Former journalist and newly acclaimed author, Vanessa Altin, visited the school on 24th January to speak to the Senior Book Club about her first novel, ‘The Pomegranate Tree’.
Vanessa began the talk detailing a bit about herself; how her mother suggested she put her writing and gossiping skills to good use and become a journalist - an idea which instantly clicked with her!
After being sent to report from Turkey and working there for a while Vanessa couldn’t ignore the amount of poverty and violence that surrounded her. After visiting a school speaking to children about their families – all of which had broken up due to male family members going to join the Kurdish fighters – the children’s strength and resilience was apparent. When one girl stopped talking about how her family had been torn apart and started singing the Kurdish national anthem, all of the other children joined in. Vanessa said it was the moment she realised they were not dejected and defeated but defiant and reassured. They knew they were there to stand up and fight, not surrender.
Students became engrossed in Vanessa’s stories of her experiences helping homeless children and families best she could by giving them food and water. She even posted on Facebook asking for her friends’ help and support for the Kurdish children and overnight received £2,500! All of the money was put towards food supplies and some toys for the children Vanessa had met.
Vanessa was saddened to see so many children being brought up around violence and in poverty; children at only three years old surrendering to a camera man trying to take their photo and children picking out grains of raw rice from the dirt as it’s the only food they will receive that day. She decided she wanted to tell people about what was really happening here, which gave her the inspiration to write 'The Pomegranate Tree'.
The story details a harrowing but hopeful story of a young Kurdish teenager living close to the Turkish border, battling to reunite her family that has been ripped apart by terrorists.Whilst the book is fictional, Vanessa emphasized that the harrowing moments in ‘The Pomegranate Tree’ embody very real undertones, but despite the story revealing shocking and saddening events, Vanessa wanted the enduring message of the novel to be one that represented the children she met, which is: ‘Have hope and be happy’.
Members of the Senior Book Group felt enlightened and inspired by the talk and enjoyed listening to Vanessa’s thoughts behind her novel. ‘It was eye opening to learn what is actually happening, as you aren’t sure about the conflict in the novel’ commented Isabella. ‘It makes you realise that what you’re reading happens all the time and we have no idea.’ Emily agrees. ‘Listening to Vanessa describe her thoughts sheds light and insight both contextually on the book and how she went about writing it.’ Jonty added.
Vanessa finished the talk by saying she hoped that readers find the book uplifting and hopes she can spread the message of what is happening on the Turkish and Syrian borders so people don’t turn their backs on Kurdish children. ‘It is a privilege to talk to the students at Leighton Park and pass on the message for the children I met in Turkey. I’m glad I have met such an appreciate audience here at Leighton Park and it was a pleasure meeting the students’.
We thank Vanessa for taking the time to talk to students and look forward to seeing her again during Book Week when she visits the school again for the Writing for Teenagers Conference!