Tag Archives: Amnesty International

Day 2

That’s my day 2, not the Edinburgh International Book Festival, who were already on day 6. I’m pacing myself, as I keep telling people. It’s not that I’m lazy.

Press ducks

The sun shone again. My theory is that it’s pleased to see me. As I am pleased to see it. We kept each other company outside the yurt, eating, reading, watching famous people go by.

Photographed Siri Hustvedt, doing my best from behind the professional photographers. As you can see, I’m a little short.

Siri Hustvedt

Discussed Peter Høeg with someone on staff, as you do. Chatted to press boss Frances as we both enjoyed the lovely summer’s day on the pew outside, talking about the logistics behind the scenes. Watched Chris Close photograph Tanya Landman, and kept thinking he’d offer her the apple I could see. Turned out later it was for him to eat…

Chris Close and Tanya Landman

Talked with Tanya’s agent Lindsey Fraser, until we realised we’d better head over to queue for Tanya’s sold out event with Reginald D Hunter. Were joined by Elspeth Graham, who is practically Tanya’s neighbour at home.

Tanya Landman and Daniel Hahn

Hung out in the bookshop while Tanya signed her books, and said hello to Eleanor Updale, and was introduced to Lari Don’s mother who looked more like a sister, and finally met Kirstin from Barrington Stoke. Had some tea after that, but was a little disappointed with the scone. Encountered Carol Ann Duffy on my way to the Amnesty International reading. Not that we are pals or talked, obviously.

Daniel Hahn and Eleanor Updale

The Amnesty readings were not quite as harrowing as they usually are, by which I mean I didn’t burst into tears. The Thursday readers were Raja Shehadeh, Siri Hustvedt, Stef Penney and Denise Mina on the subject of ‘Love is a human right.’

Then I went out to dinner with Son and Dodo. We had tapas, followed by some enormous puddings (presumably to make up for the tapas-sized main course). Reckon if I display any more senior moments I will never be asked out again. It’s not easy getting old.

To finish the day we all went to an event with Michelle Paver and the very reclusive Peter Høeg, admirably chaired by Daniel Hahn. Again. He certainly gets around. And after that we hung out in the signing tent, where there was a satisfyingly long queue, and Son and Danny talked translations. Or something.

Peter Høeg, Michelle Paver, Daniel Hahn and Ian Giles

And then it was time to go home, to which I will add that it’s also high time ScotRail make enough trains and rolling stock available to dispatch all festival goers to their homes. What we get makes me long for the post-concert trains on the Continent where you don’t end a nice day out on the floor of a train. (And no, that wasn’t me. I had sharpened my elbows before I left, so got a seat. But plenty didn’t.)

Here I Stand

Here is a book you should all read. Here I Stand is an anthology for Amnesty International, where a number of our greatest authors and poets and illustrators have come together and written short pieces about the injustices in life as they see them.

Here I Stand

John Boyne writes about child abuse and Liz Kessler deals with same sex love. Both stories are hard to read, but at the same time they are uplifting and they make you think.

And it is repeated in every single contribution to this volume, whether by Jackie Kay or Jack Gantos, Sarah Crossan or Frances Hardinge. Bali Rai, Neil Gaiman and Elizabeth Laird are others who have important things to say about why life is far from right for many people in the world.

People who can be jailed or executed for the most normal behavior, or those who are simply too poor or too unfortunate in various ways. People for whom we need to continue fighting.

There is much in this book to think about. Please think about it.

We Are All Born Free

‘If we are frightened of being badly treated in our own country, we all have the right to run away to another country to be safe.’

The above is a quote from We Are All Born Free, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Pictures, where you get the simplified version of our rights, accompanied by the most beautiful illustrations. This book isn’t new, but we have never needed it more.

We Are All Born Free, by Frané Lessac

There is something about the simplified version that makes the truth about what this well known declaration is telling us really stand out. Our leaders would do well to read it. Many of them are most likely in favour of our rights, while conveniently forgetting to act as though they are. ‘We have a duty to other people, and we should protect their rights and freedoms.’

‘These rights belong to everybody, whatever our differences.’

We Are All Born Free, by Alan Lee

(The paperback of We Are All Born Free was published last year, and all royalties go to Amnesty International.)

The Amnesty readings

If you feel up to the gruesome nature of what some people do to other people, you should go along to one or more of the Amnesty International readings in Charlotte Square. They are free, and they are good, but they could make you cry, as happened to one of the authors reading the other night. But then, if the people who need Amnesty’s help can put up with what’s being done to them, I reckon we can.

I’ve been to two readings this week. The first one had Dreams of Freedom as its theme, and it is also the title of a book published in association with Amnesty. It has short quotes from well known people who have been wrongly imprisoned, and it has been illustrated by famous artists, including Oliver Jeffers and Chris Riddell.

Dreams of Freedom

On Wednesday the authors who read to us were Dub Leffler, Debi Gliori, Michel Faber and D D Everest. They are all different people, but they all read very well, and talked about their pieces in a way to make me want to read more. To do more.

Wednesday’s writers were Nelson Mandela, Malala Yousafzai, Aung San Suu Kyi and Tenzin Gyatso (Dalai Lama). It’s easy to think we know it all, but we don’t. We need to hear more of what’s being done to people.

On Thursday the authors were Paul Magrs, Teri Terry, Priya Parmar and Cecilia Ekbäck. The pieces they read were all excedingly short, but no less powerful. The writers were Alicia Partnoy, Liao Yiwu, Enoh Meyomesse and Stephanie Ndoungo, and what strikes you again and again is how normal their behaviour has been, and still they end up incarcerated.

Amnesty in Edinburgh are asking people to sign a petition to free Atena Farghadani, who is an Iranian artist, punished for posting a cartoon on Facebook, and sentenced to 14 years. When she shook the hand of her male lawyer, they were both accused of indecent conduct. To sign you can text ATENA and your own FIRST and LAST name to 70505.

Dreams of Freedom

‘Freedom to feel safe.’

Green peace?

I’m pretty good at avoiding chuggers in town. I either ‘don’t see them’ or I get away from them as politely and quickly as possible. But with Amnesty International and Greenpeace it’s a little harder. I have been a member of both and support their work, but not to the extent that I will sign away my money in the street.

Their chuggers are generally nicer to chat to than others. That’s why last week I didn’t avoid the nice young man on the street corner, but said I only literally had a minute (dentist’s appointment), so if he could cut to the chase, please?

He tried. He really did. And he was lovely. But really, I don’t need an explanation of what Greenpeace do or be told about palm oil. If I did, I’d probably not want to give money anyway, and as I do know, we can save several minutes.

I suppose what gets to me is that I now look so old and stupid and unfashionably uncool, that I ‘need’ the explanation.

In the end I got away by promising to look their current project up online, and pointing out that I had been a member before he was born. (It’s like sex, isn’t it? The young always think they invented whatever it is, and that old people have no idea.) I even got the bath towels (no, not the t-shirt) with the rainbow lettering.

I thought of mentioning I was around when the Rainbow Warrior sunk. But that might have given the wrong impression.

A day of politics

I’m afraid we swapped allegiance by going to the Scottish Parliament on Saturday morning, instead of to our intended event in Charlotte Square. (It was sold out, anyway, so we weren’t missed.) Theresa Breslin was talking in Parliament about The Importance of Reading to Children and to Society, along with a few others, and had invited us along.

So down to Holyrood we went, subjecting ourselves to airport style security to be allowed in. Found Mr B in the foyer, and he wished he’d stayed in bed an hour longer. I think we all did, but this was a good cause. As we lined up to go in, Daughter asked me who the people behind us were. She could recognise their voices. I turned round to look (why didn’t she do it herself?) in order to tell her she was hallucinating and why would she know anyone in Edinburgh?

The voices turned out to belong to Linda Strachan and Julie Bertagna, so she was right and I am an idiot. Sigh.

There is a convenient bus between Parliament and Charlotte Square, and we got back fairly painlessly for an afternoon with Lee Weatherly on the subject of Angels. After her signing, and before she rushed off home, Lee posed for photos for us.

Lee Weatherly

We had intended to go ‘home’ after Lee’s event, but when we found that both Steve Cole and Joanna Nadin were taking part in the Amnesty International reading, we went and got tickets and joined them.

Afterwards it struck me that it’d be a good thing to take some photos of Jo (Steve very wisely disappeared…), so we walked over to the yurt area. It turned out to be covered with photographers taking pictures of Seamus Heaney, and there was simply no room for us.

Joanna Nadin

My bright solution was to invite Jo round the back, as it would be empty. Which it was, and we got started. The famous Irish poet must have been quick though, because soon the full set of paparazzi were upon us, and more specifically, on Jo. They wanted in as well. (They do have a soft spot for a pretty woman.) So through no fault of her own, Jo turned this way and that way, and posed like crazy.

Once the mayhem we’d caused was over, we hotfooted it out of there. If I’m lucky, Jo will even remain on speaking terms with me.

The Amnesty reading

We had to go round the corner and cry a little after Saturday’s Amnesty International reading at Charlotte Square. The only blessing was that it wasn’t us doing the reading or sitting next to someone doing it. They really couldn’t start blubbing, although I believe Joanna Nadin was close after her reading.

They get four authors to come and read every evening, and by fluke, or by utterly inspired design, three out of the four were children’s authors, mostly known for being funny. Apart from Jo it was Holly Webb and Steve Cole, as well as the perfectly ‘normal’ Oliver Balch.

You don’t know in advance who will be there, but we had inside information on Steve and Jo, which is why we made a point of going. The world is a cruel and unfair place and many writers are treated dreadfully for simply writing.

Steve read three Mexican poems by José Emilio Pacheco, Homero Aridjis and Javier Sicilia. Then Jo read a Guardian article about Razan Ghazzawi by Jillian C York, as well as a blog post by Razan Ghazzawi herself.

It fell to Holly to read the most horrifying piece of the evening, by Turkish journalist Asiye Guzel. I suspect many of us could have happily left then, but since Asiye couldn’t, why should we?

Finally Oliver read Pain by Shi Tao from China. The evening’s readings were introduced by Louisa Walsh from Scottish PEN, who reminded us of the Russian members of Pussy Riot who have just been jailed.

I’m glad PEN and Amnesty do these evenings, and very pleased the visiting authors give up their time for their less fortunate colleagues.

Bookwitch bites #76

As always, the Carnegie shortlist took me by surprise. Mainly by appearing. I’m not saying they picked the wrong books. One year I will have my diary totally sorted as to the when and how regular news and longlists and shortlists will appear. But not yet, obviously.

David Almond, Lissa Evans, Sonya Hartnett, Ali Lewis, Andy Mulligan, Patrick Ness, Annabel Pitcher and Ruta Sepetys are the lucky ones for 2012, although eventually one of them will prove luckier still. Lets’ see if I can sense something… It’ll be Patrick Ness. He’s pretty unstoppable.

Along with my own minor complaints of having too many iffy books thrown at me (as though a review here would really make or break a book!), I am also assumed to be either Derek Landy or some of my other interview subjects. I’m not. I’m me.

But at least I’m not Arthur, doing people’s homework. (After the junior school summer project back in the mid 1990s, when the Resident IT Consultant and I really excelled at helping with, well, with something, we don’t do it so much.) I really loved this piece on Meg Rosoff’s blog, which I understand she has borrowed from somewhere else. More Arthurs should be doing this. With belated thanks to James Thurber, who was very funny.

It’s the 1st of April (at least it is here and now for me, and don’t bother telling me if it isn’t for you), so let’s continue with more funny. I am reasonably certain this came courtesy of Sara Paretsky. It seems quite a while ago, too, now that I look carefully.

Dog and psychiatrist

Presumably I wouldn’t be here doing this, if I didn’t have access to free speech. I think I probably still have free speech. Although, certain things make you wonder. I’ll leave you with Statler and Waldorf. They know why you should support Amnesty International, because there are places that are far worse. It would be nice if they got better, and it would be quite nice if we didn’t join them by losing what we’ve got.

The Amnesty International reading – Taslima Nasrin

I admit I only went along to the Amnesty reading on Saturday because Debi Gliori was one of the readers, and I wanted to catch up with her. But it was good, and I think I’ll go to more readings if and when I return.

Taslima Nasrin

Saturday’s author was Taslima Nasrin from Bangladesh. She’s not in jail, but she’s been banished from her country.

Between them Debi Gliori, Regi Claire, Chan Koonchung and Belinda McKeon read a number of poems and longer pieces, and they were wonderful. Not what I usually read, which made it all the more interesting.

Another positive experience was the feeling of international solidarity through having authors from different countries do the readings. It’s what Amnesty is about.

The one thing that marred the evening was that they over-ran and the last reading was stopped rather abruptly. I can see that they have other events starting, but considering the reason for the reading, it was unfortunate, and in this case I’d have preferred for the ‘advertising’ of the next evening’s reading to have been curtailed instead.

Free?

The older of us grew up with the idea of the United Nations as something good and natural. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was also a very obvious thing to believe in. And to belong to Amnesty International was more or less expected. At least where I came from. So, what happened?

Here is a new anthology to mark that it’s been sixty years since those rights were put down on paper, and things are still not right. They are not right, somewhere worryingly close to home. Because it’s quite natural that things can be bad somewhere else, somewhere far away, isn’t it?

In Free? fourteen writers give us stories, each connected to one or two of the rights on that list. Some are set in the recent past, but most are from the here and now, and things are not good. Hopefully young readers will learn from this collection.

There are some very big names in the children’s fiction world on the list of authors, but as with many anthologies, it’s not always that the best stories were written by the people you know. That’s what I like about collections. You find new people who write very well indeed. I may not be able to pronounce their names, but we all speak the same language.

I was interested to see that Malorie Blackman’s poem, set in the future, echoed the ideas that she mentioned in the interview in November. And I can’t help but mention the story by Sarah Mussi, about the boy scout from Ghana who accidentally stole the Crown Jewels. Your Crown Jewels. That story belongs in my Aspie list, whether or not the adorable Prometheus Prempeh has AS.

Read!