My Name is Parvana

Deborah Ellis shares her experiences of researching her latest book, set in Afghanistan, My Name is Parvana.

Late in the l990s, I spent time in the Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan.  Millions of Afghans fled there from the Soviet occupation, the civil war and then the atrocities of the Taliban.  The stories I heard there of sorrow and strength, of loss and kindness, formed the basis for my novel for young people called The BreadwinnerThe Breadwinner follows a girl, Parvana, who disguises herself as a boy in order to feed her family in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

Breadwinner 2014

The Breadwinner was followed by two other novels about Parvana and her friend, Shauzia – Parvana’s Journey and Mud City.

Some years went by.  Afghanistan underwent many changes.  I wondered what life would be like for Parvana in this new Afghanistan.

To research My Name Is Parvana, I spent time in Kabul, meeting with a wide range of women and children.  I was able to record interviews with many children, and published them in a book called Kids of Kabul: Living Bravely Through A Never-Ending War.

My Name Is Parvana starts out with Parvana being picked up in a bombed-out school building by an American military patrol and being brought back to their base for questioning.  It follows the dream of many girls and women there, a dream of freedom, education, and a life without violence.

My Name is Parvana is out now.

My Name is Parvana

As with the other books, royalties are going to Canadian Women 4 Women in Afghanistan, for their on-going work in support of women and children in Afghanistan.

Deb Ellis largeDeborah Ellis has been a political activist since the age of 17, advocating non-violence. After high school she went to Toronto and worked in the Peace Movement. Later she got involved in the Women’s Movement, focusing on women’s rights and economic justice. She continues to be involved in anti-war politics. She has spent a lot of time in Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan, talking to women and documenting their lives through 20 years of war. The stories she heard and the children she met were the inspiration for The Breadwinner, Parvana’s JourneyMud City, and My Name is Parvana. The Breadwinner trilogy has sold hundreds of thousands of copies in twenty-five different languages. Deborah lives in Ontario, Canada.

The Truth About Imaginary Friends

We were talking about the old days, and I remembered the weirdest things. Like people calling them ‘friends’. And how they said they were good for your brain. Some families even laid a place for them at dinner. 

Debut novelist Nikki Sheehan shares her thoughts on the phenomenon of imaginary friends, based on her research for the brilliant new Who Framed Klaris Cliff?

I realise that telling the truth about something that is essentially a lie is a strange thing to do. But it’s an important thing because in the past adults used to tell a lot of lies about imaginary friends.

Not so many years ago, thankfully before I was born, they were about as welcome within a family as a dose of chicken pox. Maybe less so because parents never invited the neighbourhood kids round for imaginary friend parties. Some stats from the 1930s show that a paltry 10-15% of kids admitted to them, possibly because they were viewed as at best a sign of loneliness or insecurity, and at worst an indication of neurosis.

Then, a few decades ago, opinion went into reverse. Imaginary friends appeared more frequently in children’s books and TV programmes, and some parents, perhaps believing that imaginary friends are a sign of intelligence, began to encourage them the way we might lure hedgehogs into the garden, laying places for them at the dinner table and allowing them to take the blame for scribbling on the walls or tumble drying the remote control.

Within this more benign environment a huge 65% of children will now admit to having conjured up playmates out of thin air. At first sight the increase is puzzling. After all, as in my book Who Framed Klaris Cliff?, we know that imaginary friends appear when children have the time and space for free play, which means when they’re not at school, watching TV or playing computer games. Given the choice between racing Mario Kart, or racing raindrops down a window pane, few self-respecting digital natives would choose the old-school entertainment.

But there is another important factor. While the number of screens has multiplied in our homes, the number of children in them has dropped. Almost half of the UK’s kids have no brothers or sisters. Imaginary friends are more common in first, or only children, so although they may spend a lot of time being entertained by screens, we can deduce that our children’s imaginations are firing on all cylinders when they’re given a bit of down time.

As to whether they’re a sign of superior intelligence or imagination, there’s no conclusive evidence one way or the other. However, psychologists say that the interaction with an imaginary friend is very complex, requiring the child to practice viewing things from two perspectives, and it gives little brains and social skills an excellent workout.

But they do more than this. We know that children can turn to imaginary friends for companionship and emotional support at difficult times, and kids who experience loss will often ‘replace’ the person who has gone with a transitional invisible being. Someone I knew when I was young created an Old English Sheepdog when her brother was sent to boarding school, and her parents, no doubt feeling guilty, duly laid out the empty dog bowls and put up with the imaginary dog taking up all the space on the sofa.

Apparently they knew what most parents know now, that for children, as well as for many authors, far from being an indication of madness, it’s conjuring up imaginary friends that keep us sane.

Who Framed Klaris Cliff? is out now.

Who Framed Klaris Cliff

Nikki Sheehan author picNikki Sheehan is the youngest daughter of a rocket scientist. She went to a convent school in Cambridge where she was taught by nuns. Her writing was first published when she was seven and her teacher submitted a poem she had written to a magazine. She always loved English, but has a degree in linguistics. After university Nikki’s first job was subtitling The Simpsons. She then studied psychology, retrained as a journalist, and wrote features for parenting magazines and the national press. She now writes mainly about property and is co-founder of an award-winning, slightly subversive, property blog. She is married and lives in Brighton with her husband, three children, two dogs, a cat, an ever-fluctuating numbers of hamsters, and the imaginary people that inhabit her stories.

Stinkbomb, Ketchup-Face, and Salvador Dali

John Dougherty, author of the eye-poppingly funny new Stinkbomb and Ketchup-Face series (illustrated by David Tazzyman of Mr Gum fame), ruminates on imagination and surrealism in children’s books.

You can’t imagine how thrilled I was to have my new book, Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face and the Badness of Badgers, chosen by The Times in early February as its Children’s Book of the Week.

Well, perhaps you can. And in a way, this blog post is going to be all about imagination. So go on, give it a go.

Done it? Good. Now, where was I? Oh, yes, Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face, The Times, Children’s Book of the Week, and me being thrilled. In fact, I was so thrilled that I didn’t even notice the article next to the review until a couple of days later. But when I did, I found it both fascinating and serendipitous.

The article was one in which a chap by the name of Philip Howard examined the word ‘surreal’, explaining in a few column inches what it actually means. Apparently, the aim of surrealism was to explore the unconscious mind and “liberate thought from the constraints of logic”, whilst its practitioners “startled the conventional world with imaginary worlds in which natural laws were suspended”.

“Hmmm,” I thought. “If I’m not mistaken, I’ve written a surreal book.”

A brief glance at the 1924 Surrealist Manifesto added to my suspicions. It includes lines like:

“Dictation of thought in the absence of all control exercised by reason…”

and

“Surrealism is based on the belief in… the disinterested play of thought.

That sounds very much like what I’ve tried to do with the adventures of my two little heroes. When I sat down to write the book, my aim was to produce a work of deep silliness, and I decided that the best way to do this was:

(a)  to pinch, borrow, and otherwise be inspired by the sayings and behaviour of small children, and

(b)  to remove the brakes from my imagination; to switch off the internal censors that tell me, but that’s impossible, or, that doesn’t make sense, or, you can’t do that.

And I’ve realised since that, really, what I was trying to do was to get back into the mind of a child at play.

Remember what it was like? Those days when anything could happen; when, no matter what was needed by the story you were acting out, it could be imagined into existence? When you had no idea where your game of let’s pretend  was going to end up, but it was fun getting there?

That’s what Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face is about. That’s why the story includes badgers pretending to be lemmings and driving too fast; a reigning monarch called King Toothbrush Weasel; an exceedingly irritating and supercilious army called Malcolm the Cat; pockets full of fish, dustbins and sports cars; and an extremely grateful shopping trolley.

Surrealism and children’s fiction is a perfect match. As Picasso said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up. And as Megan, aged 8, said about Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face and the Badness of Badgers, “Blueberry jam! I laughed so hard my head fell off.

Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face – even funnier than Salvador Dali.

Stinkbomb and Ketchup-Face and the Badness of Badgers is out now.

Stinkbomb and Ketchup-Face and the Badness of Badgers

John Dougherty

John Dougherty was the sort of boy who always had his nose in a book, and he grew into the sort of adult who always has his nose in a book, which is probably why he decided to become a writer.

Born and raised in Larne, Northern Ireland, John now lives in Stroud in Gloucestershire with his wife, two children, a few chickens and several bees. He’s a keen singer who has performed solo, with a band, and as a member of three award-winning a cappella groups. His books have been shortlisted for a number of prestigious awards – and one was chosen by The Times as one of the Best Children’s Books of the Year 2011 – but, more importantly, they make children giggle.

 

A Prank is for Life, Not Just for April Fools’ Day.

Stand-up comedian and author of the brand new The Private Blog of Joe Cowley, Ben Davis shares his top 3 favourite April Fool pranks…

Hi everybody! My name is Ben Davis and I’m a writer. My debut novel is called The Private Blog of Joe Cowley. It’s about a fourteen-year-old boy who starts his own secret blog to document his transition from outsider and wedgie-receiver to a Captain Picard-like master of life. Unfortunately for Joe though, his plans are dealt a major blow with the revelation that he has a step-brother with whom he has a serious history.

Of course, as my book is based on a blog, it was perhaps fitting that OUP kindly asked me to write a blog to mark the occasion of its publication.

To begin with, I had no idea what to write about. I mean, I do have many varied interests, but I doubt that young people of today would be interested in reading about my collection of 1990s WWF wrestling figures.

That's what you think, MAGGOT!

That’s what you think, MAGGOT!

When I saw what day this blog was going to be published on, though, I knew what I was going to write about.

Yes, April Fools’ Day. The one day, or to be more accurate, half day, when you can pull all manner of cruel pranks on your fellow man with no repercussions.

Now, I love pranks. To me, pranking is the best thing we humans can do. It’s what separates us from the animals.

Except the penguins.

Except the penguins.

To a prank guy like me, April Fools’ Day is Christmas and my birthday all rolled into one. Of course, because I prank so many people, I don’t usually get too many presents, but still…

When most people think of pranks, they think of the old cling film over the toilet trick, but this is old hat and you will always end up with one of two things: a wet floor or a lifetime ban from Homebase. So to inspire you, I have compiled my top three pranks of all time.

3. The Trojan Horse

image005This was a classic. You see, the Greeks really wanted to get into Troy. I don’t know why but I’m sure they had their reasons, maybe their Ikea had a proper good sale on. Point is, they wanted in.

Now this was the olden days, so things were different. These days, if I want to go to say – Nuneaton, I can just drive over there and walk around with complete freedom.

Except in Home Bargains. That store detective is good at remembering faces.

Except in Home Bargains. That store detective is good at remembering faces.

 Back then though, they built massive walls around their towns and they’d only let you in if you knew the secret password. Secret passwords were often tricky to remember and had to be at least eight characters long with at least one capital letter and one number, and if you forgot it, you were out.

Is that an H or an N? Ah screw it, let's just move.

Is that an H or an N? Ah screw it, let’s just move.

Anyway, the Greeks didn’t have a secret password, so they decided to prank their way in. Because the Greeks, as a people, are nothing if not committed to the lolz.

I mean, look at that statue! He's got his bum out!

I mean, look at that statue! He’s got his bum out!

For their super prank, the Greeks proceeded to build a giant wooden horse and wheel it to the gates of Troy, with dozens of super-tough army guys hiding inside, trying not to sneeze or anything like that.

See, the thing you should know about the Trojans is that they loved giant wooden horses. Give your typical Trojan a giant wooden horse and he’s as happy as Larry, so this was the perfect thing to prank them with. It would be like tricking your way into Essex dressed as an immense bottle of fake tan.

Naturally, the Trojans were chuffed to bits with their surprise and wheeled it inside the town where they quickly began to plan where it would go in the Troy Museum of Giant Wooden Horses.

But before they could, as a hilarious crescendo to this masterpiece of prankdom, the Greeks jumped out and mercilessly slaughtered everyone.

Actually, that’s not funny. That’s horrible. We’ll move on to the next prank.

2. The War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast

image013Orson Welles was one of the most accomplished actor/directors of all time. He is known for being the auteur behind celluloid classic Citizen Kane, and the owner of one of the most impressive beards in Hollywood.

But what I’ll mainly remember him for was his love of pranks.

In 1938, Welles performed a radio broadcast of H.G. Wells’ (no relation, I mean, come on, they’re not even spelled the same) sci-fi novel, War of the Worlds. In case you haven’t read it, or you began to watch the movie version starring Tom Cruise and kicked in your TV screen in disgust, War of the Worlds is about what would happen if a legion of aliens came and took over earth with their terrifying disintegrator rays of doom.

As we have already established, Welles was a top-notch actor.

Unlike someone we know.

Unlike someone we know.

And his performance was so convincing that many listeners thought a real alien invasion was occurring.

This was an incredible prank and one that will never be repeated, because people are getting wise to it now. I mean, radio stations these days are trying so hard to convince me that Justin Bieber is an actual thing, but I’m not having it.

I’M ONTO YOU, CAPITAL FM!

I’M ONTO YOU, CAPITAL FM!

1. The Epic Prank I played on my So-Called Best Friend Fat Barry

Ah, Fat Barry, my oldest chum. We’ve been friends since we were kids, but to be honest, I have no idea why because he’s always whinging:

‘When are you going to pay me back?’

‘Stop calling me Fat Barry, I’m thinner than you.’

‘No I don’t want a hug, now get out of my bathroom.’

Blah, blah, blah. You see? He’s Mr Negativity. And I’ll tell you something else about Fat Barry – he hates pranks. Every April Fools’ Day he is a terrible sport. Like this once, when I called the bomb squad and told them a suspicious package was in Fat Barry’s car, and they came out and blew it up, he barely even cracked a smile. Lighten up, Scrooge!

For some reason, after that, Fat Barry started going on holiday every April. He’d never tell me where he was going, either. Considering he’s supposed to be my best friend, he’s really secretive. Once, he even refused to tell me his mother’s maiden name, account number and sort code. What a weirdo.

Anyway, it wasn’t easy, but last year, I figured out where he was going – Spain. I won’t give away my investigative techniques, but let’s just say the contents of a man’s bin can reveal a great deal.

Straight away, I called my mate Spanish Steve who works in customs and told him that a high-end smuggler was coming over and that he should be searched thoroughly. And I meant thoroughly.

Of course, it wouldn’t be enough to just hear about it when he got home – I had to be there. I booked a ticket for his flight and got on board in disguise. The disguise in this case was that I actually looked like my passport photo.

Hello handsome!

Hello handsome!

When we arrived in Spain, sure enough, Spanish Steve took Fat Barry into a private room and searched him for illegal contraband. I stood outside as Fat Barry protested his innocence and giggled to myself as I watched him tenderly walk out after an hour.

‘Hey, Fat Barry,’ I yelled. ‘April Fool!’

Fat Barry slowly turned around and looked at me. It was as if he knew.

‘Now here’s your April Fool,’ he said, before smacking me in the face and knocking out three teeth.

You might think he got me there, but the thing is, Spain is an hour ahead of us and by the time he hit me, it had gone twelve. So in a way, the joke was on him.

I hope you have enjoyed this round-up of my all-time favourite pranks, and that it has inspired you to terrorise your own nearest and dearest this year.

But that’s not all. I have one more prank up my sleeve. You see, at the beginning, I told you that The Private Blog of Joe Cowley is my debut novel. Well, I was lying. The Private Blog of Joe Cowley isn’t a novel at all – it’s a horse.

APRIL FOOL!

APRIL FOOL!

Actually, I should point out that The Private Blog of Joe Cowley is a book and that you should definitely buy it. Please, I’ve got dentist bills to pay.

The Private Blog of Joe Cowley is published on 3 April (honest!).

9780192736758_THE_PRIVATE_BLOG_OF_JOE_COWLEY_CVR_APR14

Ben2

Stand-up comedian Ben Davis studied English at University, which was quite easy because he was already fluent in that. Ben was once invited to audition for a lead role in a West End musical. Since then, he has written jokes for everything from radio shows to greeting cards and, despite his complete lack of singing and dancing ability, was once invited to audition for a lead role in a West End musical. He now lives in Tamworth with his wife and his wimpy dog. The Private Blog of Joe Cowley is his first novel.

Picture credits

PENGUIN: http://www.gifbin.com/981126

TROJAN HORSE: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

STORE DETECTIVE: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

STATUE: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

ALIEN: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

CRUISE: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

JUSTIN BIEBER: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

SCREAM: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

HORSE: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

%d bloggers like this: