Why do all books about Africa look the same?

Who gets the acacia tree and sunset treatment? The eyes peering above a swept across veil?  The profile of a soulful black woman?   A grimly, amusing article from The Guardian about book cover cliches.

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The pink, sparkly cover – a confession

A story for a compilation for girls.  No magic, no princesses. This was one of my first paid commissions and my type of story.

I sent in proposals for two stories.  One was about two young sisters who made their arthritic grandmother a robotic arm out of an extendable mop handle.  The the was a short, sweet tale about a girl who is inspired by the shape and tones of a bees wing to enter the school carnival costume.  See?  No magic.  No princesses.

The proposals were duly submitted and accepted.  I wrote the stories and eventually received a big envelope with a copy of the book. My daughter and I, eagerly tipped it out on to the sofa and instantly flailed around searching for our sunglasses.

Treasuries: Stories for Girls

This picture does not do justice to the pinkness, the glitter and – well – the pinkness.

My daughter, who has nothing to do with ballet, or horses (after being bitten by one) gave me a ‘sell out’ look and disappeared upstairs.   It was a good lesson in a) how to write short stories for publication in children’s anthologies, b) gender-specific marketing and c) how parents start to disappoint there children so, so soon.

 

From Lambeth Archives: Stories for one parent families

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I love archives.  I’ve recently been rummaging around archives in Hackney to write an updated history of Hoxton Hall.  In such a short time, my head was buzzing with the stories of Hoxton folk from the past.  Counterfeiters, asylum managers, workhouse attendants, fences and costermongers… a Sunday evening BBC series waiting to happen. This leaflet from Lambeth Archives also feels like a historical document, albeit much more recent.   There is the language; one parent families, single parent families, lone parent families – the adjective shifts.  I also smile, a little sadly, because Lambeth has also been portrayed as the ‘loony left’, a gift for any subeditor who fancied a little light alliteration.   I could imagine a leaflet like this being held up as the epitome of political correctness. But the thought that someone, somewhere wanted children to feel a connection to a book, to see a world that reflected their own, makes me feel rather warm.  I really like people who are willing to do that.  Seriously.  I really do.

My new book – Wild Papa Woods

I’m a proud mother.  Okay, the book doesn’t play Green Day’s ‘Basket Case’ on the ukulele or Cat Stevens on the acoustic.

But it’s mine. all mine.wild papa woods

Two tales – one based on an old Trinidad folk tale of Papa Bois, the guardian of the woods.  The other story is inspired by a couple of trips to Lamu, the island off the coast of Kenya, populated by people, donkeys and cats.   (The last time we were there, we were on a dhow sailing out into the lagoon at sunset.  Some cliches are worth it.)

Twelve-year old twins Liani (never without her camera) and Cyril (”outside world – noooo!”) face down hunters, sniff out crapaux and set Spiderface on the path to a long and happy life.

Enough said.

Tanya Byrne: “At last, here’s a teenager of colour with a story to tell…”

Tanya Byrne: “At last, here’s a teenager of colour with a story to tell…”

Rummaging through the internet, I just found this impassioned article by the young adult writer Tanya Byrne.  She talks of the impact of Malorie Blackman’s ‘Noughts and Crosses’ and the emotional power of seeing protagonists of colour in the pages – and, maybe one day, on the covers.