Catherine bruton stands with a group of students holding her book

Author Catherine Bruton visits White Lodge

Students and staff at White Lodge were delighted to have Catherine Bruton visit on Thursday 10 March as part of this year’s World Book Day celebrations. Catherine is the author of the award-winning children’s novel No Ballet Shoes in Syria, a book much loved by many of our White Lodge students. She spoke to an enthusiastic audience of students and staff about her writing experience.

A refugee’s story

No Ballet Shoes in Syria tells the story of Aya, an eleven-year-old asylum seeker who arrives in the UK with her mum and baby brother. A teacher recognises her exceptional talent when she stumbles into a local ballet class and encourages her to pursue a prestigious scholarship. Catherine spoke about why she felt it was important to write a story about a refugee:

I was seeing so many images of refugee children on the news and I thought what can I do? I wanted to tell a story that would make people look beyond the label ‘refugee’ and realise that it could be anyone in their position. They are simply human beings seeking refuge. I wanted to be able to give a voice to their experiences… it is so important that we help each other and offer kindness. Small acts of kindness can really help to change the world.

No Ballet Shoes in Syria is dedicated to the millions of refugee children around the globe who have been forced from their homes and are currently seeking safe haven.

Imaginative tasks

Catherine also workshopped some creative exercises with the students. They had a lot of fun coming up with their own pen names and inventing alliterative Dickensian style characters. The students were also set the task of writing about objects that symbolised to them where they are from, who they are and what they want to be. They were all given some time to write about their personal objects using sensory descriptions while Catherine read a few excerpts from her book.

A few questions

The students had the opportunity to ask Catherine some questions:

What inspires you to write your books?

The thing about ideas is you never know where they might come from… quite often my characters will be based on the people I know. Maybe somebody you know might inspire you to write a story! I’ve been influenced by some amazing books that I’ve read and by some of my incredible English teachers – English teachers are very important people!

What is your favourite book that you’ve written?

My upcoming book The Secret Ballerina – I wrote it during lockdown. Writing this book helped me turn a sad time into something very beautiful.

What advice would you give for aspiring writers?

The best advice I can give is not to worry about being rubbish. Let go, see what happens and keep practising! Practice over and over and just let the ideas flow. And keep reading… you really can travel anywhere with a book. Books can make life so much more valuable – they allow you to climb into someone else’s shoes, see the world through someone else’s eyes… the one thing that nobody can lock down is your imagination.

Thank you Catherine for such an insightful visit.