Tuesday, May 4, 2010


There is a bridge in Venice at sunset, a loch in the ancient forests of Scotland of a primeval stillness that makes me shiver, a fishing harbour on a Greek island beside the tiny church of the Mermaid Madonna - these are my heavenly havens, enchanted places where the worries of the world seem very far away.

Last summer, watching a tangerine moon rise up over the Mermaid Madonna church (above), my fantasies about spending a winter there one day, writing a book in that perfect peace, were interrupted by sirens and the dash of police cars through the cafe tables. We couldn't see what was wrong and the locals only shrugged. We shrugged too and carried on eating, relaxing, dreaming...

Half a year later, in the depths of a Scottish winter, a newspaper article revealed what the strange harbour panic had been. Our idyllic Greek fishing harbour is not as 'out of this world' as we thought - all of a sudden, it is right at the heart of the modern world. Skala Sykaminias, so close to Turkey that I often wondered if I could swim across the turquoise strait of sea, has become a crisis point for refugees to enter Europe.

Most of the refugees are young boys from Afghanistan, many still children, fleeing Taliban attacks in their war-ravaged land, enticed by the promise of a new life in Europe by smuggler gangs. Some survive the epic journey, only to find themselves caught at the very end; some drown.

So when asked for a story for Radio 4 to mark the 150th anniversary of JM Barrie's birth, inspired by a Peter Pan chapter, 'Come Away, Come Away', I knew what I had to write. It is a story tinged with the stuff of Peter Pan - brutal pirates, flight, lost boys... and yet it is no fantasy. It's all happening right now in the place I will be going to on holiday again this year. But it will feel different, this time. And the story is not going away. Some stories decide they want to grow into books. We'll see.

Mine is one of three 15 min stories - the others are by Geraldine McCaughrean and Michael Morpurgo broadcast Tuesday 4th and Wed 5th May.

And I never knew till now that JM Barrie and I share the same birthday!

THE BEAUTIFUL FREEDOM CAGE Radio 4 on Thursday 6th May 3.30pm.

All 3 stories available on i-player.


sigidisig said...

thank you for writing such a beautiful story for the bbc. i want to hear it again and again.... and i am wondering "is it available in print as well"?


Thank you. Sorry, it's not in print, though it could be if I make the story into a short book. (I am thinking about this.)

sigidisig said...

sounds like a good idea :-)

dragonsong said...

So amazing :)

jimquk said...

I live and work with people who have made just such crossings - I guessed immediately it was an Afghan crossing into Greece - and I hope you will write more like this.

I loved your reference to the sea tossing with silver coins. I suppose you know that the name Alam means World? Indeed, he stands for a whole world of people in flux, full of despair yet also hope.

I see that you know Red Road flats - I know a Somali family there. Please write more about asylum people. Their stories are amazing.

Check my blog: http://asylumcityuk.blogspot.com/

eg "Flowers of Africa"

thank you



Many thanks for your comments, Jim. Yes, I chose the name Alam because it means world and in the original version of the story Alam reveals that, but it had to be edited out to fit the radio time slot.

I used to teach close to the Red Road flats and know they have become a haven/hell for refugees.

Thanks for your blog link. The plight of asylum seeker is one of the biggest and most heart-breaking issues of our time and there is so little understanding of it. I do hope to write more.