Tag Archives: Jamila Gavin


This morning I woke up to an offer of afternoon tea with Jamila Gavin and S F Said. I immediately assumed I was not worthy, because I’ve seen these ‘afternoon tea withs’ advertised before, for members of the Society of Authors. But I pressed the buttons and some hours later, there I was, not actually having actual tea, but watching S F drinking something from a large glass while chatting to Jamila.

Jamila Gavin is royalty to us in Bookwitch Towers. And I started wondering how come I’ve not ever seen her in an event. I’m assuming she very sensibly stays at home and writes and stays sane, and anyway, you don’t expect royalty to come wandering into your neck of the woods. But there we were.

This was a well run event, from the technical to the discussion. No hitches. S F knew precisely what the rest of us would want him to ask Jamila. Starting with Wheel of Surya, named one of the 100 best children’s books by Booktrust, it seems SF is as big a fan as I am.

He asked Jamila to read to us, and she chose the bit with the bullock carts, and the sound they made, which was something she’d got from her mother, who was still alive when the book was written and who could share her own, adult, memories of people having to leave their homes.

Before that S F wanted to know how Jamila came to start writing. This wasn’t anything she’d imagined herself doing, wanting to be a musician, but via Paris and Berlin and the BBC, and after getting married and having children, she discovered that non-white children drew themselves as white, because they didn’t see children like themselves in books. So that’s how The Magic Orange Tree came to be. Jamila spoke warmly of her publisher, Methuen, who told her that other books which sold more copies, were there to support smaller books.

She was with a friend in the North when she first heard of the ‘Coram man’ and about child abuse from a long time ago. She went home and looked for all the Corams in the phone book and spoke to all of them, until she came across the Coram Foundation and discovered what had happened. It seems that while there was no specific Coram man, many child traffickers made use of the name. When Jamila met someone in Hebden Bridge during an Arvon course, she learned about the children buried in the woods, and with the slave trade added to this, she had what she needed for her book. Not sure it was even going to be a book for children at first, it’s what it became, because if children lived and died like that, then children could read about it.

Of Jamila’s more recent books she spoke about Blackberry Blue, a short story called In Her Element, and what went before it, a 1990s book called Wormholers. From there we were told about her work in progress, a WWII novel titled Never Shall I Ever Forget You, which will be published in January next year. None of us felt we wanted to wait that long.

In the Q&A someone wanted to know why Grandpa Chatterji is no longer available, and she wishes it was too. As a recommendation for adult mixed race reading Jamila mentioned Bhowani Junction by John Masters, made famous by the film starring Ava Gardner.

Mentioning children’s books with issues, be it Philip Pullman, David Almond or Jacqueline Wilson, Jamila said that one should try to ‘end with hope’.

Asked whether she feels that you are allowed to write about something you’ve not experienced, Jamila said that cultural appropriation are her ‘most dreaded words’. She feels everyone has the right to write about things. ‘It’s our job to find the truth of your stories’, and publishers must be prepared to publish them.

Her motivation to ‘write well’ is to read a lot, although she admitted to not reading as much as she’d want to. Also, she doesn’t like the way we now talk about ‘reading for pleasure’ which feels like an indictment on education. Reading should be spontaneous, not a timetabled event.

So that was a really excellent chat between two authors, and the questions from the audience were well above average, and Jamila’s responses to them very interesting. I will happily attend more events with Jamila, and it’s so odd that after all these years, this was my first time.


The Track of the Wind

The tone in Jamila Gavin’s The Track of the Wind, the final book in her Surya trilogy, is a lot darker, and a bit more hopeless. You’d think that moving closer to a conclusion, things would be allowed to look up a little. On the other hand, real life doesn’t work like that, so why should a realistically intended novel set in India and London in the 1940s, and now into 1951 be all roses and happiness?

Jamila Gavin, The Track of the Wind

Marvinder and her younger brother Jaspal have returned home to India with their father Govind, and as by a miracle, their mother Jhoti isn’t dead, and they are together again. But because Marvinder has been abroad, she is seen as less pure than a girl ought to be, and there are no offers of marriage. Just as well, when her heart is still in London. And then someone does want to marry her and she can’t go against her father’s wishes.

Jaspal goes the way of many angry young Sikhs, and learns to fight for his own country. Relations with his one surviving childhood Muslim best friend are not good. And then Marvinder’s love Patrick turns up from London…

There is yet again a mystical element to what happens. There is a ‘Watcher’ who watches, and acts, hidden from the world. But what does he really want?

Because Jamila does not make this end – completely – happily in the expected western way, the story feels much more real. You can sense the despair of young women in forced marriages – like Jhoti – and the feeling of anger against the British. There is so much beauty, but also cruelty, and rules which must be obeyed.

Jamila counters this very Indian setting with letters from friends and family in Britain and America, which shows that they are light-years apart. But also that there are surprising similarities.

This has been a very enjoyable and educational trilogy. And I’m western enough that I’m really grateful for that epilogue.

Stories of WWI

This is a beautiful collection of short stories featuring WWI. Edited by Tony Bradman, some of our bestest children’s authors have come up with their own interpretation of the war. It’s interesting how writers can find such diverse starting points for a story on one and the same topic. Many of them have based their story on memories of grandparents or other relatives who fought in the war, or who were among those left behind, or who had to live with the fall-out of what happened to family members.

I can’t pick a favourite. They are all special in one way or another.

As I always say about anthologies; they are the perfect way of enjoying many writers in small doses, and this collection proves again that the short story is a wonderful, handy size of fiction.

Some of the contributors have written stories about soldiers from other countries, thus highlighting the world aspect of the war. Germans are/were human beings like all the rest. They didn’t eat babies. Young men from Australia and New Zealand came to Europe to fight. And so did Indians who sometimes had no idea of what was going on, and the Irish who had issues at home, while fighting for a country that was also the enemy.

If you like war stories, this is for you.

Knightley & Son

Think Sherlock Holmes. A present-day, small kind of Sherlock. 13-year-old Darkus Knightley is almost more Sherlock than Mr Holmes himself.

This is a fun crime novel for young readers, especially if you are a little bit of an outsider like Darkus, and would like to be cleverer than everyone else. It’s very satisfying being really good at detecting.

It’s a family thing, this. Darkus has a detective father (never mind that Alan Knightley has been in a coma for four years) and takes after his dad, sharing his passion for odd cases. Rohan Gavin who wrote Knightley & Son, takes after his mother Jamila, who is pretty good at writing for children. This is his first book, and it is Darkus’s first real case.

Rohan Gavin, Knightley & Son

People are behaving strangely in bookshops. They are buying the new must-have self-help book The Code, and afterwards surprisingly many of them commit a crime of some kind. Knightley Sr wakes up from his coma and jumps straight into this mystery, and because Darkus has spent the last few years reading up on his dad’s old cases, he’s the perfect assistant.

The plot is about as believeable as the other Sherlocks’ and as fun. Particularly for young readers who might not be so familiar with the Conan Doyle version as they are with Benedict Cumberbatch’s on television. In turn hilarious and a bit scary, it’s a good adventure.

Along with the detective duo you get a slightly crazy Scottish policeman, a Polish housekeeper (very handy at all sorts of things), a clever stepsister and a raving loony stepfather. There are cars. Tube trains.

Something tells me the tweed-clad Knightleys will be back.

The Eye of the Horse

The recent trip to India, including to the non-touristy city of Chandigarh, by Sherry Ashworth and Iris Feindt on behalf of MMU, spurred me to continue reading Jamila Gavin’s Surya trilogy after far too long a gap.

Jamila Gavin, The Eye of the Horse

We left Marvinder and Jaspal in postwar London at the end of book one. The Eye of the Horse carries on with not much of a break in time. Their father is still in jail, and they live with his new, Irish family in Clapham. On the surface both children have adapted well, but deep down they want to go home.

At the same time we see what’s happening in their home village in India, where Jaspal’s best friend is sleeping rough, and a white horse appears and starts people talking. Is it an omen? Gandhi has just died, and his ideas of people living in peace with each other look like they will amount to very little.

Jamila weaves what goes on in both countries into one story, and Marvinder feels as if she is talking to her mother in her head. She and Jaspal meet up with Edith Chadwick again, which turns into an unsettling experience for all.

Marvi plays the violin, and she falls in love. Jaspal fights. Prejudice is rife.

This is another beautiful tale of displaced individuals and their struggle for a better life. Postwar London is always interesting, but what makes the book what it is comes from the Punjab, and post-partition life there.

Jamila says in her foreword that this is not an autobiographical book, but that she has experienced all these places at that time. It shows. I don’t believe you can make something so real up from scratch.

I’m really looking forward to the final book now.

The Wheel of Surya

This turned out to be another serendipitously delayed read. Why I never read Jamila Gavin’s The Wheel of Surya before, I don’t know. Maybe because each time I looked at it, I was reminded it’s the first of three, and I didn’t have the other two. Now I say, that’s easy to remedy. Just buy them. (It’s my birthday in the not too distant future. Cough.)

It’s a book about independence; both that of the main characters, but also India’s. And it’s a journey book.

Jamila Gavin, The Wheel of Surya

First we see how hard life was for the youngest daughter-in-law in a Punjabi village in the 1930s. Married off at 13, Jhoti is the lowest of the low in her husband’s family. She is bullied by her sister-in-law and by her mother-in-law, and her very young husband Govind is away most of the time.

Her two children Marvinder and Jaspal are the same age as the children of the local, English, teacher. Life is relatively good for them, until first Govind leaves for England and a promising career, and war breaks out, followed by a more personal tragedy. Then there is unrest as the country moves closer to freedom, and in 1947 the two children end up alone, fleeing for their lives.

Their goal is to do what Jhoti had planned, which was to travel to England and find Govind. It is not a spoiler to mention that of course they make it to England, eventually. This war damaged country is far from the glorious place they had been expecting, however, and nothing is as they had hoped.

Jamila herself experienced a similar move, so has plenty of material to base her story on. It’s enlightening to see postwar London through the eyes of these beautiful Sikh children, who felt so rich when they were at home in India, despite being so poor.

Because this is a trilogy, there is more to the story than what’s in The Wheel of Surya, and the reader is left with many questions. But because this is Jamila Gavin, at her Coram Boy best, you will want to read on. And I have to admit to peeking at the blurbs for the other books.


Would you rather sleep well? If so, don’t do what I did. I read a short story every evening before going to bed. I thought it’d be a good way of enjoying this new anthology – Haunted – for Halloween. How wrong I was.


The stories aren’t bad. Not at all. Most of them do exactly what they are meant to do. Scare you, and make you think of ghosts, and possibly even make your pulse go a wee bit faster.

Who’d have thought there could be so many ghosts? There are bad ones and small ones and sweet ones (I think so, anyway) and funny ones and ones you wouldn’t want to meet in your friendly neighbourhood graveyard. Even in daylight.

Some stories end well (ish). Others don’t.

As I might have mentioned when Derek Landy guest blogged here the other day, his story is very funny. Doesn’t mean people don’t die.

And if you look in the mirror, is there someone there? Apart from your good self, I mean. Also, whatever possesses people – children – to go out late at night to some dark and haunted place? On their own. It’s just asking for trouble.

I have to take issue with Matt Haig over giftshops. At first I thought he’s a really enlightened man. Then I realised he’d got it all wrong. He could have done the umbrellas even by doing the giftshop the other way round.

It’s not just dark dungeons that are haunted. Sunny beaches aren’t necessarily any better. Sunnier, but not safer. And what are you most scared of; computers or dogs?

Anyway, don’t let me put you off. Joseph Delaney, Susan Cooper, Mal Peet, Jamila Gavin, Eleanor Updale, Derek Landy, Robin Jarvis, Sam Llewellyn, Matt Haig, Philip Reeve and Berlie Doherty have come up with some good stories. Best enjoyed with your elevenses, than with your bedtime snack, though.

A ‘short novel for fluent readers’

So that ought to cover me, then. I suspected I’d never get round to reading Jamila Gavin’s Danger by Moonlight, when recently I hit on my books-by-the-front-door arrangement for short and small books.

Danger by Moonlight

This story about jewel thieves and Eastern Princes fooled me into thinking it was for much younger readers. It looks like a very simple, young child’s book, whereas it’s really quite complex, using difficult words and being quite dark in concept. It’s just rather short at 106 pages, and not very full pages, either.

I knew I could trust Jamila to have written an exciting story, but even so, I was surprised to find that having got only halfway on what was a short train journey, I simply had to finish it at home.

Danger by Moonlight is set in the 17th century, and features a young boy from Venice who travels to Afghanistan to try and free his kidnapped father. He encounters danger everywhere, and contrary to what you’d expect in a seemingly easy read for a small child it doesn’t all go smoothly, or end happily ever after. There is a bit of Kipling’s Kim about it and some Thousand and One Nights, too.

It’s the kind of book I’d like to read aloud, had I only been equipped with a suitable child.


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.


The Robber Baron’s Daughter

I loved Coram Boy by Jamila Gavin, even though there was much that was evil in the story. The Robber Baron’s Daughter is the next of Jamila’s books for older children. Can’t quite decide what age it’s for, though, as the “fairy tale princess” part is more childish, and the “illegal people trafficking” part of necessity is older.

The Robber Baron's Daughter

Nettie is twelve and lives a life of unimaginable luxury with her parents in London. Slowly, very slowly, she begins to understand that all is not well in her family and in their home. I’d like to say that she makes friends with Benny, the boy from the other side (not a ghost; just a servant’s child), except I don’t feel she really does. Nettie loves the ballet, and learns to dance from her great aunt, a former ballerina. Benny, on the other hand, does all the legwork trying to find Nettie’s tutor Miss Kovachev, who has vanished without a trace.

Jamila does a good, if shocking, job of showing how illegal immigrants turn up here, and why. There is an uneasy difference between the wealth of Nettie’s family, and the lives of Miss Kovachev, Benny and Nettie’s friend from school, Raisa. It’s almost too much to take in; the fairy tale and the awful reality.