Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Nigerians in UK inspire British Author’s new book for Children

Nigerians in UK inspire British Author’s new book for Children

A new book Tópé Arrives is about a Nigerian orphan who was forced against his will to continue his life in England. It is a Nigerian story written by a new British author Wendy Hue who told me why she wrote this emotionally compelling children’s book that has been endorsed by Richard Damilola, the father of Damilola Taylor, the 10-year-old Nigerian child murdered on his way from Peckham Library on November 27, 2000, in south London in 2000. The book was on the long list of the The Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition.

Tópé is suddenly orphaned and against his will he has to leave Nigeria. Worried about starting a new life in England, he feels he is an outsider in his new school. It is a time of tears and tussles. Will his nimble football skills and precious wooden boat somehow help him to carve out a new beginning? Will he ever again be able to believe in himself and drum in with the dundun drums his renewed sense of fun and pride.

The book is specially for 7 - 9 year olds and already selected for Centre for Literacy and Primary Education book fair in London on the 24th June 2011.

Wendy Hue has a lot to say on her book, how Nigerians she has known for years in the UK inspired her literary genius in the writing and her unique multiethnic family among other important facts of her colourful life.

'Tópé Arrives' is just one of many, many stories that I have written.
The reason I decided to move with 'Tópé first was because he kept getting a lot of interest from mainstream publishers and also a literary agent I had about 5 years ago, however he never quite got published by them. Then the manuscript was long listed in The Times/Chicken House 2011 competition and I thought 'you know what - let me take this project in to my own hands' as from what I can see there is a real close net of who decides what books get published and end up on our shelves for all of our children. Children of different ethnicities are dispersed around the globe now and I believe we can no longer think insular, but must think wider because of this. We also have 4th, 5th etc generations of children now who are born and reared in different countries to that of their mother, father, grandparents, great grandparents and so on.

I also believe there is still a real under-representation of books for 'all of our children', where they can all be the main protagonist, the hero, or the fairy queen etc. I do not think we are quite there as yet in terms of having books that represent the complement of ethnicities in many countries, due party I suppose to the migration of peoples from one part of the earth to another today.

In terms of writing 'Tópé Arrives' about another culture, I felt confident enough because I have many, many amazing and wonderful Nigerian friends and worked in Peckham, South London for over 20 years (where there is an enormous and wonderful Nigerian community) so became very familiar with Nigerian culture. As the book, which was originally written, but not edited at that stage, is for young readers I did not want to force too much information about Nigeria in the book. I just wanted that information to trickle through with a light stroke of a paint brush. I hope I have done justice to this.

I can also let you know that I worked with two (not even one) excellent editors, one in particular who is an expert on diversity in children's publishing - Laura Atkins and she worked tirelessly with me to polish up the manuscript. I also commissioned a fabulous illustrator who has one some really wonderful line drawings inside and a beautiful front cover. Zara Slattery is the illustrator. All of this has and getting the book published has been at a total cost to me, but I am passionate about my writing and have persevered. I cannot wait for book number two to come out now, which is 'Ria - Sisterly Plaits' about a young black British Caribbean girl. I am of Caribbean ethnicity, but this story will not be autobiographical.

I have just left working in local government in London after almost 22 years and had been there for so long. I am a part-time university student in my final year, but finish next year as I have been also working fulltime. This year I have studied 'Global Politics and Postcolonial Worlds' and 'Cultures of Consumption'. As a family we also regularly have young children from all parts of the globe come and stay in our home on short stays when they are visiting England. I am a married mother of three children, my son Marlon is 23 and daughters, Hannah 19 and Emily 13. My father (who is part Chinese) came to this country (UK) when he was enlisted to fight in World War II for the British Royal Air Force when the Caribbean as were many other countries, part of the Commonwealth. He and my mother who came here in the 1950s remained thereafter. With my father's work we always moved around and lived for 3 years in Cyprus in the Mediterranean when I was growing up and also I was born in Germany because of this, amongst many, many places in the UK. As a family (I have 6 wonderful brothers and two lovely sisters) we have a multiplicity of ethnicities as we have African heritage in us as well as Scottish, Irish, Chinese and so on... - very global - one world!

On my literary ambitions, I have already paid with a publishing company for book number 2, but am now wondering if I should just try and set up my own publishing company to move with books thereafter. I am keen for far more representation and transparency in our world of children's books globally, and all of my books embrace inclusion and diversity...

~ By Ekenyerengozi Michael Chima

Click here to order "Tópé Arrives" from Amazon.

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