I am delighted to be sharing a guest post by children’s author and illustrator, Antoinette Brooks. When Antoinette got in touch with me, I felt so inspired by what she’s achieved in just 12 short months. But I’ll let her fill you in…
2022. What a year it’s been.
It started off in the worst way possible. The New Year approached, full of hopes and dreams as we finally emerged post-lockdown, but my mother’s life was ending. We had been incredibly close and she had lived with me for the last two years.
As a child she used to sit by my bedside telling me stories of her idyllic childhood in Jamaica. From there, I learned to love stories and their ability to transform even the bleakest situation. I devoured fairy tales, adventure stories, biographies and mysteries. I gained something from every book I read – but longed to read stories which had children who looked like me so I began to create my own. “Write down your stories and share them,” my mother encouraged six-year-old me, but at the time, as much as I loved writing, I didn’t have enough confidence to do so.
A couple of weeks into the New Year, things began to change. I was contacted by St Albert’s Primary, a school in Scotland. They were working with the Scottish Book Trust to encourage more diversity in children’s books under the We Can Be Heroes Project, and needed an illustrator to join their team. They had seen my illustrations. Could you provide ten pictures, they asked, oh – and the book cover too.
I was thrown in at the deep end. Having Zoom conversations with the author, learning about different cultures and adding colour illustrations to a wonderful story which was eventually called, Sweet Love. The project, Sweet Love included, went on to win a Scottish SSAME award in association with the University of Glasgow.
In March I was invited to perform one of my stories at a celebration in front of the Mayor of Camden, a central London borough. Afterward, a teacher approached me. “I’ve just texted my head and told him to order all your books,” he said. But I didn’t have any. He looked disappointed. “We would have bought everything you wrote,” he said. “You need to share your stories.”
I then discovered SCBWI – the Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators. Fellow writer, Cabbi Charles, invited me to one of their get-togethers. There was such a sense of connection, sitting at the British Library, talking to different authors at varying stages of their writing careers. Call Me Lion author Camilla Chester encouraged me to publish, pointing out that publishers now saw it as a sign of entrepreneurship and self-motivation. She, Peter Bunzl and Eva Wong Nava had new books launching that Summer, and somewhere during the conversations, Tania Tay, the fabulous London chair of SCBWI, said, “We’ll have a get-together for anyone who’s published by July and I’ll make cupcakes with all your book covers!” So I set that as my goal.
I was fortunate to have friends to motivate and encourage me, and in July, I took the plunge and independently published two books – Motherland, Sweet Motherland, and Tippy Tappy Katkins: Things I Like to Do.
Motherland, Sweet Motherland is a celebration of the Caribbean childhood of the Windrush generation – complete with rhyming verse and vibrant illustrations that capture the beauty of Jamaica. Tippy Tappy is an adorable little cat who likes to create her own books out of scraps of paper she finds about the house. And yes, Tippy Tappy made it onto her own cupcake!
Grandma Grandma Brave and Tall – my third picture book – came out in October. It celebrates the love between different generations of grandmothers and grandchildren against a backdrop of true historical events. A teacher in America wrote to tell me that she had selected it as a mentor text in her school, and I have been invited to perform it at different storytelling events in London.
Of course there have been challenges too. Like many independently published authors, I’ve learned that writing your book is one thing, and marketing is another. However, learning to step up and share my books has opened up new vistas. A local bookstore, Owl Bookshop in Kentish Town, London, is now stocking my stories; my illustrations were selected to be part of an art exhibition in central London; and at a British Library literature festival, I met the Ghanaian-born publisher, Margaret Busby. She had been Britain’s youngest and first black publisher, and as a child I had avidly collected the Allison & Busby writing guides from the local library. She gave me some emphatic advice. “Just go for it,” she said. “That’s what I did!”
I discovered a supportive writing community on Twitter too. Thanks to a daily prompt from teacher and poet, Alex Price, I fell in love with a form of micro poetry called cinquains – and have now written over 80. That, and other poems written during the year, have been a great help in me processing my grief.
My little character, Tippy Tappy has been busy. I am so touched when people reach out to me to tell me how much their children and grandchildren love her. She was chosen as the cover illustration for the first SCBWI Christmas party since lockdown, her book was selected to entertain children at a Christmas Festival in Camden, and she’s even met the current Children’s Laureate.
Finally, in December, I met the Mayor of Camden again, and I was now able to share books inspired by stories I had treasured since childhood. It felt such a wonderful achievement when we are now recognizing how important diverse voices are.
2022. What a year it’s been.
Thank you, Antoinette! Bring on 2023!
Find out more about Antoinette Brooks and her books here or by visiting her website here. You can also follow Antoinette on Twitter and Instagram.