Megaphone is open for applications until 31st January 2021. The website has been updated with details of our mentors and I’ll be adding more information about the editors and authors who are supporting us in the next few days.
Happy new year! I really do hope that 2021 will be happy, or at least happier than 2020 (can’t be hard, can it). It feels as if over the past 12 months, life has simultaneously shrunk – so many activities that we used to enjoy have vanished – and expanded like some sort of nightmarish wave, overwhelming us with concern for our friends and relatives, work worries, child-care, home education, Zoom fatigue… It is fair to say that hasn’t been the year any of us wanted. I am excited however to be able to offer one opportunity at least in 2021 – support for writers of colour who want to create great stories for children. These stories – YOUR stories – will not stop being wanted and needed just because of this virus.
I’m so aware that the full effects of the pandemic on society and on emerging writers won’t be known for many months or even years in the future. There will be an effect though; it seems impossible that there wouldn’t. I would like to know how the pandemic has affected children’s writers of colour – emerging and published- in particular. Yesterday I tweeted a poll asking whether writers have found it harder or easier to write in 2020. So far the majority is ‘harder’ but there’s a significant minority for ‘easier’. So far around 64% have said it was harder, 25 % easier. What was your experience?
The general conclusion both reports draw is that while there has been an improvement in representation of authors (Book Trust Represents) and characters (CLPE) of colour, there is much work still to be done. I’ve read both reports and here are my reflections.
Debut creators of colour are embarking on an exciting but very difficult journey
“There has been a clear increase in the number of debut British creators of colourpublished since 2007. The number more than doubled from 10 debut creators ofcolour in 2007 to 24 in 2019.” – Book Trust Represents
More people of colour being published for the first time in children’s literature is a very good thing, but context and detail is all. Book Trust also reported the important fact that:“It is important to note that a large proportion of these debut creators continued to be self-published/published by a hybrid publisher”
Although there are benefits to being self/ micro published, self-publishers and those published by very small presses, may experience more barriers to reaching wide audiences and high sales. It is therefore concerning if the increase in debut creators of colour is mostly in these areas.
Overall, opportunities for anyone to be published in children’s and YA literature are apparently narrowing:
“…there has been a steady decrease in the number of all titles, uniquetitles and number of creators since 2015. This decline in the number of titles and creators being published continued in 2018 and 2019.” – Book Trust Represents
The natural publishing timeline means that many authors and creators who were first commissioned back in 2017, 2018 are releasing their debut books in 2020 – the year of the pandemic, disruption in schools and libraries, closed bookshops, cancelled school visits and many other factors making it harder than ever for debut authors to be discovered by readers. Moreover, the impact of Covid-19 on ethnic minorities has been especially high. This is a challenging time to be a debut creator of colour.
One of my tutors on the creative writing MA at Warwick once told me: “It’s not getting published that’s the problem; it’s staying published.” As an unpublished writer, I didn’t understand this. Fifteen years later, I most certainly do. An steady increase in debut creators is great. A steady churn of debut creators – where your first contract is your last – is not. It’s not yet clear which we are seeing. To make long-term change, publishers will need to make long-term investments in and committments to creators of colour so they can not just start, but sustain, a career.
British writers of colour are under-represented: a minority within a minority?
The latest figures from Dr Melanie Ramdarshan-Bold’s research into representation of people of colour as writers of YA literature, showed a steady increase since 2017, with the percentage of YA authors of colour at nearly 20% in 2019. Yet UK YA writers of colour were a mere 5.95%. Similar statistics are evident today in Book Trust’s interim report which covers all age groups: a rise in people of colour creating children’s and YA books, from 5.58% of creators (2017) to 8.68 % (2019), but 1.98% (2017) to 2.86% (2019) when you count only British creators.
Why does this matter? Well firstly because the preponderance of authors from elsewhere than the UK strongly suggests that publishers are choosing to buy in ‘oven-ready’ books from a different country rather than nurture writers here in the UK . That is a quick fix, not systemic change. It does not empower emerging UK writers of colour. In fact, it may take one of those diminishing opportunities to be published away from them. Publishers should consider looking down the street before they look across the pond.
Secondly, young UK readers need books that reflect their lives in all their regional diversity. Of course we want to see children’s books from all over the world, but not if it continues to present a narrative in which those with brown skins are foreigners. One of the great things about Danielle Jawando’s AND THE STARS WERE SHINING BRIGHTLY was its setting in Wythenshawe. Children’s literature needs to celebrate the diversity of people of colour of all backgrounds, classes and in all regions of the UK.
In conclusion, it’s great to see the improvements, but I don’t see evidence of significant systemic change happening yet. The important reports published yesterday are part of a process . I look forward to following the research through years to come so we can get a clear image of where we are, and a map of where we want to be.
Busy teacher? Skip to the bottom of the page for the summary.
Recently, my 8 year old has been asking for funny books. Can you blame him? School’s stopped, then come back again, there’s a weird virus thing that is very boring and means he can’t do the activities he enjoys, hug his grandparents or fly to see his other grandparent abroad. Everything is scary and confusing. What you need in times like this is a really funny book, one that makes you laugh out loud, with a madcap plot, wacky characters (bonus points if an escaped lobster is involved), and a good old-fashioned detective story at the heart of it. Luckily, Anisha is here to save the day.
Anisha’s a normal girl in a big, loving family that’s way over the top. And now they’re even more over the top because her aunty Bindi is getting married and has turned into a real Bridezilla. Among all the visiting relatives, tasty cooking, parties, pre-parties and sub-parties that make up an Indian wedding, Anisha’s main worry is how to get out of wearing the bright, tinselly lengha her parents want her to wear for the big day. That’s until, right in the middle of all the wild whirlwind of wedding preparation, she gets a secret message telling her that someone has kidnapped the groom! It’s straight out of a Bollywood film, but the last thing Anisha wants is more drama, so with the help of Milo Moon, her best friend, she sets out to find the criminal herself. You’ll have to read the book to find out how the lobster fits in!
I enjoyed this book as much as my 8 year-old, not least because I felt Anisha’s pain at having to wear the lengha. In my case it was a lurid purple shalwar khamiz with gold lace trimmings, which hits hard when you are a moody teenager trying to channel Nirvana (though actually I reckon Kurt could have styled it out). It’s amazing and wonderful to see how Asian children’s everyday lives and dramas (as well as the not-so everyday ones, like solving a kidnapping mystery) are finally being reflected in literature. It’s impossible to value this representation and sense of being seen and heard, too highly, or properly explain the difference it makes to a reader, to be able to see themselves in books. When that comes wrapped up in a brightly coloured package of fun, humour and more facts about lobsters than you could possibly have imagined existed, there’s really nothing better.
A really funny detective series for readers in KS2. This is a great choice to get children hooked on a series to help them establish a reading habit. It’s a good mental health choice in the current climate too, as it is very light-hearted– the kidnapping plot is on a Scooby-doo level of danger. Includes facts about animals (especially lobsters) and Indian culture (especially weddings). There’s a quiz and other fun stuff at the back of the book. The second book: ANISHA, ACCIDENTAL DETECTIVE: SCHOOL’S CANCELLED is out now. If you want even more shenanigans at Asian weddings (perhaps a themed library display?) for 8 – 11s, I suggest AGENT ZAIBA INVESTIGATES by Annabelle Sami.
I’m so excited – Megaphone graduate Maisie Chan has had her two book deal with Picadilly Press announced today. DANNY CHUNG DOES NOT DO MATHS is available to pre-order now from your bookseller of choice and we’ll catch up with her on her her news in the coming days. Maisie’s writing for any age has always been packed with humour, heart and authenticity, and I know that this is going to be a huge treat for anyone who loves funny MG books with meaningful stories. https://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/childrens/danny-chung-does-not-do-maths,maisie-chan-9781800780019
Busy teacher? Skip to the bottom of the page for the summary.
What do you know about the history of Africa? If you’ve had a typical British education with no family links to the continent, probably not much. Growing up in Libya I saw the evidence of diverse cultures and complex, long-lasting civilisations all around me. It seemed too obvious to mention that there were and had always been connections and networks, stretching from Europe to North Africa and over the Sahara to rest of the continent. But when I went back to school in Britain that perspective simply melted away. Africa was only mentioned, in history lessons, as a place that Europeans went to, to ‘explore’, ‘discover’ and so on, as if the continent had come into being at the point Europeans reached it, and purely for their convenience. The idea of Africa existing entire in itself; having its own civilisations that rose and fell, traded and warred with each other, made art and weapons without help or hindrance from European states, was never mentioned – if anything, there was a vague suggestion that Africa was wilderness.
Of course, there were plenty of African civilisations throughout history. One of the most magnificent was the Benin Kingdom of Dinah Orji’s title. The author explains in one of her useful historical notes at the back of the book, that ‘Benin’ isn’t a name that her characters would have recognised – but it is the most recognisable to readers in Britain who may have heard of the Benin bronzes. This is also the term used on the National Curriculum which suggests study of Benin from 900 – 1300 AD as a topic for Key Stage 2.
The main character is Ada, a girl who has grown up on the fringes of the powerful Edo people’s land. Ada has always known she was adopted, but not the true secret of her birth. When she discovers that secret, it puts her in great danger at the hands of the Edo sky king, considered a living god with enormous power and authority. But with her quick wits and the help of friends, she manages to survive a dangerous journey along the river and into the forest, through the lands of hostile chiefs, and find her true home. The book’s storytelling voice means it feels written as Ada herself would have told it to her friends, looking back. The danger, at the hands of men as well as animals, makes the story feel authentic as well as exciting. This is not a wilderness being pierced by an explorer, the sole human figure in the landscape. Nor is it the sort of book where native animals are lingered over by the author with more interest and affection, than they spend on native humans. Ada and her friends travel through a real, living society with politics, power struggles, traitors and heroes.
In the story of royal children forced into exile, I hear echoes of legends and folk tales that go back a long way. One name that came to mind was Perseus, who in Greek myth was the son of Zeus (a sky god). His mother, Danae, was thrown out as Ada’s is, and Perseus eventually returns a hero, just as Ada does. The Mediterranean is an African sea as much as a European one, and Mediterranean myths – if you pull at the vine of them – often turn out to have roots and shoots in Africa. Henry Louis Gates Jr. explores the fact that Andromeda (a woman rescued by Perseus from a sea monster) was described by Greeks as an Aethopian – or African – princess. https://www.theroot.com/was-andromeda-black-1790874592 . I would be fascinated to know more about these connections and if they have any relationship to the story. Mostly though, I’m just thrilled to be seeing more fiction for all ages exploring African history. CHILDREN OF THE BENIN KINGDOM will be a great addition to any child’s bookshelf.
Where to get it:
I bought this book from Ayesha at Mirror Me Write, a start-up selling diverse children’s books, and it came with some gorgeous stickers!
A well-researched, exciting and accessible historical adventure set in 12th century Benin, suitable for KS2 and lower KS3. There’s a strong heroine. As well as reading it for pleasure, it can be used to support primary history teaching: (National curriculum KS2: Benin (West Africa) c. AD 900-1300). There’s also an opportunity to discuss parallels with Greek myths. Useful historical notes at the back. More resources: Images and text about the Benin Bronzes online: (https://www.britishmuseum.org/about-us/british-museum-story/objects-news/benin-bronzes )
Megaphone director Leila Rasheed’s EMPIRE’S END has been shortlisted for the Tower Hamlets Book Award. Hooray! The book is part of the Voices series published by Scholastic, which explores hidden stories of people of colour in British history. It follows a girl from Leptis Magna in Libya, who makes a dangerous journey with the emperor Septimius Severus to the far corner of the empire, cold Britannia. EMPIRE’S END is a story about the emotional and physical journeys of migration, and about growing up between worlds. Click through for the full shortlist of amazing books:
It all started with this tweet. I’ve been part of tweeting and RT-ing names of writers and illustrators of colour ever since I’ve been active on Twitter. Every day someone asks and everyday we all tweet and tag and the transient nature of Twitter has been its failure to generate anything more permanent for our audiences.
You might know me as a talkative storyteller or an author running workshops or giving lectures. But I’m a writer first and a shy one at that. I’m a pretend extrovert and all the joys of organising from the grassroot seemed overwhelming for someone who lives inside the pages of her notebook.
But the urge to do something has overcome my fear of starting something new that would drive me away from my writing. So here we are.
Why do we need this resource?
I tried to share some web pages that Matt Imrie created as the first list. Then we were delighted when Breaking New Ground came along and partnered with Booktrust Represents. I also talked to couple of people in the US working on something similar and the size of the job intimidated me.
However as an author myself, I find that many readers and booksellers don’t know us, not many teachers read our books in classrooms, not many parents (even families of colour) don’t know about our books.
What is this resource aiming to be?
This resource will be a showcase of British kidlit authors and illustrators of colour to the wider world. However it will never be exhaustive or comprehensive.
It is up to creators to upload their details onto the website. We may invite people who we would love to see on the website to upload their details. However, if you prefer not to be here for whatever reason, that’s your right and we respect it.
We will aim to showcase books, lists, resources, topic finders and stuff as we go along (as I figure out how to get help, get funding, get more volunteers).
We will aim to connect with publishers and agents to ask their authors and illustrators to register.
We will connect this with Megaphone Write which is the amazing organisation Leila Rasheed has been running to provide resources for writers of colour – workshops, support, a chance to talk to experienced writers of colour etc.
This resource doesn’t intend to be an academic document, fully researched and linked to ISBN and all that.
We will have a data protection policy in place. We will never sell or give your information to anyone without your permission.
So What Now?
Here is a quick preview We will be updating this as things evolve.
For British Kidlit Authors and Illustrators or Colour:
We will be requesting you to fill in a short form that will provide your bio, photo and a few details to showcase you here.
We will also ask if you want to volunteer with us for any new things we want to do – from website design to social media, there will be an opportunity for people with more time and less of it.
We will solicit your suggestions on what you want to see here. We want this to be creator-led from the inside. So your ideas and your expertise are welcome.
We hope you will share this resource with your schools, libraries, communities and universities.
We hope folks in publishing will look up this list for new commissionings, festivals and such.
We want publishers and publicists to encourage their authors and illustrators to be showcased here.
If you want to fund any of our efforts, please do get in touch.
What are the Timelines?
All I can say is soon. We’ve gone from a tweet to a project in less than 24 hours. So we don’t want to rush in and fall flat. But it won’t be so late that all my readers go to university by the time I finish this.
Here is an update (25 Jul 2020) ! Read this thread to find out where we are now.
As you all know, I've been exploring an online database of British kidlit writers and illustrators colour. Here is an update. I'm gathering info on funding requirements for such a database and how to ensure ongoing maintenance. https://t.co/CkknRisBo3
GAP Arts is offering mentoring for theatre writers based in Birmingham, ideally Balsall Heath, and aged 18 – 30. This will be a wonderful opportunity for learning, skills development and growth. See below for details and how to apply:
2020 VISION: Young Theatre Writers . https://www.thegapartsproject.co.uk/
The GAP is just embarking on an ambitious and exciting year of story and theatre at our home in Balsall Heath, courtesy of Arts Council England project funding. Our 2020 VISION project seeks to put the stories and experiences of the local community right at the very heart of our work and creates a wide range of high-quality creative opportunities for young writers and theatre makers to be involved.
The 2020 Young Theatre Writers Scheme will see up to six young Birmingham playwrights mentored and supported by established playwright Chris Cooper, who will work with you both as a group and individually. The scheme is a central element of the 2020 VISION project as a whole, with the twin aims of developing local young artists and generating new writing of relevance to Balsall Heath.
The programme will focus on structure and storytelling. In particular, you will explore the features and potential of the monodrama form (not to be confused with the monologue). You will learn how to develop new work using first-hand experiences and local stories as a stimulus, working from a range of source material gathered from the local community via The GAP’s 2020 VISION oral history element.
As well as also working practically on dramatic texts and attending theatre performances, the scheme also offers new playwrights the opportunity to collaborate with The GAP’s Basement Theatre Ensemble, a collective of emerging actors, designers and theatre makers, to test out your writing in practice at The GAP’s Theatre MIX scratch nights.
Each of the writers completing the scheme will be commissioned to write a short exploratory dramatic text, for which you will receive one-to-one mentoring and support from Chris Cooper. There is, in addition, potential for these pieces to be developed in production for public performance.
· Young Birmingham-based writers, 18-30 yrs
· An interest in developing writing for community theatre
· Ideally with links to, knowledge of or interest in the Balsall Heath area and community
· Scheme starts late April and runs to December 2020
· Involves 6-10 days commitment plus self-guided writing time
· Commissions: £500 available for each writer completing the scheme
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org with 2020 YOUNG THEATRE WRITERS in the subject heading, stating your age and postcode, outlining a bit about yourself and your interest in the scheme and attaching a short piece of dramatic writing (ideally) or a piece of creative writing. Deadline: applications will be accepted up until 31 March.
NB: The GAP positively welcomes applicants from all communities and backgrounds, including those with English as a second language.
So this looks like an amazing thing.https://cleanprose.co.uk/ I have tried writing in co-working spaces before, but I found that writing didn’t quite gel with other professions’ working methods. People would take phone calls and so on, and it just didn’t work. Y I loved the sense of community and being around other people, though. Working from home is great in many ways, but can be very isolating. And of course, things like Arvon, which are perfectly designed for writers to work together, are just not available every day of the year.
Clean Prose looks like an imaginative way for writers to work together – it provides quiet space, community space, and events. I hope the idea spreads to other towns and cities in the UK.