Writer Spotlight : Kandace Chimbiri
With the Writer Spotlight Series, we create a positive image for Black girls to refer to, by having conversations with different writers and illustrators. This month we have been doing Q&As with many writers, to get to know more about them and their work. Here, we are showcasing all the questions we have asked Kandace Chimbiri the author of The Story of the Windrush. You can find more book reviews in our first issue, available to buy here
How did you find the transition from creating Step back in time and meet the mighty Kush activity book to several story books?
I think sometimes when you're doing things like this, its good to start small and do something that's simpler like the Step back in time to ancient Kush was an activity book, a small paperback book. The inside pages are black and white with different activities that children can do to learn about that the Kushite's, this book only has 20 pages. By having it as a smaller book that kind of gave me an idea of how to do the process, rather than starting right away with a bigger book.
So, I think, for transitioning I've kind of always written books in small stages, because then the next book I did was the Story of Ancient Egypt, and that book was longer. That was 32 pages, but also a paperback. There was more text within this book, but in some ways the process was the same. Also, the book Step Back in time to ancient Kush has black and white drawings, so children could colour in and do the activities, The story of ancient Egypt has illustrations and photos. It's kind of like a step up, almost like a pyramid, you do a bit more each time. The next one I did was the Secrets of the Afro Comb: 6,000 Years of Art and Culture, that was longer. That was 96 pages. So now I'm getting a bit more into the writing process.
Then the last one, The Story of the Windrush. Is the first hardback book that I've done. My writing skills have improved, my knowledge is now better. I feel that now I really know how to do it, the only real challenge was just to do it as a hardback instead of paperback so it was kind of like evolution along the way.
When did you discover your passion for writing?
I would say my passion for writing is actually in time, it's actually part of my passion for history. They are not separate, really. I have written a couple of stories, very small short stories for children. They're not published yet, but I really write about the histories, I think it's actually even more my passion for history, more than my passion for the writing to be honest. I would say probably about over 10 years ago, or maybe about 2005 or so, I started to go to a lot of Black history talks and events because this sort of information was not really in books, that's how I did some of my researching.
It wasn't on TV, like today. So to find out information and to learn things you had to go to events that people were putting on in the community, and there'll be very small events, sometimes they weren't nice venues, and sometimes they wouldn't be very well attended but you might go there with only 5 or 10 people, or sometimes 30 people but really small events, by going to all these events I was always learning new information.
So that's when I started to have the idea about writing and doing these types of books, so it came a little bit out of the passion for the history, so wanting to pass this on and make it more widely available. Then I thought I could write history books for children, I spoke to a few people who'd already written books, and they told me “no no don't write Black history books for children, write for adults” and I was like really. There understanding was that adults won't buy Black history books for their children. In the end I decided to ignore that bit of advice, and I decided to go ahead and write for children. And that's how it all started.
With your current book The Story of the Windrush , what were the key challenges you faced when writing this book?
The main challenge, was to write a book for children aged 8+. I would say the biggest challenge for me in writing is the fact that some of the stories and some of the history, wasn't really very nice. The way that some people were treated when they came here, and some of the things that people said, and the reaction that they got, they were treated very nicely when they came during the war, but when they came back, after the war and wanted to settle here, it was very different.
Some of the white people weren't very nice to them. So the biggest challenge was to think how can I be really honest with children and tell the truth, but not in a way that would be upsetting, as some of these facts within history aren't always very nice some of the stories are quite horrible. I think it's really important for children to still know the truth, for example we have seen some things that have happened this year, that was very unpleasant.
We can see that there are still some problems, and the problems are partly because of historical reasons and if you don't know that history, then it's hard to understand why things are still happening today. So that was the biggest, challenge of all. I've written books before, so the challenges were always there.
This particular story, I had to be honest and truthful, I'd stayed awake, a few nights and thinking was that sentence written right, was this too much and I had a lot of worries about it and then I showed it to a friend. He is someone that's done lots of work over the years. He's a teacher, and he read it and I said to him, “Can you read this and tell me if it is okay?”, and he said, “It is okay”, and so then I felt more reassured.
The pictures within the book was important, especially the image of the Landlady. It was very common for Landladies to refuse renting rooms to Black tenants, there would sometimes have signs, saying they didn't want any Black people. For example some of the signs will say “No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs”. I thought it was important to put that in.
What do you hope young readers will take away from this book?
I would like young readers to feel that they have learnt something that they didn't know before. I think I would like them to take away the understanding that this is a very important part of British history, to understand more about the Windrush generation and the Windrush story, to take away a sense of interest in it for them to go out and learn more. This book is a short story, its not telling the full story, it will encourage children to go and do some more research. For example I write a really short piece on Sam King, it's not an autobiography of Sam King. I've never mentioned in the book, anything about his childhood. He was actually a committed Christian and very religious, that's not in the book at all. I've not mentioned anything about his family. If he was married, had a family, or nothing. It's not a full story, it's not telling everything. It's just like an introduction, as I mentioned before children can research some more, it's just a small tribute for Sam King.
Are you working on any new creative projects?
Yes. I am no longer self publishing. I have enjoyed it, but it's time for a change. A lot of work is needed to be self published, it involves researching the subject, looking for talent such as an Illustrator to create the visuals, I'd sometimes have to purchase photos, get a book designer and then write the book.
It's been really hard doing that over the last 10 years, and I don't regret that I did self publishing. It was right for me at that time. But now, I want to concentrate more on just researching and writing. I would like to have more books. I would have liked to be doing at least one book a year. Currently I've really only done four books in 10 years because it is so hard with all the other things. Hopefully I could just write a book at least one a year, and just concentrate on that, and then being with a publishing house, they will do all that other stuff so I'm happy about that. So the next book I'm already working on it, and the next book is going to be set, in the period before the Windrush.
It will also include information about the Second World War, and it will help to kind of explain a bit more about the Windrush generation. From the Caribbean, towards the time it was happening in Britain. For example, how people came to Britain.
What’s your favourite spot to visit in Barbados? And what makes it so special to you?
My favourite spot is a beach called Aqua beach. I lived in Barbados until I was 28 years old, we lived three miles from a town called Oistins, which is a big fishing village. My family still live there. I love being able to just go in the car, which is only a 15 min drive away. It's a lovely beach, as there are less tourists surrounding that area. I just love going to that beach and for me, It makes me feel relaxed at peace, calm and it’s also warm. That's absolutely my favourite place in Barbados.
The Story of the Windrush
You can find more about Kandace here