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Enemy Alien - working with Walter Sekules

I met Walter Sekules in 2020 when I was commissioned to create a public artwork by the Executive Office of Northern Ireland to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi Concentration camps. Walter was one of the interviewees in my film, Here I Stand – Memories. I was struck by his investigative spirit, openness and humble presence and we discussed the possibility of a children’s book describing his experiences in the Gulag. I had a special interest in this, not only because I am a writer but also because I grew up in Hungary and my grandfather was a prisoner of war in the Gulag as well.

 

The Arts Council of Northern Ireland supported my research and Walter supplied information, the book written by his mother, "Surviving the Nazis, Exile in and Siberia" by Edith Sekules, poetry in German by Dr Prenzlau who became a character in the book. Walter drew a map of the camp with the Barracks and told me of his memories, especially a friendship with a Russian soldier who guarded them.

After some time, I presented Walter with two versions of the story, him as an adult looking back in the first person, and him being a character and a child.

Walter, ever the explorer, chose the latter, he wanted to become a character in his story. This gave a lot more scope for adventures and I agreed that it would appeal to children more. I took the license and added events his mother wrote about in her book, for instance, Walter stealing a carrot, which he could not remember and some fictional elements that underlined Walter’s innocence and bravery.

 

Sadly, Walter passed away in July 2023, but I do hope that his spirit will live on in this book and that his story will inspire countless children in the future.  I feel honoured to have been working with him on this project. I am very grateful to Melanie Sekules who helped us with fundraising and the whole Sekules Family for their support. We are immensely grateful to the National Lottery Heritage Fund who came on board and supported the printing and educational aspect of the project. With their support, we are distributing books to schools and libraries in Northern Ireland and England.


Light Theatre Company https://www.lighttheatrecompany.org/enemy-alien published the book, illustrated by Agnes Tamcsu. I am pleased to say that the book is available at Waterstones and NoAlibis bookshop in Belfast, as well as local outlets such as Good Craic in Rostrevor, Newcastle Information Centre and Mourne Grange Cafe in Kilkeel.


As part of the project, we are visiting schools and libraries. We read at Warrenpoint Library, Kilkeel Library and reading events are forthcoming in Castlewellan Library and Vocalis Speech and Drama in Banbridge. When I came away from Kilbroney Integrated Primary School where I read to young children on World Book Day, I could feel Walter watching over my shoulder and smiling. I am very grateful to him, for trusting me with his story.



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