"BookTrust Represents has been there my entire career. Being published feels surreal, but amazing!”
Published on: 28 August 2023
Davina Tijani is part of the BookTrust Represents community of children’s authors and illustrators of colour.
Now, after years of hard work, Davina is celebrating her debut book being published. She shares her thoughts and hopes for publishing becoming more representative for those who follow in her footsteps.
Davina Tijani and the cover of Yomi and the Fury of Ninka Nanka
Davina Tijani thought of the idea for her first book when she was on the bus home from college.
She wrote the whole story while she was studying at uni. By the time she finished her master’s degree, her first manuscript was complete.
Davina then wanted to find out more about the publishing process – which is how she first came into contact with BookTrust.
"It was literally a chance meeting,” says Davina. “I met one of BookTrust’s team members at the London Book Fair, right before the pandemic. They introduced themselves and said: ‘We have this scheme called BookTrust Represents, you should join.’”
BookTrust Represents is a programme created to promote and improve the representation of people of colour in children’s books – so children can read a range of books that reflect them and their wider communities.
Through BookTrust Represents Davina has participated in networking opportunities to build her community and contacts, workshops – including a recent workshop that with author Chitra Soundar to help prepare for public speaking events like school author visits – and attended Cheltenham Literary Festival – an experience that made a huge impact on her.
"BookTrust Represents has been there my entire career and has been a big support - even from the beginning when I didn’t have an agent or a publisher,” says Davina.
“For every step of the way, the right BookTrust Represents workshop has been there at the right time. From the beginning BookTrust has said: ‘This is what it can be like in publishing, come and take a peek’".
Achieving her dream of getting published
Fast forward to today, and Davina has an agent and a brilliant community of writers around her. The best news of all – she is now a published author, and her debut children’s novel Yomi and the Fury of Ninki Nanka was released in July.
“It feels surreal, but amazing at the same time,” says Davina. “You know it's coming, and then it's like: 'Oh my God, it actually happened!'.
“Last weekend, I went out with my dad for a nice lunch. I said: ‘Dad, could we pop into Foyles, just to see?’ They had copies of my book! Dad took a photo of me signing them. He has always been my wingman, my supporter. I also went to the Waterstones in Croydon and they'd put my book in the window!
“It's just nice to see engagement and support and love around Yomi. All those little 'authorly' moments: doing events, the launch, people posting about the book. I saw someone do a Tik Tok video on it! These are all the things I've dreamt about, and they're all now coming true. Ultimately it's been very joyful. I couldn't have asked for more.”
Davina signing books
Writing about black fun and showcasing African mythology
Set in the Gambia, Yomi and the Fury of Ninka Nanka is the first book in The Nkara Chronicles. The Nkara is a dragon-like creature from African mythology. Each book in The Nkara Chronicles will go to a different African country, where sibling duo Yomi and Kayode will interact with a Sacred Nkara from that culture. Davina says there are currently four books in the series (she’s editing book four at the moment.)
Davina says: “Greek and Roman mythology was what I grew up with. As I got older, I got exposed to African mythology. My family are from Nigeria. There, they have the Orisha, which is a pantheon of gods. African mythology has been so underexplored in children's books. People's awareness of Pegasus, for example is really high, whereas they've heard next to nil about creatures from African mythology.
“I wanted to write a story about a little black girl going on these massive, fantastical adventures across Africa and interacting with these great mythical beasts. I was trying to give fun, adventurous, fantastical storylines with Yomi and Kayode as this sibling duo at the heart of it.
“In the past, I did have moments when I worried that my story wouldn’t be sellable. I really worried that as a black writer I might have to write about certain topics, like racism or slavery. I'm sure I'm not the only author of colour who has felt that they need to write certain things in order to get published.
“Now, I definitely feel stronger in myself to know that I don’t have to write about these topics. I can write about black joy, black triumph, stories that don’t have race at the forefront. Fantasy allows for magical, adventurous, unbelievable storylines and that is a great way to showcase black fun, in my opinion. With this series, you have Yomi and Kayode, a black brother and sister who are always there for each other and always support each other.”
Improving pathways to publication for more authors of colour
Our recent BookTrust Represents research found the need for strong, continued efforts to further improve representation in UK children’s literature; both in terms of the diversity of published creators, and in the diversity of stories, characters and experiences represented children’s books, given the critical impact this has on their desire and motivations to read.
“Representation, opportunity and what we’re expected to write are the biggest barriers for authors of colour,” says Davina. “I'm sure there are people who picked up a pen and put it down because they didn't think they could do it because of those issues.”
“As a black writer, you’re always aware of microaggressions, racial disparities and the lack of opportunities for authors of colour. You can go into any bookshop, any supermarket in this country and you will see a major lack of representation in terms of writers of colour on the shelves.
"While having more creators of colour in workshops and schools is essential, there definitely needs to be more people of colour in senior positions in publishing - in Sales, PR, Production. Change absolutely has to come from the top.
"I also think we need to take a very careful look at the books we are commissioning. What's the purpose behind this book? Who is writing it? Even with books that are more representative, it's important to make sure that they are accurate, and that they address these experiences correctly.
"I'm very happy to say that I’ve had a very positive experience with my publisher and my agent. I'm just excited to see what the future can bring and the changes that can happen to make publishing more representative. For people who come after me, it would be really cool for them to see as many people of colour in the industry as possible.
“I hope I'm a good example of what can happen when an author joins BookTrust Represents. The work BookTrust does is so fundamental. There should be ten BookTrusts! I just really appreciate BookTrust’s presence throughout my publishing career.”
BookTrust Represents has been created to promote and improve the representation of People of Colour in children’s Books.
It is important that all children have the opportunity to read a diverse range of books where they and their communities are represented.