SCoJeC's contribution to this year's Refugee Festival Scotland, which had the theme of celebrating young people from refugee communities, was an event in the Smith Art Gallery in Stirling with award-winning author Annemarie Allan. Appropriately for Refugee Week, Annemarie read an excerpt from her new children's novel Charlie's Promise, which a reviewer described as "a timely reminder of the need for humanity in our approach to people who have lost their homes, their families, their countries, and come looking for sanctuary."
Charlie's Promise is set in 1938 in a small Scottish harbour of East Lothian known as Morison's Haven. On the cusp of WWII, two young friends, Charlie and Jean, are about to come face-to-face with the realities of war when they find a very hungry and frightened Jewish boy named Jozef hiding in a local forest. Jozef has just escaped Nazi Germany in the hope of finding refuge with relatives in Scotland. Charlie and Jean take Jozef under their wing and embark on a courageous journey to bring him to the safety of his family in Edinburgh.
After the reading, Annemarie spoke to the audience of varied ages and backgrounds about her own connection to refugees, recalling how her own family had fled France and arrived in Edinburgh as refugees from the Nazis, and led a discussion of the issues raised in the book.
She said she had drawn upon the wealth of her family history and life experiences to inspire Charlie's Promise. She also shared those experiences with guests to encourage them to delve into their own backgrounds in search of inspiration to write creatively about what they thought life would be like from a refugee's perspective. As an example, one member of the audience recalled being caught up in a bombing raid, aged 2, in 1940. He recounted how being displaced from his own home for a number of weeks because of the damage caused by the air raid made him feel like a refugee. He said that when, much later, someone had doubted his recollection, he was able to lead him back to where it had happened, despite not having been there since.
Annemarie also led an engaging discussion and writing workshop, and the afternoon concluded with SCoJeC's traditional lovely buffet, while some participants shared the haiku they had written during the workshop.
We are grateful to the Scottish Book Trust and to Netherlee and Clarkston Charitable Trust for supporting this event.