Here I Stand: stories that speak for freedom

Chris Riddell’s startlingly effective cover and end-papers depict an androgynous captive breaking out of chains. It’s a fitting introduction indeed to a volume subtitled ‘stories that speak from freedom’ in which international authors, poets and illustrators, amongst them John Boyne, Chibundu Onuzo, Bali Rai, AL Kennedy and Sarah Crossan explore the notion of human rights under the auspices of Amnesty International and Walker Books. To write at the invitation of an organisation can be problematic, can lead to proselytisation or didacticism, but in this work the calibre of the contributors ensures that what is produced is writing and illustration of the highest order.

Jackie Kay’s poem ‘Constant’ strikingly explores the theme of fear which arguably threads its way through all the contributions. It is central to Ryan Gattis’s story ‘Redemption’, set in San Quentin prison, which is like ‘entering a dystopian novel’; it reverberates through Kevin Brooks’s fictional hotel and permeates the life of a marginalised aboriginal, ‘the slow kid’ and the assaulted pregnant girl in Tony Birch’s poignant ‘Homeless Joe’. But at the heart of this book is the hope that love, justice, humanity and freedom will ultimately prevail. It is the conviction behind such attributes which Gaiman and Riddell capture so wonderfully in their inspirational credo ‘I Believe’, dealing with the irrepressible nature of ideas.

The work ends, as it should, with the voice of an actual victim of state repression. Chelsea Manning, recently pardoned, was originally given a thirty-five-year prison sentence in America for exposing the ‘shocking insight’ into how that country fought the Iraq war.