Madeleina Kay, originally from Leicester, UK, is the driving force and illustrator behind Letters to Europe, previously featured on Conversations with Europe. She is a singer, artist, and writer, as well as a political activist – which includes being one of the Communications Officers at the Young European Movement. Her latest publication is Theresa Maybe in Brexitland, which is now available.
- Please tell me where you are from and where you currently live and work.
I am originally from Leicester and I currently live in Sheffield. I am an author/illustrator and political activist.
- Which European languages can you speak?
English and a bit of French.
- Would you describe yourself as European? If so, is this part of your identity, or just a fact of geography?
Yes. I would say I now feel more European than British. I love Great Britain, but I am not a nationalist. I hate the current politics of my country and I’m desperate to disassociate myself with what appears to me to be an increasingly xenophobic, inward looking, narrow minded society. I support the liberal European values of peace, tolerance and unity.
- When you think of the European Union, what is the first thing you think of?
The flag. It’s a symbol, its purpose is to represent the European Union. It also doesn’t help that I have drawn it on an almost daily basis for the last year. It’s sort of embedded in my mind.
- Do you feel that living and working in Europe has made a difference to your professional career? How?
I worked in an activity centre in Normandy on my gap year. It was an interesting experience, a bit chaotic at times. I learnt quite a lot about dealing with groups of rowdy French teenagers who stay up all night jumping off piles of mattresses and throwing bed frames at each other… I think having the opportunity to experience different cultures and environments is invaluable, and I despise the thought that those opportunities are being taken away from us.
- Do you feel as though the European Union is beneficial to the arts and creative industries? Can you support your answer with examples?
Undoubtedly. Freedom of movement is essential for artists, writers and touring musicians. Consider the visa requirements for other countries that cause such a headache for performers, especially those trying to make ends meet and break into the industry, leaving the EU will make touring increasingly difficult for many aspiring musicians. Artists and writers also greatly benefit from the cultural experiences of living and working in different countries which feeds into their creative output. Artist residencies and funding from organisations such as Creative Europe will become increasingly difficult to acquire resulting a negative impact on cultural diversity.
- Does Europe inspire you professionally or personally? If so, how?
On a personal level, the idea of 27 nations working collaboratively to achieve Peace between historically warring countries, is incredibly inspiring.
As a writer two of my books have been inspired by Brexit; My first children’s book about the refugee crisis called ‘Go back To Where You Came From!’ I wrote in response to the rise in hate crime after the EU referendum. My second illustrated book ‘Theresa Maybe in Brexitland’ is an Alice in Wonderland parody inspired by the absurdity of British politics since the Brexit vote.
The last year I have spent illustrating leaflets, banners, Ad Vans and satirical cartoons with pro-European, anti-Brexit messages. People often come to me with their own ideas for illustrations, or they ask me to think up my own designs.
- Were you interested in the Referendum on EU membership in the UK? What do you think of the result?
To my great discredit I was not involved in the campaign before the referendum. As part of the generation first hit by the rise in tuition fees I was greatly disaffected with politics and not involved with party politics. I am still not affiliated with any specific party, but the prospect of leaving the EU has made me more involved with UK politics than I ever imagined I would be. I was completely outraged by the result, I never for a moment thought people would be so stupid to vote for Brexit. So when it happened, it fired me up to literally spend all my time fighting against it. The fact that we have wilfully chosen something that will cause so much economic and social damage to our futures is utterly absurd and I can’t and won’t accept Brexit.
- Do you think the EU helps maintain peace?
Yes. That’s not a question you need to ask. You just have to look at the evidence, 43 years of peace between historically warring nations. Winston Churchill was a great promoter of the European Union in the aftermath of the WWII. I think we have lost touch with the devastating impact of wars and therefore take the peace and stability the EU provides for granted.
I have designed an “EU Peace Dove” illustration (part of my Reasons to Remain series) which I also have produced on badges. They are my most popular design.
- Do you feel as though you have a lot in common with people from European countries other than your own? Can you give examples?
I am an individual. I wouldn’t like to compare myself with anybody else based on their nationality. I judge people by their individual actions. We are all #CitizensoftheWorld
- Do you think it is good for the country where you live to be part of the European Union?
- How would you feel about ‘ever closer union’ or a ‘United States of Europe’?
That’s fine with me. Bring on the Euro.
- Do you have a favourite place in Europe? If so, where is it and why do you love it?
I have only visited 2 countries in Europe; France and Spain. This was partly due to the failure of my High School (a sports college) to organise trips, as every single school trip was cancelled for my year group. I have been to Lanzarote, Menorca and Seville on family holidays to Spain and I was very inspired by the Manrique cactus garden, even as a 9-year-old. I have been to France so many times I have lost count; Paris, Chartres, Normandy, Rouen, Nice, Toulouse, Gascony, etc. I used to work at an activity centre for kids in Normandy and we took the kids on trips, my favourite destination was le Mont Saint Michel. I would like to visit more countries in Europe and expand my cultural horizons, this is one of many reasons I am so furious about Brexit, for taking these opportunities away. I am looking forward to visiting Brussels with the Letters2Europe project in September.
- Which European national stereotypes are true, in your experience?
I don’t like to judge people by stereotypes, but it is true that some people from the same country have shared cultural characteristics. I will admit I have had several awkward moments with my German friends where I just haven’t understood their humour and vice versa, one German friend told me he he doesn’t like my style of cartoons! My German friends, I have also noticed are very pre-occupied with food, especially meat. As a vegan this is something I am probably hyper-sensitive too, but I remember my German friend Luzie giving me detailed information about everything they eat at Christmas and traditional celebrations. I have several not so fond memories of BBQs with German friends surrounded by charred animal carcasses.
- Where is the best place in Europe to drink coffee? What would you order?
I’m not a coffee connoisseur. If someone “takes me for coffee”, I’m usually grateful for whatever I get! I drink it black, no sugar, which I think is quite continental. I remember staying with a host whilst studying French in Rouen, Madame Roquet was a doctor at the university hospital and for breakfast she had a bowl full of black coffee which she drank with a spoon!
- What do you think is the biggest challenge facing Europe today?
The rise of far right nationalism. I think Brexit is part of the rhetoric.
- Name a place in Europe you have not visited, but would like to. Why?
Well I will be visiting Brussels in September for the Letters2Europe project, which I am very excited about. I think travelling abroad is a privilege and you learn so much about the culture of whatever place you visit. If you go with open eyes, (and preferably a camera and a sketch book), there are always interesting things to discover! There are so many places I would like to visit.
- What do you think is the most significant moment in European history? Why?
The ending of WWII. Peace is the most important achievement we must continue to strive to maintain.
- Do you think the election of Donald Trump or the election of Emmanuel Macron is more significant for Europe? Why?
I think Donald Trump is a tragedy for America, but I don’t think he will last long. He is a temporary blip. Emmanuel Macron is a revolutionary and a pillar of hope for the future of Europe. The Brexiteers have been applauding themselves as the end of the European Union. They are wrong, and the election of Emmanuel Macron has proved that support for greater unity is growing in Europe. I have drawn a cartoon with a British Domino falling the wrong way flat on its face, Brexit will not destabilise the European Union.
- Are you hopeful for the future of Europe?
Yes. I am less hopeful for the future of Britain. I will take the first opportunity to escape to the continent if we can’t #StopBrexit.