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Could you describe Zebra Crossing Soul Song to us in five words?
Life-lessons Music Memory Friendship Crossings
What inspired you to write this book?
Fifteen years ago, when my son was four years old, a zebra crossing man saved his life. I wrote this in my notebook: 'Zebra Crossing Story' A story about a Zebra Crossing man who saves a boy's life. The crossing as a place of learning, growing, philosophy, psychology music, river, life.... In the story that has emerged all these years later, 18 year old Lenny looks back at his growing up through memories on the crossing from nursery to sixth form.
Music features quite heavily throughout Lenny's story. Can you tell us a little about how you used music in the book and why it's so important to the story?
The story is written in music memory tracks. I love the way music prompts memories, so I chose some tracks that prompted strong memories for me and from listening to the songs I thought about my characters and how they might connect to them. My imagination started roaming and the voice of Otis the Zebra Crossing Man came to me. My son has written songs from an early age, so I thought why not make a Zebra Crossing man who was an ex-musician and for some reason has stopped performing…. A song man who shares his favourite tracks with a young singer-songwriter as he crosses the road. Music, and the freedom to explore it, is a vital part of Lenny’s journey through life. It’s a massive part of his education and growing up – as the creative arts are for so many young people. It’s playful and fun and I really loved playing with the form of voices in song… It is the ‘food of love’ after all!
You've described Otis as one of your quiet angels like Grace in Worry Angels, can you tell us a little more about this idea?
If Otis wrote a CV his working life wouldn’t look that high flying or ambitious. You could say the same for Netti in Brace Mouth, False Teeth (who’s a carer for the elderly) and Grace (who helps children with emotional difficulties in an out of school centre in Worry Angels). The work all these characters do are not obviously glamorous. Netti in Brace Mouth, False Teeth calls these roles ‘Heart Work.’ Heart work is work that may not earn you much money and is often (wrongly) undervalued in this society, but it is work you find deeply fulfilling. A Zebra Crossing person is one such angel. In my case, someone doing this job saved my child’s life. They were literally his guardian angel. No one made a big deal about it at the time. No one made him into a hero. He was just doing his job in a quiet unassuming way. Otis may not seem that ‘quiet’ a character when you first start reading his voice but you will discover that many deep currents flow under the crossings that take place on the road, and the fact that he returns every day to help children to safety makes him into one of my ‘quiet angels’. A quiet angel doesn’t have to do something big like save a life. He or she is often someone who can change your day with a small act of kindness, a word of encouragement, taking time to have a cup of tea with you, make a worry angel or teach you a song, as Otis does to put a spring in Lenny’s step as he struggles through school.
What one piece of advice would you give to someone, like Lenny, who wants to start writing?
Otis gives the best song writing advice and it is advice that works well for writing in general!
‘Listen up now, man, if you waan be a Musi-shan Tek a lyric down Catch dem word dat hinspire Listen deep inside de music See what plays thru ya See what plays true to ya’
To write you’ve got to be taken by a story yourself and give it enough attention and freedom to discover why you care about it enough to tell it.
Finally, a huge congratulations on your recent IBBY honour. Your books have been recognised by Amnesty International in a similar way. What does this sort of recognition mean to you?
Thank you so much. When writing I think a great deal about how young people are experiencing growing up today. I write stories about characters who, like Lenny in Zebra Crossing Soul Song, are beginning to explore how the world impacts on them and how they will impact on the world. Many of my characters are setting out in life facing some massive challenges and inequalities. Both Amnesty and IBBY are International organisations with human rights and equality at their heart. I write stories with a diverse cast of characters with roots that spread far and wide across the globe and my work with refugee people alongside Jane Ray is a constant reminder of the preciousness of our freedom of speech to tell stories. For these reasons the endorsement of my books by IBBY and Amnesty (International organisations focused on a global, humane family) means a great deal to me. On another note… people assume that the more books you write the more confident you grow. That is not necessarily the writer’s logic. So these affirmations do give a confidence that the stories I’m writing are finding passionate readers.
Zebra Crossing Soul Song by Sita Brahmachari published by Barrington Stoke is a tender tale of memory and overcoming loss. Lenny has spent most of his life at the zebra crossing, and for many of those years Otis, the singing `zebra man' has helped him on his way. But when Otis' sad past comes back to haunt him, Lenny is forced to face his crossroads alone. Only by examining the memories of their friendship can Lenny discover the truth.