Sunday, January 28, 2018

Writers Secrets: Interview with Henrietta Nwagwn Rochford

Photo, archive of the author
I was very honored to be part of the Multicultural Children's Book Day - MCBD 2018 - this year, a bookish event aimed at presenting books with a multicultural topic, while raising awareness about creating more literary events and works that reflect the diversity of our world today.
Clever Carmel, by Henrietta Nwagwn-Rochford, was my choice of book to review on this occasion, featuring the football lover Carmel, with a Nigerian-English background, which finds a creative way to celebrate her double heritage. Curious about her writing process and experiences in multicultural book stories, I asked the author a couple of questions, she was kind enough to answer within a couple of hours.
You can also check the interesting video book presentation here.

How did you start writing?

I started writing a few years after having my first child around 8 years ago. I originally wrote Clever Carmel as a cartoon series based on my oldest daughter as I felt that mixed race/multiracial/biracial children needed more representation, as I could hardly find books that represented my children/family. The more I searched for books for my children I found that the same problem existed in children’s literature, it was very limited.  

How much your personal story inspired you to write Clever Carmel? 

In 2014 when Carmel was coming up to her forth birthday and the World Cup was about to kick off. Me and my husband were discussing who we were supporting for the world cup, I opted for Nigeria as I have always felt a strong connection because my household was very much culturally Nigerian. My husband has always supported England although he has a soft spot for Brazil. The conversation left Carmel slightly torn and she asked, ‘who should I support?’, to which we replied that she should support both and enjoy the benefits of having alliances to both countries.

Why do you think we need more books featuring inter-cultural experiences?

Interracial relationships are growing and in 2014 The independent reported that in England and Wales almost one in ten relationships have people of different ethnicities. There has also been a rise in interracial relationships in the US. As a result, “people across Britain who describe themselves as “mixed”, making mixed race the third-largest and fastest-growing ethnic minority group” (The Telegraph, 2014). With the rise in inter-cultural experiences we need media and literature that reflects this and helps us all learn about other culture. The more we as people understand each other’s culture and experiences the easier it is to break down barriers and have a more harmonious society.

What do you think is needed nowadays when it comes to books approaching diversity - ethnic, religious etc.?

Knowledge is power and with the growth in technology that allows us to travel and settle in multicultural communities it is important we develop an understanding of others as soon as possible. Education, children’s literature and children’s media are probably the best outlets to ensure we have young people that grow up to accept, understand and celebrate all our wonderful differences and similarities. The more books children can access with characters of different backgrounds the better.

What are your favourite authors?

My favourite children’s authors are Ifeoma Onyefulu (for books about Nigeria), Floella Benjamin (Author of ‘My Two Grannies’ and ‘My two grandads my favourite of hers), Trisha Cooke (Author of ‘So Much’) to mention a few. I personally read a lot of different self-help books/motivational books/speakers. However, two of my personal favourite authors are: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Chinua Achebe - they are both so amazing.

What is the best challenge when it comes to writing multi-cultural books?

The best thing about writing multicultural books is being able to use the experiences I have with my children, family and friends to create/inspire stories that can help and teach other children and families.

What is your reading advice for anyone curious to start teaching children and learning more about diversity?

I would advise people to read broadly and introduce children to wide range of topics but start with those topics most relevant to them. If possible, travel as much as possible and learn about all the amazing people and cultures across the world.

What are your writing plans for the next months?

My plan is to continue working on my children’s series which include each of my children, as the main characters and exploring themes and experiences that have arose in our everyday life, which I feel will make excellent stories and enjoyable reading.

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