Giving a voice to the voiceless has been an important part of my drive to write and also to work with asylum seekers helping them to write their stories down. "Go and open the door," writes Noor, 15, "I see my country, I see the building where my family and friends live."
One boy said, "This has been the best day of my life," after he had read out a piece about his homeland, Iraq. At last his voice and his feelings had been heard and acknowledged.
I have always felt that is is huge responsibility to write fiction about the experience of being an asylum seeker. But the desire to show the human side of ordinary people, as opposed to statistics and anonymity, has been the impetus to keep me writing. In fiction I can weave my research into fictional lives to make the experience as authentic as possible while also creating three-dimensional characters my readers can believe in.
I have just completed a new story, Yasmin's Journey, about a Syrian girl running away from the war, (Ransom Books, October 2016). The book is for teen girls with low reading ages so my limit was 5000 words. Quite a challenge to cover so much ground in so few words!
In researching the book I came across some very sad stories such as the three year old boy who cried until he was sick because he was separated from his family. Tears rolled down my face as I read this story. Fortunately a charity reunited the child with his parents.
My next book, The Emergency Zoo, (May 2016, Alma Books) is set just before the outbreak of WW2. It is the untold story of the culling of 750,000 pets - a pretty mind-boggling story on its own. But in my research I came across a story about two Jewish sisters from Germany,coming on the Kindertransport, who were desperate not to leave their dog behind. I therefore created a Jewish brother and sister from Frankfurt who become part of a group of children who save their pets. 10,000 Jewish children came as unaccompanied asylum-seeking children from the Continent before the outbreak of war and mostly their families perished.
It is a sad fact that many of the children who arrive alone in the UK every week, fleeing war and devastation, will never see their families again. It is essential that we find the strength and imagination to write authentic stories which reflect their terrible experiences and give hope that they will be able to build new lives here with us in the UK.