Meet Tina, Megaphone Participant

 

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Tina Freeth

Leila: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your writing life so far?
Have you been writing long, and what drew you to writing for children
and teenagers?

Tina: About me? Well, that is quite a story in itself but I’m not sure I have enough room to fit everything in, so here is the condensed version! Are you ready? This is what I answer when I am often asked “Where are you from?” – I was born Maisie Chan back in the late 70s (the same year as Elvis died – RIP The King). At twelve days old I was fostered by the Freeth Family who then went on to adopt me when I was 8 years old. I was fairly good at school, went on to study American and Canadian Studies at Birmingham Uni as I liked basketball, rap music and wanted to live in America for a year (I had no career aspirations back then!), plus my Mom wanted me to stay at home and I lived around the corner from the campus.

During my year abroad,  I read lots of Asian American authors such as Maxine Hong Kingston and Amy Tan, but on my return realised there were no British Chinese authors. I went to live in Taipei so I could learn Mandarin Chinese to feel closer to my Asian roots, but really I felt more British – so that backfired! In 2003 my Mom passed away and soon after, I decided I wanted to write. I had a few jobs as a grants writer for various charities, and in 2006 it was all change again as I decided to quit my job and focus all of my energy into writing and unexpectedly found my biological father when I was surfing the internet – he was a Tai Chi Master and was doing a show in London. I did his tai chi class and after told him I was his daughter. I started to write a book about it but never finished it!

I was accepted onto the National Academy of Writing diploma course at Birmingham City University in 2007 and also had a place on the Birmingham Libraries scheme for BAME writers Original Skin which culminated with a short story anthology.

Since then I’ve had a handful of short stories published in various anthologies and collaborated on two picture books for reluctant readers that were published by Franklin Watts. The characters in those children’s books were from an urban housing estate and looked like me and people that I had grown up with, such as the Pakistani families on my road, or the families that had the random child in the middle who was a shade darker than all of the others.  Families are not only white, they aren’t always like the ones you see in the supermarket adverts buying food for their neat breakfast tables. I knew that it was important to have people of colour and to have working class people in books, especially children’s books as all children need to see mirrors of themselves represented in books. Society is made up of a mixture of different people and circumstances.

I had a break from writing to have my two children in 2010; one of them looks Spanish and the other one looks Chinese. They both love to books and we create weird stories together. I want to write stories for children and teenagers because I remember what it was like being a child and even though my Mom was not very literate, she always took me to the library and made sure I could read well. A librarian once told me that my writing ‘voice’ suited young adult fiction and I often work with children, either through storytelling, family yoga sessions or doing author events at schools and libraries.

Fortunately for me, in 2015 I was accepted onto the Writing West Midlands Room 204 writer development scheme last which has been wonderful as it has put me in touch with local writing community. I was one of the finalist of the Creative Futures Literary Awards last year which was a surprise as I hadn’t written for such a long time.

I’m super happy that I will be teaching creative writing to teens during this coming year which I am sure will help me understand that particular age group a bit more as it’s been a while since I was a teenager! I need to brush up on the lingo!

Leila: And can you tell us a bit about the book you will be writing this
year – what’s it about, and what inspired you to write it? What do you
think the biggest challenges will be in writing it? (the things you
think will be most difficult – e.g. researching, or structuring, etc.)

Tina: I have a tendency to write tragic comedies and I suppose the novel I am writing will be along a similar vein. I am going to write about a British Chinese teenager who is going to go live with a black foster family, I want to explore how my protagonist deals with the cultural differences that will arise from living with a family very different to your own. Originally, my idea was that her father had been sectioned for mental health reasons but now I am thinking of changing it to her grandfather (whom she lives with) who has severe Dementia and has to go onto a care home. He has looked after her since her parents both died. I often want to explore themes in my stories that I have experiences such as grief, rejection, being a young carer, or the effects of mental health issues on the family. I think many young people have to go through these issues, it’s not all about who you fancy or Justin Bieber!

I think the most difficult thing about writing the book will be carving out time to do it whilst juggling family life. My daughter starts school in September so I’m very much looking forward to that event! I also teach yoga once a week and it helps me maintain my own yoga practice which I think definitely helps me as a writer. It counters the sitting in a chair and tapping on the laptop. In essence I need to make more time and will start going to a local cafe to write instead of doing it at home with all the distractions of laundry and washing up. I tend to procrastinate a lot!

I also need to use my experience but then detach from it too and know that I am writing fiction. I am not the main character and the story is hers story not mine. Research for the story shouldn’t be that difficult as I have firsthand experience of many of the themes in the book.

Leila: Finally, what do you hope to get out of Megaphone?

Tina: I hope that Megaphone will take my writing to the next level. I have only written short fiction and short scripts but have always wanted to write novels, but in my mind I felt I couldn’t do it without some kind of support. Often on writing courses you are not taught how to write a longer piece of work, so having a mentor is going to be invaluable as she will read the novel as I’m writing and editing it and has so much experience in this area of writing. I am also looking forward to the masterclasses from visiting authors and publishing professionals. I’ve created a facebook group for the five of us from Megaphone to get to know each other better, to share resources and to support each other over the coming year. I’m looking forward to seeing the other participant’s novels take form as well as my own.

A writer friend once said her mantra was ‘BOOK IN WATERSTONES!’ and I am adopting that too, I want my book (s) in Waterstones (actually any large bookstore or independent ones too for that matter!) I want young people to read it and for that to happen it has to be published and to be out there.

Megaphone is an excellent scheme to make this happen I just have to live up to my end and write the best story I can. Thanks to all of those involved in making this happen. It really is a life changing opportunity.

 

 

Meet Avantika, Megaphone participant

I’m interviewing the first ever Megaphone participants, giving those who follow the blog and have an interest in Megaphone an insight into the people who’ll be on the scheme. Today, Avantika Taneja tells us a bit about herself and her writing and her hopes for Megaphone.

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Avantika Taneja

Leila: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your writing life so far?
Have you been writing long, and what drew you to writing for children
and teenagers?

Avantika: It’s difficult to own my identity as a writer, but I suppose the
written word has always been my way of processing and encountering the
world. When I moved to London over eight years ago and embarked on
some solo travel, books and my Alice-in-Wonderland diary were my main
companions, so that was the first time I properly scratched my
creative writing itch. The anonymity of building a new life emboldened
me to take my first creative class back then, so my relationship with
writing is very much intertwined with my relationship to the city.

With a career in educational charities in NYC and London, my work has
always related to children and young people – enabling them to make
sense of the world and their voice within it, largely through the
education system. I had a few isolated opportunities to write for
children in a previous job, in the voice of animal characters,
distilling complex social issues into age appropriate stories.

Lucky for me, a couple of years ago I happened to marry a witty
wordsmith who is a screenwriter/filmmaker, and that has hugely
nurtured my storytelling imagination and helped me treat my craft more
preciously and professionally.

Leila: And can you tell us a bit about the book you will be writing this
year – what’s it about, and what inspired you to write it? What do you
think the biggest challenges will be in writing it? (the things you
think will be most difficult – e.g. researching, or structuring, etc.)

Avantika: The story I will be developing is a fictional piece about a young
Syrian girl and her family’s journey into refugeehood and the inner
world that the children create to cope with traumatic changes around
them. Throughout the physical journey of fleeing Aleppo, entrapment in
Turkey and the perilous path to Europe, the young protagonist invents
an imaginary society, The Children’s State of Aleppo, for the benefit
of her younger brother, where children rule the roost (democratically,
of course), chocolate fountains abound, borders are open and passports
are not needed, as enshrined in their Manifesto. The Children’s State
gains more solidity in their imagination and becomes ever more utopian
as they encounter more and more obstacles in the real world in their
quest for home.

My inspiration is of course current geopolitics and my own political
and personal interest and experience with migration regimes. But it is
also rooted in the utmost respect I have for children’s ability to
retain their sense of wonder and imagination even in the most
harrowing circumstances, and their capacity to imagine big, bold,
whimsical solutions to social problems. I want the children’s context
in my story to be very real, so to speak, forcing them to grow up too
quickly, and yet I hope my characters defy this with their childlike
ability to invent and carve out their own agency when so many things
are unravelling around them.

For me, migration stories are about the themes of childhood and
growing up: love and loss, displacement, sense of belonging and
arriving at a new ‘home’ – be that a place or a renewed identity.
Through the prism of one family’s story, I want to further normalise
the experience of mobility, migration and forced migration like some
of the inspiring children’s books I have relished by Elizabeth Laird,
Benjamin Zephaniah and Michael Morpurgo.

I expect my biggest writing challenges to be around researching and
representing the ‘real’ context my characters are embedded in. Because
the context is a live and moving and violent and highly politicised
one, I will have to anchor my characters in a particular moment within
this. I expect to be constantly battling the tension between age
appropriateness and overprotecting my audience, and I will need to
find some creative devices to condense the background of a complex
conflict within the story, without employing a ‘teachery’ voice.

Leila: Finally, what do you hope to get out of Megaphone?

Avantika: First and foremost, a like-minded community with a shared vision for
the landscape of children’s literature. It’s an absolute privilege to
be welcomed into a community of established children’s authors and
industry professionals as well as other aspiring children’s book
writers on a similar journey.

Through the mentorship and nurturance of Megaphone, I really hope to
tackle some of the storytelling challenges described above as well as
develop my craft by becoming more conscious of my own voice and my own
process. As my husband would say, becoming a writer means
professionalising your self-doubt so I’m also eternally grateful for
the mentorship and community to help weather the emotional journey
ahead!

I hope Megaphone can be the structure and accountability every writer
needs: knowing I am going to have to take my writing outside of
myself, even if it’s initially just to one other person, will force me
to create, in the best sense. Beyond this, benefiting from the
experience of established authors and industry professionals ​will add
a real practical weight to the writing process and ​a point of access
to a​ world that sometimes seems impene​trable from the outside​.
Ultimately, I see Megaphone as an absolutely brilliant and affirming
way to turn a passion project into a reality.