Category Archives: Reflecting Realities

Allies

This book is for everyone. Because we can all be allies.

As an ally you use your power-no matter how big or small-to support others. You learn, and try, and mess up, and try harder. In this collection of true stories, 17 critically acclaimed and bestselling YA authors get real about being an ally, needing an ally, and showing up for friends and strangers.

From raw stories of racism and invisible disability to powerful moments of passing the mic, these authors share their truths. They invite you to think about your own experiences and choices and how to be a better ally.

There are no easy answers, but this book helps you ask better questions. Self-reflection prompts, resources, journaling ideas, and further reading suggestions help you find out what you can do. Because we’re all in this together. And we all need allies.

A donation of 5% net sales in the UK will be donated to The Black Curriculum

DK

By coincidence, I received a copy of this title in the same week as I read a post by Dr Muna Abdi about the term “allies” and its limitations, so had that in mind when I started reading…and the very first chapter, DANA’S ABSOLOUTELY PERFECT FAIL-SAFE NO MISTAKES GUARANTEED WAY TO BE AN ALLY by Dana Alison Levy addresses the same issues in brilliant fashion. The collection of essays is wide ranging, eye opening, and thought provoking, including contributions from Shakirah Bourne (co-editor alongside Dana Alison Levy), Derick Brooks, Sharan Dhaliwal, Naomi and Natalie Evans, I. W. Gregorio, Lizzie Huxley-Jones, Adiba Jaigirdar, Brendan Kiely, Dana Alison Levy, Cam Montgomery, Andrea L. Rogers, Aida Salazar, A. J. Sass, Eric Smith, Kayla Whaley, and Marietta B. Zacker. The stories they share are both personal and powerful and will encourage readers to think critically about what allyship means to them. The authors are from all across the globe, with uniquely personal essays, and include UK based Lizzie Huxley-Jones, to whom I put some questions!

What do you think of the term ‘ally’?

I think ally as a phrase is useful in terms of reminding people who aren’t part of marginalised groups that they should care about the struggles of people within those marginalisations, literally to ally their aims and work to the community’s own aims. As with all language, it evolves really quickly and we will drop certain words over time (and some people have suggested moving on from allyship to solidarity), but I think the overarching concept of allyship, or solidarity, is really important! We cannot be complacent within our role as supporters, and over identifying *as* something without doing the work to *be* something is always a danger when we’re talking about stepping out of our comfort and privileges. Every day must be a learning day.

Have you read the other contributions? If so, did any particularly strike you?

I was lucky enough to get a proof of the US edition this week which I just finished reading. Each essay was really brilliant and made me think a lot. Naomi & Natalie Evans’ essay about being an ally in a racist situation made me think a lot about how easy it is for people to be bystanders – this is something I touch upon in my essay – and Eric Smith’s piece about finding a chosen family and his culture was beautiful. I think Dana’s essay that sets the tone of the book is really great, and Adiba Jaigirdar’s piece about racism in feminist ‘safe spaces’ really resonated with me. Basically, everything is extremely well written, interesting and important. I’m so honoured to be a part of such a key activist text.

The essays are very personal, did you find it difficult to write yours or did it come easily *because* it is so personal?

I’ve had seizures for basically my entire adult life, and have been on Twitter pretty much since then. When I was having video telemetry (a fun process where you live in a tiny room wired up to scanners for a few days to see if you have any seizures) I turned to Twitter for comfort and friendship but to talk about my experiences – this was back in like 2008. I think because I’ve been openly and frankly speaking about  my seizures for a long time, that confessional aspect wasn’t too hard. It was strange to write about during the pandemic, though. And I really did start to worry about what it’d be like as things started opening up, whether people would help more or less. I think that was the hardest part, really.

You have edited your own anthology, Stim, of stories by autistic authors, what, do you think, is the appeal of anthologies?

I think there’s a few things – the opportunity to access a lot of different voices in a small book, plus the focus on a particular topic but from multiple viewpoints. I personally also love mixed anthologies, so you’ll read something, not entirely sure if it’s an essay or fiction – sometimes that blur can make it really interesting when, for instance, a selkie turns up like in Robert Shepherd’s story in Stim. They’re just a really great way to explore a topic, I think, and a good anthology can keep you interested for a long time. I also really like that you might not enjoy every part of an anthology, though I know not everyone feels that way, as to me that’s part of the process of coming across different voices. I also edited 3 anthologies at 3 of Cups Press, On Anxiety, On Bodies and On Relationships, so I’m a big antho fan, haha!

You’ve also written a non-fiction children’s title about David Attenborough. Do you favour any particular style of writing?

I’m really a fiction writer at heart! Nothing definite I can talk about now, but hopefully in the future you’ll see some fiction from me on the shelves. I do love essay writing though, so I think Allies has spurred me to think about writing more of those in the future.

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?

I just finished All Our Hidden Gifts by Caroline O’Donoghue which is a The Craft esque modern witch tale about a girl who discovers a lost set of tarot cards. What struck me about it is that it’s also very much about modern Ireland and the pushback against queerness we are seeing all around us from fundamentalists and transphobes, particularly against trans people. The love interest, Roe, is a non-binary femme who I completely love. I’d recommend it to fans of Moira Fowley-Doyle and Deirdre Sullivan. The next YA book on my pile is Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé, which I’m so excited about. It’s Gossip Girl meets Get Out. Outside of YA, I’m listening to a lot of memoirs that touch on disability and are laced with humour. I’ve really been loving Samantha Irby’s three books of essays, and right now I’m in love with Keah Brown’s The Pretty One.

What will we see from you next?

Hopefully, some fiction, but you’ll just have to wait and see!

Lizzie (Hux) Huxley-Jones is an autistic author and editor based in London. They are the editor of Stim, an anthology of autistic authors and artists, which was published by Unbound in April 2020 to coincide with World Autism Awareness Week. They are also the author of the children’s biography Sir David Attenborough: A Life Story (2020) and a contributor to the anthology Allies: Real Talk About Showing Up, Screwing Up, And Trying Again (2021). They are an editor at independent micropublisher 3 of Cups Press, and also advise writers as a freelance sensitivity reader and editorial consultant. In their past career lives, they have been a research diver, a children’s bookseller and digital communications specialist. They tweet too much at @littlehux, taking breaks to walk their dog Nerys. They are represented by Abi Fellows of The Good Literary Agency.

ALLIES was published in the UK on 29th July 2021. Thanks to DK for sending a review copy and Antonia Wilkinson for organising the interview.

The Lightning Catcher

Alfie has noticed a few things since his family moved to Folding Ford. He really misses life in the city. He and his sister don’t exactly fit in here. But the most interesting one is that the weather is BONKERS. One frost-covered branch on one tree in the middle of June? A tiny whirlwind in a bucket in the garden? Only in Folding Ford.

Armed with his bike, a notepad and his new best mate Sam, Alfie is going to investigate. His best clue is Nathaniel Clemm … the only thing in town weirder than the weather. When Alfie ‘investigates’ Mr Clemm’s garden, only SLIGHTLY illegally, he finds a strange box that freezes his trainers and makes his teeth tingle. And when he opens it, only SLIGHTLY deliberately, SOMETHING gets out. Something fast, fizzing and sparking with electricity and very, very much alive. But the creature from the box brings trouble of its own, and as barometers and tempers go haywire in Folding Ford, Alfie finds himself at the centre of a perfect storm.
Skellig meets Stranger Things in this funny, heartfelt adventure story perfect for fans of Ross Welford, Christopher Edge and Frank Cottrell Boyce.

Bloomsbury
Cover illustration by Paddy Donnelly

I loved THE LIGHNTING CATCHER! An absolutely brilliant debut, really imaginative sci-fi for MG+ with brilliant characters and some unexpected turns. I asked Clare Weze some questions and her answers are wonderfully insightful, so I’m not going to say anything else (except that: if you have the opportunity to invite an author in to do a creative writing session, I love her idea and want to come along)!

What gave you the idea of creating living weather (basically) for a story?

This is such a lovely question, because from an early age I’ve loved weather, so I was probably waiting for an opportunity to use inspiration arising from our own increasingly bizarre weather. But the idea came to me in stages rather than all at once. The isolation of the setting (based on aspects of the house I live in now) encouraged wild and unpredictable weather, but it wasn’t until I had the character that things started to gel. Because he was a curious, intrepid and somewhat contrary character, he went trespassing. The plot couldn’t have unfolded in my mind without that event, because it set off a unique chain. When he opened that box and let something loose, it gave me the perfect opportunity to have a creature that created its own weather systems. So rather than reverse-engineer a situation that would suit a creature like that, everything grew organically from playing around with a character in a setting.

Did you always intend to write for a middle grade audience, or did Alfie and the plot evolve that way?

The middle grade age has always been my favourite, not only to write for but to engage with in all ways. I particularly enjoyed being with my own children at that age. Pre-teens have such clever and original ideas, and their language use is funny and inspiring. And of all the ages I’ve been myself, that age felt the most magical in terms of the possibilities of the world, and even the universe. You get glimpses of what certain aspects of the natural world and the world of people might mean, but you don’t always get the full facts, so your mind joins the dots and comes up with something new and fun (even if it’s sometimes completely wrong!). That’s why that age felt, to me, like really living your best life. Perhaps when we’re that age, we carry that sense of ‘living in the moment’ into the worlds we inhabit when we read a book, and that’s why middle grade books feel so real and plausible to their readers.  

I find middle grade writing very freeing in terms of what can be explored. As long as you clarify things and don’t let the plot hang around, the sky’s the limit. Ordinary things can be explored afresh, and when they’re put next to extraordinary things, something new and exciting arrives.

Which is your favourite of Clemm’s menagerie?

I need two favourites, please! Lysander the hornbill is curious and cheeky, and he taps into Lily’s mood so perfectly, but I also have a big soft spot for Julia, the accidentally hairless cat. I also love the fact that Clemm has sacrificed almost everything for his conservation cause. His farm is falling down around his ears because instead of working hard to build up his finances, he’s been abroad looking for animals in distress.

Towards the end it takes quite a dark turn, with Alfie having been mistrusted by the “locals” in the small village the family have moved to, without overtly telling the reader that he was stereotyped because of his race. What led you to not be explicit about tension being caused by racism?

A lot of racism these days is covert and consists of gaslighting, so I thinks it’s fitting for the suspicions circling Alfie to follow this zeitgeist. I didn’t want to centre this particular book around race explicitly – to give it top billing – because Alfie’s exciting adventure is the main event.

It’s always nice to leave a few gaps between the lines so readers can insert their own meaning, their own interpretations, as that can be a richer experience. So with Mr Lombard in particular, his motivations can be however you choose to interpret them, because in real life, we only get to see what people show us.

The book set ups many questions about Mr Lombard’s motives. I suspect he wouldn’t view himself as racist. He might even be one of those people who thinks racism’s gone extinct, and he’s going after Alfie purely because of his audacity and rule-breaking. He’s certainly a busybody. Race might be a convenient peg for him to hang his prejudices on, but there’s always the alternative viewpoint. He could have mistrusted any incomer who’d been trespassing. The book might have worked with a white character who acted in the way Alfie did, but would Lombard have made it into such a vendetta with any other child? It’s interesting to go back and forth in this way. There’s quite a philosophical conundrum there. When someone from an ethnic minority does something slightly wrong, are they targeted because they stand out more, or is there less leeway given?

As for the other people in the village, the rumour mill is fascinating, and it doesn’t take much to get it going in small places. Racism is so complex, and it’s only getting more so as time goes on. I doubt even the most dyed-in-the-wool racist really has a firm grasp on why they’re acting that way.

I was interested in Alfie’s learning curve regarding all this, because coming from the particular area of the city he used to live in, he’d never really experienced being quite so conspicuous before. His detective cover is ruined; basically, he has no cover! His attempts at covert surveillance are therefore quite funny and touching.

Alfie and his family have moved because of his sister’s eating disorder, triggered by bullying at her old school, almost a whole storyline in itself and the main reason his parents are distracted. Did you find it harder to write these realistic scenes or the fantastical adventure side?

Both had their tricky aspects. The fantastical side probably wins the hardest label, because although it made sense in my head, there’s always the worry that it won’t transfer. I was dedicated while writing Lily, though, because I don’t think that particular kind of eating disorder gets much attention. You’re upset and traumatised, so your appetite disappears – without an appetite, there isn’t enough saliva being made, and you’re trying to chew dry food. It’s fairly common after a trauma. I thought it would be interesting to look at the consequences of bullying, the ‘next chapter’ of the part of Lily’s story that began in their former home.

In a perfect world, what kind of events would you like to do with young readers to get them interested in science and literature?

I would like to do an event where I give young readers some of my notes for The Lightning Catcher, which contain additional details for the science, and get them to formulate their own questions about everything involved. I’d also be interested in talking about where Alfie goes from here and whether he pursues science or detective work in his later teenage years. There are always more notes and ideas than a book has room for, so it would be nice to talk over some of the aspects that didn’t find space, which would be an interesting combination of science and literature for the event.

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?

I’ve just started Voyage of the Sparrowhawk by Natasha Farrant. It appealed to me because the opening promised quirky characters and a fast-paced adventure, and the writing style is lovely and lyrical. There are orphans, and people helping each other, and others chasing them, and lots of animals, which sounds like my perfect read!

Have you plans for any more children’s books?

Yes, I’m writing my second children’s book for Bloomsbury right now! It’s about a London girl sent to live with her grandparents by the sea after her family are evicted from their home. She’s traumatised by the separation from her parents and school friends, but sees a boy in the sea who is never seen on land. An adventure begins, and the way she feels about home starts to change.

After that, I have outlines and notes for five more children’s books.

Thank you so much, Teen Librarian! These have been lovely, thought-provoking questions.

Thank you, Clare, for your brilliant, thoughtful answers! THE LIGHNTING CATCHER is out now in the UK and I’m really looking forward to what comes next! Huge thanks to Bloomsbury for sending a review copy and to Beatrice Cross for facilitating this interview.

Silence is Not an Option

Silence is Not an Option is the first book by Stuart Lawrence – the younger brother of Stephen Lawrence who tragically died in an unprovoked attack on 22 April 1993. The book is interspersed with reflections on his brother Stephen’s life and murder as well as the tools that have helped him live positively and kept him moving forwards when times have been tough. An inspiring read directed at younger readers (aged 10 +) Stuart’s aim is to use his
own experience to help young people – to help all people – find their own voice, stand up for change, and contribute towards creating a more positive society.
Stuart is determined to ensure that children today understand the impact of their actions against others and the importance of inclusion through teaching tolerance and celebrating difference. He has a background in education – working as a teacher for over 15 years – and is now a motivational speaker and youth engagement specialist. Stuart is also a mentor for several young people in the South London area.
Since his brother’s death, Stuart and his family have had a huge impact on the change of attitude towards racism within British society. Their story is still as impactful and important today.

Scholastic

This is a great book to read slowly. It gives the reader practical activities in each chapter, to really think about themselves and how they can impact those around them, before moving onto the next chapter. It is for independent reading and reflection, but could also prompt some brilliant discussions between young people if shared with a group. Chapters range from the influence of role models (Stuart discusses meeting Nelson Mandela) to championing yourself and others. Stuart is incredibly busy, but I just asked him to quickly recommend some books for teenagers to help them understand their place in the world and how to contribute positively:

– Black and British by David Olusoga (I’ve read the abridged “short history” version for younger readers and it is brilliantly fascinating)

– This Book is Anti-Racist by Tiffany  Jewell (another full of practical advice)

– Everyone Versus Racism by Patrick Hutchinson

– No Win Race: A Story of Belonging, Britishness and Sport by Derek A Bardowell

Scholastic also allowed me to share this excerpt from chapter 3: YOU ARE IN CONTROL:

SELF-CONTROL

After losing my brother Stephen, I really had to learn self-control. Suddenly, my family and I were in the newspapers and on the TV. A lot of the time, the public were being misinformed about our story. I was so angry that my brother was being portrayed as a gang member and a drug dealer, when he was an A-level student aspiring to become an architect.

However, I had to control myself, because lashing out would only affect my family and my brother’s case negatively. It didn’t mean I didn’t speak out, but I had to exercise self-control in the way I handled the situation. I had to be calm and composed, even though I didn’t feel like it.

What is Self-control? Having self-control means being able to manage your decisions, emotions and behaviours so that you can achieve your goals. This skill is what separates humans from the rest of the animal kingdom!

Self-control is rooted in the front part of our brains, in an area called the prefrontal cortex. This is the planning, problem-solving and decision-making centre of the brain. Did you know that this part of the brain is much larger in humans than it is in other mammals? This area of our brain acts differently at different stages of our lives. For example, teenagers are more likely to act on impulse or to misunderstand their emotions than older people. As much as you might not want to believe us adults and feel like you are an exception to the rule, these are scientific facts!

You can only control yourself. For example, let’s say you are trying out to become the captain of the school netball team and, unfortunately, you aren’t picked for the role. Instead of sulking, getting angry or upset, you show good sportsmanship and shake the hand of your competitor. In doing this, you use your self-control. You are unable to control the situation but you are able to control your reaction and that is what is important. Don’t forget, it’s always useful to get feedback so that you can improve and win next time.

About the author: Stuart Lawrence is the younger brother of Stephen Lawrence, the young man who, on 22 April 1993, at the age of just 18, was murdered in an unprovoked racist attack. Stuart is an educator and motivational speaker, dedicated to helping to transform the life chances of young people.

Stephen Lawrence Day is held on 22 April each year to commemorate Stephen’s life.
Follow the journey: #SilenceIsNotAnOption Insta @hon_stuartlawrence Twitter @sal2nd

SILENCE IS NOT AN OPTION is published today by Scholastic.

With thanks for sending me a review copy

The Jericho Prize: Celebrating Black-British new writing for Children

The inaugural Jericho Prize for children’s writing, open to Black-British writers with great stories to inspire children aged 4 years plus and 7–9 has just been announced!

Find out more about it here: https://www.jerichoprize.com/

Proud of Me

Becky and Josh are almost-twins, with two mums and the same anonymous donor dad.

Josh can’t wait until he’s eighteen, the legal age when he can finally contact his donor, and he’ll do anything to find out more ­­­- even if it involves lying.

Becky can’t stop thinking about her new friend, Carli. Could her feelings for Carli be a sign of something more?

Becky and Josh both want their parents to be proud of them…but right now, they’re struggling to even accept themselves.

Usborne

I loved Sarah Hagger-Holt’s debut MG novel, NOTHING EVER HAPPENS HERE and was lucky enough to have the chance to interview her, read it here, so I was really pleased to be asked to be on the tour for PROUD OF ME.

A Pride group is being set up at school, run by older students but our protagonists get involved (if you like the group scenes, I’d recommend Alex Gino’s RICK as well, for an American version). Friendships play an important role in this story – both brilliant friendships and less satisfying ones – and the feelings Josh and Becky have about their friends are wonderfully described, everything feels very true. In the meantime, Josh and Becky both find themselves keeping very different secrets as he investigates their donor father and she realises she might have feelings for a new friend.

Becky’s best friend Archie is a great character. Openly gay, he (rather than their Mums) is why Becky and Josh both initially go along to the Pride group, and he has some very interesting things to say, for example:

“…Look, if someone else puts a label on you and uses that to define you or put you in a box or to treat you like dirt, then of course that’s bad. But when people say that they’re not into labels, it’s probably because they’ve bought the whole idea that being LGBTQ or whatever is bad, so they don’t want to be associated with it. But labels can be good if you reclaim them, then you can share who you are with other people and be stronger together.”

but he also got into my bad books with this one, which will have every librarian shaking their head in despair, hah:

“Wow, did you know he even has his books in height order? Is your brother for real? Perhaps he’s not really a teenager at all, but a librarian disguised in a teenager’s body?” 

Josh’s secret investigations show him trying to find his place, and his uncertainty around friendships is brilliantly portrayed. It is a really positive book. Their Mums’ fears for them are genuine, remembering how different and difficult it was to “come out” 30 years ago, with the reactions of adults and children in the story really shining a light on how inclusive and safe (hopefully) schools today can be. The children are supporting one another and turning around the attitudes of surrounding adults with positivity!

Do take a look at the other sites for the rest of the tour, and thanks to Usborne for the review copy!

The Humiliations of Welton Blake

Welton Blake has done it – he’s asked out Carmella McKenzie, the best-looking girl in school, and she’s only gone and said yes!

But just as he thinks his luck, and life, is starting to change, Welton’s phone breaks, kickstarting a series of unfortunate and humiliating events. With bullies to avoid, girls ready to knock him out and all the drama with his mum and dad, life for Welton is about to go very, very wrong …

Barrington Stoke
The Humiliations of Welton Blake – Cover artwork by Ali Ardington

I really enjoyed this new Barrington Stoke novella by Alex Wheatle. For those of you who don’t know, they publish books with dyslexic readers in mind – short, engaging, and set out carefully to be as readable as possible – written by loads of the best authors of the moment. Alex already had one under his belt, Kerb Stain Boys, a YA story set on his Crongton Estate, but this is for a younger teen audience. Those just starting to think about asking a girl to go to the cinema with them, or worrying about having the latest phone and trainers. Welton, our protagonist, is a great voice, he’d be one of the students that is always in trouble at school but secretly a teacher’s favourite. I asked Alex Wheatle some questions before publication:

How different is the process, writing a book for Barrington Stoke versus a longer novel?

The writing process for a shorter novel remains the same but before I write the first paragraph, I spend more time in my head on the plot and in the writing I try to be more concise.

After writing for adults then young adults and older teens, this is your youngest protagonist. Did that change your approach?

Writing about a young protagonist didn’t really change my approach.  I still invested the same care and attention as I would do for any other character I have created.

What is special about Crongton Estate?

The North Crongton and South Crongton estates are really references to the many council estates I have visited throughout the UK and beyond. What’s special about Crongton is that it is a fictional place. I’m not tied to Brixton, South London or anywhere else so I can freely create my characters and geography how I see fit. I can also populate Crongton the way I want to.

Cane Warriors (which is spectacular btw) is very different to anything else you’ve published for children and teens, what prompted you to write it, and might you write something from that era for Barrington Stoke?

Cane Warriors was a labour of love. Since I read CLR James’ Black Jacobins in the early 1980s, I’ve always wanted to write Jamaican historical narratives. My mother, who grew up very close to the plantation sites where the 1760 slave revolt occurred, heard her elders occasionally mention Tacky’s War. I felt as I was really documenting my ancestors’ history.

Have you done many virtual events? How does it compare to in-person?

I always prefer to do in-person events and I struggled a bit at first to do virtual events. Hopefully, I’m improving but I yearn to get in front of audiences again and do my thing!

What are you reading and who would you recommend it to?

At the moment, I am enjoying A.M Dassu’s Boy, Everywhere and I recommend it to anyone at any age.

What was the most exciting thing for you to come out of 2020?

The most exciting thing for me to come out in 2020 was the Black Lives Matter marches around the world and the different shades who all walked together.

What’s next?

I really enjoyed myself writing my The Humiliations of Welton Blake, so I hope I can produce more of the same for middle-grade readers.

You can read the first chapter on the Barrington Stoke website, and if you want more: the book is out now!

Huge thanks to Barrington Stoke for a proof copy to review, and to Alex Wheatle for answering my questions.

A Thousand Questions blog tour

Set against the backdrop of Karachi, Pakistan, Saadia Faruqi’s tender and honest middle grade novel tells the story of two girls navigating a summer of change and family upheaval with kind hearts, big dreams, and all the right questions.

Mimi is not thrilled to be spending her summer in Karachi, Pakistan, with grandparents she’s never met. Secretly, she wishes to find her long-absent father, and plans to write to him in her beautiful new journal.

The cook’s daughter, Sakina, still hasn’t told her parents that she’ll be accepted to school only if she can improve her English test score—but then, how could her family possibly afford to lose the money she earns working with her Abba in a rich family’s kitchen?

Although the girls seem totally incompatible at first, as the summer goes on, Sakina and Mimi realize that they have plenty in common—and that they each need the other to get what they want most.

This relatable and empathetic story about two friends coming to understand each other will resonate with readers who loved Other Words for Home and Front Desk.

HarperCollins

A THOUSAND QUESTIONS is a brilliant new middle grade novel by Saadia Faruqi. I really enjoyed reading from the two perspectives, as they realise that the differences in their upbringings don’t change the things that are really important. Saadia’s love of Karachi shines through in her portrayal of the city and its landmarks, at the same time though, she doesn’t shy away from showing the disparities between rich and poor and it could lead to some really interesting conversations if you’re reading it as a class novel or with a reading group (or with your own child).

For the blog tour I was pleased to have the opportunity to ask Saadia a few questions!

I believe your writing began in a local newspaper, followed by the Yasmin books for beginning readers, and now longer middle grade like your new book A THOUSAND QUESTIONS. Which audience do you prefer writing for?

Wow those newspaper columns were such a long time ago, I hardly remember them! Yes, that’s right, and I also wrote a nonfiction academic-style book, plus a short story collection for adults. However, it was only when I started writing for children that I found my true passion. Children’s
books are so fun to write, and even when the message is serious, the act of writing them isn’t. I enjoy crafting stories that give hope and entertain my readers, showing them the world in a way that’s authentic but also full of positive aspects. Whether I’m writing early readers like Yasmin or middle grade novels like A Thousand Questions, I approach them the same way. I’d be hard- pressed to chose which I enjoy more.

Why do you think it is so important to have Muslim characters starring in children’s stories?

It’s very important to have stories that center Muslim characters, families and countries. The fact is that a growing number of our young readers are Muslim, and they deserve to see their stories reflected in the books they read. This means positive stories, ones that show realistic people and situations rather than caricatures and stereotypes. It also means everyday stories about experiences all children face at school, at home and in their neighborhoods. Finally, it means making Muslim children the heroes of our fantasy, sci-fi and mystery books, the ones who solve the crime or save the day. All this is important because storytelling is part of community, and
readers from Muslim backgrounds should know that they’re an essential part of our communities. Readers from other backgrounds should also realize that their friends and neighbors, their classmates in school, can be the heroes of the books they read.

Your author note says you were inspired by your children’s reactions to visiting Karachi, where you grew up. What do you think is the biggest difference between your childhood and theirs (aside from technology!)?

It’s a world of a difference, specifically for immigrant families like mine. I grew up in Pakistan with one type of culture, traditions, lifestyle, and everything else. My children are growing up in the U.S. with another type of culture. As a parent, I try very hard to keep Muslim and South Asian traditions alive in my house, but when they step outside it’s a very different world for my children. I believe that the physical differences aren’t as vast, but the emotional and mental differences are huge. My children feel “other” in a way that I never did. They feel the stress of living in a country that’s their own, but not their parents’. They experience life with each of their
feet on a different continent. I can’t even imagine what they go through every day, not completely fitting in because of their skin color or their background. I never had anyone ask me “where are you from?” growing up, and that’s probably the biggest, most insurmountable difference.

In A THOUSAND QUESTIONS, Mimi and Sakina do a lot of sightseeing. Which of the spots that the girls visit is your favourite?

Hmmm that’s an interesting question because I put all my favorite spots in the book! I really wanted to showcase all the best places to visit in Karachi, so that even if you never travel there physically you can understand what a beautiful, complicated, incredible place it is! If I had to choose a favourite, I’d say the beach. I’ve loved the ocean since I was a child, and still do. Clifton Beach, where Mimi and Sakina visit in the book, is also very fun because of the swarm of people, the camels, the food, and everything else.

The divide between wealthy and poor is highlighted brilliantly by the girls’ friendship. How hard was it to strike a balance between harsh reality and a fun story?

I love writing about juxtapositions. It’s what I do best, bringing to life characters who are diametrically opposed to each other, so my readers can understand that we can find something in common with everyone we meet, even if they’re very different. Imagine how peaceful the world would be if we all found something in common with each other and focused on that
commonality? In the book, Mimi seems well off, and Sakina seems poor. But when they get to know each other, they realize that they are both rich in some ways, and poor in others. Life in Pakistan (and other poor nations) is often reduced to poverty, like it’s something horrible and insurmountable. It was really important for me to change that narrative and write about complex, beautiful life for all people, including those that are poor. It wasn’t hard to do once I had those goals in mind.

Have you done virtual events with children about your books?

Absolutely! I do a ton of virtual events with schools and libraries around the world. Since the pandemic started, I’ve actually increased this aspect of my author-life significantly, because it’s the only way I can reach my readers and give them an encouraging word. I schedule 3-5 virtual visits every day, and most of them are free of charge because of the budget difficulties everyone is going through at the moment. I love meeting readers, answering their questions and inspiring them to be writers. Anyone who wants to schedule a short virtual visit can visit my website and
contact me there.

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?

I’ve been reading the Planet Omar series by Zanib Mian with my daughter and really enjoying it. I think it’s great for children in elementary school, but can also be used as a read aloud for younger children. However, I enjoyed it as an adult, so my recommendation would be for everyone to read this series!

What are you working on at the moment?

I have several books in the pipeline, some of which are still secret. Ah, the joys of publishing! Four new Yasmin books are releasing in 2021, as well as a couple of picture books and a new middle grade novel featuring a boy main character, white supremacists, and a twenty-year old journal. I’m really excited about all my upcoming projects, but more than that I’m excited about the future of children’s books with all the fantastic BAME authors putting out great books for young readers. I’m proud to be a part of this new wave of books!

Saadia Faruqi (photo credit: QZB Photography)

A THOUSAND QUESTIONS is out now!

Thank you to HarperCollins UK for sending me a review pdf and involving me in the blog tour, and thank you to Saadia for answering my questions so thoughtfully (and I love the Planet Omar series too)!

Hijab and Red Lipstick – blog tour

Being a teenager isn’t easy. All Sara wants to do is experiment with make-up and hang out with friends. It doesn’t help when you have a super-strict Egyptian dad who tells you that everything is “haram” a.k.a. forbidden. But when her family move to the Arabian Gulf, it feels like every door is being closed on Sara’s future. Can Sara find her voice again? Will she ever be free? 

Hashtag Press

HIJAB AND RED LIPSTICK is not an easy read, in the author’s note to the reader she mentions that it covers some upsetting subjects (TW: including discussions of rape, coercive behaviour, self-harm, domestic abuse and sexual abuse), so it is definitely a Young Adult title. We join Sara as she begins talking to a journalist about her childhood experiences, her early years in the UK and then moving to the Gulf because of her father’s job. I can’t say I enjoyed reading it, as we were warned she doesn’t have a particuarly happy time, but it was a glimpse into a different (for me) culture that really made me think about things we take for granted in the UK.

I had the opportunity to ask the author, Yousra Imran, some questions about writing:

Your note to the reader said you drew on your own experiences as well as those of others, was it difficult to write or was it cathartic?

It was both difficult writing about such painful topics, even if it was a fictional piece of work, but also cathartic, as I felt by giving a voice to stories based on real life experiences that I was almost giving myself the talking therapy I never got to have.

How different was your approach to writing a full length novel compared to pieces for publications?

Writing an article for a publication is very different to writing a novel. At the moment I write current affairs articles which are of course much shorter (usually 800-1500 words) and they usually require me talking to lots of people to collect views, witness statements and facts. When it comes to writing a novel, even if I am basing it off things I have seen, heard or experienced, and even if I carry out research, I have that leeway to completely make up the characters and the story’s events. I don’t feel under pressure writing a novel as there is no deadline, whereas there is usually a tight deadline for an article. I don’t tend to map everything out when it comes to a novel – I have an idea of the storyline and I map out the characters, but the story evolves as I write it. With articles I have to completely map them out before I write them.

Did you always intend for this to be for young adults?

I think it was always going to naturally be for young adults if the main character is a teenager/young adult and is talking as a teen/young adult. However, the novel can be read by any adult too – that’s what I love about most YA books today – they can be read by adults too!

What advice would you give to a young woman in similar circumstances to Sara’s teen years?

Sadly this is a very tough question to answer, as it really depends on which country the young woman is living in. If she was living in Europe, the UK, America, Canada, Australia or New Zealand, I’d be able to say here’s a list of organisations that can help you and provide you with support. It’s a completely different ball game in other countries like those in the Middle East. Without sounding pessimistic, in Middle Eastern countries the legal system is patriarchal in the literal sense, meaning your father literally owns you. My advice to a teen or young woman in the Middle East would be to study hard, try to get a qualification and become financially independent, as financial independence gives you choices.

If you could write extensively about only one of the various topics you mention on your blog, which would you choose?

If I could only write about one topic it would definitely be about women’s rights in the Middle East, no hesitation!

Are you planning more YA?

My next novel is adult fiction, however, I do have an idea for a novel after that which would fall under YA!

Have you had an opportunity to talk to young people about the book?

The publishers and I had been talking about school visits before the pandemic and unfortunately lockdown meant we have been unable to, however, I am definitely planning to do virtual school and college “visits” where I can engage with young people and talk about the book.

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?

I am reading The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls, Mona El Tahawy’s feminist manifesto, which came out last year. It is hardcore feminism and I love it, and I would recommend it to everyone, regardless of gender. Reading it really puts the way world governments perceive and treat women, people of colour,  people with disabilities and the LGBTQ+ community into perspective. It’s also nice reading thoughts that I have had myself, thoughts which male family members said I was “weird” for having. I can’t be so weird if there are other women sharing the same exact thoughts!

HIJAB AND RED LIPSTICK is out now! Have a look at the rest of the blog tour (and thankyou to Hashtag Press and LitPR for including me):

When Secrets Set Sail

Usha is devastated when her grandmother Kali Ma passes away. Then straight-talking Imtiaz arrives – her new adoptive sister – and the two girls clash instantly. They both feel lost. That is until Kali Ma’s ghost appears…with a task for them.

Immy’s and Usha’s home is full of history and secrets. Many years ago it was The House of the Ayahs – for those nannies who couldn’t return to their Indian homeland – and Kali Ma made a promise she couldn’t keep. She can’t pass on to the other side until the girls fulfil it.

Today, Usha and Immy’s over-worked parents run the house as a home for refugees, but eviction threatens. The precious documents that could save them are lost. As the house slowly fills up with ghosts, that only Usha and Imtiaz can see, the girls realise they have more to save than just one grandmother’s ghost.

With help from their new friend Cosmo, Usha and Immy must set off on a quest through London, accompanied by two bickering ghosts, working together to find a series of objects that shine a magical light on their family’s past and hold the clues to securing their future.

If they can set the secrets of generations free, will they be in time to save their home?

Endorsed by Amnesty International

Hachette

Sita Brahmachari seems to be one of the hardest working children’s authors in the UK, and one of my favourites. I had the great pleasure of asking her some questions about her latest book WHEN SECRETS SET SAIL, and her answers are fabulous.

Your books always have “issues” at the heart of them and provoke the reader to discover a piece of history they might not know about, or consider impacts or viewpoints they might not have recognised before. How difficult is it to ensure that they are always exciting stories and not just didactic tomes?

First and foremost I’m fascinated by people’s lives and how the events in their lives, their actions or the things that happen to them impact on the world. I don’t think when people become refugees or are affected by climate change, face mental health challenges, are newly adopted, experience a death in the family or face homelessness or racism or child hunger that they experience these moments in life as ‘issues.’ I don’t shy away from some of the great challenges young people face today but as a writer I’m interested in nuance and getting beyond ‘issues’ to a multi-layered story. I feel that stories are superpower empathy portholes…and in these reactionary times that feels like a vital porthole to be able to open.

When I set out to write a story I might think I know what’s at the core of it, but my synopsis often bears little relation to the final book! The process of storytelling is an adventure for me. I always get taken by the characters into unexpected realms and it’s a real joy when these discoveries and unravellings are experienced and enjoyed by the reader.

It’s always finding characters, symbols and landscapes that really take me into the dreaming space of stories. The artichoke charm from my first story ‘ Artichoke Hearts’ is a guiding symbol for me; I’m constantly unpeeling the layers of characters and wanting to explore their sensibilities; their hopes, fears and dreams. This is what sparks my imagination and takes me into the heart of the story.  Often, as I write, it’s the characters I had thought were on the periphery that take centre stage because, as in life, it is fascinating to get to know people even when, or perhaps especially when, they may seem to be polar opposites to ourselves.

This is how I discovered characters like Themba and Luca in ‘Where the River Runs Gold’ and Imtiaz and Cosmo in ‘When Secrets Set Sail’. Originally ‘When Secrets Set Sail’ was written only from Usha’s point of view then Imtiaz made me see the error of my ways! And I’ve found that Imtiaz not done with me yet, she and Cosmo wanted their own adventure so they appear again in my World Book Day story next year ‘The River Whale.’

The subjects you include in your stories can be very upsetting, do you sometimes find it difficult to do the research?

I hope that my stories contain the gamut of human experience and although I’m not afraid to tackle the most complex of emotions, I always want my stories to scatter hope-seeds. They are inter-generational stories and one thing I’ve realised that no matter what dire situations the characters face there is always someone there to hold them.

I tend to do hands on research. My preference is to work with people. My work with refugee people since I began work in community theatre has informed my characters in many stories and plays. In art as in life once you take people to heart you don’t want to turn your back on them. So If I write about a difficult subject like someone I know or have worked with has faced then my main concern is to find the truth in that experience and to convey the empathy I feel for the characters that grow out of my research and engagements in community. I think engagement is everything and when you engage with people you are naturally moved by their stories, laughing as well as crying with them.

I often place a space in time between research and writing to allow the thoughts and feelings to distil and settle and to find the freedom to move from fact into fiction.

If I was to set out to write a novel at the stage that the research is on top of me I think there would be a real danger that the work would become didactic, something I would hate for my stories to be. An example of this is the experience of helping an elderly homeless woman bathe her feet in a refuge led me to create the character of Elder in ‘Red Leaves’ who is part bark-skinned homeless woman , part tree and ancient spirit of the ancient caring wood!

When children like Pari in ‘Tender Earth’ or Shifa and Themba in ‘Where The River Runs Gold’ are going hungry and needing to use food banks, as so many children are today, children and young people are feeling the discomfort of that sometimes in their own hunger pains, but when I write I think about creative narrative that both recognise the realities of that and offers hope seeds for transformation.

I think a lot about where children place these feelings that the real world ignites in them.  For me stories are magical empathy portholes… they allow us to dream of coming together to change the things that disempower us and to overcome what might seem insurmountable.

In writing fiction I need to know my story is grounded in truths I have discovered from research but then I need to immerse myself in the storytelling adventure and step into dream time.

Perhaps because of late the world, in Wordsworth words has been ‘too much with us’ in my recent novels I have wanted to explore the potential of magical transformations in relation to the realities the children in my stories face.

The idea of unheard stories and oral histories not being forgotten is huge and important, and  the author’s note at the end of WHEN SECRETS SET SAIL tells us the fascinating inspirations for the Ayahs’ story, but where did Imtiaz and Usha, and the idea of them becoming sisters, come from?

 In unravelling the story of the Ayahs – one of abandonment and care- I was looking for contemporary characters who in one way or another would deeply understand why the Ayah ghost ‘Lucky’ would need to set her spirit free by having her story told.

What moved me about the story of the Ayah nursemaids was the dual abandonment. Ayahs found themselves far from home and abandoned but the children they had cared for must have suffered so deeply too from being torn away from each other. That idea is what led me to grow the characters of Imtiaz and Usha.

I don’t think I realised when I set out how the story is as much about Imtiaz and Usha’s contemporary herstory as it is about the Ayahs… the waves of the colonial story from the Ayah’s time is literally in the bricks and mortar of the home they set aside their differences to save. As I wrote I realised that for contemporary readers the journey of these two very different girls to becoming loving sisters had to be central to their discovery of the history of their home.

I often write about family, friendship, belonging and community and have presented many different kinds of families in my stories. With Imtiaz my idea was to see how a looked after child with the most difficult of starts in the world, given the opportunity to feel secure and loved, might grow.

Usha doesn’t have to make an effort to belong but Imtiaz does. It seemed to me that in microcosm that is a theme that also links to the untold stories of the ayahs … if you know that your story is told you have assurance and ease of your place in it… if like the Ayahs and Imtiaz’s your story is hidden or ‘blocked’ (in the ear of the conch)… then there is effort involved to strive to be heard.

This tension between the girls gave me a lot. Here are two girls with shared migrant identities, but very different starts in life who can’t see each other’s ghosts or empathise with each other- but need to believe in each other if they are to stay sisters and save their home. They were, in many ways, the key to me releasing the Ayah’s story into the world.  I have often said stories are an act of communal making and I have to thank my insightful editor Tig Wallace for keeping the historical quest in this story grounded in the ups and downs of Imtiaz and Usha’s relationship!

I also found in their different early lives an interesting contrast. Between them they share wide diaspora birth families, crossing class, cultures, religions and oceans but who they identify with most strongly are those who care for them and love them. Their deep understanding of this gives them keen instincts to uncover the Ayah story.

I love that you found out about the campaign for a Blue Plaque for the Ayahs’ Home as you were finishing writing the book, the videos on the Hachette schools page are great, and I like the idea of encouraging children to make nominations for a blue plaque, have you thought of any yourself, and has it inspired more story ideas?

It was incredible to press send on my story and then discover this event. Some of the adult characters like Valini in ‘When Secrets Set Sail’ talk about ‘fate’ and ‘things being meant!’ but this really did feel like serendipity at its superpower best!

At this brilliant event at Hackney Libraries I met Rozina Visram whose research was central to discovering the Ayah story and I also met Farhanah Mamoojee a wonderful young historian and activist who has been campaigning for a Blue Plaque to recognise the Ayahs Home. Watch this space!

Sita Brahmachari with Farhanah Mamoojee, outside the Ayahs Home

It’s been a real joy to work together with Farhanah @ayahshome to sit on the steps of the real life houses where the Ayahs lived together and to share in the launch of this story into the world… in many ways I feel as if I have met a grown up Imtiaz!

If I could nominate a Blue Plaque to anyone it would be to

Elyse Dodgson (1945- 2018)

Adopted Londoner!

Visionary educator, international new writing director and enabler of young people’s talent the world over.  Some of her fierce equality seeking spirit and a little of her name has found its way into the character of Delyse in my story. Her first play created with students in her Vauxhall School ‘Motherland’ has been a lifelong inspiration to me.

Elyse gave my first job as a young person leaving university at The Royal Court Young People’s Theatre… as community theatre worker. She told me that my work first and foremost was to listen to the communities and ‘welcome them to storytelling’ so that they find their voice. I’ve never forgotten that.

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2018/nov/02/elyse-dodgson-obituary

(I’m breaking the Blue Plaque rules that someone needs to be deceased for twenty years and I encourage young readers who want to take part in the project to do the same! If they want to nominate a quiet hero or heroine whose alive for this imaginary project – why not!)

Have you done any virtual events this year?

I’ve done quite a few virtual events in different formats this year. In the build up to publication it was wonderful to be invited to be part of the South Asian Literature Festival and to have such positive responses to that from people joining from around the world – a sort of virtual globe window – that’s a real positive.

The virtual launch with The Children’s Book Shop in Muswell Hill was perhaps my favourite because it was in a wonderful real life bookshop! I felt connected with the community.

Jane Ray and I have been continuing our work with refugee people running our art and writing class by gathering around what we’ve now named out ‘Virtual Hearth’ – no matter how hard it is – the connection is so worthwhile.

At this time teachers and librarians have been amazing in their resilience. In the face of so many day to day challenges they have kept the reading for pleasure banner flying high. Like so many authors I’ve been busy adapting and learning new zooming skills and doing virtual events… Dominic Kingston and Felicity Highett at Hachette has been a real support in helping me with this and also Pop Up Festival has offered excellent training… BUT… We’ve all discovered things about ourselves during this time and one of the things I realise is how much I love being in a reality-room/ hall with readers! Over the years I have visited many schools and it is here, in the direct and indirect engagements with readers that I have understood so much about writing. Very often, as I’m talking I will notice there is a child at the periphery of the room who is perhaps doodling and not obviously engaging. I’ll catch their eye and know that something I have written and am talking about has impacted them… I have a treasure hoard of letters and art from these children that often inspire me to write the next book.  

Your recent post for the YLG blog about Library Hearths was brilliant, such tremendous support for libraries and librarians. You talk about imagining pinpointing for your characters “who planted the seeds that make them grow into who they will become”, can you share any of your own influences?

Here are just three of my writer-potential-seed-planters….there are many!

I’ll start at home… with my dad who I believe taught me what a storytelling voice was all about. My little memory in ‘The Book of Hopes,’ envisioned by the wonderful Katherine Rundell during Lockdown, is dedicated to him. Jane Ray gifted this beautiful illustration to accompany my little vignette but readers of my work will have spied dad’s brave, adventurous, caring and good humoured spirit before in Granddad Bimal and in the man in the hat in my co-theatre adaptation of Shaun Tan’s sublime graphic novel ‘The Arrival’. 

Dad by Jane Ray

I had an English and Drama teacher who also acted as librarian who always told me I should be a writer and when I wrote ‘Artichoke Hearts’ and returned to my school Mrs Smith, then quite elderly, queued up for a signed copy. ‘You made me wait but told you so!’ she said! In truth this teacher was also an inspiration to Pat Print – the writing tutor in that story and she knew it!

Elyse Dodgson (whom I nominated a Blue Plaque for above) who took a punt on me… and even though I had little experience employed me as community theatre worker for The Royal Court Young People’s Theatre as my first job as a student straight out of university.

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?

I’m reading a lot of new writing manuscripts for ‘The First Chapter Awards’ for the Scottish Book Trust at the moment so as contrast I’m dipping in and out of David Almond’s short stories ‘Counting Stars’ (2016 Hodder Children’s Books). For me voice is such an important aspect of being a writer and I love Almond’s storytelling voice. In these stories about David’s childhood in Tyneside I find so much connection, joy and awe at the natural world. I’m loving them because I have been exploring the universal in the global in my own work and I feel a deep connection to this idea especially now when so many people may feel isolated – These stories are a wonderful reminder that in the drift of a cloud or a river’s flow we are so deeply interconnected and I hear in them a heartening song to the power of children’s imaginations. I would recommend it to anyone who is or who has ever been a child!

What are you working on next?

I’ve been putting the finishing touches to my World Book Day story for next year ‘The River Whale’ illustrated by the wonderful Poonam Mistry in which readers will meet Immy again free-diving in prose and verse! I’ve loved writing it and discovering what a year of having access to fulfilling her dreams has brought her and the world!

On another track I’m working on an illustrated YA story (title not quite set yet!) that I began writing in 2008. It will be published in late 2020 by Stripes. In it my older teen characters are walking a high stakes tight rope between myth, dream and reality.

Thank you so much for your wonderful answers Sita! WHEN SECRETS SET SAIL is out now!

Timelines from Black History

Erased. Ignored. Hidden. Lost. Underappreciated. No longer. Delve into the unique, inspiring, and world-changing history of Black people.

From Frederick Douglass to Oprah Winfrey, and the achievements of ancient African kingdoms to those of the US Civil Rights Movement, Timelines From Black History: Leaders, Legends, Legacies takes kids on an exceptional journey from prehistory to modern times.

This DK children’s book boasts more than 30 visual timelines, which explore the biographies of the famous and the not-so-famous – from royalty to activists, and writers to scientists, and much, much more. Stunning thematic timelines also explain the development of Black history – from the experiences of black people in the US, to the story of postcolonial Africa.

Did you know that the richest person ever to have lived was a West African? Or that the technology that made the lightbulb possible was developed by African American inventor, and not Thomas Edison? How about the fact that Ethiopia was the only African country to avoid colonization, thanks to the leadership of a brave queen?

Stacked with facts and visually vibrant, Timelines From Black History: Leaders, Legacies, Legends is an unforgettable and accessible hive of information on the people and the issues that have shaped Black history.

DK Books

This year, Mireille Harper was a contributor to the DK Book TIMELINES OF EVERYONE and was sole writer for this collection of TIMELINES FROM BLACK HISTORY. It includes timelines of famous and not-so-famous, historical and present day influential and important people across a range of fields and from all over the globe. In usual DK fashion, it is brilliantly laid out to be visually appealing as well as containing tonnes of interesting information, it is definitely worth having in your libray!

I was given the opportunity to ask Mireille a few questions:

After writing contributions to the ‘Timelines of Everyone’, did ‘Timelines From Black History’ on your own feel daunting
or liberating?

To me, it wasn’t particularly daunting but I knew there was an element of responsibility and I felt I had to really do this book justice, so I was very careful and took my time throughout the process. I think the daunting bit was actually sending the book out into the world! I found writing the contributions empowering – finding out about the lives and histories of those who came before us who changed the world for the better was an experience I feel fortunate to have had.

How did you decide on the timelines to feature?
The process was collaborative in that both DK and I took spreads from previous titles (including content I’d created for Timelines of Everyone) that we though had the most resonance, and the figures that we felt should be celebrated most. I also had the opportunity to share some of my favourite figures for the gallery spread and foreword which was great.

If you could choose one from the book to write more on, which would it be?
I would love to write about Nanny of the Maroons. Nanny, or Queen Nanny as she’s often known, was a leader of the Windward Maroons, a community of formerly enslaved Africans in Jamaica, who fought off the British forces. I talk about Nanny literally every week, just because I think she’s such a hero and she has not received the recognition she deserves. In an ideal world, there’d be international films, books, statues and more dedicated to the legacy of Nanny.

Do you talk to young people about writing?
I talk to lots of young people about writing! I currently mentor three young people who want to work in the creative industries or publishing and I have a network of people within the publishing industry who work alongside me to help young people develop their writing. I’ve been lucky that with the publication of Timelines from Black History, I’ve had many more opportunities to speak to young people.

Do you prefer writing for children or adults?
I like both! Before working on Timelines of Everyone and Timelines from Black History, I had written over 200 articles aimed at adults on everything from travel and lifestyle to arts and culture. Whoever I’m writing for, I just like to know I’m writing about something that I’m passionate about and that matters.

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?
I am reading an incredible book called This Book Will Make You Kinder by Henry James Garrett. It’s an incredible book on empathy, kindness and how we can become more empathetic, not only to ourselves and one another, but also the world around us.

Mireille Harper

Thanks so much to Mireille for taking the time to answer some questions, and to DK Books for sending me a review copy of TIMELINES FROM BLACK HISTORY – OUT NOW!