Showing posts with label Miriam Halahmy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Miriam Halahmy. Show all posts

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Looking at Teenage Homelessness by Miriam Halahmy

Today I have the great pleasure of having Miriam Halahmy as my guest here. Miriam is the author of the award winning novel Hidden, which is currently being staged for the theatre, and her new teen/ young adult novel Behind Closed Doors will be published by Firefly in July.

Over to Miriam Halahmy:

My new novel, Behind Closed Doors, ( Firefly Press, July 2018) explores what home means. What should a home provide and what happens to young people when home is no longer a safe place? The book is in the voices of two fifteen year old girls, Josie Tate and Tasha Brown, who go to the same school but are not friends.

Josie’s mother calls herself a collector and she is saving the planet by ‘recyling’ and rescuing things which are thrown away.

Do you collect anything? I collect fossils, books and motto ware pottery -


Paula Salischiker
Inside all of us there is a little collector but when a collection gets out of hand it can look like this:-

Paula Salischiker

In reality Josie’s mother is a hoarder. As the book opens, Josie is already saving up to move out. When she returns home from school in Chapter 1 she finds that mum has finally taken over her room and filled it to the ceiling. Her bedroom was Josie’s last place of refuge in a home stuffed to the brim. 

Paula Salischiker
The kitchen has been a no-go area for five years and the bathroom has only the toilet and half the sink in use. Josie showers in the PE block at school. Children of hoarders often leave home by the time they are fourteen or fifteen years old, rendering them homeless and vulnerable at a very young age.

Photographer Geoff Johnson was forced to move out of his mother’s house as a teenager. He has created an amazing and very moving series of photos to show what it was like as a child in a hoarder home. You can view the photos and read the article at this link :

Tasha’s mother provides a neat clean home, regular meals and all the trappings a teenage girl would wish for; clothes, laptop, phone, WiFi, pocket money. But Tasha’s mum has a new boyfriend and he is starting to take an unhealthy interest in Tasha. Finally one night during a terrible thunder storm, Tasha has to run to keep herself safe. Her mother ignores the issue.

Tasha finds herself outside Josie’s door. Josie and her mother never open the door or let anyone into the house but Tasha manages to get inside. This is the start of an unlikely friendship between these two girls, both threatened with homelessness and both without the safety net of responsible parents/carers.
“We stare at each other and in that moment everything between us changes. Tasha with the mum who doesn't protect her and me with the mum in prison, neither of us with a proper home."

According to the Joseph Rowntree Association, around 75,000 young people contact homeless services each year. The main trigger for youth homelessness is relationship breakdown. Young people are so vulnerable on the streets that some schools have even opened accommodation for pupils forced out of home. Many young people ‘sofa surf’– sleep on a friend’s couch – to avoid sleeping rough.

In 1966, the film, Cathy Come Home, by Ken Loach was shown on British TV. It depicted the slide into homelessness by a young couple and the loss of their children into Care. The film shocked the nation and the charity, Shelter, was set up the following year to help the homeless.

This film triggered a lifelong concern in me for homeless people. I initiated fund raising events for Shelter as a young person. As a teacher I worked in the Kings Cross area in the 1980s, notorious for horrible bed and breakfast accommodation for homeless families. Mothers would tell me how they were often placed on a different floor to their teenage children. I have also run writing workshops for homeless people and listened to their stories.

An Nabeshima, 17 yrs, from Japan, comments, This book has completely changed my way of grasping the word 'home' will realise what 'home' is and where your real 'home' is by the end.

Behind Closed Doors looks at the issue of modern teenage homelessness and asks, where do you go when home is no longer a safe place?

Huge thank you to Miriam for coming on the blog today and talking about her book. I was lucky to get an advance copy of Behind Closed Doors, so I've read this amazing book. It will be published on July 12th by Firefly Press, and is available for pre-order now, so don't miss it!

Thursday, 5 January 2017

More Books Please by Savita Kalhan

Happy New Year!

Last year I did my usual reading challenge. It used to be to read 55 books, but for 2016 I decided to up it to 60 books. As usual, the mix of books I've read range from middle grade to teen to young adult to adult, and they include a vast range of genres.

I read the middle grade and teen books for the library reading group that I run in Finchley Church End library, which now also includes some pre-teens as well as 13 to 15 year olds. Here are a few of our favourite reads for 2016. These books made the kids laugh, cry, hold their breath, or cheer. They have held them captive and made them seek out the authors so they can read more by them.

Some of the older teens in the group are now interested in reading young adult books, but I remember when they first started, just under two years ago, when all they wanted to read were older middle grade and young teen books. Some of them only managed to read a book a month then. Now they're are all taking up to four books a month to read for the reading group. It has been so satisfying to see the kids' reading habits develop and their love of reading increasing month by month.

The only thing that's holding us back is the budget for teen books. I'm sure the problem is the same for all libraries. I would love for my group to have more choice available to them. 

So if there are any publishers out there who would like their teen books read and reviewed by a teen reading group and would like to donate some books in exchange, or would just like to donate teen books, then please feel free to get in touch with us!

Savita's WEBSITE

Friday, 5 August 2016

About 'Stories From The Edge' by Savita Kalhan

The first books I read as a child were collections and treasuries of fairy stories, folk tales, myths and legends from across the world. They were short stories, perfectly formed, each very different and enthralling, and I loved them. Somewhere along the line, I began reading chapter books, and then quickly moved onto novels. I think the same is true for lots of kids, but not all. 

There are lots of teenagers who only read what they have to read for English at school. They often don't have the time or the inclination to read novels for pleasure. I am aware of a few schools where kids are not allowed to bring in their own books to read in school. The school prescribes what they can read for pleasure - in one particular school books are pre-loaded onto kindles and those are the only books the kids are allowed to read. They don't have a choice. Part of the pleasure in reading is surely in being able to have some say over what you read for pleasure - even for kids!

I read lots of short stories - and I enjoy writing them too. Short stories are similar to novels in some ways, but they have their own identity. Edgar Allan Poe, in his essay "The Philosophy of Composition," said that a short story should be read in one sitting, anywhere from a half hour to two hours. Short stories developed from the traditional art of oral story-telling from fables and anecdotes, which are present in every culture, so by definition they have to be short. Modern short stories often focus on a pivotal moment or emotion or mood, whereas in the past they were more rooted in parables and ethics with the stories having a beginning, middle and end, but both usually focus on one main character with one central theme. There is also more experimentation in the prose and style of a short story, which may not work in a novel.

I have always read short stories, and I have wondered why there were so few anthologies for teenagers. Well, I have been involved in a project that brings a new anthology into schools.

Apart from being a member of the amazing Scattered Authors Society, I also belong to a small collective of teen writers. There are eight of us: me, Sara Grant, Dave Cousins, Miriam Halahmy, Keren David, Katie Dale, Paula Rawsthorne and Bryony Pearce, and we all write edgy fiction for teens and young adults. We call ourselves The Edge. We blog together, and often do school and library events together, and last year we decided to write an anthology together.

It has been an interesting process. Our only remits were that the stories should be up to five thousand words and be suitable for teens and young adults. Because we all write edgy fiction, we knew the stories would all have an edge to them - and they do. They range from stories about doping in sport, online grooming, racism, gender, terrorism, grief and loss, love and life, to name some of the themes in the stories.

What we're hoping for is that the stories inspire reading and discussion and debate amongst teens and young adults. To aid teachers and school librarians, we've also written discussion guides with suggested topics for discussion and creative writing exercises.

My short story for the anthology is called Aladdin's Lamp. It's a story about a sixteen year old Indian girl called Priti who doesn't want her best friend to leave India and doesn't want to be married and settled. Her parents have other ideas and so a suitor comes to the house. Priti wishes she had an Aladdin's lamp so that she could wish the suitors to go away, but in the story she finds out that you have to be careful what you wish for...

I will tell you no more so I don't spoil the story for you!

The stories in the anthology are accessible, diverse and thought-provoking, and that's the wonderful thing about an anthology - you can dip into it and find something different each time. I hope our teen readers will dip into the anthology and find something they like, a story, an author, or just some pleasure from reading something different.

“The short story is a very powerful weapon in the hands of a librarian or teacher . . . I guarantee that these stories will leave readers gasping for more. But most importantly they will get teen readers thinking and talking.” — Joy Court, Chair: CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Medals; Reviews Editor: The School Librarian 

Stories from The Edge is out on KindlePaperback, and here for Educational and Library sales.


Savita's website, on Facebook, and Twitter

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Peace and Tolerance in Paris by Miriam Halahmy

In January this year I was invited to Maurice Genevoix School in a Paris suburb near Porte D'Orleans to lead workshops on peace and tolerance. The teacher, Sarah El-Bouh, found me via my website because of my experience in working across divided communities and my writings on peace and dialogue. I speak some French, have lived in Paris and visited numerous times and was absolutely delighted to be invited. The school is part of a two year project on peace, with other schools in Europe as part of the Comenius Peace Project.

Sarah El-Bouh teaches English at the school and is supported by Anne Berelowich who teaches English Lit and Drama. Their commitment to the peace project is inspiring and uplifting.

Like the UK, France is wrestling with its political and social views about ethnic minority groups, immigration and left versus right. A couple of weeks before I travelled, the controversy about the footballer, Nicolas Annelka and le quennelle, an anti-semitic gesture, was all over the media. As an Anglo/Jewish author, whose great uncle had been deported from Paris to Auschwitz and who had written a novel ( HIDDEN, Albury Fiction) about Muslim asylum seekers, how would I be received in a Paris school? I needn't have worried - I had the most amazing time!!

I worked with three groups of students, aged 15-17 years and all of the work was in English. The students read out my poems and drama scripts, spoke, listened and wrote their own pieces all in English which was very impressive. I told them that I belong to English PEN, "literature and human rights," and that PEN's motto is, "The pen is mightier than the sword." They understood straight away and translated into French, "La Plume est plus fort que l'epee." That became our catch phrase for the day.

My aim with the work was to ensure that the students felt that they could all individually contribute to promoting peace and tolerance in their everyday lives. I therefore chose poems and texts which would inspire them to write their own views and feelings.
The first poem I presented  was 'Sorry' by a boy from Bosnia. I had asked the author Hilary Freeman if her partner, Michael, could translate the poem into French for me, which he kindly did. One of the students volunteered to read the French as I read the English.

The students written responses speak for themselves. Here are two examples :-

I have also written my own poems about peace and tolerance and one of the poems asks, What can you do for Peace? The opening stanza gives you a flavour:-

Sunbathe for Peace
go to bed for Peace
strike for Peace
pray for Peace
talk to your son for Peace
love your daughter for Peace
weep for Peace
roll your wheelchair for Peace
strap on your prosthesis for Peace
walk down to the Post Office
and buy a stamp for Peace
swipe your Oyster card for Peace
unpoint your gun
sink your difference
wipe up blood
defuse a bomb for Peace
© Miriam Halahmy

The students loved this idea and of course had plenty of ideas of their own :-

They discussed their writing in groups, wrote in groups and also wrote on their own. But their commitment to expressing themselves in English, despite the difficulty of the subject matter, was outstanding.

Speak with your friends for Peace/grumble with your family for Peace/Ask your teachers for Peace/ Act Now! by Hippolyte Quentin
Do everything for Peace.../Be tolerant for Peace/ Help for Peace/ Don't be racist for Peace/ Pray for Peace/ But you must believe in Peace. by J. Samia
Be different for Peace... by Moulin Emeline
Give some of your time for Peace... by Maxime M.

One of the students, Sami, came to France from Homs in Syria only three months earlier with his sister and knows how hard it is to start again in a new country. I read an extract from HIDDEN and the students then read a drama script at the point where my teens, Alix and Samir, have saved an asylum seeker from the sea and now Samir is trying to persuade Alix to help hide the man to save him from being deported and possibly killed back in his homeland. Alix is faced with an impossible choice.The students discussed the choice in their groups and then fed back to class. Sami felt that as an asylum seeker he could not put himself at risk and would not be able to help. Others were divided as to whether they would help or not. I pointed out that there was no right answer to such a difficult dilemma.

Alizea Girand wrote, "Hidden is my favourite because we see the evolution of Alix. At the beginning she knows nothing about racism but because she becomes friends with Samir, she discovers how hard it is for a foreigner... Peace is something really important in my opinion. We had all the poems before but we didn't know they were as powerful and meaningful as Miriam showed us."
Chloe D wrote, " Getting involved in this peace project is really important to me. In this way meeting a writer too is a good experience because you've more experience that us."

We looked at a poem I wrote after an incident in my 'Corner Shop'. The students read the text before my visit and were curious about its origin. During the Gulf War, in the queue one morning at my local shop run by a Muslim family, there were local people from the orthodox Jewish community,  my Japanese hairdresser, a group of Hindu ladies, an elderly man and some children. Someone said something about the war. The owner spoke up, saying,"Well, we won't let that come between us," and everyone agreed, nodding their heads and saying, "That's right!" As I told the students, Peace broke out in my Corner Shop that day.
The poem ends :-

We are the peace process, the moderate,
the mother, the brother.
We are the news, the ceasefire
pressed like coriander in a wrinkled palm.
We are the voice, the banner,
the handshake, brown on white on olive.
We are the ear, the eye, the promise,
prisoner released, girl unharmed, bomber stilled.
© Miriam Halahmy

This idea really captured the students. Here are some responses:-

We are the peace process/ The ones who give peace a chance/ We can change the minds/ Together against violence and war.  by H. Ouachek
We are the peace process/ We are the world/ We are the peace army, peace warriors.
by Sacha Verlac

Each of our sessions only lasted an hour or an hour and a half and we had a lot to get through. Poems, stories, drama scripts, questions, comments, but I used every single text I had brought with me and was constantly amazed and impressed by how much the students could absorb, comprehend and then respond to in their own independent way. These students had strong political and social views formed by their education, upbringing, reading and observation of the world around them.
Their teachers have sent me their feedback on our sessions :-

It was an honor to meet you - you're searching for peace and you want to share your fight with us. Thank you for coming, I enjoyed this moment. H. Ouachek
Miriam enjoys her work and defends a lot of the essential values like peace, tolerance and respect. She listened to us with an intensive respect. Benjamin
This meeting was very important ...Miriam permitted to us to develop her poems with our opinions. C. Julie
You made me learn a lot of things about the Palestinians resistance and I learnt that I have to be in other people's shoes to understand them. Aime B.
I didn't know what to expect with this meeting... I was very surprised I understood each word. I like the fact we don't only talk about peace but racism and tolerance. I lie if I say that it change my life, but it teach me a lot. A. Ashley

I was unable to include everything that the teachers sent me but I have learnt just as much as the students during our sessions and I came away inspired to continue writing on social and political issues for young people. They are clearly so interested and keen to widen their knowledge and formulate their own opinions. 
I hope that I can return to see the students again one day.

I will leave you with the words of Aime B :-
You don't have to be sorry because we are all human and we can live together.

With Sarah El-Bouh on my right and Anne Berelowich.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Rock Climbing ; You're STUFFED!!

When I was younger I loved what we now call extreme sports : biking, motor-biking, rock climbing, skiing and generally taking physical risks. But my body has not been reliable for some years and so it is through my Y.A. novels that I revisit the adventures of my past in my imagination.

The third book in my Hayling cycle, STUFFED, will be published by Albury Books, Feb 2014. This is the outline :-

Jess is fifteen, Ryan is seventeen and they are falling in love. But each is keeping a terrible secret from the other.  On a weekend away rock climbing they move closer until a terrifying incident drives a new wedge between them. Can Jess save her family from Dad’s mistakes and will Ryan resolve his mess from the past? If not, then their loved is doomed to failure.

I wanted the third book in the cycle to focus on a teenage relationship, something I am quite interested in writing about. Ryan has an older friend, Max and it seemed quite natural to make him a rock-climber. As the character of Max developed I thought, why not send all the teens away on a climbing weekend and then make something memorable and life-changing happen?
Excellent! Just the kind of drama I love when writing a novel.

It's a very long time since I’ve been up a rock face and so I decided to consult the experts. I started with an indoor climbing wall where I met Mark ‘Zippy’ Pretty, one of the best climbing coaches and route-setters in the UK today. Zippy happily spent an hour going over possible scenarios and demonstrating moves for me on the climbing wall.
I realised how much I had missed climbing and the climbing community which is rather old fashioned, respectful and very supportive. So with a bit of persuasion I had a go. I did a simple climb up the wall and walked back down. I wasn’t prepared to repeat the experience – not with my joints! But it was a great reminder of how it feels to climb.

However, I’m not used to indoor climbing and much prefer being in the outdoors. So Zippy suggested that I go up to Derbyshire and talk to the climbers and instructors up there. I jumped at the idea. I used to climb on the gritstone edges such as Stanage Edge and I was excited at the prospect of revisiting the climbs of my student days. Going back to Derbyshire let me observe many different climbers, including young people and reminded me of the fear and the adrenalin of climbing vertically up a rock face, defying gravity and the enormous exhilaration of reaching the top, however easy the climb.

Once I started my research I realised that equipment has changed so much since my day. When I climbed as a student we simply tied a rope round our waists and went up; no helmets or harnesses. Now I realise how dangerous it was. At least we wore plimsolls. The generation before us went up in their leather lace up brogues!

I had a brilliant time in the Derbyshire air, taking photos and talking to climbers and instructors. It was some of the best research I’ve done in years. The climbing chapters in STUFFED really came alive for me and they almost wrote themselves when I came home

I’m researching freestyle sprint Olympic swimming for my current work in progress. Sport will always play an important role in my Y.A. novels.

Albury books will be  publishing in physical and e-books all three books in the Hayling cycle and I am beginning a series of events all through this year to promote the books, while I finish my current novel.
You can find out more about my books and events on my website :

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Nelson Mandela...Poem and Peace by Miriam Halahmy

In 1952, the year I was born, Nelson Mandela opened his law firm and became involved in  ANC defiance activities. All my life he has gone before me as a beacon of hope and reconciliation. In the 60s as my political consciousness was developing I became more and more aware of  apartheid.

As a student in the 70s I helped to swell the tide of demonstration in Trafalgar Square. 

In the 80s I took my seven year old son to the vigil outside the South African Embassy and we signed the demand to release Mandela and end apartheid.
I could never buy a Cape apple.

In 1994 I sat and watched Mandela vote for the first time in his life. The most extraordinary smile broke over his face, almost shy, yet beaming, as he posted his slip of paper into the slot. That smile lit up the world.

The next day I went to the supermarket and proudly bought my very first bag of green Cape apples. Now it felt safe. Mandela was not only free but he had cast his vote. 
I went home, dumped the apples in the sink, turned on the tap and as I began to peel off the stickers a huge smile spread over my face.

I sat down and wrote this poem :

Washing Apples

Like Mandela casting his vote, I smile
and peel Cape stickers from green apples,
reel back the years, vigil, marches,
taking my small son to sign.

He knows now why I said,
at street stalls and supermarkets, 'Not those or those'
why it was never just an apple.

 © Miriam Halahmy

 As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison.
Nelson Mandela   1918-2013

This is the mark of the man and this is his legacy. Peace and reconciliation can be achieved between neighbours, peoples, countries. We are all citizens of the world.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Sliding Doors - T. M. Alexander

What am I going to write? I thought. My first blog in the company of authors. I flicked through recent posts and there was Miriam Halahmy, talking about how she has always written. Bingo!
I was a sporty kid, most often found either hitting a tennis ball against the back of the house or walking on my hands. I liked to be outside not inside, and I did everything fast. Running was my favourite occupation,
writing my least, because my hand couldn’t keep up with my head. As soon as I could, I dropped all subjects requiring sentences, for those that relied on digits and symbols.
Ten years flew by employed in big companies, followed by another ten working as a freelancer so that I could be around for my three children. Writing was for shopping lists, birthday cards and cheques.
Then came Life-changing Wednesday.
I had rashly left my contracting job, bored with endless meetings of twenty or more suits. The children were all at school and, not used to being home alone, the days were long. On my way back home from the supermarket (oh the domesticity of it), I stopped to look in the bookshop window. There was a flyer for a creative writing course starting that day at Clifton Library, 10.30. I dumped the bags and cycled over.
It was hideous. They all knew one another having been meeting every Wednesday for years. Keen to hear each other’s news after the long summer break, they took turns around the room talking of their writing projects – books, poems, articles, plays. With every declaration of prowess my armpits grew sweatier. Finally, all eyes were on me.
‘I haven’t written anything since I was at school,’ I said, red-faced. ‘But I’ve got lots of ideas.’
Joan, OBE, elbowed me in the ribs.
‘Better write them down, then, dear.’
Ninety minutes later I hopped back on my bike, homework assignment in my pannier. I wore down several pencils that week, working on my first memory of being alone. Arriving at the next class the teacher asked if I felt brave enough to read my piece aloud.
You try and stop me,’ I said.
Wednesday mornings became the highlight of my week.
Months later our assignment was to write the opening paragraph of a short story, setting the scene and casting the narrative hook. The example I jotted down in my black notebook from 2005 was, ‘With hindsight, he realised he had never meant to destroy London.’ And underneath, ‘A short story is a really good day out, rather than a fortnight away.’
Armed with the rules, off I went. I wrote the beginning, then the middle and then the end. After reading my first few lines in class, the teacher exercised her honed sixth sense.
‘Is there any more?’
I read the 2,000 word story. She said I should send it off somewhere.
Receiving first prize at the London Review Bookshop
The email arrived when I was playing tennis in Ilfracombe with my sister. My husband read it to me over the phone.
The winner of the Momaya Short Story Competition is . . .

Muchlove later, to steal from Roger McGough’s The Icingbus, I asked Joan what splendid deed led to her being awarded an OBE.
‘Getting to Over Bloody Eighty,’ she said, slapping my thigh.

The thing is, if the flyer had advertised a pottery class starting Wednesday, 10.30, Clifton Library, I’d have gone there.

T. M. Alexander