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Big Writing For A Small World

Big Writing For A Small World

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Published by English PEN
In 2011 and 2012 English PEN were resident in ten refugee and community centres up and down the country. This is the book that resulted from all the really hard work! The project was in partnership with the European Commission Representation in the United Kingdom.
In 2011 and 2012 English PEN were resident in ten refugee and community centres up and down the country. This is the book that resulted from all the really hard work! The project was in partnership with the European Commission Representation in the United Kingdom.

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Published by: English PEN on Apr 30, 2012
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English PEN / Readers & Writers With introductions by Jonathan Scheele and Bidisha

First published in Great Britain in 2012 by English PEN, Free Word, 60 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3GA 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Collection copyright © English PEN, 2012 The moral right of the authors has been asserted. The views expressed in this book are those of the individual authors, and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the editors, publishers or English PEN. All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of the book. A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. ISBN 978-0-9564806-7-5 Printed and bound in Great Britain by Aldgate Press, Units 5&6, Gunthorpe Street Workshops, 3 Gunthorpe Street, London E1 7RQ www.aldgatepress.co.uk Designed by Brett Biedscheid, www.statetostate.co.uk

On looking in this book Jonathan Scheele Words of greatness Bidisha My Maria Mahboobeh Rajabi Story of a Street Trader Yaya Yosof Humanity Mahmood Alnaimy Parisian Story of the Beggar and My Lover. Paula Discussions About Marriage Aissata Thiam My Place in the Congo Mariesumbi My Garden Cecile Weta Ruth Liya I am… Alieu Sisse City of Dreams Tecli Tesfagabir My Scarf from Beki Asmeret Haile Tsegai Sara Shahla Ahmad I am a Tree Tecli Tesfagabir Passed Away Mahmood Alnaimy Nostalgia Brigitte Nongo-Wa-Kitwa I am a Tree Alieu Sisse The Bag Yinka Akintayo Wishing Tree Mitsuo Nakamura Captured N. N. Dee Another View of the Sun N. N. Dee

2 3 5 7 8 9

My ugly classroom Kakengi Monatsheba Lemon tablecloth  Elmi Ali Hands Enrico Sibour Extract from ‘Monster’ Erse D’or A Letter to Maman Marie Lavoile The Sun’s Rays Jacqueline Lwanzo Mind Map Beatrice Tibahurira My journey to England Haimanot Nasser The Lovely Daffodil Jose M. Alemeza Disenchant Monique Leoni ScottBennin I need the sun so I can rise Monique Leoni Scott-Bennin Haiku 1 Marian Labaraad Haiku 2 Marian Labaraad The Eyes of Men Camille Sangster Sitting in Silence Leo Schwartz Postcard From Tomorrow Aissata Thiam A Place Called Tomorrow Patricia Addo-Asante, Sandra Mbala, Agnes Swamba and Julie CHISOSA: My secret corner of Africa Tchiyiwe Thandiwe Chihana It’s a Long Walk to Nelson Mandela Avenue Ethel Maqeda

21 22 24 24 26 27 27 28 29 32

One Day Qandagha Faryad, Julie France and Aissata Thiam Friendship in the Trenches Kelileh Va Demneh As if I am back in Asmara Tesfamhret Tsegazghi Alahwaz– Freedom for My Land Jamal My Place Seida Ndoloma Life is Bio and Organic Kakengi Monatsheba A Diamante Poem Rahel I am who I am... Asmeret Haile Tsegai My Beautiful Home Siromari Tarapatla Very nice TV Fatima Biscuits Enrico Sibour I found a key Yaya Yosof Yearning Wade Wallace The Sun Mitsuo Nakamura I am... Tecli Tesfagabir Postcard From Tomorrow Patricia Addo-Asante DOPPIAVOO Stewart L D Laing Life Noggies Tunde Molnar Noggies to my Apricot trees Tunde Molnar Peach Crisp Margaret Siegel The Cat and the Fly Tania Hershman


44 46 48

48 48 49 49 49 49 49 50 50 52 53 53 54 55 55


14 14 16 16 17 17 17 18 18 19 19 20 21 21 21


34 34 34 36 38 38



58 59


On looking in this book
The etymology of the word Europe is uncertain, but one theory is that it comes from the Greek for wide-gazing. The book you are holding is a testament to the kind of big looking we might mean by this. We are delighted to have been a partner on English PEN’s creative writing project, Big Writing For A Small World – an ambitious cultural community project that involved ten world writers and hundreds and hundreds of people in refugee centres across the country. The project has played its part in supporting social inclusion and combating discrimination through literature. We liked the simple approach: writers working closely with refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, to help participants with their English and creative writing skills, to help them find their voices and enjoy the best that European literature has to offer. Everyone who took part in this project came to Europe, or came from another country within Europe, and found – in the English PEN workshops – a space to think about their lives, their journeys, their stories. The sessions were held in English but there were many different languages in all the workshops – French, Spanish, Norwegian, Italian, Hungarian, Japanese, Tigrinya, Shona, Ndebele… For this project, Europe and the world came together through story telling, story listening, wide-gazing. You’ll read in this book astonishing feats of imagination, brave life histories, and people full of stories and poems and songs. The job now is to get these stories out there, to get as many people as possible to read about, and discover things about, the European immigrant experience, what it is to arrive and make a home in this Union. We hope you’ll read this book and that you’ll encourage others to read it too.

Jonathan Scheele Head of the European Commission Representation in the UK



Words of greatness
In the autumn of 2011 and the spring of 2012 a small group of writers and poets across London and England encountered a host of new worlds. Through our workshops, classes and tutorials hosted by migrants and refugee centres we met people and heard stories from Iran, Uganda, Cameroon, Malawi, Syria, Somalia and beyond. Through seemingly small exercises, brief writing assignments, short essays and on-the-spot writing challenges we uncovered great swathes of recent history, learned about long journeys undertaken, losses endured, challenges fought, gambles made with life and death, wars witnessed, loved ones lost and gained. I can’t speak for the other writers but I can say that I learned much more from my students than they could possibly have learned from me. I had students who had been placed in detention centres, who had been told by UK government officials that their testimonies of life in the Congo were “just a story you made up”, who struggled to survive on just a few pounds a day.... yet who continued on with great determination. Most of my students had been in limbo in the UK for years, denied both the right to stay and also to work. Despite this, many of them did work – as cleaners, porters, domestic help, all the jobs no-one else will do – despite being educated and speaking several languages. Our enterprise was entitled Big Writing for a Small World. What we found, instead, was small but powerful writing, by seemingly ordinary (but secretly extraordinary) people, which enabled us to discover the bigness and breadth of the world – and of human courage and resilience. The sessions were by turns hilarious, heartbreaking, inspiring and baffling: I am still deeply confused about the subject of a Hungarian student’s poem (you’ll see her work on page 55). So I will end this introduction not with any solemn words of greatness about the triumph of the human spirit, but with a brief, writerly enquiry: what on earth are “noggies”?




When I woke up this morning I ask myself what life is about I found the answer in every room The fan said ‘be cool’ The roof said ‘aim high’ The window said ‘cool the world’ The clock said ‘every minute is precious’ The mirror said ‘reflect before you act’ The calendar said ‘be up to date’ The door said ‘push hard before your goal’ The carpet said ‘kneel down and pray.’ Hope all goes well this year.
Souleyman Sow



My Maria

Mahboobeh Rajabi White serious swan looking forward to the lake open her wings holds my heart safe and gathers all the light through her eyes is my Maria.   Summer expanse, wind that touch your cheeks on a hot day and take you to the sky calm you in clouds is my Maria.   The forest and green and living air always laughing even to the angry sky and keeping all the life inside safe is my Maria.   Green bush in the eye of hot sun always love desert when nothing change there and give living hope to young desert creatures is my Maria.   Glass Sea with a world inside giving the beach her breath and heart beat and reminding the beach: the sun is rising, no need to worry is my Maria.   The beach that is me see the Glass Sea, beautiful and shiny but no idea what’s going on inside of it ... inside of a world that is my Maria.  





Story of a Street Trader
Yaya Yosof I am a street trader who sells clothes to local people in Local Street. Waddy Madalla is a well known street. It is a place where people come to sell and buy things or just walk around for coffee and tea. It is based in the heart of the Niyala city which is the biggest city of Darfour, west of Sudan. Here is the place where I sell women’s clothes every Friday. Usually they come in different colours and sizes. I specialise in women’s clothes. I sell women’s clothes to passersby. Today was one of the special Fridays when I decided to shut my shop and go to Jumma prayer. The mosque was full, no place to place your finger. I managed hardly to find my place among them when I squeezed myself between them as in a sardine tin. I was embarrassed by the speech of the wise man when he said “selling women’s underwear is haraam. Music is haraam. Singing is haraam.” All these are taboo? I asked myself. An hour later two police cars fully equipped crashed in the market. The cars were full of soldiers and policemen who were dressed in gray and dark green uniform. In seconds they drove the market mad and crazy. They jumbled everything upside down. Even my small sales table flew in the air as a yacht. Bikinis, jumpers and different small pieces of clothes flew away. I started helplessly collecting some of them from the ground. I held the only two bikinis which had been left behind. Then I remembered the wise man’s face. “But sir” I thought to the wise man, “I remember you now when you came and bought some red women’s underwear from me last week, same as what I have in my hands now.” “Dear Sir, but why today became haraam?” “Does God who creates birds that sing?” “He taught them how to sing nicely!” “Almighty, who creates the falling water,” “taught them to fall in rivers between the flowers,” “He ordered the hissing wind to blow smoothly not to break the branches.”




Mahmood Alnaimy The identity that embraces us all Though we differ in things that matter The blue planet holds us like a mother And the sun gives life to all. Humanity identifies this unique race Scattered in nations all over the place In peace or fighting, settled or dispersed Those suffering hope for an escape. Earth keeps us linked despite distances Under the banner of Homo sapiens We are all alike and live in communities Though many are scarred from atrocities The wonderful sun sends its bright light To the blue planet wrapped up in warmth Human beings of all nations have their share Of the Sun and Earth’s gifts and care. Though these gifts are not in equal shares Some are fortunate and many are hardly there There are winners and losers, greed overbid care Now Who will lend a hand of love and charity? A safe shelter of human rights and peace Is what every human being needs So let us pray together and hope That our strives, one day will stop.



Parisian Story of the Beggar and My Lover.
Paula Ripped apart. Dejected, to see no differences. A whisper is a whisper. A street is a street. We all make mistakes. Eyes shone with love. Living on the street. Invisible, who wants to be?

What is this sickness, How does it feel to, not want to feel. Twisted, ugly, wounded, beautiful fate. I gave him me. I gave him everything. The soul does not know defeat.

Love, Life, rebirth, Death, It is a gift to breathe. A few moments later, Unfettered bewilderment, My lover welcomed me, he wants to feed me, A plate of hot food, coffee straight from Paraguayan soil. Never knew it was possible to love so simply, so profoundly. God’s beauty is all around. We can be nourished. Through love we can be healed.



Paris rain recalled at liftoff strapped to windowseat; Above clouds savouring Rioja and mussels as vertical streaked late afternoon light in Rue Keller, Marais. Seatflap dropped I wrote this missing you saying; ‘Le soixante-neuf est interdit dans les couloirs.’
Erse D’or



Discussions About Marriage
Aissata Thiam The Mother To Her Daughter He is certainly not handsome: rather unpleasant and bad mannered, not elegant in the least and walks as though the world belonged to him… Yet I need you to marry him I know he talks all the time and shouts for no reason, he enjoys flattering himself more often than normal… but I beg you to marry him. I am your mother and your ally and the bosom that fed you; so I tell you with all honesty that in the absence of love a marriage still survives… but if you love me, please marry him. You will see that in ten years’ time any memories of your worry will vanish to make space for the greatest affection for your soon to be husband. The Mother-In-Law To Her Son She is plain and unsophisticated, unpleasant and bad mannered. I saw her with several men before she will bring shame into the family. Such a vile looking person, she is undernourished and ill that I doubt in her ability to conceive and so you must not marry her. I know you won’t listen to your mother for that sentiment you call love has interfered with your mind; however, I tell you, don’t marry her. You will see that in two years’ time when she has tired of you and sucked all the wealth out of you you will regret having married her.


The Husband My dear, o my lovely wife, let me remind you that I am the one who brought you to this country: I paid lawyers, visa and travel ticket for you to enjoy this new life. It goes without saying that you belong to me body and soul, possessions and all. What is yours is mine and what is mine is mine. You have the right to be what I want you to be: emancipation, liberation and all stupid-ation must never be part of your vocabulary unless you are willing To return to the hell you once came from I feel surprised by your lack of gratitude: thousands of women from the misery I found you in, wish they were you, and they wish they were mine. So you do as I say, and I will do as I please I never asked anything unreasonable: just to keep my house impeccable. Is that a lot to ask for when I, your devoted companion, give you my time and give you so much? You owe me more than you would dare imagine, so please don’t cause any anger as I could become the husband you would not want to have. And shall l remind you that I can send you Back to the nightmare you once came from?



The Wife I took care to spill a few drops of water outside in the garden as I do every morning to ensure that my worries will leave as fast as the substance penetrates the ground. And then, of course, I prayed in silence that he would die or never come back. Oh I know, I should not say that, and I know, I should not mean that, but this is what I have in my heart. Mother said the wedding would help the whole family, but in what ways does it benefit them that I come to suffer in this foreign land? And then these ladies and gentlemen In their official suits, looking stern and uncaring visit regularly with countless papers, and they say we don’t seem like we know each other. I guess they can’t hear me well, or they don’t understand me because they keep asking again and again the questions they posed six months earlier. They can’t see my despair, they can’t hear the humiliation, they can’t feel the beatings, that’s why they keep asking again and again ‘Is he your husband’? Mother needs to tell me what the soothsayer advises about my future. I want it to be without this man, but it is as though I can’t escape I am not the ‘arriviste’ he says I am I just want to be free at last.



My Place in the Congo
Mariesumbi In my suitcase I put my belongings Black Leather suitcase Light brown top Blouse Trousers Underwear Shoes Bible Peace, hope Whispers Love Freedom Happiness Passion Life.

My Garden
Cecile Weta Behind my house there’s a small garden. In this garden there are three plants: plant avocado, plant orange and plant lemon. The vegetables: tomatoes, potatoes, onions and carrots. In my garden, sometimes I listen. The birds are singing. I like my small garden.





Liya She is 40 years old and she works hard. She is also poor. She walks long road. Always she tired because she go to market. Everyday she want to buy some grain to make fufu for lunch.

I am...

Alieu Sisse I am my needs that make me feel happy I am the English language that makes everything bright I am my family that I miss I am my sister that I need to see I am loneliness that makes me think too much I am all the people who make me feel better I am the travel that will make my life open I am who I am which is why I am in England.

My hand’s Always busy like A green snake In a Green grass.
Souleyman Sow


City of Dreams
Tecli Tesfagabir When I arrived in London the first time. I thought this is a small town because I saw the small house the same shapes as home and the narrow streets. But when I asked someone he told me this is London! At that time I felt disappointed because I expected nice houses, amazing buildings, wide streets and different coloured houses. But after some time I realised that in the UK all people live in smaller houses no different between poor and rich. When I asked about the UK, the foreign people say that in the UK everything is bad except for the pound (money!) English people aren’t friendly and they don’t see/ visit their family very often.

My Scarf from Beki
Asmeret Haile Tsegai When I was in Eritrea, my best girl friend Beki gave me a beautiful headscarf seven years ago. She said to me, this is a small gift, but don’t forget me. I said no I was happy, I won’t forget you, no problem. The scarf is very special and soft. It is sewn by hand and it is like wool and the colour is not pure blue, but similar blue. Every day I remember Beki, because if I see the scarf I will never forget my best friend. Wherever I travel I take my scarf with me.


Shahla Ahmad The women they not free like here, Sara comes from Kurwsta but she was very sad of her Life because she wasn’t free so one day she decided to leave her family because she was in Love with someone, but her family did not like Love, she is getting Life because always she’d been home with a lot of Fear and then she go to free in UK.



I am a Tree

Tecli Tesfagabir My branches are strong, thick and long. My trunk is quite short, strong and thick. It is rough and I have brown colour. My leaves are green and big, when you rub my leaves it smells good. My roots are spread around me and grab the rocks and give me water and minerals. Around me there are nice flowers and beautiful bungalows. Above me I see a white cloud and blue sky, during the night I see the scattered stars around the moon. Below me there are a lot of rocks diamonds and wet soil. In the past I was inside a fruit, one day someone took me from the fruit and ate the fruit but threw me on the Earth. I am from Sudan. In the future I will produce a lot of flower fruits and I give them to people to eat for free.

Passed Away

Mahmood Alnaimy The old nice lady, next door, In a late hour of the night Passed away in a silent way Over are her long days of malady The daughter sat in her chair Staring at the empty room Memories of the past happy years Hang around in mournful gloom Her mind troubled with worries And Fears shake the placid soul The death call echoed all the day O mother, come back to me in my dreams The coffin laid in the crematorium Then the old lady is left alone Who will be with her in the journey Into the wilderness of the unknown Now the old lady is gone Not having a sigh of cold stone.




Brigitte Nongo-Wa-Kitwa There was a place where I could feel being real in nature when I looked around, I could see only greenery. There was a place where there were not human beings where I could hear the wind’s voice and the river’s sound. There were hills far off where I could see the setting sun leaving it’s splendid colours in the sky. There were trees near the river I could see the reflection of the setting sun in the river. I could see some birds flying out of one tree to another. There was a place where I could hear the sounds of leaves hitting each other in the breeze, where I could get some fresh air. There was a place where I felt lonesome in nature, which I liked. There was a place where the wind often howled , bending trees and leaves. I miss that place.

I am a Tree
Alieu Sisse My branches are weak, thin My trunk medium black My leaves are green and smell like mint My roots are different Some grow sideways and one grows down Around me is a garden and some chairs Above me, I see the moon and the stars It’s nice to watch In the past I was a happy man Now I am a sad man I am from Senegal In the future, I will be… alright.



The Bag

Yinka Akintayo Ouch ! The zip snapped, broken me again has she? Now she’ll slide me back Am something to hold but no one gives me a hug, just a caress now and then The unending mouth I am, A place of refuge for all things, she may need at hand and like the Cookie monster swallow all, but unlike the cookie, when am full, she’ll stop stuffing I never complain, no headaches do I get, not even from the pen that spills left unattended in me Am like the army recruit with a uniform of many sided pocket to my parts You never know what she may need and when Help ! She’s dumping on me again.......

I like having a glass of orange with my food. I like apple. I don’t like apple. He likes soap. They like chicken.


Wishing Tree
Mitsuo Nakamura I like to see smiles of children Children write many wishes. Wishes are taken on my arms. My arms grow up toward somewhere. Somewhere in the future, wishes bloom like blossoms.

N. N. Dee Locked in an embrace and frozen in time, Their image stands still in a corner. This small slice of life captured my eye: A mother’s safe arms tenderly wrapped Around her precious baby daughter.

Another View of the Sun
N. N. Dee Our voiceless duet Adheres to one track: Morning we face you, At night, turn our backs.

My ugly classroom
Kakengi Monatsheba Who said ugly is ugly? Why can’t ugliness be a beauty? I started learning in the cold, But as cold changes to a bright heat like the start of a summer, My ugly classroom becomes a splendid place for knowledge



Lemon tablecloth 
Elmi Ali Black cotton soil submits, when el-Niño visits,  deep ravines vein the slopes. The one tarmac road in town is swept clean, it chokes the river bed and cracks in the sun. African violets quickly reclaim the spot where it once stretched.

I watch as crawling children, toothless with nostrils caked in snot pick and chew on the purple petals. Chastising mothers, hawk eyed, use their index fingers but struggle to evict the stubborn colour. Tears well up before a wide mouthed cry.

The exhaust breathes and coughs TB behind primary colour buses ripe with sun stroke. Glistening brows and wet underarms use elbows and shoulders to complain of the heat. Tinted windows open like small slits, loud music yelps from the perforated mouth of a speaker. The driver dodges a pothole.

Her deep sleep is stirred,  after a cupped palm greets her bosom. She is surprised at her own alertness. She wakes me up and whispers profanity in my ear, I turn and meet her in an open mouthed kiss. She shudders.

Like a sun baked roof, corrugated iron trying to resist the wind.


The wind pushing it to a crackle. The hen scratching in the moist earth nearby is startled. She leaves the earthworm she has found, gathers her chicks, watches the sky for a kite.

We use our backs watching the clouds, our palms touching, our fingers linked, spot a graceful bird, mid swoop, a hen and a cockerel ruffling their feathers at the site of a wide shadow. But there are no chicks to claim.

The lemon tree perfumes lift into the yard. A sweeping woman rising is sobered by an ageing back, a husband empties a margarine container of tobacco golden spit One embroidered table cloth white as truth hangs on a sagging clothes line.

The hen scratching in the moist earth nearby is startled. She leaves the earthworm she has found, gathers her chicks, watches the sky for a kite.



Enrico Sibour Big, square, strong hand, with the broken life line. A big palm, thick fingers feeling them touching his body, his back, his legs, his cock and bottom. Missing the sea, missing the snow. Strong hand, too much, dry skin often, with bruises and cuts few hair, when sunny really blond if not white. Large nails. Taking the knife and cutting the skin Cutting the wrist and the veins. Blood on the palm and in between the fingers. And falling asleep, closed eyes, Sad, sadness, what to do with my hands, leave the knife in the drawer. Keep the drawer close.

Extract from ‘Monster’
Erse D’or Flesh has poetries nothing diminishes; it causes them, then Walks out.





A Letter to Maman
Marie Lavoile London, England February 29, 2012 Dearest Maman, I am writing to let you know that you are constantly on my mind. You said I have become a different person and I don’t care as much as I used to. Maman, I really care more than you could ever imagine. I know that I have not been able to do as much as you wanted me to do. However, I have been doing exactly what you did when you were bringing up your family. Every two years I had a little brother or sister who needed your attention. You did what was best for your children and you put them first before anything or anybody else. For example, you gave up your teaching career for them. I remember also those nights when I or my siblings were sick, you took the portable lamp and went to the neighbour to buy what was needed to make us feel better. I appreciated those loving acts then, and now as a mother I do appreciate them even more. Maman, you are my role model. Further, the weekends you had spent making me pretty dresses to go to mass on Sundays are not forgotten. I want you to know that I do the same for my children. Maman, did you know that you started a trend long before it became popular around the world? Yes, I remember how you used to cut your long black hair to use as extensions for my short hair. Unfortunately, I can’t do the same for my daughter because her hair is longer than mine. Please Maman dear; don’t judge me by the pretty dresses and the smile that I am wearing in the photographs that I have sent home. They are camouflage to disguise the real reasons why I stay away for so long. Life did not deliver what it had promised me. However, what it gave me I have used to the best of my ability. Maman, you ask me repeatedly if I am going to let you die without seeing you. I really, truly, desperately want to see you. I know it has been almost 38 years since I last saw you, and you are now 85 years old. Please Maman don’t die, I am longing to see you. Please wait for me! I am counting on divine assistance to make this year the year that I see you again. Your loving daughter, Bibine



The Sun’s Rays
Jacqueline Lwanzo I feel good as the sun’s rays get to me Through the window. I feel so much, recalling the days I was in Africa As this sun’s rays remind me of the morning sun That prepared me for work, Visits to the market, The sun under which I hung my clothes to dry.

Mind Map

Beatrice Tibahurira Real: Work - I am not allowed to work Money - no money since I don’t work. I get lots of financial help from friends. Home - I live with a friend Health - good, a few headaches when stressed. Education- I studied in Uganda up to university level. Family and friends - I have five children, four of them over 18. I have my father, five brothers and six sisters. All in Uganda. Ideal: Money - I would like to earn my own money, pay my own bills. Work - I would like to be able to work, mostly teaching English and General Knowledge and writing about life. Love - ? I would like to get a responsible man friend that I can share the rest of my life with. Home - To own my own home in East London. Education - I would like to learn how to use the computer to excellence and study for a Masters in English. Family and friends - I would like to be living with some of my children and with my friends all still around so we can share our lives and go on holidays.



My journey to England
Haimanot Nasser My journey was terrible. Really terrible. I travelled from Sudan. Hours and hours in a lorry. Low down, under lots of boxes. We were all squashed together. No room to move. No air to breathe. I don’t know how many hours we were there in the dark, unable to see, unable to move, unable to say a word. I remember we were under lots of boxes and the boxes on top of us were full of chocolates, and toys. It was freezing. I couldn’t feel my hands or feet. I thought I was going to die. When the police came with their dogs we couldn’t move, or breathe in case they found us. We had to cover our faces with plastic to prevent the dogs sniffing us. When they finally let us out, I didn’t know where I was. It could have been New York or Paris or anywhere. I didn’t know how long I had been in the dark or how long I had been travelling. Then they told me I was in England and that I was safe. This was my fourth attempt. I lost my husband and my family, but now I have freedom.



The Lovely Daffodil
Jose M. Alemeza Hello sailor! Ray of sunshine; bundle of joy, in a green patch of land, pot of gold, you make me smile! You might think I’m crazy talking to plants and flowers. Well, well, I am not ‘Prince Charles’ who also talks to plants! I even talk to animals. Well, indeed, they can’t talk back to you, only “Miao” or “Moo!” when I do talk to plants or pat animals, it soothes me too. In the night I talk to the moon I chat with the stars, beautiful gorgeous, sparkling diamonds, in the clear, blue sky! I talk to the mountains, I am enchanted by the valleys and the meadows and the singing lake. I enjoy the sweet song of the brook descending from the hill, to bless the dry, thirsty land! I talk to the sun, I chat with the fluffy clouds, they flirt and smile back; at times they are angry, sparkling diamonds I see in the thundering ones. To all of them, I am a companion in a Journey in this universe, beautiful, limitless and vast! Master plan design? No doubt, I cannot grasp! I am only a Tiny, very tiny speck of dust, in space and time.




Monique Leoni Scott-Bennin Love is engaged to hate, my ego gave birth to fear and I nurtured that motherfucker with unconditional love, but unrequited. Fear didn’t want me, but I needed it, I abused it. Possessive, never left fears side. Fear is mine, I gave birth to it. Imagine what it’s like being ‘at home’ with fear What does it need feeding, it never knows. So indecisive. But I need to feed it something, Fear is starving, tugging at me but I have nothing to give. Then fear starts shouting, I start crying, I tremble because fear wants something I don’t have. Fear I need you as much as you need me. Please don’t leave me because I’m weak. You have no place on your own, stay with me. Grow old with me. But, fear is lazy and love is blind. I’m doing all the work, you leave your mess everywhere and I have to clean it up. One day I’m gonna start looking elsewhere, been doing this for too long and you’re not pulling your weight. I can’t take his shit no more. Fear didn’t even see it coming, stupid fool. Utterly oblivious. Didn’t even notice me staring at happiness, laughing with respect, admiring love. Then I saw life, damn life has it all. The aroma of love. Internal happiness. The regal stance of a God. The call of a siren.



I need the sun so I can rise
Monique Leoni Scott-Bennin The moonlight calls for your demons to play. They watch your lifeless container as it lay. Embody the chamber of your well oiled mind, clambering and echoing the labyrinth to see what dey can find. Well let der greed console dem cos it a fucking goldmine. I tired I’m tired I can’t take no more I swear I will remain here alone I’m sure. Famine, decay and ruin in every degree Dey wrestle with one another as I choke on the debris. The shadow of circling vultures cocoons me from the noise While the bitter-cold plays with my harp like a miscellaneous toy. I tired I’m tired I can’t take no more I swear I will remain here alone I’m sure. It ripped out my lungs with its gnarly claws and devoured it down its rancid jaw Consumed with joy it fell to the floor, sat der and wondered what more it could explore. I tired I’m tired I can’t take no more I swear I will remain here alone I’m sure. When the heavily pregnant darkness gave birth to the sun And da demons were done with der harrowing hunt I look down at myself and realise I’m not broken Because the depth of my strength can never be spoken.



Haiku 1

Marian Labaraad Outcast from others Loved by many people Blessed in my presence

Haiku 2

Marian Labaraad Hot breeze, no palm trees. Ocean behind, I love thee Africa heaven.

The Eyes of Men
Camille Sangster They lay their eyes upon me just seeing the outer body Not what’s on the inside, who wants to be loved and cherished. In their eyes I’m like a cake, just one look and they want it! Not thinking about its texture, the flavour, the measurement of flour, the right amount of sugar, the oven at the right temperature. Sometimes it feels as if they are undressing me with their eyes I’m still waiting for that one to see my inner being first and then, the outer layer. That’s when I’ll know the person that has opened his eyes and looked into my heart and soul.





Sitting in Silence
Leo Schwartz Check my watch, walk in the door Knowing it could be more than four score minutes Before you sit before me... Finally! I sit here You sit there Like Face Off With Nicholas Cage I’m playing all the parts As you refuse to engage We’ve both crossed oceans To get to this stage Anticipating a sea-change Stormy weather, The pent up rage of a tidal wave You sit there I sit here Trying to read between the lines Of your creased brow Where deep, dark shadows Avoid my gaze My unanswered questions Disappear into an empty cafe Just the hint of a smile plays on your face It’s meaning I can’t trace Not seeing the joke. I want to throw a fit And answer your silence With my own violence to show I give a shit Tear up the upholstery Throw the chairs Smash windows Pain’s to share



Full of feeling, Head starts reeling Mind tricks My semantics are useless As I try to keep myself in check Mate, I got wisdom to disseminate Dredged up from the drains Behind the sink At the back of my brain Struggling to find the words They sound absurd Because I’m blocked, Beaten by your locks and chains Making my attempt to Communicate seems inane But you’re still sitting here And I’m still sitting there Wanting to tell you I’m a porous rock. Able to absorb the shock of your tears, your fears All the things you never said you saw, The beatings you bore The screams which never left your lips. I. Can. Hear. This. I want to read aloud the words written on your face But your silence makes me crumble. Dumb, defeated, deflated, exasperated. Finally, you finish chewing Chicken and chips eviscerated The violence of your gaze fades A more satisfied silence pervades And some minutes later you say “Can we sit together soon?” Again?



Postcard From Tomorrow
Aissata Thiam Dear Today, You will never guess where I am writing from! Well, let me give it to you. I am writing from Tomorrow. And I love it! My friends tell me that I am mad to talk about it all the time. They say: ‘A place is not a person.’ But I knew I loved it from the first time I saw it. Tomorrow, is beautiful, successful and generous. Today, you are good, but Tomorrow is even better. Don’t be upset if I say it like that. I will always have good feelings for you. I am sending you all my love from Tomorrow.

A Place Called Tomorrow

Patricia Addo-Asante, Sandra Mbala, Agnes Swamba and Julie When you arrive in South Tomorrow, dress in bright coloured, light clothing, drink more water as your throat will be dry quickly because of the long summers. Visit the local church on the left-hand side of the airport to change your way of living. Visit also the gardens where people are always smiling and you can smile as well. Turn right and you will find the government writing laws for equality where both men and women work together for a better tomorrow. Ahead of you there is a big house where human rights are practised in the parliament. Get on bus number 30 to the Viking market where you will find fresh vegetables sold by healthy looking people for you to become healthy as well. Visit the local community hall where hope is found together with peace and unity exists. A little away from the hall, there is this wonderful college of bright children who are gaining knowledge and bettering their lives to become leaders of the next generation. Finally the tour ends where you are shown to the 48-storey hotel where you will be welcomed by well-mannered stewards, where every room has a story to tell. Stewards will show you with love and peace into a double king-sized bedroom for a sound and calm sleep without any disturbance. You will enjoy Tomorrow.



CHISOSA: My secret corner of Africa
Tchiyiwe Thandiwe Chihana Across the Chisosa lies my secret corner of Africa And my grandmother’s farm where the thickness of the air Is punctuated by the aroma of Nshima The maize meal announces dinner in the nearby villages In the distance, crickets chirp, at dawn the rooster crows My giggling grandmother rides on my grandfather’s back I laugh, sitting high on my father’s shoulders My mother’s hand in his, her eyes adoringly gaze into his. Waving goodbye to my grandmother and my grandfather We crossed the Chisosa and made it to the other side, Over a flooded makeshift bridge, We left behind my secret corner of Africa. Made it - to what? Roads, cars, hustle, bustle and multitudes Away from my Chisosa into the city The distance grows. Days and years move on - Life happens Death is unrelenting, nature is unforgiving My father breathes his last at 44 Two years before did not spare my dearest mother, She lies lifeless at 38 We head back to bury, Right back to my secret corner of Africa Along my Chisosa stream, my savannah sunset holds. Hot, dry and determined germination The day is cast - Darkness Extended family gathered, relatives mourn Casket on their shoulders The aches within my soul detach me from the voices of condolences In that moment, life has mocked me At 16, I have no parents Responsibilities beckon, my young brother is only 11 And the youngest, a mere 6 years old My tears flow into the Chisosa The stream of me that shapes, defines and meanders through Its waters crisp and clear, embody life and numb my pain My secret corner of Africa


It’s a Long Walk to Nelson Mandela Avenue
Ethel Maqeda When the whole thing was over it was not possible to tell the petals and the blood apart. Sometimes I think I can still smell it— the simple, fresh of the roses mingled with the sanguineous fusion of blood and other bodily fluids. I have kept a newspaper clipping of that year’s march. “Victory for courage in Bulawayo” the headline says. I scan the faces in the picture to see if I can identify a familiar doek, familiar eyes, my eyes. But I don’t see me. I wasn’t there. I believe the roses had been making steady progress – stem next to stem, stem behind stem and stem in front of stem, along Samora Machel Avenue. They were trying to beat last year’s record and take over Second Street, maybe even dare to reach the Parliament building on Nelson Mandela Avenue. Last February they managed to get a roothold, if only for a few minutes, on Market Square and Rezende Street, even blossoming as they crossed ‘the Bridge that Solo Built’ to almost conquer Jason Moyo Avenue. But the stems were no match for the black boots, whose handiwork would have impressed even the excitable elephants of Gonarezhou. It always ends the same— silence, abandoned placards fluttering in the wind and a carpet of roses glued together with blood.



I wish I had armed myself with a net – the kind used to catch butterflies or minnows – because the stories I heard at the Migrant and Refugee Communities Forum held me spellbound… until a breeze carried them away. I think of them still, those stories I didn’t manage to catch, and wonder where they are now. Are they still living in their writer’s head or on a folded page, or did they perish? Butterflies live for 2 weeks or 2 days... I wish a much longer life for the stories I heard. I wish they would live forever, to delight and enlighten everyone with the good fortune to meet them.
Shazea Quraishi



One Day

Qandagha Faryad Julie France Aissata Thiam Darkness is still in power and the day has not yet come. Hope is still there but the day has not yet come. One day I will go to university – the day has not yet come. One day in my country there will be nice cities that are safe. The day has not yet come. When all the wars are erased from memories, the day has not yet come. When love and peace fill everyone’s heart, the day has not yet come. I will laugh without fear, without regret. The day has not yet come. I will be light as a sunny dress, flying. The day has not yet come.





Friendship in the Trenches
Kelileh Va Demneh The pain is sharp. It is right up my arse. It is sharp point of the sergeant’s boot which is causing this. He is known as, Tommy, to his friends of which I am one. He shouts when I turn and look back at him,” Take your bloody fingers out of your fucking ears or you won’t hear the siren for wearing your gas mask”. I shout back at him, “It is too hot to wear a gas mask anyway. If I don’t die of gas I’ll die of heat exhaustion”. “You better not die,” Tommy says, with a smile, “if you die I fucking shoot you!” He then does the same with Johnny who has poked his fingers into his ears to stop the sounds of cannon shells exploding overhead. Johnny momentarily takes his fingers out but he presses them hard back in. I keep my ears free from my fingers remembering Tommy’s smile and his comment echoing in my mind, “If you die I fucking shoot you!” A few minutes later I hear the siren. I put my gas mask on. It feels like a lifetime before the siren for all clear goes on. I take my gas mask off, gasp for air and start fanning my hands near my face to get the heat away. From the corner of my eye I notice the lifeless body of Johnny with an arm stretched out trying to reach his gas mask. From the back of our trench the tall figure of Tommy appears. He notices the lifeless body of Johnny. He kicks at it but it remains motionless. His face becomes angry, then he shouts, “Fucking obstinate bastard”, almost choking with sorrow on the final word. He turns his face round and notices me fanning my face. His face breaks into a smile and says joyfully, “It seems I do not have to shoot you after all.” I smile back at him and say, “I guess not”.



I found a key today, So I need never jump in the window, as before.
Yaya Yosof



As if I am back in Asmara
Tesfamhret Tsegazghi South to my left North to my right Unfolding their past Through the top floor window of Ambassador Hotel Looking outside peeping through To see but not to be seen. Gazing far and contemplating Seeing houses filled with sadness Gathered over decades Looking ahead from near to the far west The day is heading to dark. South to my left North to my right Unfolding their past I look down to the street beneath me As if a funeral procession is happening Mothers weep Children whine Fathers wail Like others Two decades ago South to my left North to my right Unfolding their past I look to the left Those who made them cry Both came from the South gate And those who left Left the city via the North gate South to my left North to my right Unfolding their past



Will the people who are causing their agony Leave in the same way via the North gate? But leave the city In peace and tranquillity That lasts for ever Unlike their predecessor I wish they will But only wish Because I’m a powerless citizen.

I never forget while she packed my things into her suitcase. My clothes first, shoes, lingerie, trousers and tops mum used to have, full of love. As fresh air... She could put only few things of her inside the suitcase, Greater than anything.


Alahwaz– Freedom for My Land
Jamal There is a land called Alahwaz That was occupied eighty seven Years ago where I can see mothers Waiting for their sons to come back Safe from the street. There is a place with pretty mountains Where love in our hearts becomes the Sound of the river, where there is Hope like sunshine rising over that land. There is a land where the new life Is becoming the truth so the Demonstrators fill the street like A flowing sea.

My Place

Seida Ndoloma My town is a crowded place From noon, there is much traffic on the road In my town, people like stay under the tree Taking something cool. After a sunny day, in evening, there is a torrential rain with thunder.

Life is Bio and Organic
Kakengi Monatsheba Life is Bio and Organic, Traveller on the boat all night singing on the white and blue river. My marriage with my village is undefeatable, I love my place and forever as the blue sky, the gift of God... Years ago, my Grand-mother tells me people used to carry huge suitcases which were green light colour... Inside was a traditional clothes made with brown cotton and old shoes, some important documents and water to cool you down when in need, remember the darkest time during the colonisation.



A Diamante Poem
Rahel Love Laugh, happy Appreciating, interesting, approaching Enjoy, invite, disagree, badface Unseeing, ignoring Dislike, ignore Hate

I am who I am...
Asmeret Haile Tsegai I am my sister that is smaller than me I am sport I am a balanced diet that makes me healthy The romantic movies that make me smile I am the English language that lets me communicate I am the nurse that gives me medicine. I am who I am because of everything.

My Beautiful Home
Siromari Tarapatla My beautiful Indian home My beautiful Indian village house My home in Idrabad.

Very nice TV
Fatima and beautiful woman, she is nice. She is walking, her name is Joanna.




Enrico Sibour I touch and they crunch and the salt sparks when I open the packet. I break one when I take it from the yellow paper and when I eat it. I remember the same flavour when I was on the terrace at the seaside.

I found a key  
Yaya Yosof I found a key today, So I need never jump in the window, as before.


Wade Wallace The key has locked it Like a clock frozen, beautiful icicle never flinching I do care, the ice just won’t melt. I will it to but the magic surrounding the key stomps on me like gravity pushing two planets apart The deep dark hole that the clock sits in just gets bigger, on this planet full of ice that shines as bright as your smile. Searching for the lock is nearly impossible What’s this sinking feeling? Get up! Get out! Don’t come back. Wait! No The silence fills the air like mist seeping in from your eyes Come, go, stay, please just one more kiss She has already left





A space alien says to his son “ ” It’s a really tiny star from his planet. He never thought that we live on the earth next to “ ”
The Sun
Mitsuo Nakamura



I am...

Tecli Tesfagabir I am the sun that makes me warm My cousin who makes me good at maths I am my friend who makes me happy And my village which made me strong I am the school that made me literate I am the music that makes me relax I am geography that makes me see the world, the planets and the stars I am the bible that made me believe and trust in God I am the doctor who makes me safe for life The sport which makes me a healthy man I am who I am because I am a healthy man.

Postcard From Tomorrow
Patricia Addo-Asante My Lovely, I hope we will be spending more time in this lovely mansion just the two of us. And after our long chats, our families can join us for a drink and dance! (I can still see you dancing.) How is everything where you are? Are you missing me like I am missing you? I hope so. P.S. Remember our little angel still needs hugs and kisses from me as well. Your darling, Cherry.



Stewart L D Laing ‘Black scythe’ John Cheever. ‘Lets what happens to him simply happen...till he ran out of breath...finally resigned to be dumb.’ Ted Hughes. Emir Goseibi owns an island in the sea called Red; a barren coral platform reeking of buried human waste, a former prison colony the mystery being; where does the water come from? To eat one needs to close all the wooden shutters and the door so that the clouds of flies, suddenly in darkness, fly out when they see sunlight through an offered chink. That, and toxic clouds of flitted insect spray. Sleeping outdoors on woven wicker beds one woke to the sound of goats munching the coral gravel near ones head; and smiled. Abker Areeshi loves ALF LEILA WA LEILA the Thousand and One Nights but misses the fact that this island is full of wonders too. Where else would one gather thirty pigeon eggs to break and cook an omelette? Lying prone and looking down through the friable coral cliffs scooped out by the sea one sees big shoals of plump emerald green fishes, and the opulent ruins of the houses built by pearl fishing merchants are crusted with intricate gymsum-stucco decorations. I know other islands as enchanted, none more so than where the boy Walter, known as W or Doppiavoo...played. His gang Claudia, Serafino and others explored the coastal cliffs with me, and arriving at the ruined tuna-fishing castle of Montebello in Porto Palo di Capo Passero he said, so seriously, ‘There is nothing here save zanzare, rospi, lucertoli e scarafaggi !’ (mosquitoes, toads, lizards and cockroaches) The news of his death from meningitis the year following was like a black scythe; I keep the drawing he made for me of a flight of geese at sunset. On Farasan we tired of flicking the tiddily-winks across the talcum smoothed Shatrange-board and set off to find the stupor mundi of that place, Abker, Moh. Ajeebi and I....a ruler- straight horizon a mild sun and a cooling breeze...and sporting in splashes, a school of dolphins. We trudged, chatting of this and that and gradually drew near the marvel in that treeless place, a sapling a metre and a half tall, stripped by goats of all foliage save a posy of glossy green leaves at the top. Our footsteps stilled, our chatter silenced by Abker’s up- raised index finger, we listened, so silent the sound of our own hearts beating could be felt.... and the little wind there was swayed, the treelet and the leaves danced gleaming in the light and the sound was music; li-ving La, Vi-da, Lo-ca ! I let what happens, simply happen, then running out of breath, I’m finally resigned to be dumb.


Life Noggies
Tunde Molnar   To live is travelling. Destinations, stops, destinations, stops...   Passing beauties. Destinations, stops, destinations, stops...   Passing bliss. Longer destinations, longer stops... Blocking in a desert. Soul is thirsty. My thoughts are reflecting hopes. My highest hopes are kept alive.   God!  You surprise me. God you are on my mind more often than any other thoughts.   Wherever I wander, the ways take me to you.

Noggies to my Apricot trees
Tunde Molnar No life around the house I open the gate I enter the front garden. Stone slides of our house wall lie on the path nobody cleans them. Shabby walls are filled with the patina of a bygone era. Three generation grow up behind those walls. My great grandfather, grandfather, father and me. I walk in the court tranquil scene, spiders, flies moored in the shadows. Sun’s rays striking the clouds, radiate lights lead me to the back yard Vibrant lively spot, my desirable destination the garden of our old apricot trees. Oh...Triumphant trees bliss and bless ! Leaves dance... sounds like a song of sirens. It evoke my memories... luminous effect. Harmonious light bright the trees. They walk here in the light...my three generation My great grandfather, grandfather, father and... me. Oh... triumphant trees , You overcome the history, all we are together here around our apricot trees.

Photos by John Siddique


Peach Crisp
Margaret Siegel 4 cups fresh peaches (the riper, the juicier and therefore the better) ¾ cup sugar ½ cup sugar ½ teaspoon cinnamon 1 cup flour 4 ounces butter Peel and slice peaches. Add half of sugar and all of cinnamon. Cut butter into flour (or stir with wooden spoon) until pea sized. Add remaining sugar. Place peaches in buttered baking dish and cover with flour/crust mixture. Dot top with small pats of butter, especially if peaches not very ripe. Bake at 190 for 30 minutes or until bubbly and lightly browned. Servings: 5 This is a beloved family recipe from a collection my mom gave my siblings and me with the inscription “So that you’ll always feel at home...wherever your adventures take you.” I grew up in the U.S, in “The Peach State” of Georgia, and the best peaches were from the roadside farm stands on the way up to our favourite spot in North GEORGIA, Lake Burton. Peach Crisp or “Cobbler,” as we call it, went great with a summertime barbecue of chicken or burgers. It’s the ultimate comfort food. I made it the evening of September 10 2001, while living in New York City. The next morning, when the World Trade Centre was attacked, my brother was in lower Manhattan. Right after the towers were hit, he called to say he was being evacuated, but then I couldn’t reach him for hours after the towers had collapsed. I thought the worst. A friend was staying with me, and I tried to be a good host to her and her cousins who had come to pick her up, serving them Peach Cobbler with my mind on my brother. That’s the Southern Way, and now that I’m living in London, I realise, the British Way – Keep Calm and Carry On. In the weeks following the attacks, I found comfort in familiar foods from my childhood, starting with the Peach Cobbler. It’s a very simple recipe and a little taste of summer in the South. You can almost hear the cicadas when you take a warm, gooey bite.



The Cat and the Fly
Tania Hershman The cat addressed the fly. Excuse me, sir, said the cat, but you are eating my food. The fly did not speak, the fly was too busy eating the cat’s food. The cat didn’t know what to do. The fly is much smaller than me, thought the cat. I could eat it, but the fly will just fly off. If I don’t do anything the fly will eat my food. The cat moved very slowly and the fly didn’t notice because the fly was too busy eating. The cat ate the fly with a mouthful of food. But the fly started buzzing around in the cat’s stomach, making the cat sick. So the cat opened its mouth again and let the fly out. I do apologise, said the fly. I see now that we can harm each other. I won’t want your food again. Goodbye. After the fly had gone the can finished his food in peace. Sometimes you need to make a decision, even if it is the wrong one.

I feel good as the sun’s rays get to me Through the window. I feel so much, recalling the days I was in Africa As this sun’s rays remind me of the morning sun That prepared me for work, Visits to the market, The sun under which I hung my clothes to dry.
Jacqueline Lwanzo

Big Writing For A Small World was created in partnership with the European Commission Representation in the United Kingdom. English PEN is one of the UK’s leading literature and free speech charities, based at the innovative Free Word centre in Farringdon, London. We promote the freedom to write and the freedom to read. The founding centre of a worldwide writers’ association, established in 1921, we are supported by our active membership of leading writers and literary professionals with an elected Board led by the distinguished author Gillian Slovo. Our education programme develops the writing of prisoners, detainees, refugees, asylum-seekers and other socially-excluded groups. We also run a full programme of public events and award prizes to outstanding British and international writers. Lots of people helped make Big Writing For A Small World happen. Thank you to the amazing writers who led our workshops: Bidisha, Shazea Quraishi, Malika Booker, Nii Parkes, Seni Seneviratne, Degna Stone, Maeve Clarke, Tania Hershman, John Siddique. Thank you to Jeremy O’Sullivan and Jonathan Scheele at the European Commission Representation in the United Kingdom. Thank you to the refugee and community centres and their amazing staff: to the Migrants Resource Centre (Laura Marziale and her team), the Migrant and Refugee Communities Forum (Francesca Valerio), Praxis (Bethan Lant and Alex Sutton), the Jesuit Refugee Service (Louise Zanre), Kids Company (Leo Schwartz and Chris Williams), Northern England Refugee Centre (Jeni Vine), St Chad’s Refugee Centre (Emma Birks and Sister Margaret), North of England Refugee Service (Mohamed Nasreldin), Community Arts North West (Katherine Rogers and Segun), and Bristol Refugee Rights (Alice). The project wouldn’t have happened without the extra help of: Estelle Worthington (Manchester Council for Community Relations), Matthew Morrison at the University of Westminster and our creative writing volunteers (Chloe Wenborn, Georgina O’Reilly, Anete Kruusmägi, Jon Kearnes), Zoe Lambert of Comma Press, and English PEN member Gauri Raje. This project was in partnership with the European Commission Representation in the United Kingdom. English PEN received further support from A B Charitable Trust, Scotshill Trust, Morel Trust, N Smith Charitable Settlement and Limbourne Trust, without whom the book in your hands would disappear. www.englishpen.org

English PEN is a company limited by guarantee, number 5747142, and a registered charity, number 1125610.

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