Meet our speakers: Candy Gourlay

Find out more about author Candy Gourlay, who will be at our BookTrust Represents training event in London.

Candy Gourlay

Writer Candy Gourlay will be joining us for our BookTrust Represents training day in London, hosting a session entitled, 'The Publishing Industry: How to Stay Published'.

Getting to know Candy

Who was your favourite author and/or illustrator when you were growing up and why?
Mark Twain/Samuel Clemens was my favourite author when I was growing up. I wished I could misbehave in church like Tom Sawyer, walk barefoot, build a raft on the Mississippi, explore scary caverns. Growing up in Manila I saw the same extreme wealth and poverty described in The Prince and the Pauper – and dreamed of that happy ending.

Recently, I wrote about rereading Samuel Clemens. No longer the uncritical child, I had to acknowledge his racism towards Native Americans. Yes, the book continues to be beloved on my memory shelf, but I have vowed to always recommend it in the context of its prejudices.

What advice would you give to a new author and/or illustrator that you wish you had been given?
I spent a lot of time waiting to be picked, studying the ways and means by which one could schmooze an agent, all the techniques of creating the best query letter, writing a paragraph that would hook an editor. My advice would be: stop waiting to be picked. Make things. Write, draw, create. Try other mediums, experiment with other genres. The more you DO, the better you'll get. It's the work that matters.

What has been your career high so far as an author/illustrator?
Recently, BookTrust asked me to design a book event as Writer in Residence. I have always wanted to create an event just for Filipino children living in London. I met a young couple, Mark Watan and Wendy Pooten, who happened to identify with the Bontoc, the tribe to which the characters in my novel Bone Talk belong. Together we created a day-long book event for their community, who call the Philippine Cordillera, Bone Talk's setting, 'home'.

On the day, I was amazed when some of the people turned up dressed in their native costumes. I talked about my books, drew pictures for the little ones, played a story game. We even had a beanbag book corner where I displayed my rather vast collection of Filipino children's books. In the afternoon session, the dads played traditional instruments and the children danced. Later they all thanked me for a wonderful day, but really, it is I who should thank them for showing me the true heart that beats within my story.

Why are you supporting BookTrust Represents?
When I started trying to get published, I accepted the status quo. I thought the publishing world was for pink-skinned people and to get my work recognised, I would have to populate my stories with pink-skinned children.

Over the years I came to know the children's book industry in the UK. It is full of book-loving people who really, really want to bring the best stories to children. But they too have always accepted that pink skin is the default. We - all of us good, kind, well-meaning folk - have been enabling the systemic racism that lingers from less enlightened times. The need for change is urgent. It has been urgent for a long time.

Make no mistake, this mentoring scheme was not created because of any lack of talent. It is about the lack of access. It is about changing minds, not just of the industry but of our own (YES, our stories deserve to be heard). It is about leading the way to the door. It is about creating critical mass.

I am so pleased to be invited to become a part of BookTrust represents. What an honour to help introduce the industry to a world of talent!

More about Candy

Candy Gourlay was born in the Philippines, grew up under a dictatorship and met her husband during a revolution. As a child, Candy Gourlay wondered why all the books she ever loved only featured pink-skinned children who lived in snow-covered worlds that didn't resemble her steamy, tropical home in Manila. As a result, it took her years to fulfil her dream of becoming an author – and years to learn that Filipino stories too, belong in the pages of books.

Her latest novel Bone Talk was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal and the Costa Prize – it is set in a historical moment in the Philippines when headhunting tribes came face to face with American invading forces for the first time. Her picture book, Is It a Mermaid, lushly illustrated by Francesca Chessa, was nominated for the Kate Greenaway Medal. It is set in an idyllic white sand island with a heartfelt eco message. Her other novels for young readers, Tall Story and Shine, were published to acclaim and listed for many prizes such as the Carnegie Medal, the Waterstones Prize, the Blue Peter and the Guardian Children's Book Prize. She lives in London with her family, where she wages war on the snails in her garden.

Discover Candy's books

Bone Talk

Author: Candy Gourlay

Samkad is a boy from a remote Filipino "headhunter" tribe called Bontok in the highlands of the Philippines, back in around 1899 – on the brink of invasion by American invaders. A brilliant, exciting and fascinating adventure story.

Read more about Bone Talk

Is it a Mermaid?

Author: Candy Gourlay Illustrator: Francesca Chessa

Bel and Benji meet a friendly dugong, also known as a sea cow, on a tropical beach. This delightful book about friendship, imagination and self-belief includes factual information about these gentle marine mammals, who are sadly at threat of extinction. 

Read more about Is it a Mermaid?


Author: Candy Gourlay

A fascinating and mysterious tale of twins and superstition and separation.

Read more about Shine

Tall Story

Author: Candy Gourlay

Engagingly told in alternate chapters by four-foot, thirteen year-old Andi, in the UK, and her eight-foot, sixteen year-old half brother Bernardo, in the Philippines

Read more about Tall Story

Join us in London on 28 September

BookTrust Represents

Our project promotes and supports children’s authors and illustrators of colour, so young readers find the books that represent them.

Learn more about BookTrust Represents