Penguin Books picks torture survivors to feature in audio stories

Fashion designer Vivienne Westwood has introduced an audio story featuring a Freedom from Torture 'Write to Life' member.

Jade's story is part of a series of audio stories, from publishers Penguin, put together to mark 18 years of The Refugee Council's Children's Section. The stories are written and read by refugees and asylum seekers inspired by the theme, 'Turning 18'.

Hasani, who used the pen name Farai, is another participant from 'Write to Life'. His story will be published in the coming weeks. He said:

"I was very happy to be selected and to be involved with the whole project.

"I have known Penguin from back home in Zimbabwe – I read Penguin Classics at school. I could not believe that I would be involved in a project like this. Penguin is one of the biggest publishers in the world. I was overjoyed to be involved and to be in the studio – it was a joy."

The stories raise public awareness of the issues facing refugees and asylum seekers and explain where they are from and why they left. Contributors include those who have fled conflict, young people who were trafficked here as children, and those who have escaped persecution for political beliefs, or sexual orientation. The collection includes voices from Nigeria, Bolivia, Jamaica, Tanzania, Iran, Uganda, Afghanistan and Somalia.

Project coordinator, Ben Latham, from the Refugee Council, said:

"Refugees and asylum seekers of many different ages, backgrounds and stages of the asylum process took part in the project lending their energy, time and remarkable stories to the series."

Jade was born and raised in Uganda, East Africa. She wrote two contrasting stories on turning 18. The first is a factual account of what it was like to be a woman coming-of-age in Uganda. She describes her surroundings, life in the home, and the different roles men and women play in that society. In the second story Jade has created a fictional account of turning 18, imagining the milestone from the eyes of a young British girl. The second piece re-imagines gender roles, family relationships, and freedom within Western society.

The project started with a writing workshop at Penguin's offices in central London and was led by Booker nominated author Romesh Gunesekera. Participants took part in creative writing exercises which elicited the final pieces around the theme, 'Turning 18'.

There were guest submissions from Penguin writers including Joe Dunthorne, author of 'Submarine', and Beverley Naidoo, whose book 'The Other Side of Truth' won the 2002 Jane Addams Children's Book Award for its portrayal of child refugees.

Ben Latham said:

"The range of responses and writing styles was staggering. From carefully crafted vignettes to simple snapshots of experience, all the pieces gave a unique and personal insight into what it means to become an adult."

After the submissions had been collated, the writers recorded their stories at Penguin's audiobook studios.

Jade, who fled Uganda in 2001 after her home and family were violently taken from her, said:

"It was nerve racking being in the studio, but the people recording it made me feel at ease. I am a refugee and have been through the asylum system. It's good to help as I have been there and it is good to be heard by a new audience."

Ben Latham added:

"From the very first reading it was clear that delivering the pieces in the voice of the writer would help people to connect with the work. The unique accent, tone and inflection of each voice adds depth and colour to each story."

Supporters of the Refugee Council provided the narrations including fashion designer, Vivienne Westwood, artist Grayson Perry, actress Zoë Wanamaker and political campaigner Peter Tatchell.

Sheila Hayman, Write to Life's project coordinator, said:

"It was such a great boost to Hasani, Jade and the rest of the group to have their writing, their voices and stories acknowledged by such a prestigious and well known publisher.

"The power of writing to help people overcome their trauma is incredible, and being part of this project helps enormously with those endeavours."

Listen to the 'Turning 18' collection, which will be serialised over a number of weeks.