Week 4 finally to be published

When I was writing I am Amira back in 2015 I became very involved in writing the story, researching each day and drawing the pictures. I was out of work so it was easy to devote a lot of time to it. The crisis became my muse and The story pretty much wrote itself emerging naturally out of the research I was doing.

Unfortunately as Amira and her family got closer to Europe I got increasingly despondent. By that time things were changing fast lots of the borders were closing up. I felt scared for Amira and her family. I simply didn’t know how to write about their journey across Europe. I felt ashamed about what I might discover. 

In order to escape this writers block I decided that the time had come to meet some refugees. I was lucky to have a lovely friend who had been living in the jungle refugee camp in Calais for 7 months. So my beautiful dog and I went over for a visit. And it was amazing. I met refugees from every country. I met some lovely volunteers. I drove Esther and some other activists to be see the court case against Rob Laurie, a volunteer who had tried to smuggle a little girl across to the UK to stop her family having to make her do that horribly dangerous journey. An amazing experience of the power and integrity of the French judicial system. Rob had the charges substantially dropped and got off with a suspended sentence. This was not the outcome we feared. We had a very joyful journey back to th jungle. The jungle itself was amazingly organised with the whole area divided into sub regions. One region for each nationality or culture. I worked in the Ashram Kitchen which made free meals daily from donated food.Refugees and volunteers worked side by side preparing, cooking, serving and clearing up. It was a lovely hopeful project.

The dog was a huge success. The refugees loved hugging him and telling me about their dogs back home.. I called him my therapy dog.

After 3 days I had to return home to a new teaching job in Swindon. And all my time disappeared…  No more writing.

But I didn’t give up learning more about Syria. 

Youtube video of Week 2 should be up today.

Today I am going to focus on getting the video of the Week 2 podcast up.

It is hard to work out where to spend my energy, creating the new content or putting the old into different formats. The first youtube video is getting quite a lot of views (much more than the podcast). So I think I should put a little energy there.

I also need to come up with some ways to bring in some money as I am going to need to work soon (I have focused on this pretty exclusively for the last three weeks – luckily the first weeks of term are pretty fallow for supply teachers!). I have offered to do author visits to schools or will offer directly to the schools that I supply teach in. There are some costs associated with running the podcasts which I need to cover. I am exploring various crowdsourcing sites. Any advice would be welcomed!

Downloads of the resources are still going like hotcakes. We are up to 1200+ on the original week 1 material and another 250 odd on weeks 2 and 3. Looking forward to reaching the 100 followers mark on twitter and Facebook. These things take time but I believe that they are best done organically. If the content is good the punters will follow eventually.

I really would like to see “I am Amira” become  a valuable project for educating people in the long term. The refugee crisis is a long term issue. We need to make sure we have educated hearts and souls who understand the full complexity of this situation. I hope in my small way the project can contribute to that.

searching for cousin

How I use the iPad to create artwork

A number of people have asked me how I do the pictures for “I am Amira”.

All the work is done on the iPad but it could equally be done on another tablet. I imagine Zeinah would have a cheaper tool. Although her father was in IT so who knows what he would have had access to 🙂

I generally start with a photo. I reduce the opacity of the photo and create another layer on which I do the ink work. I generally then use the photo itself to create texture. This just speeds things up. I often go back and add to this texture with a paint brush tool but it is useful to have the basics in place.

To get the textured photo I use a high contrast filter.

At the moment I use Procreate for all of this early work. I used to use Brushes (which I prefer) but it does not work well with the latest iPad. I am now getting used to Procreate.

I then edit this using the filter tools in Phototoaster and the painting tools in art rage.  I do a lot of fiddling until I am happy.

Here is an example:

Life in Aleppo – resources and links

Research resources relating
“I am Amira” by Anna Austen

September 2015


Life in Aleppo

 Syria has had a civil war for four long years. Aleppo has seen some of the worst of the fighting. Part of the town is now under the control of ISIS – the other part is under the control of the government run by Assad. Both sides are bombing and causing casualties every day.

Ninety-five percent of the population of Syria are not involved in the war but it is affecting every part of their life. Many no longer know which side to support. Twelve million Syrians have had to leave their homes. Some are still in refugee camps in Syria, but by September 2015 over 4 million have left Syria. Many are in Turkey, Jordan and Palestine. However in the first part of 2015 many thousands have started making a longer journey towards Europe. The “I am Amira” story tries to take a look at the reasons why this is happening.

Aleppo was a town of two million people including a substantial middle class with businesses of every kind. Many have gone now. In September 2015 about half a million people are still thought to be living there.

Aleppo before the war


Aleppo now


Detailed article about life inside Aleppo


text attached to the illustration says: “Life in the war zone that is Aleppo is peculiarly harsh on children. Childhood has become an irrelevant stage that young locals skip over.” Illustration by Molly Crabapple (from the vanity fair article in the link below)


Here is what Amira and her father might have been looking at on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/search/?q=Aleppo

Article about life in Aleppo

“Just about everyone I speak to back in western Aleppo is contemplating leaving, or at least getting their children out. Four million Syrians have already left the country and are counted as refugees. The people who remain are growing desperate. No one talks about freedom anymore; now they just want to live.”


It took this family 15 days to get from Aleppo to Hungary


‪ https://twitter.com/gultuysuz/status/636913978858434560

Fighters using Water as a Weapon



This video from 2014 shows the destruction in Aleppo


I used this video for my descriptions of Aleppo


Worsening Conditions in Syria



Neil Gaiman – So many ways to die in Syria

Khaled Hoseini (author of the Kite Runner) on Syrian refugees


Author visits

I am happy to arrange author visits to schools or other institutions to do assemblies/teach cover lessons on the refugee crisis and this project.

There will be a small charge for this to cover expenses. It will not be more than a supply rate for a days teaching plus travel expenses.

I am a full qualified British Teacher with a full CRB check on the national update system. I can make up the rest of the day with Maths cover if required. I am also happy to demonstrate how I do my drawings on the iPad  🙂

I am currently doing supply so I am fairly flexible on dates dependent on travel from the South West of the UK.

Hungary March