Featured Writer: Jenny Robertson

A. C. Clarke writes…  I am delighted to welcome Jenny Robertson as our featured writer. Jenny won the English section of the Book of Hopes and Dreams competition in the adult category and I asked her at the time to report on the trip to Germany which was part of the prize. You can read about Jenny, the Book of Hopes and Dreams, and the trip below together with an extract from Jenny’s very moving prize-winning entry.

Since student days Jenny Robertson has had a lifelong interest in Poland thanks to her studies in the Slavonic Department in Glasgow University – lang may that particular lum reek, though short-sighted government policies make it all very uncertain. She has been writing stories ever since she could form letters on a page and has had her books for children and adults published since 1978. Her most recent books are Wojtek War Hero Bear (Birlinn, children) and From the Volga to the Clyde (Fleming Publications, Glasgow). Thanks to Etta Dunn for her brave publishing venture that brought these stories to the market.

A Book Of Plans Hopes And Dreams

Rebecca and Michael Bilkau set up this award winning European project for writers in English and German to work together in an act of memory and hope expressed by a letter to someone in 1914 (with proof that they had been alive then) and a letter to someone in 2114. Two beautifully bound books with winning entries in German and in English have been produced.

The German prize winners read in Blackburn Cathedral on Easter Day. Blackburn Cathedral is twinned with Braunschweig where on 12th April, the youth winner, Bethany Pearson and I read our pieces in the awesome surroundings of the thousand year old cathedral. It was a huge privilege to stand in that ancient church and feel the echoes of the past within the immediacy of the present as we read our words that expressed sorrow at the waste of war and hope for the future.

We also sampled mouth-watering German cakes and enjoyed cuisine from pub food to high class dining. It was an inspirational and memorable occasion and I wouldn’t have known a thing about it if news of the competition hadn’t been included in the FWS newsmail.

A Book Of Plans Hopes And Dreams: extract from Jenny’s winning entry

Note by Jenny Robertson

I had a photograph of names on the war memorial in Kilchoan, Ardnamurchan, so I addressed my letter to the first name on the memorial stone,who died in 1915. I told him about the ceramic poppies and said that he is represented there, and that I was crafting a poppy especially for him. The letter contained sorrow and hope.

The second letter was addressed to a future many greats grand-daughter, whom I called Stella and my wish was that although her back story, in the life of my daughter, is darkened with an illness still called misleadingly schizophrenia, my hope is that she won’t even know the meaning of this nonsensical name but also that there will be a cure for an illness that has devastated more young lives than two world wars, and that I am crafting a rainbow coloured poppy for those wasted lives.

Extract

To Duncan Stewart, 1914

You left the wide skies of the west, the smell of peat from the fire your mother tended, the lowing of small hairy kye and the bleating of sheep; and you marched away with a swing of the kilt. You did not know that your name would be carved on a memorial with a date, 26th September 1915, the date of your death…

To “Stella” 2114

…Writing to you from 2014, there is so much to hope for but I shall choose only one thing. No more schizophrenia! I hope you will reply, “What’s that?”

Well, it’s like living in a horror film. Faces seem distorted. Thoughts and perceptions are disturbed. Let’s say you’re in town and spot a complete stranger. You suddenly feel that this totally unknown person is thinking bad stuff about you and you feel terribly afraid. Or else you hear noises inside your head which make you think an enemy is coming to attack you. Yes, even when you are stuffed with drugs. And, if you are a lovely young mother, doting on your darling baby, more often than not you will lose the right to care for your child. This is your back story, Stella. It happened to your great-great-great-great grand-mother a hundred and twenty years ago…

Schizophrenia has destroyed more young people’s lives than two world wars put together… So, darling Stella, I am writing in the hope that in 2114 the rainbow of recovery will have long since broken through the storm clouds of madness and you will read this with compassion and also with a smile.

© Jenny Robertson 2015

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