Author Jessica Wilson has launched a GoFundMe campaign for her new children’s picture-book, Sofia the Dreamer and her Magical Afro.
Wilson spoke to #TBB10 to tell us the inspiration and reasons behind why we should help her bring this book to life…
1# How long have you been writing?
Ever since I could write, I have been writing. My mother always encouraged us to write about our day. She taught us how to read using flashcards before we could speak. In a professional capacity, my first articles were film and exhibition reviews published whilst I was at university, nearly 20 years ago.
2# What inspired you to become a writer?
I’ve never felt I had the option not to be a writer. I am not sure if I chose words or words chose me to be honest. Even whilst doing other jobs, I was always scrawling poems or story outlines on scraps of paper or having articles published on the side.
3# Do you remember the first thing you ever wrote, what did it mean to you, and how was it received (did you let anyone read it)?
To remember the first thing I ever wrote is a struggle. I can remember one of the first things I ever had published which was for this huge arts magazine called Kilimanjaro, the publication’s dimensions were sprawling like the mountain, bigger than a broadsheet; although the magazine itself was niche. I remember going into the office, I’d already written a few reviews and the Creative Director who was more into visuals than words showed me an image of a man who’d had a heart bypass and was proudly displaying his scar and told me they needed some copy. I sat at one of the laptops and tapped out a stream-of-consciousness. He rang me excitedly the next day after speaking to the deputy editor, an Oxbridge elite who was waxing lyrical about my pieces, saying ‘this girl can really write’. It might seem big-headed but I was surprised by his surprise because I’ve always known I could grasp words. Maths wasn’t second nature to me and I had to learn to cook, but writing isn’t an effort.
4# Tell us about your new book?
Sofia the Dreamer and her Magical Afro, is an uplifting, conscious book for children which gives insight into the styles, history and cultural significances of afro hair. It is the story of a young daydreamer’s natural hair journey; falling asleep each time her hair is styled, Sofia travels in her dreams, visiting a Jamaican Rastafarian, African ancestor and black panther. The book is illustrated by Tom Rawles who I found via an AfroPunk article. I find the surreal aspect of his paintings coincides with the magical realism of my work. I’m loving seeing the book come to fruition through his eyes.
5# Why did you go the crowdfunding route?
Because I did not want to see my work wind up in an editor’s slush-pile. I kept receiving emails from agents which said ‘I love your story / thanks so much for sharing this with me / I can see the hard work which went into this project BUT …’ and I became tired of it. I was inspired by the late great Buchi Emecheta to take charge of the publishing process myself. Above all, I wanted to get my message into circulation. When individuals donate £15 or more, they receive a copy of the book.
6# Are you going to seek a publisher or self-publish, how does a new writer get their books out there in today’s climate where physical books are on the decline?
Although having a publisher would be the ideal situation, I am currently advancing along the self-publishing route and fortunately have had a lot of support and advice from those in the industry as well as friends and family. In terms of bringing a book to market, I would say first decide whether you will publish or self-publish. You must do your research if you are planning to self-publish. There are plenty or routes via Amazon for example or perhaps the more traditional route of printing in bulk. Then you have to consider how you will market your book – social media, PR, marketing etc. you are essentially a one-man band so you are responsible for getting yourself out there. In both cases, focus on your message, polish your manuscript and join a writing group or do a class so you can get feedback. You will be surprised who wants to help and listen to you.
I enter relevant competitions, write for magazines which speak to me, share my pieces on social media and do my best to attend events – whether industry-related, open mic nights, networking socials or even telling my pals what I’m up to; I’m constantly amazed by the doors which open for me which I had no idea even existed. I would also say don’t get too caught up in the dream of simply having your ‘magnum opus’ novel published. You are a writer so write! We have a saying in Jamaica ‘every mikkle mek a mukkle’ which means everything is a contribution. The more you share your work, expand your literary sphere and join in discussions, the more people will see your words and the process should happen, as it has for me, organically. Think of the rise of a star rather than fixating upon it’s apotheosis. Enjoy the process. I know this is clichéd advice but be tenacious. Continue to persist. If you hang around in the barbershop long enough, eventually you will get a haircut.
7# What does this book represent – the meaning the message the intention, who is your audience?
Sofia the Dreamer and Her Magical Afro aims to unpick and demystify the politics, history, heroes and joy entangled within the tight coils of kinky hair. The book is aimed at 5-8 year olds, celebrates the things which make us unique and teaches the importance of love and unity. I wrote this story for many reasons. One being the complete lack of black history at my schools. The only thing I learnt about black people until university was how slaves were carried over on the ships. Can you imagine? Our voices must be heard and our histories must be included in the mainstream. Given the current political climate of intolerance, it’s important, particularly for children, to celebrate diversity and recognise themselves in each other.
8# Tell us a bit about yourself and what motivates you to persist in the creative industry?
I was born in 80s London to Jamaican parents who came over during the Windrush Era. Much of my writing is about this dichotomy and explores the riddle of belonging and life at the interstices between two cultures. It’s a very personal experience but also collective because this space affects so many of us. I studied English Literature at UCL and then undertook an MA in Fashion Journalism but spent most of my working life in the city as a broker. I now live between the UK and my island in the sun which I find to be a very healing yet challenging place. I have always written but was 1 of 50 Londoners to win a Penguin Random House initiative in London last year to encourage diversity in British literature. I felt stifled for much of my adult life because I did the things I thought I should do rather than those I wanted to. Writing has given me a platform for self-expression. Meeting creatives and sharing work and our experiences is pure joy.
9# Recommend three good books, including your favourite book ever…
Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – I love this woman and thus far, pretty much everything she writes and says. I hung onto each word of her first novel which delicately interweaves people and politics. Louise Bennett, Jamaica Labrish – Miss Lou is a Jamaican national treasure, poet and playwright. We share the same birthday. She was one of the first Jamaicans to write in their mother tongue and in this empowering, defiant act carved a terrain for many others. Jamaican is a language. To Hell with Dying, Alice Walker – a book which coloured my childhood and remains my favourite. My grandmother is a major influence in my life although she died when I was just 2. She was a strong yet mild matriarch and introduced my parents. My first memories are of her. This book is a beautiful, bittersweet tale which reminds me of grandma and our loss.
10# What would the title of a book about your life be?
The Bulldog and the Hummingbird. I’ve already started writing it. I’m about 100 pages in. It’s a collection of poems which move, like me between London and Jamaica.
Find out more and support Jessica Wilson’s Go Fund Me Campaign here.