Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Stories,Snakes and Cimate Change

When Tony Bradman put out a new brief in 2007 for stories about climate change Britain was poised for a storm surge down the North Sea which was threatening floods worse than the great floods half a century ago. On the 31st January 1953 a wall of water, driven by winds over 100mph, swept down the North Sea and over 300 people died. It was the worse peace time disaster in Britain in the twentieth century.
But a new storm was due in November 2007 and on the news the talk was all about global warming and the rise in sea levels. We would have to expect more threats from the sea and much worse flooding than in 1953. Bangladesh which is only one metre above sea level could be submerged in the future.
I decided to write my story about climate change to explore this growing threat.
I felt very strongly it was important that my story helped children to feel empowered. I wanted to show them that they could take action to help prevent climate change, rather than just sit around worrying about it.

In 2009 my story, 'Tommo and the Bike Train' was published in the anthology, 'Under the Weather' stories about climate change, edited by Tony Bradman (Francis Lincoln)

My story about Tommo is highlighted on the back page.

Tommo is a typical 12 year old growing up in Camden, playing football in the streets with his best friend,Deep,whose family come from Bangladesh. Tommo is happy with his life, around the flats and at school. He can't imagine living anywhere else.

Tommo's flats in Camden

Then his parents announce they are moving to the east coast of England. Tommo finds himself at the end of a lane near the sea, with no other kids around and his Dad has to drive him to school everyday. He hates it. Its November and dark by four. The sea sounds like a wild beast outside his window.

In Geography they are doing global warming and floods in Bangladesh. As the world heats up the sea levels will rise and flooding will become worse. Deep tells Tommo that his grandma died in Bangladesh last time there were floods. "Drowned?" says Tommo. "Snake bite," says Deep. When there are floods in Bangldesh dozens of people die from snakebites. Losing their habitats the snakes climb onto roofs with the humans and end up in their bedding with terrible consequences.

I learnt about the danger from snakes when teaching Geography in Camden classrooms. I remember being horrified at this ultimate cruelty after everything that the flood victims have gone through.

Flood victims and the snakes

Tommo worries about saving all the grannies of the world as the sea levels rise and floods get worse. Then one morning in school the Head informs them that a storm surge is predicted down the North Sea and they will all be evacuated to the school buildings. Tommo and his family leave their home during the storm and camp out overnight in the school hall. Then Tommo gets his brilliant idea. He decides he is personally going to stop global warming over his town by persuading the other kids to bike to school, instead of driving. They meet up and form a Bike Train for safety.

Photo by Louis Berk

I love writing to a brief and this is the second short story I have had published in an anthology. The first story, 'Samir Hakkim's Healthy Eating Diary' was published in 'Give me Shelter' stories of child asylum seekers, edited by Tony Bradman, Francis Lincoln, 2007. The anthology was short-listed for the UKLA award.

The character of Samir, an unaccompanied child asylum seeker from Saddam Hussein's Iraq, appeared again in my new novel, HIDDEN, to be published in Oct 2010, Meadowside Books.
Writing short fiction, working to briefs, focuses the mind beautifully and you never know where it may lead.
Perhaps I will go on to write more about Tommo in the future.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Get out of the attic!

I have been writing since I could read but when I was growing up no-one took much notice. My parents encouraged me to do well generally at school but school did not encourage my creativity and I was too shy to admit to anyone that I wrote. I did however write songs and sing them to my friends at uni and did the occasional open mic spot. It wasn't until I had my kids that creative writing classes really started in London. That was when my writing took off. With the support of my tutor and fellow student/writers I began to publish short stories, articles, poems and then to work on my first novel. But the whole process could have been much quicker if there had been the courses we have these days and the critique groups that have sprung up on almost every street corner.

Discussing a new chapter in my critique group.

Writing in a lonely attic ( or in my case, on the kitchen table after the kids had gone to bed) did not really take me towards my goal of becoming a published writer. Nor did it help much to read to family and friends. Ultimately the work needs the rigour of other writers, either in a committed critique group or in a tutor-lead setting.

Running a workshop in North Finchley.

I have lead workshops and been a member of critique groups for over fifteen years. Most people need the cool objective eye of another and the support to move their writing towards their goals. Very few people remain in the attic and achieve that goal.

These days there are so many options to choose from and if all else fails, start your own group. That's what I did on more than one occasion and my novels are proof of how important that has been for me.

This month the writer and blogger, Tracy Ann Baines, has posted two articles I have written on critique groups and tutor lead workshops. Here are the links :

Don't battle on alone wondering if you are going in the right direction. Join a class, find a critique group, meet with other committed writers, go to writers' events, find out about the industry and you'll be plunged into a new and exciting world which will support your journey to becoming a published writer.