At the ceremony for the Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices award I was lucky enough to meet several of the other shortlisted writers. In all there were ten of us: what were the other writers like? What were their projects? Why did they write? Luckily, these questions were answered in a questionnaire produced by the Seven Stories children’s literature centre, host of the awards night. With the permission of Seven Stories, and of the shortlisted writers, I plan to showcase these writers in this blog. Each of us is very different, each writes with a different voice, but together, we are united by a love of writing and creating stories and characters that bring reading to life.
Fola Idowu: Gbenga and the reticent chromosome
Our first featured author is Fola Idowu, a writer and artist from Nigeria whose book Gbenga and the reticent chromosome reflects her interest in “fantastical stories and the idea of children having to adapt to foreign situations,” plus a desire to include some Nigerian culture in her book. The book is about a boy named Gbenga who loses his only sister unexpectedly and, given the dangers of Lagos, is sent to live in England in the hope he will have a better future. Unfortunately, his relatives are not kind and after a fall, he ends up in hospital where he meets his guardian angel who tells him he has special powers but it is up to him to discover what they are. However, it comes with the proviso that he can only use them for good.
…..somewhere between the nurse’s scream and the endless series of tests to determine how he could possibly have healed a sprained ankle and a broken arm in the span of one night, Gbenga had no time to think about superheroes.
“How did you take the cast off so neatly?” they asked him. Gbenga didn’t know what to tell them. He couldn’t exactly lie and say he didn’t know, neither could he tell them that a strange…fairy or spirit called Kalikola had miraculously healed his arm. They would probably do a brain test and try to keep him for longer.
What do you usually write about and who do you write for?
Hi. I usually write about anything that catches my interest but to be more specific, I think I like to write about fantastical things like superheroes or forgotten heroes or even normal people with extraordinary gifts. I think I mainly write for myself first. I like to laugh when I am writing about strange incidents or people. However, as it is quite hard to write a whole book for oneself, I have recently turned my attention to writing stories for children and young adults but I also like to think I write for everyone, both young and old. I hope my books are not ageist!
Why do you write?
I write because I must. I have an irresistible urge to write stories. Corny as it may sound, telling stories is also something I have done since I was a child. I love stories! They have helped me grow and understand the world. I also write because I am a storyteller who is fascinated by people and I love sharing my imaginary world.
Where and when do you write?
I generally write at home, in the mornings, afternoons and evenings. This is not strange as I snatch whatever time I can get since I work long hours in an office. I used to be more consistent and would get up to write every morning between 6am and 8am when I knew I had a deadline to meet. I am a bit more haphazard nowadays but I will get more consistent again when I fix a deadline to finish my next book.
What inspired you to enter the Diverse Voices Award?
I am from Nigeria. I was lucky that I grew up reading books with African characters. This is not to say I did not love reading books like the Hardy Boys and others. My point is that today, those books, be they African or otherwise, are more of a luxury than a necessity. I was thus very excited that the Diverse Voices competition shows an open support for foreign voices as it is sadly difficult, especially in Nigeria today for that voice to be heard or published, especially in children’s fiction.
What was your favourite book as a child?
That’s a tough one! I had phases. Winnie the Pooh (by A.A. Milne) will always hold a favourite place in my heart but I loved Enid Blyton and Gerald Durrell (Beasts in my belfry) books for several. If I was really forced to choose though, I think that off the top of my head I would say Matilda as it really marked me for life.
Who is your favourite children’s author either writing today or from the past?
Roald Dahl. He can be terribly rude about adults in his books!! I adore that.
What does the future hold for your writing and your book?
I have put plans for the book on hold as it requires a great deal of editing. I can’t face it at the moment so I have turned my attention to the other books I am writing. As I have recently been accepted for a Masters in Writing programme in the UK, I have to re-evaluate my writing and make plans in preparation for the course (you have to have a project in hand). Additionally, I am also an artist, so I am working on other projects including work for exhibitions later this year and next year so I am quite busy during my free time.
Thanks Fola, and good luck! We look forward to reading and hearing more about your art and writing!