Across The Divide by Anne Booth

I am so, so happy with this review of ‘Across The Divide’! I am very grateful to Miss Cleveland for it. I am so delighted as well that the role of the character Riya is highlighted – she is a character I wish I could be more like!

Miss Cleveland is reading...

Publication Date: 7 June 2018


Cover illustration by Serena Rocca

When Olivia’s mum is arrested for her role in a pacifist protest, she finds herself rushed off to Lindisfarne to stay with her dad, a man she barely knows anymore. With life at home in complete turmoil, that’s the last thing she needs if she’s going to mend her broken friendships. The peaceful pace of life on the remote island gives her plenty of time to think about the events leading up to her stay there. Can she find the strength she needs to finally speak up? And then, there’s the mysterious William – kind, gentle and always there when Olivia needs him – who is he?

What an amazing book! Emotionally charged, this gently-told tale tackles big issues: pacifism versus war; stereotyping, the resulting bullying and modern journalism’s role in whipping it up & making it better; and the…

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Across the Divide Blog Tour: “We Have More in Common than What Divides Us”

I was delighted to be asked to write for Golden Books Girl -one girl and her blog, about my new book ‘Across The Divide’

Golden Books Girl

Hello everybody!

Today, I’m really excited to be on the blog tour for Anne Booth’s new book Across the Divide, and to share a guest post from Anne, about how we can learn empathy from fiction. Over to Anne!

‘We have more in common’

I love twitter. When I felt lonely and isolated as a carer for elderly parents, twitter was a safe place where I could meet lovely people – writers, illustrators, librarians, teachers, booksellers, publishers, agents – who shared my enthusiasm and passion for children’s books and illustrations. Later, through someone I chatted to about children’s books on twitter, it led to me being published, and getting my wonderful agent. Things I read on twitter every day inspire and inform me and give me ideas for new books. I find it a great ongoing source of support and information and entertainment.

But it has its dark side. When…

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Twin books due on June 9th 2018!

This was originally published here: An Awfully Big Blog Adventure


Twin books, non-identical stories, June 9th birth! by Anne Booth

I am the fortunate mother of non-identical twins, and on June 9th I will also have non-identical twin books!

‘The Sleepy Hummingbirds’  is for 7-9 year olds and will be published by OUP on the 9th June.

This is the first of a series about The Magical Kingdom of Birds, initially of six books, and I  am loving writing them.

The series is for 7-9 year olds and is about a girl, Maya, who travels to the Magical Kingdom of Birds and rides on a magic magpie, helping a fairy Princess foil the plans of her wicked uncle, Lord Astor . It occurred to me that Maya could be a disabled heroine without the storyline being affected, and it has been fun and satisfying for me that Maya’s disability has nothing to do with the plot and that disabled and able-bodied readers alike will be able to identify with her. Maya and Princess Willow defeat Lord Astor as he targets one bird species after another in his attempts  to gain control of The Kingdom of Birds, and all that can easily be done on the back of a magpie or with the help of other birds. Birds spend most of their time in the air – why can’t Maya?  It has been very satisfying to put a disabled heroine in a mainstream commercial fiction series, and great to work with my friend, a sportswoman and special needs teacher and also someone who herself has a disability, to check that I am getting it right. I really wanted to describe Fairy Princess Willow as having black, curly hair and brown eyes, as a little neighbour of mine, whose dad is Nigerian and mother Scottish, said that princesses don’t look like her.  The lovely illustrator Rosie Butcher has drawn her  beautifully, so I am very happy that we are involved in subverting the golden haired blue eyed Princess idea. I think that the recent Royal wedding may have more effectively changed assumptions (!), but I have to say that ‘The Sleepy Hummingbirds’ had Princess Willow even before Prince Harry  and Meghan announced their engagement! This series is so much fun to write – I love writing about fairies and talking birds and magical colouring books, I can let myself have fun making Lord Astor shake his fist when Maya and the fairies foil his wicked plots, and I am learning so much about real-life birds!

You can order it at any bookshop or pre-order it online, for example here, with free p & P

The second book which will be ‘born’ on the 9th June is ‘Across The Divide’, for 9-12 year olds. It is about a girl who wants to join army cadets, which causes tensions between her, her  Pacifist mother and her grandfather in the military, and problems within her friendship groups at school.  She is sent to stay on the island of Lindisfarne with a father she doesn’t really know, and there is a time-slip plot and a link with World War One. I have loved writing and researching this one too, and I enjoyed visiting Lindisfarne and staying on the beautiful island and learning about the birds there too. It is contemporary and political and links with history  in the way ‘Girl with a White Dog’ does, and  I also hope children enjoy it the way I loved books like ‘A Traveller in Time’ by Alison Uttley or ‘Tom’s Midnight Garden’ by Philippa Pearce or ‘Charlotte Sometimes’ by Penelope Farmer.

Both books have been copyedited too, and now they are ready.

I am really proud of them both, and now, in the nervous time before the due date, I must proudly await the delivery of my different but equally loved, bookish,  non-identical twins…

The cover of proof of  ‘Across The Divide’

You can order this from any books shop and online, as in here:

My Dad – an Irish Just William (originally a post for An Awfully Big Blog Adventure)

A Note to Myself (on my partner’s cancer)

I am re-blogging this as it is beautiful.

Jo Hogan Writes

A Note to Myself on my Partner’s Cancer

Five months ago, my partner was diagnosed with lung cancer. Words cannot capture the devastation of that day but I tried to explain some of the impact here

Looking back, perhaps we shouldn’t have been so surprised. By the time we ourselves had taken it seriously enough to go to the doctors and progressed beyond the misdiagnoses, the scans and the biopsy, my partner could not even get dressed without being reduced to a coughing, breathless wreck. We were warned that cancer was an (unlikely) possibility but we weren’t prepared to hear that it was advanced and inoperable; that chemotherapy might help reduce the symptoms but could not provide a cure.

We clung to the hope that my partner would have a biomarker that would make him eligible for some of the new gene therapies that are now transforming the…

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Lucy and Tom’s Day by Shirley Hughes

I loved this – and obviously, as I was quoted, I agree with the admiration for Shirley Hughes! I also learnt a lot.


People have been spontaneously posting Shirley Hughes images on Twitter this morning in reaction to last night’s attack on so many children and parents in Manchester. Author Anne Booth captured my own feelings perfectly.

I wanted to add to this with an appreciation of the first book of Shirley’s that I remember, possibly the very first book I ever read, Lucy and Tom’s Day.


I’d dug it out on the weekend for a course I attended run by the Golden Egg Academy. They’d asked us to bring something special from our childhood to discuss, and nothing sums up my own memories of growing up in suburban England in the 1970s better than the…

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Don’t Despair. Don’t be brutalised.




Yesterday afternoon my husband and I went for a dog walk, and when we got back I made the mistake of hanging up my coat in the porch. This meant that later, about 5.30, when I went to put it on to go to Sunday evening mass, the lining was absolutely freezing.

We went out to the car. Outside it was freezing fog – the car was really cold, and, to add insult to injury, when we made a right turn into a mist-filled road, my husband had to open the window next to the passenger seat to look left properly, so I got a blast of freezing mist to add to my misery. He then briefly opened the window next to the driver seat too, so we got assailed by cold from both sides. I was already chilled to the bone by my coat and did not feel in a prayerful mood going to mass. Our car heater didn’t kick in until we were nearly at our destination, I was frightened by the poor visibility on the roads and kept saying that perhaps we should turn back. He said the mist would clear and it would be fine, and he was right. We live in a bit of a hollow and, for the most part, the situation got better on the roads nearer the church, although there was one bit where we had to slow right down.

Once we had parked I was eager to get into the church as soon as possible. We rushed to the pedestrian crossing and to the street where our church is – it was full of mist, like some Victorian painting by John Atkinson Grimshaw. We walked quickly in the dark past the lit up pub and the charity shops, close for the night. It was brutally cold and the church would be warm. I noticed the man in the doorway as we went past.

I live in a city where there are many, many rough sleepers. I always try and buy a ‘Big Issue’ and I always try to give to buskers, but I never give money directly to anyone simply begging on the street. I have, on rare occasions, bought hot drinks and food, but not as often as I should. I support Shelter and I keep meaning to set up a direct debit to a more local homeless shelter, but I haven’t as yet. I have walked past many, many rough sleepers, and felt awful and said a prayer but felt overwhelmed by the complexity of the situation. If I gave money would it make matters worse and fund an alcohol/drug addiction? Did I have time to talk to someone who might have emotional and mental needs I could not begin to address? Best to leave it to the experts, I reasoned. And say a prayer.

Last night was different. My coat had been SO cold, the car and been SO cold, the draught from the car open windows had been SO cold that somehow, freezing as I was, it felt barbaric to run past him to mass.

So I stopped. And the man told me that he had nowhere to go. I suggested a couple of homeless shelters I had heard of – he said that they were closed, and that because he wasn’t from this country he had no shelter. He had seasonal work but when it wasn’t the right time he had nowhere to stay. I wasn’t sure if he was telling me the truth. I couldn’t believe that there was nowhere in the city. But it was SO cold. I was so cold, and I was talking to a fellow human being who was sitting in freezing fog in a doorway, and I was late for mass. So I broke my habit and gave him more money than I had ever given a homeless person and begged him to go to a bed and breakfast for the night. He was really surprised and thanked me. I hope he spent it on a B & B and not on drink in the pub. He didn’t smell strongly of alcohol, and if I were him I’d have definitely gone for the bed and breakfast – but then again, I’m not him. I didn’t feel entirely sure I had done the right thing but I felt a certain relief that I could now go to mass and warm myself up with a clear conscience. Although I felt a bit guilty about spending our family money like that.

My family were patiently waiting for me outside the church and I ran towards them, and as I did I noticed another figure in a doorway. I ignored it.
So we went into mass, into a blissfully warm church, and we sang the opening hymn and the priest announced it was Homeless Sunday, where we prayed for the homeless and those who help them. We did our confession of sins, and I was aware of that second figure in the doorway. I knew I had given more money than I should to a man I wasn’t entirely sure was telling me the truth. Why hadn’t I stopped for the second person?

So as the readings began I turned to my husband and said I was going to talk to the second person and tell him the church was warm and he was welcome.

When I found this second man he was sitting in the freezing mist, on a piece of cardboard on the doorstep of a charity shop, drinking from a small bottle of milk. I told him he was welcome in the warm church but he shook his head vehemently. This made me sad. What had happened that made this man prefer to sit out alone in the cold rather than come in to our church and be warm? To be clear at this point – there are often rough sleepers in our church, sitting in mass to keep warm – and on Friday nights over winter our church hall is open to them to stay all night. People from our church volunteer to help. And to be further clear – I am not one of them.

I asked this man had he anywhere to sleep – and he said that later he would go to the shelter by the railway station. So I knew that at least he would have a bed for the night. He wouldn’t come into mass although the temperature was below freezing and getting lower by the minute and he was drinking cold milk. I didn’t have the same amount of money I had given to the first person (who had said nothing about the shelter by the railway station) but I did have ten pounds left – so I gave it to him and asked him to get a warm meal somewhere so that he could get out of the cold for a few hours. Ten pounds might not buy him a restaurant meal – but it might get him something. He smiled and took it. I went back into mass. I felt better. I had met Jesus in the homeless.

At the end of mass I asked about shelters and said what the first man said – that there was no shelter. I was told that was wrong – that there were shelters open each night around the city, often based in churches (hence our one on Fridays). There wasn’t a list of them in our church however, so I couldn’t go back out and tell the man as no-one knew who was responsible for Sundays. I was told that the homeless charities would have gone around and told people. I realised that I had given away a substantial amount of money I couldn’t afford and which our family needed, to a man who, it seemed, may well have told me a lie. I felt stupid. If I was going to give that amount I should at least have given it directly to a homeless charity. I was told about a person known to the church who had got pneumonia from sleeping rough and had been taken into hospital, but still, on being discharged, refuses to go to a shelter and insists on sleeping on the street. She has alcohol problems.

I looked around our church, seeing the food bank bin standing in front of the mural, and felt hopeless. Our country was in an awful mess and so many people needed help and I had not directed my money in the most efficient way.

I cried all the way back to the car. It was all so awful. My grand gestures meant nothing. I was ridiculous to think I could help like that. I was sorry I had thrown away our money. I had just been self indulgent.

The men were no longer in the doorways, at least. But I didn’t know where they were.

My family were lovely. My teenage girls hugged me. My husband told me about how when he had helped on a soup run in London, that many of the men he met with had had mental health problems and could not cope with any sort of organisation – that they weren’t out to defraud anyone – just not able to cope.

This story does not have a clear ending or moral. It is not a fairy tale. I may have done the wrong thing. Even if it was right I probably won’t do it again. I can’t afford to do it again. But I think, on balance, that last night, just for myself, I am glad I ‘spent’ that money. I find I don’t care if that first man lied. It was still too cold to be out. It was too cold to walk past two fellow human beings sleeping rough, as I so often do, and not be brutalised myself. I hope they both had a warm few hours at least – maybe in a warm pub but preferably in a shelter or B & B with a bed each – and got out of that freezing fog. Most of all I am glad I talked to each of them and told them that they should be warm. That it wasn’t right that they should be out in the cold like that. That they deserved to get shelter and be warm like me. I hope they believe me.
I think I will set up a direct debit to a homeless shelter. I think I will try to find out a list of the shelters in my city and the days they are opened, and ask my priest if I can put it on the back of the church. I am not sure if I can cope with being a regular volunteer.  I know I can’t solve this. And I know that if I keep crying and giving money every time I see someone in a doorway that won’t help anyone and our family will have nothing to live on.
But I think, as a community, we CAN make things better. Even if we are not a front line worker we can protest cuts to vital services which help at early stages so that fewer people end up on freezing streets. We can talk about it so that it becomes an issue.

If mental health and alcohol problems contribute to homelessness, why are we cutting budgets to metal health services? Even if we are not directly affected, we should make it known that this is intolerable. Maybe those of us who can write, can help campaigning groups, can write to our MPs about cuts to mental health services. Show that we care. Let’s write to newspapers, call in to radio stations, talk about it at work.

If chaotic home lives and abuse contribute to mental health problems and homelessness, why are social services being cut? Why is the work my husband does, working with emotionally and behaviourally disturbed children, so underfunded? Why did the local pupil referral unit he worked in have to close because of funding problems, when it was doing such great work helping excluded children get back into mainstream education and was so supported by the police and social workers?

If the sheer cost of homes contribute to homelessness , let’s support campaigning groups like Shelter.

If the stress of Zero hours work or short contracts contributes to mental breakdown and homelessness- let’s change things. Let’s insist people have fair working conditions and pay so that they can plan and budget and not despair.

Lets also support those on the front line – the emergency services, the priests, the social workers, the psychiatrists and GPs, the teachers and teaching assistants, who have to deal with suffering people every day and try not to go under.

As a writer of children’s books, what can I do? I am not my husband, who is so calm and patient and grounded and works with children who need him, but who can be extremely difficult and challenging. But I can work with publishers to create books, often with wonderful illustrators. Hopefully these books will entertain and cheer. Hopefully they will encourage children to love reading and read other books by other people, and maybe encourage them into education and give them power as literate people. Most of all, I hope my books help children understand about love. I hope my books help children realise that they are valuable – that they have a right to warmth and shelter and love and happiness – and that this applies to everyone – not just them.

I have recently come across a wonderful charity called Family Links – I leave you with a link to their website and a wonderful video so that you can feel encouraged – people can make a difference at every stage and we don’t have to despair. We don’t have to be brutalised.

Losing my religion

One of the  most helpful books I have ever read is God of Surprises by Gerard Hughes. It is a book which looks at our images of God – and, most importantly, uncovers our secret image of God, the one we may not admit to ourselves. We may SAY we believe, and believe we believe,  that the God we think we worship is loving or kind, and yet we may behave as if God is a sadistic old man waiting to catch us out. Sometimes, it may be better for us to lose our religious faith if it brings along with it a false, unloving God. Then we can re-discover the true God in the holy hurly burly and mess of life. Encountering  a  living, loving God in unexpected places – a ‘God of Surprises’ as Gerard Hughes says, is far more important than having a religion.

I do, however, get fed up of cheap jibes and lazy stereotypes about religious people  and the way that bigoted, publicity hungry people who flood social media and the internet with their false religions are quoted as representative  of my faith. As a Christian I want nothing to do, for example, with those self-styled Christians who say that Jesus hates homosexuals, or who despise women, or who seem to worship capitalism or personal prosperity. I know that devout followers of Islam want nothing to do with the message of Daesh or the self-styled ISIS. Neither are all Atheists Richard Dawkins. Please let’s pay each other respect and take the time to actually find out what the other really believes or doesn’t believe, before sneering at them. We may have more in common than we think. We should unite to be loving together. I believe I have profound and challenging things to learn from Atheists and Agnostics and people from other religions but I think that Christianity has something to offer too. We can laugh together – I love humour – but  I don’t like ignorant or lazy mockery. I’d appreciate it if people who sneer at my religion could actually make the effort to read the bible as scholars  and encounter the profoundly learned reflections on it by good people like Rowan Williams  before they dismiss it. I would like them to read about amazing spiritual experiences like those of Julian of Norwich – or  historians like Diaramuid MacCulloch ‘A History of Christianity’ so at least they pause before lumping all people from an ancient religion together. I’m a Christian and I don’t even know what all Christians  from different traditions believe – so I don’t know why other people think they do. Mockery is unkind – sneering is stupid. There is enough unkindness and stupidity in the world already.

But I do feel grateful for being challenged. I think that is a gift from the God of Truth and Love.

Sometimes losing aspects of my religion in order to get closer to the real, loving God, may be the most devout thing I can do. I haven’t lost my religion – I love it because I do believe it facilitates my encounter with a Loving God  – but I hope every day to lose any false, unloving, hateful Gods I  may inadvertently  be following.

Losing my Religion by REM

I’d also like to recommend ‘The Ship’ by Antonia Honeywell It isn’t the sort of book I normally find myself reading – dystopian fiction is not my cup of tea normally – but I thought it really made me think about religion and false claims to perfection and was very challenging in a good way.


PS In an earlier draft I included the beautiful song by Rufus Wainwright ‘Going to a Town’ – but I have deleted it for today as its criticism of some aspects of America might not be the best words to repeat today, on the Inauguration of the President. It is better and more courteous if today is full of blessings and good wishes for America and its peoples and the world. However, I would throughly recommend this beautiful song and its challenge to how the figure of Jesus Christ can be misrepresented and used as a vehicle for hate. I will certainly include it in future posts.

In Praise of Hypocrites.

In praise of hypocrites – or proud to be cracked.


DSCN1644 - Version 2

A picture of my dog, Timmy, unrealistically seen as a saint.


The real one, with his partner in crime, Ben.




(I did actually want to put in a picture of a cracked and repaired vase – but couldn’t work out how to find a copyright-free image to share, so, not wanting to be a hypocrite, thought I’d share legal pictures of my dogs. Who are actually neither cracked nor hypocrites, and Thomas Merton the mystic would describe them as being saints because they are truly who they are!)


Anyway, those are the pictures – here are the words!




I think that we have an interesting problem today with the ideas in the media of what is good and what is true. It seems that people distrust, quite rightly, ‘whitened sepulchres’ – hypocrites, do-gooders. We are revolted and fascinated by stories of bad people doing things in secret whilst pretending to be good, and excited when newspapers reveal all. This is the truth, we say, and we buy the newspapers, we click on the links, as a thank you to those journalists and newspapers who are revealing the ‘real state’ of affairs to us. Our media are our primary, most trusted storytellers, and we believe them.

My 89 year old dad is very worried about the state of the world and religiously watches television programmes with the ending ‘…from hell’ (‘Plumbers from hell’, ‘builders from hell’ etc) and any documentary revealing what is REALLY going on in care homes, hospitals, schools. What is REALLY going on is always awful. There is never a hard-hitting documentary which reveals the shocking secret that nurses want to help sick people get better, or teachers go into education to teach. There are however, soft-hitting, feel- good programmes where the narrative is that someone is heroically good or unusually loving but living in a horrible house or very ill or needing help in some way, and in the end they and their family get their just rewards from a smiling presenter and a delighted audience.

I must admit, I nearly always cry at the programmes where heroically kind people get rewarded – whoever produces them knows how to press my buttons. These are feel-good programmes. But so, in a funny way are the ‘from hell’ programmes. They balance out each other in a strange secular universe shot through with religious language and imagery. My dad feels good – he feels empowered by both types – he likes watching the programmes about our secular saints but he likes knowing how to spot an evil plumber and loves how the presenter on the motorbike or with the secret cameras always unmasks them – he feels inspired by wonderful people and glad because he knows he is not like any of those people from hell. These programmes provide narrative structures which make my dad feel he knows, even in this modern world, how to judge between someone who is good and someone who is bad, and so he can still look after me, his daughter, and ring me up and warn me about them.

Perhaps I am the same. I RT and share on Facebook and twitter things other people like me have read and feel outraged about. I send far too many messages to my (long suffering) children on Facebook, alerting them to this or that politician or crisis or urging them to sign this or that petition. I share about my heroes and heroines. I know what is good and what is bad. I know whose side I am on.

I think I am right.

The thing is, it is not that easy.

Take hypocrisy, for example. Of course we don’t want to be governed by outrageous hypocrites, but I think we are a bit too quick to ‘expose’ people for being so, people who are really trying their best. We are all hypocrites to one extent or another – we are all trying to project or present a nicer image of ourselves than we really are all the time. As a writer I want the name Anne Booth to be associated with good things – with love, with kindness, with tolerance, with empathy, with humour. Does this mean that I am always loving or kind, or tolerant, or empathetic or humorous? Absolutely not. But am I a hypocrite for wanting to be so and failing? No. I’m just human. Is it right to aspire that my writing reflects these values? Yes. Should I be publicly shamed for when I am not as nice as I want to be? Please not!

If we demand that people in power are absolutely not hypocrites in any way and yet are told by our media every day that that is what they are and that they shouldn’t be – if we demand otherworldly perfection and believe the stories that it is attainable for some specially favoured people, we don’t get it. Instead, we get something very odd.

Our story-tellers in the media warn us, quite reasonably we believe, against anyone with skeletons in the cupboard, anyone who is trying too hard to make us think they are nice. That makes narrative sense. Our storytellers in the media tell us that the world is full of bad people pretending to be good, but that, at one and the same time, there are also celebrities, human demi-gods, and that we deserve such a one as a hero or heroine. Add to that the irresistible narrative twist that everyone has a secret they don’t want us to know, and we are hooked. We know it is dangerous to be naive, to be tricked. We need the media, we believe, because they alone can find out people’s secrets – they and they alone can reveal the truth, tell the true story – they have the secret cameras, the God-like ability to read hearts and minds. And then the generosity to share this with us.

Believing this story is dangerous. I fear that it means, bizarrely, that when someone comes out in the media we trust and is presented by our story-tellers as someone who isn’t a hypocrite and who doesn’t try to be nice or please everyone – when they, right from the beginning, openly, without shame, behave badly and incite racism or stir up hate and claim, ‘I say it how it is’ and when what they say is shockingly bad – people can’t quite believe it. We tend to trust our storytellers – that is a prerequisite for being able to relax and enjoy the story. To some extent we ‘suspend our disbelief’ in ‘non fiction’ as well as in poetry or drama or other forms of art. If someone is openly accepted and successful on the TV or on the papers or on the internet then they must be good. Bad things are always hidden, we see in all our narratives – and hypocrisy always has to be revealed by dauntless investigators. But we also know that everyone has a secret that the media can help us discover -everyone has a shadow side. ..So then the ‘shadow side’ of this openly bad person, their secret, the narrative twist, must actually be that they are really nice. What a relief! Like the abused person who believes that the person who hits them loves them ‘really’, it seems that our society has not been prepared narratively by the stories it has been told to cope with either basically good people having faults or, conversely, someone really being as racist or bullying as they seem.

I think the real story is that all humans have to accept a certain level of being cracked as part of our condition. We have to accept that these cracks are genuine weaknesses, blemishes, without hating ourselves for having them. Tricky. We are all, to some extent, incapable of doing the good things we want to do and prone to do the things we don’t want to do.(See, in the Christian tradition for example, St Paul, St Augustine etc etc) And that is O.K. We need to be more empathetic – to recognise the story that, given certain conditions, we too could be as grumpy or as selfish as the next person, and often are. I really like the way C.S. Lewis writes about this in ‘The Screwtape Letters’. In order to forgive each other, in order to accept our imperfection, we do have to accept that some things we do are really good but some things are really bad. We need to be more forgiving of ourselves and our neighbours because of our shared humanity. We have to somehow accept in the first place that we are not perfect and will never be so, and yet keep trying to do the right thing.

Because our shared humanity, imperfect as it is, is wonderful. The best story of all, is that, amazingly, miraculously, imperfect humanity is loved and is capable of love. Humans are love-able. I happen to believe that this is the essence of the Christian faith I profess, and I know that people from other faiths and those of none also believe this. I believe this is the true story. It means that imperfect people can somehow open themselves up to love and find something within and beyond themselves. Light gets through the openings, cracks remain but are filled with gold. Cracked people can do wonderful, un-cracked things, like rescue people at sea or welcome refugees or save rain forests or, less dramatically but equally heroically, just be kind to a grumpy neighbour or a demanding colleague or family member or friend. Everybody can love – there can be true actions of love equally in a playgroup and in an old people’s home as in a mountain rescue or a battle field.

Everywhere, everyone, of all abilities can try to be kind. It isn’t always very exciting, but the stories we need to hear are the true ones, like politicians from all parties staying up late day after day and nodding off because they are wading through tedious paperwork and legal forms in order to make our country a better place to live. There are so many loving things happening in this world, and we need to tell more stories about them to ourselves and our children – not impossible stories where the chosen few are put on temporary pedestals for narrative thrills – narrative fast food equivalents full of enticing but sentimental additives – but real stories of love by fallible people.

If we don’t tell different stories for ourselves and our children – if we don’t challenge the narrative that it is reasonable to demand inhuman squeaky clean perfection, an absolute lack of hypocrisy and faults from ourselves or those in power from any political party, we end up with something strange. We don’t end up with perfection, we end up with a population of anxious perfectionists, with people who cannot be themselves for fear of being exposed, who don’t try to do good for fear of being labelled hypocrites, or we end up with psychopaths, people without conscience, who have no qualms about power.

As Yeats said in ‘The Second Coming’ :
‘The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.’

At least, hypocrites know that there is something to hide. Let’s openly accept our innate hypocrisy and not fear being exposed by certain types of storytellers. Let’s not fearfully keep out of sight – let’s come out as hypocrites and get on with trying, imperfectly, to wisely and humbly discern and then champion the truth, to do good, to do our best,and to tell our stories of love.

For an example of how cracks can still be beautiful:

Put away the matches – the forest is dry

Girl with a White Dog Front Cover FINAL 300dpiImagePut away the matches – the forest is dry.



It is peaceful in my house at the moment. My two eldest children are away at university, and my two youngest are at school. My husband, a teacher at a school for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties, is at work. I am minding my neighbour’s dog this afternoon, but at the moment she, and my own two dogs, are all asleep. The sunlight falls on the dog beds by the window, and the clock ticks, and my spaniel snores beside me on the sofa.

And so I am having a little time to think.

Because I know that it is not like this for others.

Because today in our country there are politicians making speeches using language which, to be put it mildly, does not help promote peace. The language they use sows division and fear and suspicion and the general sense that somehow we are being cheated or threatened by nameless people.

Cheated by whom?

By the foreign doctors who work in our overstretched and underfunded hospitals and help us when we or our loved ones are sick?

By frightened, isolated unaccompanied child refugees in Calais who have a legal right to be here and who are fleeing wars often fought using British-made weapons?

By people whose religion we don’t understand or value?

By those of our own citizens who have the misfortune to be ill and need benefits we really should, in a all decency, and in acknowledgement of our own luck, be glad for them to have?

By ‘bed-blockers’ (horrible term) – those, often elderly, who cannot leave hospital because they have nowhere to go to?

By people labelled by others who have no inside knowledge or respect, who have no right to judge, as scroungers or cheaters or ‘useless’.

The trouble is, such rhetoric is nothing new. We should know better by now.

I fear that too many politicians and media pundits are like people playing with matches in a dry forest – the trees catch fire and they are taken aback by the destruction which ensues.

So please – put away the matches. Choose the stories you tell carefully. Think about the words you use. They enflame people – they catch fire – but fire can destroy as well as warm – where do you want the fire to take hold?

Think about the words other people have used. The stories other people have told in the past – the ‘us and them’ tales which only ended in bloodshed, in tragedy.

Nothing good.

We should all know this by now. We should know, whatever political party we vote for, that the wrong words breed fear and that fear breeds hate and that the world cannot exist on hate.

We should know our own recent European history. It is not hard to access, for goodness sake. I cannot believe that what happened in Germany in the 1930s can be so easily forgotten. Those who are the victims of anti-semitism today cannot forget. Those who are the victims of disability hate crimes, or racist attacks, or islamophobic attacks, or attacks because they are gay. They are aware – but we all should be.

I wrote ‘Girl with a White Dog’ because I was uneasy at the headlines I could see in our papers – the way migrants and refugees were talked about as if they were sub-humans. And I was aware that the stories of these subhumans who are threatening our beautiful country are the same sort of stories that were told to children and adults in the Germany of the early 1930s, before the world finally woke up to the evil of Nazism.

And I wanted to tell a different one, with a happier ending. And I still do. And I believe that there are enough of us out there who can do it.

Do we really want to tell the same stories that Hitler told at the beginning of the 1930s? The fairy tales of good people and bad people – but with a value system that doesn’t recognise or celebrate true goodness, or tenderness, or interdependence, or the beauty of difference and diversity?

It started with words. Words which enflamed people.

Let’s use different words. Let’s stop playing with matches in a dry forest – that will only lead to tragedy. We know this. History tells us. If we must use matches, if we must use words which catch fire, let’s light that fire in a hearth, in a home, and make people welcome. Be kind. Use kind words. That builds a legacy of gratitude and love and mutual respect, and leads to Peace.


This is my book ‘Girl with a White Dog’. I wish it wasn’t relevant, but it is. I would like as many children as possible to read it so that they can recognise what sort of stories are being told to them by too many in this country. I want them to know that there are other, better, stories, and they can play a vital part in telling them.


Please support the work of WarChild – this retelling of the gospel story of Jesus, Mary and Joseph becoming refugees has been written by me and illustrated by Sam Usher. It was published last year and raised £30,000 for WarChildUK, but sadly this is a drop in the ocean and so much more money is needed. Nosy Crow are publishing it again this year (so now it is in different formats) in the hope that we can use both words and pictures and continue to raise funds and empathy for refugees.