How To Be A Refugee
Can you tell us about the particular inspiration behind your story?
I was driving home one evening in December 2015. I was listening to the news about refugees from Syria coming across into Europe and the backlash from some people here. I asked myself if there was anything I could do to help. I am not a very practical person and I have no common sense. I would be worse than useless in a refugee camp; any tent I tried to put up would fall over, I would probably lose my car keys and start crying because I was so hungry. The refugees would probably have to look after me.
Tabloids in the UK are inclined to describe these foreigners as being like an army of zombies infecting the country, rather than men, women and children looking for safety and peace. Perhaps, I thought, I could explain to children in Europe what being a refugee really means. Perhaps I could set out a more sober and equitable view of the experiences of refugee children.
And now on to Kate, herself!
Where is your favourite place to find inspiration and/ or write?
The place that suggest stories to me are the scruffy, un-considered places; the back of the supermarket, car parks, the small but safe place someone has scooped out under the little wooden house in the playground. This is where the interesting things happen. What if you put your mum’s ticket in the machine at the car park and a voice told you that you had been expected and then printed out a secret map especially for you? What would you tell your mum?
If you could take a long train journey (and/or have a drink) with any writer or artist, living or dead, who would it be – where would you go/what would you drink?
If I could talk to one person from the past I would choose the high priestess of Stonehenge from about 4,500 years ago. I would ask her to tell me all the stories that explain her world. I bet there would be a lot of them and I bet they would be wonderful. It would be thrilling to listen to someone who looks at the same basic landscape, the same seasons and weather as us, with eyes, ears and brain that are the same as ours; and yet comes up with completely different explanations for why they are like they are and what they mean.
(Sorry for not quite answering the question!)
What one piece of advice would you give to someone who wants to start writing their own stories?
My advice to someone writing their own story is to keep on going until you get to the end. When you start writing there is a danger that you go over and over the start of your story to make it perfect but if you don’t take your characters right through to the end of the story you don’t really know how it’s going to turn out. It’s only when you’ve pinned down the end that you really know how the beginning needs to be.
If you were a book, which book would you be?
If I was a book I would be Down With Skool by Geoffrey Willans, and Ronald Searle. This was my favourite book when I was a child. I don’t think I understood, when I was young, that it is not actually a book for children but a series of cartoons from the 1950s and ’60s poking fun at bad public schools. I loved the anarchy. I loved the fact that the hero, Nigel Molesworth, couldn’t spell. I can’t spell either, a fact that spell-checkers are always taking advantage of. I loved the drawings. Most of all I loved the mad world of wickedness and playfulness which can be found behind the venerable walls of St Custards, or between the respectable covers of this book. I look and sound as if butter wouldn’t melt in my mouth but my language is appalling and I steal teaspoons from cafés every chance I get.
Do you have any personal experience of dyslexia or reading reluctance – and any advice or encouragement for a young person struggling with reading?
Everything about our culture lets children know that books are good for them. Parents and teachers all like to see a child with a book. Books are worthy and wholesome; they are like early bedtime or vegetables. Computer games are like doughnuts, chocolate doughnuts topped with marshmallows. The kids want as much of them as they can get. I would like to see more books for children that are not worthy or prissy or wholesome, but full of excitement and wickedness. The sort of books that children want to hide from their parents in case they get confiscated.
ABOUT KATE MILNER
Kate Milner studied Illustration at Central St Martin’s before completing the MA in Children’s Book Illustration at Anglia Ruskin University. Her work has been published in magazines and her illustrations and prints have been shown in London galleries and national touring exhibitions. Kate won the V&A Student Illustration Award in 2016 for My name is not Refugee.
Find out more about Kate on @ABagForKatie