The Question : Is there a role for fiction in raising awareness of law and rights amongst young people and if so, is there a market for it ?
The Answer: I’ll let you know in about six months time.
By then I should know whether my first book, a teen thriller with legal and human rights themes has bombed or has managed to generate a modicum of interest and even better, a few sales.
I’m a children’s rights lawyer. Well, I am at heart anyway. Although I’m writing just now and not practicing law, my head remains full of what’s going on in and around the law and young people. After spending years representing teenagers in care, the law, the effects of reform, the proposed cuts in legal aid all remain deeply important.
A few years ago, as a hobby, I wrote a book about a teenager in care. The book (Losing Agir) is now being published with launch on 10th December 2012 which is Human Rights Day. After the initial euphoria around the fact that my messy manuscript was actually going to evolve into a real, proper, book, another thought began to creep into my head. That is, in a world of vampires, werewolves and ‘dark romance,’ what are the chances of teenagers actually wanting to read my book anyway?
Twenty years ago, Turkish soldiers attacked Ormanici, a small Kurdish village in South-East Turkey. At the time, there were many attacks on Kurds, some of whom were imprisoned and murdered. Due to his close links with the Human Rights Centre at Essex University and other human rights organisations, my husband, Tony Fisher, a lawyer at Quality Solicitors FJG ended up representing the villagers. Their story fascinated me. The way the families were pulled from their beds at gunpoint in the early hours of the morning and separated, the way the men were blindfolded and made to lay in the snow in the village square until hours later, they were forced to walk for hours through the mountains to imprisonment. A little girl died in the attack and several men lost their feet to frostbite. Livestock were killed and the village huts burned. Many years later the villagers, all of whom were at or represented at the hearing (making it the biggest case of its kind at the time) won compensation at the European Court of Human Rights.
It was their story which inspired me to write and now, several years on, my book, which starts at the destruction of Ormanici, is about to be released. Although, in reality, the Turkish story is only a very small part of the book, to me, it remains the important bit. Problems are still on-going in Turkey and from recent enquiries of NGO’s in the area, it’s felt unlikely that many, if any, of the villagers who lost their homes and livelihoods that day, were able to return.
So is there a place for teen legal fiction?
I really do hope so. Well I would say that wouldn’t I having written three books and a few plays for and about teenagers with legal themes. But the whole writing thing has got me thinking. Having spent much time and energy as a lawyer, as so many of us do, in attempting to promote rights and responsibilities, I am now wondering whether there is a place to do this with fiction. I’m not talking heavy miserable books with themes so depressing no one in their right mind would want to read them. All I’m thinking is this type of writing may just be another tool in the box to help generate interest and awareness about law and rights.
Time will tell no doubt. I shall have to see if teenagers like my book and my character Alice, a 15 year old in care, who on being placed in a strange foster home meets Agir, a Kurdish boy smuggled into the UK. I’ve loved writing my book and honestly hope people will enjoy reading it. Lots of the ‘Alice bits’ have been generated from some of the tricky things clients in care have had to deal with over the years. Breakdown in sibling contact, frequent placement changes, all those working with children in care will recognise some of these issues. Whatever the reaction to my book, I feel very lucky to have had such a wholly engaging career in the law and if my books can generate just the tiniest interest amongst young people of the law and legal issues, I’d be totally delighted.
Liz Fisher Frank
Liz Fisher-Frank is a solicitor, writer and children’s rights campaigner. She set up and ran the Lawyers for Young People project. Liz has considerable experience in working with young people in the care system - most recently as head of the legal unit at the Children’s Society - and that experience has formed the basis of her efforts to increase awareness of the problems some children do face. Liz writes about the barriers children and young people face in accessing the law. She also writes fiction for young adults.