I promised the second part of the interview with writer illustrator Nadia Shireen, and by god I keep my promises, even on one of the most hottest days of the year lol. We’re gonna hit the the ground running and get straight into where we left off, which was talking about that word DIVERSITY in children’s writing. Put your seat belts on boys and girls, I’m going in.
So, on the subject of diversity, if you wanna put a label on it…*I bite my lip and wonder if she will be willing to offer her opinion- I mean, I have kind of accosted her at a signing*
‘That word…’ She takes a deep breath.
It’s important but…It’s just everywhere, that word’s going around like crazy.
‘The word’s going around like crazy, and yet what’s really being done? That’s what really gets my goat, on Twitter I follow a lot of publisher people and all I hear is diversity, diversity, diversity and I see panels of diversity with no black people on them, but at the same time seeing everyone crying about diversity for children. I’m one of the few BAME -Sorry, I kind of hate that phrase-but yeah, picture book writer/illustrators out there, and I’m like give me a call, I’m here’
Sure and with the likes of Yasmin Ismail, and- I interrupt, but I’ve hit a nerve, a nerve I know only too well. One I wish I could ignore and just be one of many to tell my stories instead of being boxed in; and I’m guessing by the way Shireen is clearly exasperated by the whole subject, she does too.
‘Exactly, we’re not hidden, I mean we’re no Julia Donaldson’
Yeah well Julia *We both tilt our heads as if the conversation may have to stop there*
‘No but that’s OK I get it, but look we’re out there in bookshops and we are known, so reach out. I never wanted to make picture books like….*She suddenly stops and thinks…*
‘Look, when I was a kid I’d get fed up of seeing picture books featuring anyone who was none white- because they were usually sh*t, badly produced, badly illustrated, boring-‘
‘Right, about a boy who goes to the market with his granny and buys a mango…’
*I wanna die with laughter, because it’s so true*
‘The thing is, I wanna be writing about a cow who fell to earth because it’s mental, and howling at the moon because it’s fun! And yes, I guess there’s a running theme of displacement in my books but…
I don’t think BAME authors and illustrators need to be going around talking about how brown they are, they just wanna be telling stories.
I thought that quite naively I could just be known for just doing my thing, and be known for that and that would be my statement, but I’m realising that actually I do need to make a noise- I didn’t want to do that, because I didn’t want that to be my thing.
But I will make a noise about it, but in my own way via the medium of drawing animals and hopefully funny stories, and like I said I’m here, making myself more and more available’
That’s great, really.
‘I never thought it mattered until I did an event recently in front of some brown kids in my hometown in Shropshire, when they looked at me standing there in my gear they couldn’t believe it. You see Muslim, brown women on the news, or behind a shop or at home or whatever, you don’t normally get to see them doing other things, and I thought actually this is really important- you cannot be, what you cannot see’Amazing Grace
Absolutely…I recently did world book day and struggled to find a hero/heroine that I could dress up as, in the end I opted for ‘Amazing Grace’ which was great but that was like 20 years ago…So c’mon get a superhero out there for us haaa!
‘Hopefully this time next year you’ll have someone to dress up as’
*You can’t see but I’m literally crossing toes* Ok last question, do you have any tips for upcoming writers and illustrators?
‘I think the most important, and valuable thing you gotta do is please yourself first, people can get hung up on publishers and all the rest of it. But if I want someone else to laugh at my book I have to laugh first, if I don’t laugh then it’s not gonna work, and that applies to illustration too….’
Thank you so much Nadia for speaking to me.
‘Oh no that’s cool, no problem’
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Oh and what fun books have you been reading featuring diverse kids?