Friday, 5 September 2014

Child migrants - a sad background for my new book

It was reading a book called 'Empty Cradles' by Margaret Humphreys that first focused my mind on the plight of the child migrants. As a Sunday Times review of this shocking, haunting, real-life story quite simply stated: 'The secrets of the lost children of Britain may never have been revealed if it had not been for [the actions of] Margaret Humphreys'.  Margaret devoted many years of her life to uncovering the facts about these children, fighting the authorities who had tried to bury the truth, supporting the adults who had spent their lives in a kind of bewilderment about their origins, and eventually setting up the Child Migrants Trust and provoking an apology from both the Australian and the British governments.

Some of you might have seen the subsequent film of the book, 'Oranges and Sunshine', and like me, been moved to tears by the revelations of a scandal that somehow seemed to have bypassed the consciousness of an entire nation - in fact an entire world, as these children were transported to Australia, Canada, South Africa and other countries where at the time there was a requirement for 'good, white, British stock' to supplement their populations.

Most of the children involved were taken from children's homes, often without the permission of any family they may have had, sometimes told falsely that their parents were dead and given fictitious stories about being sent on a holiday, or being sent abroad for a better life as nobody wanted them in the UK.

Shocking as I found all of this, even more shocking was the fact that this transportation of innocent children had been going on from the mid 1800s and didn't stop until the 1960s. The 1960s! It only feels like yesterday! I was a teenager at that time, and the whole ethos of the decade was of the dawn of a new era, of youth and freedom and openness. What a terrible irony it was that during those years when we were dancing to the Beatles' first hits and cavorting as mods and rockers, little children were still being sent off on ships to a new and frightening life thousands of miles from everything they'd ever known. In some cases the migrants were lucky enough to be taken into new homes where they had a good life. But in all too many cases the opposite was true - they were used as child labour, housed in worse conditions than those they'd left behind, and many were physically or sexually abused.

My own experiences of Australia have been a far cry from these unhappy stories. My brother emigrated as one of the 'Ten Pound Poms' in 1968, married a girl who was travelling out on the same ship, and has had a great life there, raising a family, working hard and having lived in several different parts of the country. I've been lucky enough to visit twice, and on the second occasion just two years ago, I was already planning a new novel to be set partly in Australia. By then I'd read the Margaret Humphreys book and seen the film, and had decided the child migrants theme would be part of the background of my novel, but not its entirety. During my stay I was able to visit an exhibition about the child migrants in Melbourne, and also the docks at Fremantle where many of the children first set foot in Australia, and where this statue stands as a permanent reminder of that shameful part of the history of both our countries:


Because I wanted my new novel TICKET TO RIDE to consist of two separate stories which become linked during the narrative, the child migrant theme is only one thread. The other concerns a rock musician who mysteriously goes missing towards the end of the 1960s. If you'd like to find out how these two themes become linked and what happens to the two (fictitious) children featured in the prologue to TICKET TO RIDE, you can pre-order the Kindle edition right now on Amazon here , and it will be delivered to your Kindle or other e-reading device on the publication date of 3 October. Amazon won't charge your account until then.  Or you can watch for another announcement very soon when the paperback edition will be available, also from Amazon.
If my story helps to make more people aware, as I was that first time I read 'Empty Cradles', of the unbelievable cruelty imposed on thousands of innocent children by corrupt officials within our governments who thought nothing of using them as pawns - then I'll have achieved a little more, this time, than simply writing and publishing another novel.


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