(Taken from the preface to A Girl With A Book published by Playdead Press.)

It’s Sunday, October 13th 2013. In the Observer main section there’s an article on the dangers of commodifying Malala, in the arts pages there’s a review of her book, I Am Malala. This week, a year to the day she was shot, she’s been awarded the EU Sakharov Prize, been nominated for the Noble Peace Prize, which she didn’t get, much to the delight of the T.T.P. the Pakistan Taliban –

“We are delighted that she didn’t get it,” said group spokesman Shahidullah Shahid. “She did nothing big so it’s good that she didn’t get it.  This award should be given to the real Muslims who are struggling for Islam. Malala is against Islam, she is secular.”

You can’t help feeling they’ve missed the point.

A year ago I started to write a play about the attempt to kill her.The first thought I had when I read about it on the afternoon of 9th October last year was this is ludicrous. I couldn’t comprehend how anyone could contemplate doing such a thing, let alone carry it out.  In May I had the same feelings with regard to the senseless slaughter of Lee Rigby in Greenwich.

I’m not a pacifist, my father and his generation served in WW2 and had I been alive, and I’m profoundly grateful that I wasn’t, I know I’d have had to do the same.  There are things that if forced to I would fight for, but there’s a whole list of those for which I wouldn’t and top of that list is religion.  I believe that those who are the victims of religious intolerance should be defended but I can’t see why anyone would want to attack and kill another person because they believe in a different story.

I had the concept from the start. It was the first thing I wrote after the title.

The writer – can be played by an actor of any age, gender, or ethnicity.

But I was going to play the writer. My doubts nearly scuppered the play before I wrote the first word.

  • It’s a vanity project.
  • I’ll be seen as trying to ride on the back of a terrible event.
  • I have nothing to add to the debate. I know nothing about the situation.
  • I am completely the wrong person to do this.
  • It’s an act of appalling hubris.

As the notes and scribbles turned into drafts, and I started to talk to people of faith and make tentative approaches towards the Muslim community I realised that it wasn’t only about Malala. I was writing about how art can comment on real events, how the writer has to find objectivity when little exists in the writer’s mind. I realised that I was guilty of seeing people as members of a group and not as individuals, and no matter how much I might protest to the contrary and hold up my liberal principles as proof of my lack of prejudice the differentness of a set of beliefs I didn’t share was becoming an almost insuperable barrier to my willingness to try and understand.

I wrote A Girl With A Book because I’d been a teacher, because I’d never heard a child speak so passionately about the need for education, because amongst the whole global catalogue of appalling acts I’d never heard of anyone shooting three children for wanting to go to school.  When I nearly packed it in I carried on because I wanted to work through all the attitudes and prejudices it stirred up within me that I was so anxious to deny.

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