Helen Limon was recently announced the winner of the 2011 Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Childrens Book award.
The award is for a manuscript that celebrates cultural diversity in the widest possible sense, either in terms of its story or in terms of the ethnic and cultural origins of its author.
Helen’s winning manuscript, Om Shanti, Babe, is set in India and, like Takeshita Demons, includes elements of local legend and mythology. Just the kind of book I like 🙂
Below Helen is lovely enough to answer some questions on her forthcoming book, being a writer and what it’s like to win this writing award… THANKS HELEN!
– Why did you enter the Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Childrens Book award?
I entered because it seemd a great opportunity to get a thoughtful reading of my manuscript and because I think Seven Stories is a fantastically wonderful and important resourse for children’s books and because some of the characters in Om Shanti, Babe such as Cassia’s gay dad, the deaf girl, Nandita, and the middle-class Indian family are not frequently represented in children’s books.
– Where did inspiration for Om Shanti, Babe come from?
Inspiration came from a two week winter holiday in Kerala and was followed by months (and then even more months) of research.
– Can you tell us more about the mythology of the Theyyam and how it is important to the story (without giving too much away)?
The Theyyam is a very ancient and very colourful part of the spiritual culture of Kerala, particularly in the northern hill regions.
It is kept alive through private donations and celebrated by karali of many different religions and backgrounds.
In the story, Cassia has an encounter at the Theyyam which sets in motion some important changes in her relationship with the young Indian charater, Priyanka.
– What has happened to Om Shanti, Babe since winning the award?
Winning is AMAZING! I’ve had so many opportunities to be involved in interesting projects since the award and it has made me feel like a ‘proper’ writer.
How do you find the publishing process?
I love the publishing process – looking at book covers, thinking about strap lines and sharpening things up. I have even enjoyed tidying up my eccentric punctuation!
– Favourite part of being a writer?
The opportunity to talk to groups about why children’s books are hugely important and because they always give me tea and (great) cake.
– Least favourite part of being a writer?
Not having enough time to write!
– Advice to aspiring writers?
Read, write, read, write, don’t edit yourself too much, let it flow, make mistakes (sometimes they turn out to be the best bits) read, write repeat from start!
– And a sneak peek extract from Om Shanti, Babe: ( I want to read more!!!)
I went back inside and tugged at the doors. The wooden frame stuck and they closed with a bang.
Inside the bedroom, a ceiling fan turned, gently moving the warm air around just enough to make it breathable. I slid out of my shoes and put my bag on the bed nearest the door. The mosquito nets were a glamorous touch, but I’d expected our room to be a bit more five-star-and-mini-bar. Dad wouldn’t have rated it at all.
I cranked up the ceiling fan and, as the blades began to turn faster, something moved on the wall. A pale pink lizard had scuttled along and stopped just inches away from the light switch. It blinked. A tiny tongue shot out of its mouth and slid back between its jaws. I stood very still, holding my breath. The lizard blinked again as I moved slowly away from the wall and ran for the door.
Lula would have a fit when I told her and, while Mr Chaudhury got rid of it, I would be able to reclaim the order book. But when I got downstairs no one seemed bothered about mini-beasts stalking the walls.
‘They are called Geckos, Cassia. We think of them as our guests. They will help keep your room free of spiders and flies,’ Mr Chaudhury said. His teeth were very white and when he smiled, his mouth crinkled at the corners. What a creep. He’d made it sound like geckos were his best friends and that I was some kind of teen psycho-killer.
Lula looked a bit embarrassed. She had told me loads about India, but, clearly, there were some things she’d left out.
– More on this international and annual award (You should enter!)(Yes you!)
The Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Childrens Book Award is for a manuscript that celebrates cultural diversity in the widest possible sense, either in terms of its story or in terms of the ethnic and cultural origins of its author.
The prize of £1,500, plus the option for Frances Lincoln Children’s Books to publish the novel, will be awarded to the best work of unpublished fiction for 8-to-12-year-olds by a writer, aged 16 years or over, who has not previously published a novel for children. The writer may have contributed to an anthology of prose or poetry.
The purpose of The Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Children’s Book Award is to:
• Take positive steps to increase the representation of people writing from or about different cultural perspectives, whose work is published in Britain today.
• Promote new writing for children, especially by or about people whose culture and voice are currently under-represented.
• Recognise that as children’s books shape our earliest perceptions of the world and its cultures, promoting writing that represents diversity will contribute to social and cultural tolerance.
• Support the process of writing rather than, as with the majority of prizes, promoting the publication.