Happy holiday message to all Megaphone writers and friends!

Hard to believe, but we’re nearly at the end of 2021! This was always going to be a difficult year, for everyone, but I am so proud of how it has gone. I am glad we took the decision to go wholly online – yes, we missed the lack of face-to-face interaction, but we also became accessible to many more people than before, and the continuing uncertainty around Covid, rising cases etc., means I think it was the right call for this project. A few messages…
CONGRATULATIONS to the seven Megaphone mentees – Zareena Subhani, Abimbola Fashola, Nazima Pathan, Alka Handa, Ten The Gioi, Munira Jannath, Iqbal Hussein for just keeping on writing and producing work that’s been funny, moving, exciting and compelling. I know this year has been full of shocks and challenges, but it has been full of successes too – not least, simply persisting with writing. As we head towards the end of the mentoring scheme, I hope many more people will soon be able to read your wonderful novels.
WELL DONE to the many members of the Community Group – there is some brilliant writing being done here too and many of you are working on books I hope and expect to see in print sooner or later. I’ve loved running the Writers’ Surgeries and meeting many of you (on Zoom!) individually. I feel this is a massive bank of talent for the publishing industry to take note of, but also a community of practice, people working together on something they love doing for the sake of it.
THANK YOU to Stephanie King for making Community happen – for voluntarily organising all the Open Doors and In Conversations so Megaphone writers can find out how the wild world of publishing works and get feedback from the best. Words are insufficient!
THANK YOU to the Megaphone mentors – Danielle Jawando, Maisie Chan, Alexandra Sheppard – for guiding and helping your mentees grow as authors, all while writing your own, stellar books and juggling your careers! NOT EASY.
THANK YOU to every single person – publishing professionals, booksellers, authors -who has given up their time to talk to Megaphone’s writers – you are so generous and it is so appreciated.
THANK YOU to our funders and in kind supporters, both past and present. To Jonathan at https://writingwestmidlands.org/ for constant support, to Arts Council England and players of the National Lottery for making it happen, to https://usborne.com/gb/ for funding and supporting Megaphone throughout the year. And to individuals who have helped, donated and more – you’re amazing.
I have no doubt I’ve forgotten someone – it won’t be because I don’t appreciate you! It will be because by this time in December my brain has its out of office on…
I hope you all enjoy the holiday time (and that you do get some actual holiday…) and I’ll see you in in 2022, hopefully with some exciting news about Megaphone’s future!
Leila Rasheed

Leila Rasheed
See you in 2022!
Arts Council England logo - our funder
Usborne Publishing logo - our funder

5 things I wish I’d known about a creative career by Maritsa Baksh (The Creative Pandemic)

Maritsa Baksh of QPOC publishing project The Creative Pandemic has written a guest blog for Megaphone!

I first got in touch with Leila because I applied to the mentoring scheme (Megaphone mentoring, in 2020). I didn’t win a place, but I was shortlisted. It hurt, because it was a failure, but with that failure came an opportunity. Leila offered me a zoom meeting, to chat. I didn’t know what to expect from a zoom meeting, but I agreed. 

In the meeting, Leila asked about what else I was up to, alongside my writing. I told her about my website, https://www.thecreativepandemic.com/about-us , and she listened, asked questions. She asked if the site was funded – I said no. Had I considered applying for funding – yes, I had, but the process seemed overwhelming. 

The Creative Pandemic logohttps://www.thecreativepandemic.com/about-us

From this, Leila sent me resources to help write my application. She proofread my application, put me in touch with her own network, and was there every time I had questions with encouragement and support. 

From the application I developed, I secured funding for the website, and developed a short story collection that paid qpoc writers for their work. It seems baffling that this process started with a rejection, and an offer of a zoom call. Baffling how easily I could have seen that rejection, and deleted the email. 

So, I made a list of the things I wish I knew this time last year. 

  1. Apply to everything. Even if you don’t think you’ll win, apply anyway. Even if you don’t win, or your work isn’t published, it’s the chance to open a dialogue with someone doing something you want to do. Take that chance. Sometimes it’s some feedback on your work, sometimes it’s the offer to write something freelance, sometimes it’s as simple as a zoom meeting. 
  2. Say yes to everything. Does the idea of talking with a stranger about your work fill you with dread and anxiety? Say yes anyway. Especially if it’s scary. That fear tells you where your comfort zone ends – and where you need to do some more growing.
  3. Ask questions. The people you meet can be your biggest asset. And if they seem like they want to offer advice, make it clear that you want it. Even if you don’t end up following their advice, just hear what they have to say. Share your own thoughts. Those connections are invaluable. Treat them well. 
  4. Set your work hours. Then stick to that plan. This was the biggest one for me to get right. Because I set my own hours, I could work indefinitely. And I was wildly productive – for a while. Then, inevitably, I’d crash. Set your work hours in a day, then stick to it. At the end of that time, put it away. No matter what. It’ll help you in the long run. Overworking and burning out isn’t something to strive for; it’s unhealthy, unsustainable, and other parts of your life will suffer for it. 
  5. Learn when to put it away. I want to say “Never ever give up!” but, honestly, I don’t think that’s always realistic, especially at the start. If you need to take a break from your passion project – do it. Creative work is a privilege, a joy.  When it becomes more of a chore than enjoyable – stop. Give yourself a chance to miss the writing. Come back when you’re ready to fall in love with it again.

Statement from Megaphone – August 2021

The exchanges on Twitter of the past week (please see the links below) have left many people in children’s literature feeling isolated, upset, angry and sad. This includes members of our Megaphone community. At a member’s request we provided an informal opportunity for our community to discuss the topic and air views if they wanted to. Following that discussion I have decided to restate Megaphone’s mission and the context for that mission.

This statement comes from Leila Rasheed and from Stephanie King, as the organisers of this Arts Council England funded project. Megaphone Community is a group of around 50 people and no statement can encompass everyone’s views, nor is it intended to.

Megaphone Writer Development Scheme was created by Leila in 2015 to amplify the voices of people of colour in British children’s literature. The core activity is writer education, especially published children’s writers of colour mentoring emerging children’s writers of colour.

Megaphone Community’s members are all very different and have experiences of racism that are very different. Some of us are privileged enough to experience very little day-to-day direct racism. Others experience direct racism every single day of their lives.

However, what we all have in common is not being white in an industry that normalises and centres upon whiteness.   Book Trust and UCL’s research has demonstrated that over the past 11 years, fewer than 2% of creators of children’s literature published in the UK have been British people of colour. CLPE’s research, too, has shown how children of colour are under-represented and mis-represented in children’s books. Multiple reports from well-established organisations over many years have identified how people of colour are racialised and minoritized in publishing and also in education. Information is out there. It is hard to see what else writers of colour can do to make themselves heard. Publishing, and associated areas, have to want to listen.

Recently, we conducted an anonymised survey of the 50 members of Megaphone Community, all emerging children’s writers of colour, in order to better understand their experiences. Among other findings, 76% of respondents (19/25 responses) agreed with the statement that “there are some conversations I do not feel comfortable having in a group of majority white writers”. This feeling will surely only be reinforced by online behaviour such as that last week of highly visible, influential, white children’s authors.

Megaphone exists exactly because people of colour are all very different, and currently, too few voices among this vast range of people are heard and represented in publishing and literary authorship, which results in stereotyping and tokenism. We want to enable a real diversity of voices to be heard and listened to in children’s literature because we think this is the only way that events such as those of last week will stop happening. We intend to continue now to concentrate on our mission to support and sustain people of colour to write and publish great literature for children because we think that is the best and most positive contribution we can make to the situation.

Finally, we warmly thank everyone who has offered support, both moral and financial, to Megaphone in the past few days. We are glad you see us as part of the solution.  We also thank our core funders and partners over the years who have made Megaphone possible: Arts Council England, Usborne Publishing, The Publishers’ Association and Writing West Midlands.

Article by one of the directly affected people: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2021/aug/13/pointing-out-racism-in-books-is-not-an-attack-kate-clanchy

Statement from the Society of Authors: https://societyofauthors.org/News/News/2021/August/Inclusivity-across-publishing

Booktrust represents: https://www.booktrust.org.uk/what-we-do/programmes-and-campaigns/booktrust-represents/representation-of-people-of-colour-among-childrens-book-authors-and-illustrators/#!?q=&sortOption=MostRecent&pageNo=1

CLPE: Reflecting Realities: https://clpe.org.uk/research/clpe-reflecting-realities-survey-ethnic-representation-within-uk-childrens-literature

Rethinking diversity in publishing: https://www.spreadtheword.org.uk/projects/rethinking-diversity/

Racism in education: https://www.nasuwt.org.uk/news/campaigns/act-for-racial-justice.html

2021 mentees: Abimbola Fashola

This summer, we’re handing the blog to our mentees so they can introduce themselves and their writing. Read on and find out more about the person who could be your next favourite writer!

My name is Abimbola Fashola, I live in South East London and I currently work in a secondary school. I have always been interested in creative writing and love creating characters and new worlds! In 2020 (Pre Pandemic) I took part in the short course called “Writing for Children” at City University with amazing children’s author Sophia Bennett. This course was a 10 week evening course which I committed to attending each week. I learnt so much on this course, such as the importance of having a unique voice and showing not telling.

It is so important for children to see characters and authors that look like them and come from similar backgrounds

I have always enjoyed writing stories and have written some short stories but life took over and I would only write a few short stories here and there. I then attended a masterclass with legendary author Dorothy Koomson through Black Girls Book club towards the end of 2019 and that is what inspired me to start writing seriously again.

Representation and diversity are not just buzz words for me. I genuinely believe it is so important for children to see characters and authors that look like them and come from similar backgrounds as themselves. As much as I appreciate and understand the importance of children’s books that deal with serious topics I also believe it is important to have children’s stories that include children from different backgrounds doing silly and fun things!

I am also (on Megaphone) learning to not be so critical of myself and my writing!

My book is a middle grade story about an 11 year girl called Modupe a black British Nigerian girl who tends to shy away from spotlight. Modupe is an amazing swimmer and wants to finally shake off the annoying ‘Mouse’ nickname she was given by her ex best friend Favour after nearly drowning in a swimming pool at her local leisure centre, by entering her school’s swimming competion that will lead to the finalists going to a prestigious private school in Surrey to compete against the swimmers there. Her loyal but mischievous best friend Korede has an idea to help his best friend. They have to steal ‘Magic Hair Beads’ from their local abandoned hair shop! My story touches on the fast gentrification of London through the eyes of two children as well as a young girl learning to become confident again.

Balancing a full-time job and writing will be my biggest challenge but with the support from my incredible mentor and the other Megaphone mentees I know it is plausible for me to complete my final first draft whilst on the scheme. I am also learning to not be so critical of myself and my writing!

I hope that by the end of the programme I can have a fully written manuscript and I have gained the confidence to present this manuscript to agents and publishers.

The Jericho Prize for Black-British children’s writers is open now

The inaugural Jericho Prize for children’s writing is open now! It’s for Black-British writers with great stories to inspire children aged 4 years plus and 7–9. https://www.jerichoprize.com/home/faqs

Megaphone is really excited about this new initiative for so many reasons.

  • It supports Black-British writers
  • It addresses an age range which is SO important to children’s development in the early years, building a love of reading and a sense of belonging in books
  • It’s a prize for writing books for the youngest readers, which I think might be unique in the UK (I may be wrong!). The text in a book for the youngest readers is so often under-valued, but as a reader and parent, I know that the most beautiful illustrations won’t make up for a text that doesn’t stand up to reading and re-reading, night after night.

Leila talked to Fabia Turner, the founder of the Prize, about the ideas behind it.

Leila: What strategic, long-term actions do you think the book industry (publishing, bookselling, librarians, etc.) should take to ensure that ” Black-British children see themselves reflected realistically in books” in the future?

Fabia: Your question is about realistic representation of Black-British children in books, so I’ll try to stick to that, although it’s multifaceted and difficult to answer briefly. And, of course, the book industry is ultimately driven by global market forces which makes things tricky.

You can’t really talk about authentic representation without broadening this out to the concept of inclusivity and what this means for the book industry. I think what’s required is permanent structural and cultural change.

What’s required is permanent structural and cultural change.

The industry’s composition still needs to become more diverse. It should more closely match our multi-ethnic, multicultural UK society through staffing and commissioning of Black-British creatives if it’s to truly be able to create, publish and sell books that authentically represent the lives and experiences of Black-British children.

Company policies need to show commitment to fostering a welcoming, inclusive atmosphere, where Black-British book professionals (editors, illustrators, authors, designers, booksellers, librarians, etc) feel a sense of belonging and become empowered to have a say in books being created about them. This requires recruitment of more Black staff, not just in entry-level roles, but at decision-making levels where they can champion inclusive values, effect continual strategic change, and, perhaps, most importantly, veto manuscripts that don’t represent Black-British children appropriately. However, Black people in the industry should not have sole responsibility for this workload. We need the majority of people in the book industry to buy into this inclusive ethos for significant long-term change to be possible.

The industry can’t continue with its ‘othering’ approach to Black children’s books

Which means for those already in the industry, there needs to be a willingness and commitment to inclusive training, to ensure everyone understands what good inclusive practice looks like, so they can recognise and consistently challenge their own unconscious biases in their daily work with children’s books. Books reeking of bad representation – those that have one-dimensional Black characters, are full of negative stereotypes or, even worse, contain what are essentially white main characters with brown faces – are more harmful than zero representation in my view, but sometimes this can be difficult to spot to the untrained eye. 

Lastly, the industry can’t continue with its ‘othering’ approach to Black children’s books, or any book featuring characters of colour for that matter. They are not niche or trendy – they are necessary and there’s a growing market for them and, as such, they deserve the same care and attention in terms of decent production budgets and schedules, to ensure what’s produced is well-researched and carefully illustrated to reflect Black children in an authentic and inclusive way.

L: How can we make sure that this becomes a given?

F: I think a rigorous, industry-wide standard set of criteria that all children’s manuscripts can be measured by, or some form of built-in peer-review process, would help to lift standards of authentic representation until the inclusive approach becomes the default way of making and selling children’s books. The Centre for Literacy and Primary Education (CLPE) is doing excellent work in this area, and publishers and booksellers should take a closer look at their recent research.

Provide lots of opportunities for more authentic books to be made

Also, initiatives such as Megaphone, the Jericho Prize, Fab Prize and others showcasing underrepresented creatives of colour are fundamental in this gradual shift in attitudes, and will encourage marginalised creatives to push for change themselves as the industry becomes more transparent and accessible to them. I think we mustn’t be afraid to speak up when a book has appalling representation but, equally, we need to provide lots of opportunities for more authentic books to be made.  

L: On the same lines, what could nurseries and schools be doing to ensure the children they look after see themselves in books?

F: Well, again, this requires a top-down change in thinking across the early years and primary education sectors. Headteachers, governors, and early years centre managers need to make specific adjustments in their English and diversity and inclusion policies to ensure access to good quality multicultural and multi-ethnic books in their educational settings. But staff also need to do the practical work around this which means they need training. They also need healthy budgets so they can afford to buy new books. This takes money, money which a lot of education settings haven’t got right now, and hopefully local education authorities will step up and support them in this work. But, in the meantime, staff could audit their book collections to check books are authentically inclusive at all age levels, and to identify gaps in terms of quality representation. This stocktake should happen regardless of the ethnic make-up of their early years or school population.

I’d also encourage primary and early years setting English leads to look at the CLPE’s research on ethnic representation in children’s books. The CLPE offers a wealth of support and resources including quality core book lists for the early years and key stages 1 and 2. Many of their resources are freely accessible to educators who sign up to their website. That would be the first place I’d look seek out and promote individuals who are genuinely passionate about diversifying young children’s literary experiences. That would be the first place I would look if I were keen to transform and replenish my book stock.

Seek out and promote individuals who are genuinely passionate about diversifying young children’s literary experiences.

Lastly, when employing new staff, English leads and school librarians especially, senior management should seek out and promote individuals who are genuinely passionate about diversifying young children’s literary experiences. These are the practitioners who will be motivated to spend school budgets on inclusive books, stock them in school/class libraries, connect with Black authors and illustrators for (virtual) visits, and instil confidence in other staff members to improve their inclusive practice. They need to be building Black texts into lessons/learning experiences instead of reading them only during Black History Month. This way, children will see educators reading and teaching from Black texts regularly and they will become embedded into the fabric of the schools and nurseries just as the old favourites are.

L: Can you say why you chose the age range you did? Is it to do with the impact of early childhood reading?

F: There are several reasons but, yes, that’s the main one. I’ve noticed brilliant recent initiatives that focus on diversifying literature in secondary schools, and while this is fantastic – I’m thrilled it’s happening – it’s happening far too late in the game! Recent research shows that by KS1 some children have formed firm ideas about race due to environment and upbringing. Added to this an average child tends to have developed a strong stable sense of self around the age of eight. With all this in mind it’s clear that young children need to be exposed to carefully curated quality inclusive texts from birth. Not only will this richer literary experience deepen their understanding of similarities and differences between ethnic/cultural groups, but, particularly for marginalised young children of colour, reading multicultural multi-ethnic books where they see themselves fosters a sense of self-worth, self-confidence and much more.

What we read and see in books as young children has a powerful influence on our world view. And if all you see reflected is white characters, created by white authors and white illustrators, this definitely has a detrimental impact in the long run.

It’s important for children’s education that they see homegrown Black talent writing the books they read

The other reason we chose this age range is that many of the contemporary books currently available, particularly in the picture book category, are by African-American or white-British creatives. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with this and most of these books are fantastic, we want to support Black-British talent so they too can write stories within these categories if they wish to. It’s important for children’s education that they see homegrown Black talent writing the books they read. With these role models, children too will aspire to work in the book industry hence promoting that long-term cultural change we spoke about earlier. It’s a cyclical thing.

Lastly, I often receive requests from self-published creatives and most, if not all, have written picture books. I think some new writers may be of the view that creating a picture book is easy when in fact it’s no easier than writing a chapter book. So I wanted to support them in developing their work through this award.

If the Jericho Prize runs again in future, we will be focusing on first chapter books for 5-7s, as this category definitely needs attention to create inclusive texts with Black main characters.    

L: We certainly hope it runs again and again!

For full details, see the website: https://www.jerichoprize.com/home/faqs

Promo for the Jericho Prize: apply at www.jerichoprize.com/

2021 mentees: Zareena Subhani

This summer, we’re handing the blog to our mentees so they can introduce themselves and their writing. Read on and find out more about the person who could be your next favourite writer!

Hi, I’m Zareena (apparently meaning ‘more precious than gold’, so clearly no pressure there…). I was born and raised in Yorkshire to an Indian father and an English mother. My dad was the doctor in our small mining community and as the only brown kids there, my brother and I were treated like local celebs; ‘the doctor’s children’. This bubble of an upbringing brought with it bike rides on my ‘Chopper’, climbing trees, making dens, creating perfumes from rose petals (didn’t everyone in the 1970’s?) and frequent trips to the local library. Think Matilda.

I think young people are brilliant and it’s for them that I write

It’s only really now as an adult that I’ve realised that I’ve always written. From lying on the sofa, off sick from school, watching the terrible events unfold in Northern Ireland, writing poetry (‘You will get no information from the civil population, when all we see is killing…killing…killing…). Yes, I too am relieved I didn’t pursue that media. Although, don’t be too harsh, I was only six or seven.To a gazillion navel-gazing diaries at University, but I’ve never taken myself seriously as a writer; self-protection? 100%. Even now, I flush with embarrassment when asked about it and generally say things like ‘I do a bit of writing’ or’ I faff about with writing.’  I’m really hoping that Megaphone can at least go some way to ridding me of my gargantuan imposter syndrome. I’ll let you know a year from now.

After a degree in English Literature, followed by a PGCE, I have been teaching for thirty years. I can honestly say that there hasn’t been a day when I haven’t wanted to go to work. I think young people are brilliant and it’s for them that I write. And also, rather selfishly perhaps, for the nine-year-old me who never saw herself in any of the books she read.

I’ve always been fascinated by multiple births. From those that I’ve taught (how can they be so different and look the same?) to those that I’ve read about (the brilliant ‘One’ by Sarah Crossan) or watched documentaries about (the breathtaking ‘Three Identical Strangers’ on Netflix) and have found this interest infusing much of my writing

My Middle Grade book ‘Split’ is set in India from March-August 1947; the last few months leading up to Partition.

My Middle Grade book ‘Split’ is set in India from March-August 1947; the last few months leading up to Partition. Set against this turbulent backdrop are mixed-race twins, Aiza and Mirha who have spent all of their nine years at the Orphanage of Good Hope in Bombay, run by the kindly Miss Carter. It is imperative that children from the Good Hope are adopted by the time they turn ten or they will be transferred to a different type of Institution; a terrible place by all accounts. As their tenth birthday approaches Aiza has already laid plans for her and her sister to leave. However, salvation comes in the form of Mrs Armstrong, who adopts both girls. But, all is not as it seems and Aiza soon realises that Mrs Armstrong is playing a dangerous game. Mirha has disappeared and Aiza is being treated like a princess. Aiza makes shocking discoveries about Mrs Armstrong’s past and now, in a race against time, she must find her sister and escape. Travelling from Bombay to Simla, Aiza must navigate the treachery of Mrs Armstrong and the political unrest to save Mirha. The book is about family and the accountability that comes with being a a part of one.

2021 mentees: Alka Handa

This summer, we’re handing the blog to our mentees so they can introduce themselves and their writing. Read on and find out more about the person who could be your next favourite writer!

Three years ago,  I picked up my pen to write prose after a gap of some thirty years, and I was thrilled to find how naturally it came back to me.  I started with poetry, taking creative writing classes at CityLit college in Covent Garden. As a teenager, and in later life, I visited and lived in India with my family. The culture and values of my birth country had a profound impact on me. I was always an avid reader. Most of the stories I read as a youth were children’s classics, depicting characters with the same skin colour as the people of my host country. At the time, it didn’t register with me. It was only when I came back to writing prose in midlife that I found myself writing about protagonists from an Asian background like my own. I have been writing the stories that I wanted to read in my youth.

Dealing with issues ranging from self harm to eating disorders, even suicide, made me want to shine a torch on these often unspoken areas in a child’s life

I have two children myself and for the last five years, I have been working for NSPCC ChildLine. I was naturally drawn to supporting children with their mental health in the belief that the early and teenage years are the most formative in a person’s life. Dealing with issues ranging from self harm to eating disorders, even suicide, made me want to shine a torch on these often unspoken areas in a child’s life, especially so in the Asian community where such problems were often swept under the carpet and remain a stigma to this day.

I am really enjoying the camaraderie and mutual support of being within a community of like minded writers which Megaphone provides

To this end, the novel I have been writing focuses on a young Asian protagonist who travels between two continents, both herself and her sister grappling with some of these same issues. This is a story about how they learn to support each other through the struggles of a traditional, patriarchal environment.  I think the biggest challenges I face on my writing journey are my tendency to overwrite and make the story arc too long and drawn out. Editing and structuring will be very important tools for me to learn and I am looking forward to having a well crafted novel by the end of this year. I am really enjoying the camaraderie and mutual support of being within a community of like minded writers which Megaphone provides. The valuable advice and insight into the publishing industry is another wonderful tool. I look forward to the journey.

2021 mentees: Munira Jannath

This summer, we’re handing the blog to our mentees so they can introduce themselves and their writing. Read on and find out more about the person who could be your next favourite writer!

Hi, I’m Munira Jannath. I’m from a little estate in Hackney, my home for 20+ years. I work in education and will complete my teacher training next year. I have always worked in schools in boroughs that reflect the demographics I “belong to” in one way or the other and that’s where my love for stories and need for storytelling grew.

Growing up I felt stories weren’t written about people like me, a British Bangladeshi Muslim girl, who had a flair for adventure and troublemaking, wanting to study my way out of poverty while facing the kinds the problems most kids in children’s books faced. I still can’t swim and can barely ride a bike but I graduated at least!  

My story is about 10 year old Rubi, a Muslim Bengali girl, who is trying to reclaim her family after her home life turns on its head.

I feel some what fortunate to start writing a middle grade novel now and not when the idea for my first story came to me years ago. In the past four years I have seen covers that reflect and represent characters I dreamt of getting to know since when I was old enough to read… Hurrah! I have also found my own reasons to write and to keep writing (Yay!). That’s where my journey with Megaphone started!

My story is about 10 year old Rubi, a Muslim Bengali girl, who is trying to reclaim her family after her home life turns on its head. Mum has depression, dad has turned part time after getting a full time job, Nanu is getting older and her kind of perfect sister gets all the attention! Rubi and her cat side-kick Winnie find themselves in lots of adventures and trouble trying to make everything better!

Megaphone understands the need to support marginalised writers but also understands what it means to be one too.

I am excited to work with Megaphone! Having the opportunity to work through the internal and externals problems I face writing Rubi with an experienced and empathetic mentor is invaluable! Megaphone understands the need to support marginalised writers but also understands what it means to be one too. So far, I have had support with structuring, planning and getting the words written for my first draft. I can’t wait to have a complete story by the end!

Megaphone x RCW and Knights Of workshop

We’re really happy to announce we’re working with RCW Literary Agency and Knights Of to support new children’s/ YA writers of colour. Their workshop will reserve 15 places for existing Megaphone Community members and offer a further 15 places to new attendees.

Megaphone Community is a community of practice for writers of colour who want to write for children or teenagers. It was first offered to support everyone who applied for Megaphone mentoring this year. Last time we ran the mentoring scheme, I hated the thought of saying ‘No’ to so many people, and as a writer, I knew how frustrating it was to apply for competetive schemes and get nowhere. I also knew that for writers of colour working in children’s literature, it was often quite isolating. So Community was designed to offer an online space for every applicant to get some ongoing support: a well to dip into when necessary, a place to ask questions and talk about writing. There’s a programme of free events (all online, we use Band https://band.us/ and Zoom to deliver Megaphone Community at the moment), including six IN CONVERSATIONS with people like Serena Patel and Jasmine Richards. Stephanie King, Usborne Commissioning Editor, is available fortnightly to answer any questions about publishing you might have, no matter how daft you might think them! These are recorded, so if you join in September you can watch them back. Following a survey of what members want, we’re starting to offer individualised feedback on submission packages and regular Writers’ Surgeries, too. Most importantly, Community will keep on evolving – and you could be a part of it.

We’re looking forward to welcoming you! Apply here: https://www.rcwlitagency.com/workshops/

Megaphone supports Inclusion Labs Decade of Diversity

I am delighted to pledge Megaphone’s support to Inclusion Labs’ DECADE OF DIVERSITY initiative. We will share our learning from working with writers of colour- who all love children’s and YA books, and who were all reading children once – to support the initiative for more diverse literature in schools. Where we can- our capacity as a small Arts Council England National Lottery funded project allowing – we will be delighted to support schools that are committed to change, to understand more about how readers and writers of colour grow, and about the importance of diverse books.
What I love about the initative is the understanding that we need to take strategic action to make a fairer world, and also the acknowledgement of the enormous influence that schools, and children’s books, have on children’s developing mental health. The books schools put in front of their children, and the ways in which they are used, matter so much. I read pasionately as a child, but never found myself in stories. Research repeatedly shows that reading for pleasure in childhood correlates with later success and happiness in all areas of life. We need to make it as easy as possible for all children to develop that love of literature and the confidence that comes from seeing yourself honoured as the centre of a story. I encourage all schools and all teachers to audit their libraries, look at the messages that their book stock is giving out, and pledge 25% diverse literature in schools by 2030. Governing boards too should work towards diversity so that they can truly represent every child in their school. You can read more here: https://www.inclusionlabs.org/partnerwithus

“In 2019 33.5% of the school population were of minority ethnic origins, in stark contrast only 5% of children’s books had an ethnic minority main character.”

– Centre for Literacy in Primary Education, read more: https://clpe.org.uk/publications-and-bookpacks/reflecting-realities

A few suggestions to get you started!

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