Diversity

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I remember hitting thirteen-years-old, wanting to run away from home, grow a fringe, cut my hair short and move to Paris where I would paint and write and listen to Francois Hardy.  However, I was outraged to discover that my frizzy South Indian inherited locks would not allow for a shiny straight fringe in those pre-hair straightener days. I certainly didn’t have the time to learn the skill of blow drying when there was so much teenage angst to spill into my journals.

In hindsight, I wonder if I’d dreamed up a white-faced future for myself, even though my hair didn’t fit. And was that because I’d spent my childhood reading books filled with white-faced protagonists?  Not to say that such a future is only for people of a certain cultural background; it’s just that the choice of such futures was rather narrow.

In many ways we have come a long way since my childhood reading days.  I can honestly recall only one author, Jamila Gavin, and her Kamla and Kate books that dared feature a brown-faced girl on its cover.

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The conversation about the lack of diverse characters in children’s literature is hotting up.  It’s a topic close to my heart.  For me it’s a no-brainer, the diversity of characters in children’s literature is not representative of the diversity in society.  Children’s books have, to some respect, the added responsibility of educating the reader about the world.

We need diverse books.  Not just with characters of all ethnicities, but also characters that represent all sexualities, characters of all socioeconomic backgrounds, characters of all faiths, all cultures and characters of all abilities, both physical and mental.

My question is whose responsibility is it to write these stories?

I had an interesting conversation with a fellow author a couple of weeks back.  We were talking about this very same subject and she raised the question of the ‘right to write’.  It is something that has stayed with me since our conversation.

Does a Caucasian writer have the right to tell the stories of Indians? And vice versa? And is it the responsibility of writers from minority backgrounds to write diverse books?

There was a point before the summer where it was put to me that I should actively ‘support’ my ethnic background and write books which embraced diversity, because diversity was all the rage.  As a writer, there is nothing more stifling to creativity than to be told what to write.

For me it’s simply about the character. The character comes first, and the story comes from the character.

Ultimately, we all have the right to ask questions about the world and it is the responsibility of the writer to stay true to what they discover.  It is about being empathetic to the real situations that influence the fictional stories written and not about matching the face of the author to the characters of the book.

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Dave finds a home a Faber Children’s

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I’m absolutely over the moon to announce I now have a book deal.  Faber Children’s has acquired ‘Dave Pigeon’.  Thank you Faber!  Thank you also to Polly Nolan who clearly has making-dreams-come-true superpowers – powers that belong only to two others: Santa and shooting stars.

This has been a double achievement.  For those of you who thought I was a total blabbermouth, I’ve been sitting on this most mind-blowing information since the end of August without blabbing so HA! (And to those who I already blabbed to and made swear on their pets lives to keep it secret, thank you for not blabbing.)

I met with the amazing Alice Swan, my editor at Faber Children’s, last week for some cake and strawberries and a natter with the rest of the team.  I’m so excited to work with Alice as we head toward Dave being published in 2016.

You can catch updates on Twitter by following @SwapnaHaddow.

First Days

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It seems not so long ago that I started this blog.  In those first days of being on the blogosphere, the son was eighteen months old and I was getting very lost in this world of publishing. In what I can only conclude was some sort of time-travel I wasn’t aware of, we are here today with a school-ready four-year-old and I’ve managed to land myself an agent!

In the last three years there have been a few short listings. If you’ve heard the phrase ‘always the bridesmaid never the bride’, then always the shortlist, never the prize seems apt.  That was until this August.  By some fortuitous aligning of the writing planets, I managed to win the Greenhouse Funny Prize and now have the wonderful Polly Nolan of Greenhouse Literary Agency championing my work.

I had my ‘first day’ a couple of weeks ago when I visited Greenhouse HQ.  The day involved much overthinking about outfits, a very dry mouth and a box of pigeon-shaped biscuits.  Polly was absolutely lovely and I now feel very protected as a newbie author in the publishing world.

And how was the son’s first day? Apart for a minor incident on the school playground’s mock roads where he was allowing his friend to pass on a scooter and an impatient classmate called him a ‘barbarian’… absolutely swimmingly. I have reassured the son that he is not an ‘uncultured or brutish person’ but rather that the use of the word was probably more about said classmate’s parent’s road rage issues.  Thankfully no permanent scars here.

Happy first days!

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Pinch, punch, it is the first day of the month (no seriously, pinch me…)

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This morning:

Gary the hamster produces the most colossal hamster turd known to hamsterkind (and by some inexplicable sorcery it has landed OUTSIDE of his cage)

It takes almost an hour to drop the son at Drama Club and then I realise I’ve forgotten his lunch

Not wanting to face the judgement of the Yummy Mummy coven by sending the son in with a McDonald’s sack of food, I decide to venture home for his lunch bag

Midday:

Two hours later son is reunited with his lunch but has already exploited the situation to acquire a half-eaten jam sandwich from his best friend and strip of chewing gum from the surly work experience teen

This afternoon:

We come home to find Gary has repeated his dirty protest (note to self: if son asks for a pet and promises to clean up after said pet until the end of eternity, do not believe him for one second)

Remember for the two thousandth time today that the announcement of The Greenhouse Funny Prize is at 5pm and I commend myself for the self-control in waiting to check my emails until the afternoon but there are no new emails from The Greenhouse Funny Prize judges

Half an hour later:

Recheck emails and despair that I’m neither funny nor talented because there is no email from The Greenhouse Funny Prize

Early evening:

Check the Greenhouse Literary Agency’s site to see which super talented authors have been shortlisted:

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Over the moon, pinch me I’m dreaming, couldn’t-care-less-that-the-husband-is-giving-me-the-‘told-you-so’-look-after-my-4:30pm-melt-down, unbelievably delighted to see I’ve made the shortlist!

What a brilliant start to August (and it doesn’t matter at all that I’ve had hamster poo stuck to the bottom of my left flip-flop all day)

Thank you Greenhouse Funny Prize judges!!