-five days lie as bright, white squares, fuzzy with inactivity that begs them to be coated thickly with painted laughter or have caffeinated tears spilt all over them.

This year, the blank squares have been scrawled over with names. David Bowie. Alan Rickman. Harper Lee. Prince. Muhammed Ali. Gene Wilder. Leonard Cohen. George Michael. Carrie Fisher. Debbie Reynolds. Written in a smudge of black, these are only a few of the names of the very brilliant, very great people the world has lost in three hundred and sixty five days, people who have challenged the world to love with their own self-love; icons of a generation who were able to capture the hearts and minds of countless amounts of people.

There should not be a minute which shudders by that we do not think about them or remember the words that they sang, spoke or wrote that harmonised with the roaring white noise of our world. There should not be an hour that we think of them as absences; they are presences only. There should not be an day their essence does not saturate individual persons; the nerve-endings of the earth who shiver and flare with the legacy they have left. There will not be a year they are not remembered, or a year that we do not implode into the dulcet tones they illustrated the world with.

If there is one thing that remains of this year, no matter the hatred that has raged or the wars that have savaged and the people we have lost, is that we have hope. We have hope because we are still here, still able to see the drizzle of flames fireworks leave in the sky and breathe the sharp air clotted with the spray of champagne. We still have twelve wishes and three hundred and sixty-five blank squares to slather in desiccated memories of our own choosing. Hope exists because we exist, because those who have left the world this year existed. It is the driving force that means next year, one of us will pick up the pen another has put down or pluck the guitar strings that have stopped being played, and with ink-embedded, metal-scarred finger-tips set this world alight.

Hope: as far as we know, that was Carrie Fisher's official last line in a movie, and this year, like all the others, it will be our last line too. We do not need to treat the burns and the scars; they are part of us now, a reminder that we are fickle, mortal creatures who have just as great a gift for destruction as we do for redemption. They will only be dangerous when they heal. For now our stinging pains fuel our fight. We have three hundred and sixty-five days, we have twelve wishes and we have hope, and we will have that the next year, and the next, and the next.

When the world teems with death, the most terrifying weapon we possess is raw, living hope.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

GUEST POST: Fictionalised Truths by Robert Eggleton

Today's guest post is by Robert Eggleton, the author of Rarity from the Hollow, on the topic of fictionalised truths or perhaps more descriptively the ways that both reality and fiction can impact one another.

Fiction can speak truth. Sometimes by reading stories, reality slides in through a side door and presents itself with greater impact and meaning than any other way that we find it in life, such as by watching the TV news or studying research.
Of course, the extent that we recognize and accept truth that is in accordance with fact or reality is very personal. There is a subjective aspect that is dependent upon faith and beliefs as much as upon scientific evidence.

There’s a fancy term that could be applied to holding beliefs that fly in the face of reality: cognitive dissonance. For example, some scientists have accused some politicians of cognitive dissonance for denying evidence from studies on climate change.

Furthermore, humans have a powerful and essential psychological defense mechanism that is used unconsciously – DENIAL. Some truth is just too hot to handle. Denial naturally and healthfully reduces anxiety arising from unacceptable or potentially harmful stimuli, such as truth that we are not equipped to face.

Reality presented through artfully crafted fiction can be less threatening – a less direct challenge to our beliefs about oneself and the world. A reader can simply close the cover when a little outside of one’s comfort zone, give it a rest and pick back up on the story when ready. With a fictional story, we are in control. There’s nobody to argue with if we don’t want to. We can just stop reading and give truth time to become digested and accepted or rejected over time.

Some fiction prompts one to think about life and the issues that it presents, while other stories entertain us by presenting a short-term opportunity to escape from life stress. Some are quick and easy reads, the story ends when the last page has been read. Other stories reassert messages that we appreciate for a lifetime. Both reading experiences are valuable and mostly we find some measure of our own truths within both literary and genre fiction.

I’m a retired children’s psychotherapist with a lifelong dream of becoming an author, but who didn’t begin writing fiction for publication until late in life. I tried to ignore the voices in my head and attempted to write the type of novels that I knew were most popular, romance and young adult stories. It didn’t work. What really kicked my butt and inspired me to write Rarity from the Hollow, my debut novel, an adult literary science fiction story, was a skinny little girl with long brown hair, a victim of child abuse – one of the strongest persons that I’ve ever met.

In 2002, I accepted a position as a therapist for an intensive mental health, day treatment program for kids. Most of the children had been abused, some sexually. Part of my job was to facilitate group therapy sessions. One day in 2006 during a group session, I was sitting around a table used for written therapeutic exercises when a little girl, who instead of just disclosing the horrors of her abuse at the hands of the meanest daddy on Earth, also spoke of her hopes and dreams for the future: finding a loving family to protect her.

My protagonist was born that day – an empowered victim who takes on the evils of the universe: Lacy Dawn. My productivity as a writer immediately increased because I had found a cause that I could believe in and that compelled me forward. I began to write fiction in the evenings and sometimes went to work the next day without enough sleep. To totally lock myself in to completing the project, I decided to dedicate author proceeds to the prevention of child abuse – a commitment that nobody could turn one’s back on. The Lacy Dawn character, like so many other maltreated children that I’d met during my career, started to become too complicated. I wanted to stick with a simple story. It seems that many consumers of fictionalised truths increasingly value simplicity, as evidenced by short tweets, blurbs…even the television news is reduced to sound bites with little time for much more than reaction before the next topic.

Once the novel was completed, I anticipated that an editor might instruct me to “keep it simple” if accepted for consideration. I cut, cut, and cut, but, I just couldn’t oversimplify the truth when writing Rarity from the Hollow. Life is just so complicated. With tragedy to parody, satiric dark comedy, the novel developed to include commentary not only about child maltreatment, but also about poverty, PTSD experienced by Vets, domestic violence, mental health issues and political ones too.

 “…You will enjoy the ride with Lacy Dawn, her family and friends, but don’t expect the ride to be without a few bumps, and enough food for thought to last you a long time.” — Darrell Bain, Award Winning Author

The truth was that in real life, Lacy Dawn’s father was a disabled Vet who experienced flashbacks and anger outbursts. Her family lived in an impoverished hollow with little economic opportunity. It all affected her performance and behavior in school, which influenced peer relationships, including viewpoints on romance and teenage pregnancy. That's why I wanted to write about important issues that one person may think support a particular position but the next reader finds the opposite because I don’t have the answers to the most important questions and challenges that humans face.

With mixed feelings, I submitted the first draft of my debut novel to an agent, Robert Stephenson from Australia. I knew that something was wrong with the story at the time and he confirmed that Rarity from the Hollow was just too tragic – too sad. I agreed to rewrite because as it was the story would trigger both cognitive dissonance and denial. So when rewriting my novel I wanted to get as far away as I could from it being perceived as an exposé or a memoir. For the truths to slip in through the side doors, the story had to be fun to read while not losing the tragedy.

The SF/F backdrop for Rarity from the Hollow was selected because it was the best fit by process of elimination. The story includes early scenes and references to tragedies in contemporary America. As such, it was not a good fit to the historical or western genres, although the social problems addressed in the story have existed throughout history, and are not restrained by our world’s geography, cultures, or religions.

The story had to be hopeful; Lacy Dawn and her traumatised teammates needed fantastical elements to achieve empowerment. But, as in life, one cannot overcome barriers by simply imagining them away. That’s where the science fiction came into play. It provided a power source. I tied the science fiction to capitalism because in today’s reality it will take significant financial investment by benefactors to improve the welfare of children in the world, and to invest in economic development.
As symbolised in the story, the systems in place to help victims are woefully inadequate. The intent of the novel was to sensitise people to the issue of child maltreatment the way that Charles Dickens’ Tiny Tim worked his way into the hearts of millions of fans.

I’ve read every single book review, glowing and critical. Based on the receptiveness of book bloggers and book reviewers to this novel, and input from reviews, a decision was made to republish Rarity from the Hollow. The second edition is scheduled for release on September 30, 2016. The book cover was changed a little to emphasise that it is a children's story for adults with a science fiction backdrop. A new blurb was written. Some of the stronger language was toned down a little, the political allegory was strengthened, and a formatting problem which affected the internal dialogue in the first edition was corrected.

I’m very proud of this book. I am forever indebted to the real-life Lacy Dawn. Life’s funny, ain’t it? Sometimes when you lend a helping hand, you benefit many times over.

Author proceeds have been donated to child abuse prevention. Children’s Home Society of West Virginia is a nonprofit children’s services program. It was established in 1893 and currently serves over 13,000 children and families each year. http://childhswv.org/ You can buy Rarity from the Hollow here.

[Edited for length and/or clarity]

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

We Fight On - The 2016 Presidential Election

Tuesday had the opportunity to be historic; Hillary Rodham Clinton, the first female President of the United States of America, a symbol that women could shatter that "highest and hardest glass ceiling."

The glass stayed unshattered.

Tuesday had the opportunity to symbolise two victories: one for progression, a unanimous cry that prejudice does not and will not define the futures of our children; the other, a sign that we still collectively cower in fear, flinching away from what we are convinced is different, carving ourselves into our own enemies.

The fear won.

This election has shaken communities around the world to the core; the results are personal. There are people who do not have the luxury of simply waiting out the next four or eight years, because the rhetoric of the winning campaign has turned them into scapegoats, has threatened them based on aspects of themselves they cannot control. Being able to "put up and shut up" is a privilege not many can afford.

Women, African Americans, Muslims, the LGBTQA+ community, immigrants, Hispanics: His campaign has frequently and hatefully targeted minorities, ranging from insulting a Muslim gold-star family to his derogatory manner of talking about women, immortalised by his words that he could grab them by the genitals. These people face a man in power who claims to represent them and then vilifies their very being, who threatens their civil liberties and wishes to silence them. They, we, refuse to be silenced.

A single apology was received at the end of this election, from the one person from whom it was not required. "I am sorry that we did not win this election for the values we share and the vision we hold for our country." These were the words of Hillary Clinton, an apology when although that glass ceiling has not been shattered, because of her we can now see the cracks. When it all finally smashes it will be the loudest reminder that love trumps hate.

That is the message that now stands tall. This election has failed people everywhere, people who are mothers, fathers, daughters and sons, not statistics on a screen. They are your own family and friends, the people you pass on the street, who make your coffee, look after you when you are sick and they cannot be allowed to believe this atmosphere of hate and fear is now the status quo. It wasn't before, and it will not be now, no matter the twisted words and values of a single man in his walled castle. In the words of Michelle Obama, "When they go low, we go high." That is our driving force.

So stand taller, hold your head higher, make your voice be heard loud and clear. The battle may have been lost, but the war against contempt and prejudice continues. More than ever we must fight harder, write faster, hold each other tighter and together we will rise up as people who understand that liberty, equality and love will make us greater than anything else ever could. 

What we are fighting greatly surpasses this election.

And so we fight on.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Harry Potter & the Cursed Child by J.K.Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany

Title: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Author: J.K.Rowling, Jack Thorne, John Tiffany
Series: Harry Potter #8
Source: Bought
Publisher: Little Brown UK
Published: July 31st 2016
No. of Pages: 343

Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, a new play by Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage. The play will receive its world premiere in London’s West End on July 30, 2016.

It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

 5 stars

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