Today we interview Halina Boniszewska, a finalist in the Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices book award, and her novel, Motley’s Got Talent.
Motley’s Got Talent is about twelve-year-old Ola, who moves to England from her native Poland with her mum, her auntie and her fitness-obsessed cousin, Marek. With little English and less confidence, Ola is delighted when a new friend, Blanka, invites her to take part in the Motley School Talent Show. When Blanka lets Ola down, Marek comes to the rescue with a rival routine for the talent show. But when the tables are turned and Marek needs help from Ola, she finally gains some much-needed confidence and independence.
I awoke much later to dry lips and a pounding head, the alarm clock raging, louder and louder… I reached out to hit it, knocked it over, sent the battery flying; yet still it rang, then stopped, then rang again. I wanted to kill it, took another swipe, missed again, then under my hand, felt the pulsating vibe of my mobile phone.
Suddenly I was bolt upright, my heart pounding. Mum? Auntie Ela? Blanka? If this was Blanka’s idea of a joke, then it wasn’t very funny.
‘It hurts…’ I felt him wince.
‘What’s up, Marek?’
‘I’ve done something to my foot…’ I heard a sharp intake of breath. ‘I can’t walk…’ He winced again.
‘Where are you?’
There was a pause while he caught his breath; then he answered rapidly: ‘Kenilworth Castle.’
‘Kenilworth Castle? What are you doing at Kenilworth Castle?’
‘Seeing the Queen! What do you think? Ola, can you help me?’
He was starting to whimper.
‘Marek, Kenilworth Castle…that’s miles away! How could I get there?’
‘For God’s sake!’ he hissed. ‘Take the bus!’
‘The bus..?’ My heart was racing.
‘The bus!’ he snapped. ‘You know what a bus is!’
What do you usually write about and who do you write for?
I write about all sorts of things – anything that takes my interest; it might be something funny; something unusual or something important. I write for adults as well as children, but I also write to please myself. I write the sort of stories that I would like to read myself.
Why do you write?
I write because it makes my happy; I am never happier than when I am writing. I enjoy making up stories and getting to know the characters in them. I get attached to the characters – even those who are not so very nice – and I miss them when I have finished a story.
Where and when do you write?
I write wherever and whenever I can: before work, after work, at the weekend. I write at the bus stop, on park benches and in cafes. I write when I should really be asleep!
What inspired you to enter the Diverse Voices Award?
As soon as I saw the notice about the Diverse Voices Award, I immediately wanted to write a story that was set in a mixed comprehensive school and had, as its main characters, children from ethnic minority and black backgrounds, whose voices are under-represented in children’s literature in the UK. In my day job I work as a teacher of ethnic minority and black children, many of whom are new arrivals in this country. These young people encounter all sorts of issues when they arrive in this country. I wanted to write a story that would help people understand how these children feel when they move to a new environment. I also wanted to show that these children are essentially the same as children everywhere – sometimes they feel happy; sometimes they feel sad; what they all have in common is a desire to belong and a need to be loved.
What was your favourite book as a child?
I most enjoyed Dr Doolittle; Little Women and Paddington Bear. Little Women made me cry and Dr Doolittle and Paddington Bear made me laugh. I think that one of the reasons why I enjoyed Dr Doolittle so much was because my teacher at junior school read it out loud to us; it reminds me of happy times sitting on the carpet at junior school.
Who is your favourite children’s author writing today or from the past?
I have a number of favourite authors: Michael Bond, Magdalen Nabb, Adele Geras and Philip Pullman. I love the humour in Michael Bond’s Paddington books. I think that we can learn a lot from Paddington and his adventures. He can help us understand how puzzling the world might seem to people who are new to a place and see it with different eyes from the rest of us. Another of my favourite children’s authors is Magdalen Nabb, creator of the Josie Smith books. I think that she truly understands how children think and feel and manages to convey real emotion in her writing, so that, even now, several years after reading the Josie Smith books to my children, I can still feel my heart thumping like Josie’s did when she struggled to do some difficult sums in class. I enjoy books by Adele Geras. I particularly like her Golden Windows and My Grandmother’s Stories. I find her writing warm and full of hope and her descriptions vivid and multi-sensory. I find so much to admire in Philip Pullman’s books: the clever plots, the sparse style of writing — He never uses two words where one will do, and he always manages to choose just the right one, so an image sticks – the atmosphere and the moral questions, and so much more…
What does the future hold for you and your writing?
I am currently finishing the first draft of a sequel to Motley’s Got Talent. Once I’ve reworked this, I’ll go back to working on a novel for adults, though I’ll almost certainly take a break from that to write a short story or two, or three…