My life is books and writing, but also language and travel. I have been involved in Poland since school days when I corresponded with a lady in a displaced person’s camp in Germany and decided to include Polish in my MA in Glasgow University. After a post-graduate year in Poland on a British Council Scholarship I returned to Glasgow to work as a school based social worker, very involved with troubled families and young people in deprived housing schemes. My husband and I moved to England, we had two small children and I started having children’s books published. I became a carer of my mother with Parkinson’s disease and my home-based life as a writer was ideal in looking after growing children and a very disabled adult.
My husband and I have been actively involved with dissident groups in Soviet Russia. I wrote Be our Voice, the story of Michael Bourdeaux in Keston College, (DLT 1984), which led us to St Petersburg where we lived and worked from 1991 – 1998. I learnt Russian and taught in a school set up by former dissidents with no equipment or materials where I did creative work with the children, helping them produce their own stories and poems. Lion Publishing produced my Season in St Petersburg (1994) which was translated into German. But the first love was always Poland and we lived in Warsaw from 1998 – 2004. I worked in a school in Warsaw (although I am not a qualified teacher) and taught A level English literature (a great joy) and Personal and Social Education to children whose ages ranged from 7 – 17, of many nationalities but none native English speakers. Here too I encouraged children to explore literature and to write creatively. I also made an in-depth study of a woman writer who died in 1954, is still studied in Polish schools and is of particular importance to Holocaust educators in USA.
From the early 1990s I have been involved in the tragic fate of my own daughter who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and with her child initially adopted by family friends but for whom my husband and I eventually became sole carers, thus bringing up a troubled teenager and helping her into a positive young adult life.
Before we became our grand-daughter’s sole carers, my husband and I travelled in West Ukraine, researching the history of one small town in particular, reading in the archives in Kiev and elsewhere but also enjoying non-tourist travel through the former Austrian and Russian empires, which I am now using in my current work.
I invigilate at exams in my local High school, thus keeping abreast with trends in education. I taught Sunday School in a Polish speaking congregation for three years, sole teacher, children aged between3 and 13, lots of craft work. And I now help out with children’s work in my own church, using poetry, story and art work. I have Police Disclosure.
About writer's work
I have been a published writer since 1978, publishing children’s fiction and Bible stories, plus collections of short stories mainly with the Christian Market (Scripture Union, Lion etc). My books were translated in German and various Scandinavian languages; my stories have been read on Scottish Television and two collections of my poems were published by Chapman, a third by Lion Ghetto (1989) which I read in the Book Festival that year. This book was shortlisted for an award. My published work totals about forty books for children and adults.
Mental health is obviously a theme of great interest to me. I have written about my family’s experience in prose in Uninvited Guest, (Triangle/SPCK 1997), in poems in Clarissa (chipmunka publisher 2009) and took part in a collection of personal stories published by Recovery Network Scotland (2013). I am interest in stories connected with Russia, Poland, Ukraine and Holocaust themes. My book on the Warsaw Ghetto, Don’t go to Uncle’s Wedding (Azure 2000) was well received by Holocaust educators and my work has appeared in PRISM (the Rothman Foundation, USA and Israel, as well as in Warsaw Tales (New Europe Writers, Warsaw).
But I have also written on Scottish themes, with novels and stories set in Mid-Argyll, and poems set on Ardnamurchan, where I have also told stories to local children. I was invited to tell a story about Wojtek the war hero bear in Kilchoan Primary School in June2014 and have a printed reference from the class teacher. Richard Holloway and George Mackay Brown have both endorsed my work.
Birlinn have just published War Hero Bear, (May 2014) the true story of a brown bear adopted by Polish soldiers during the Second World War. Wojtek died in Edinburgh Zoo in 1963. I did a story-telling event about Wojtek in the Polish/Scottish Cultural Festival in June and shall participate in a children’s event in the Edinburgh Book Festival.
In June Fleming Publications (Glasgow) produced From the Volga to the Clyde, stories of loss and survival crafted from memories given to me in Poland, with particular value for Holocaust educators or students, so although this is written for the adult market it could be well used in schools and enjoyed by young adult. I read from this book in the Cultural Festival too. From the Volga to the Clyde, (Fleming Publications) with its eclectic range of thought-provoking true war time stories is of particular interest to students of the Second World War and would make a good class room reader and resource for teachers and pupils alike.
I have currently finished the first of a five book series for the middle age range of reader set in West Ukraine.
Websites featuring the authorJenny Robertson at Birlinn
Current events and projects
I am available to do readings and workshops, I have given readings in many different settings and I have taught creative writing classes in further education.
Themes/topics/ideas. War Hero Bear lends itself to the theme of war, or friendship between humans and wild animals, on the rights of wild animals, on the right and wrong treatment of animals and the whole question of the purpose and work of a zoo.
From the Volga to the Clyde, with its eclectic range of thought-provoking true stories is of particular interest to students of the Second World War.
An Advent Calendar of Stories (ISBN 978-1-907335-01-3)
An anthology of short stories. (Bridge House Publishing). 24 short stories to be read from 1st – 24th December by 18 writers. I have three stories in this collection, all very different, How the sea became salt, about mermaids and seals, Specs for the dragon, a brave princess and appreciation of the environment; The good ideas girl, friendship in the face of adversity, football.
Beyond the Border; Loss and Language both published by Chapman (ISBN 0 906772 17 6; 0-906772-62-1 were endorsed by George Mackay Brown: “Jenny Robertson’s verse has its beginnings in a deep well of compassion; and drawn up into sun and wind, each word falls bright and singing upon the stones of our world.”
Tesssa Ransford wrote: “Jenny Robertson uses her imaginative sympathy to gather stories from different times and countries, working to turn them into poems…”
Clarissa (chipmunkapublishing, the mental health publisher, ISBN 9781847479235). Personal poems and prose on the devastation of schizophrenia, definitely not for children but very useful for teachers as this illness can manifest itself in young people of 16 -18.
Richard Holloway wrote: “Wrenchingly beautiful, these poems offer one of the few consolations that suffering affords: that it sometimes prompts great art into life.”