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Before Bias: Changing the Face of Series Fiction Highlights

Before Bias: The Changing Face of Series Fiction

By Jasmine Richards – Author of the upcoming The Unmorrow Curse, and Founder of Storymix, a children’s fiction studio dedicated to creating inclusive series fiction, including Aziza’s Secret Fairy Door, The Marvellous Granny Jinks & Me and Future Hero.

Series fiction can create a life-long love of reading, yet it doesn’t get the love and attention it deserves. On behalf of Storymix, I was thrilled to host an event with Maisie Chan, Swapna Haddow, and Tọlá Okogwu – authors passionate about writing inclusive stories for young readers. We discussed the importance of series fiction, our experiences as authors and the need for quality, organic representation in kids’ books. You can watch highlights from the event here!

The Importance of Series Fiction

Series fiction for readers aged five years and up builds reading muscle and keeps a child’s imagination sparking. In turn, series fiction with a diverse cast ensures all children get to see themselves as heroes. It’s Storymix’s mission and privilege to create and share stories full of joy and adventure with protagonists of colour– and I’m not alone. Maisie writes about a British Chinese boy and his hilarious grandmother in her brilliant new book, Danny Chung Does Not Do Maths, which has received really positive feedback from her community. Hearing that your readers identify with your characters is a real win for not just the author, but the industry as a whole.

Author Maisie Chan

“Creating series fiction is like exercising a different writing muscle – you get to challenge yourself as a writer. […] Series fiction is so fast-paced, it keeps you on your toes!” – Maisie, author of Tiger Warrior and Danny Chung Does Not Do Maths

There is so much variation in what children like to read – no two children will read the same book – so series fiction creates a huge window of opportunity. Shorter books with a high number of titles create an opportunity for young readers to connect with a wide variety of characters.

Pen names can also be a feature of series fiction, as they allow authors to play and take more risks with their writing – they can explore different genres or age ranges from other titles they might work on! Talking of pen names, Aziza’s Secret Fairy Door is a series co-written by Tọlá Okogwu and I (under the pen name Lola Morayo), and illustrated by Cory Reid. Tọlá discovered Storymix through Book Trust Represents, and they are doing some great work in demystifying the publishing process

Tọ́lá Okogwu

“I want to be part of a solution to the problem – which is finding books with better representation, books that my daughter can see herself represented in.” – Tọlá, author of Aziza’s Secret Fairy Door and the upcoming Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun 

The Opportunities of Series Fiction

Series fiction offers authors so much space for collaboration and experimenting with new ideas, concepts, characters and worlds. The way of working can be pretty unique also – whether this be working on the idea generation with a publisher or co-author. Many series are developed by publishers and fiction studios like Storymix.

“Reading is a superpower, so you want to give children quality stories to make readers for life. This is why I’m so passionate about giving young readers books that they love.” – Swapna, author of Dave Pigeon, Ballet Bunnies and Bad Panda  

Series fiction can offer stability and a regular income stream for authors and illustrators. Having multiple writing opportunities can help authors have a long and healthy career – and we all agreed that if you want to write series fiction, you must read it! Reading the age group that you are writing for allows you to understand your target reader.

The Importance of Representation

It feels like an exciting time in children’s publishing, with a new wave of authors writing stories that are authentic and reflect who they are. Going forward we must continue to encourage new voices, but also support the voices that are already here, so that careers will flourish. 

I asked the panellists what books influenced them when growing up. Their answers demonstrated the importance of diversity in children’s books. Swapna expressed her struggle to imagine herself in books, which has in turn, influenced her own writing – all because of a lack of representation in the books she read as a child.

Swapna Haddow

“I can’t pick just one book, as I read loads as a kid. But 99 per cent of those books had characters that were white. I think subconsciously, as I was writing books, I brought that with me.” – Swapna, author of Dave Pigeon, Ballet Bunnies and Bad Panda

All authors should feel able to write whatever story reflects their truth and lived experience. We must share diverse stories with our children, so we don’t perpetuate narratives that misrepresent the world we live in. Like many writers of colour, Maisie said she felt pressure to wholly represent her community – but you writing an authentic story is what kids will truly enjoy. 

“You just have to think about writing a good story that kids will love. Don’t let yourself be pigeon-holed because of your cultural background.” – Maisie, author of Tiger Warrior and Danny Chung Does Not Do Maths 

The Future of Series Fiction

CLPE Graphic - 15% of Children's books published in 2020 featured Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic characters

According to the recent CLPE study, 15 per cent of children’s books published in 2020 featured Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic characters. This is an improvement, but we must keep working towards more balanced representation in our kids’ books, with the support of the publishing industry. Casual inclusivity is one way to do this – telling stories in all genres, that have kids of colour at the centre. Let the adventure be the story and not their ethnicity. 

As a writer, you sometimes have to remind yourself that you can only really write from your own experience, […] so don’t feel the pressure to be perfect.” – Tọlá, author of Aziza’s Secret Fairy Door and the upcoming Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun

One easy way to support the industry, and its desire to diversify, is to buy books by my panellists and all those authors that are working for more equal and equitable representation. A New Chapter online bookshop is offering a 10 per cent discount on a selection of the books by these featured authors. Find out more about this offer here!

As a fiction studio who wholly believes in the movement of We Need Diverse Books, Storymix looks forward to seeing more authors writing what they love, and readers loving their work. I am so proud to offer a platform for writers and illustrators of colour, making space for their work through creating pathways to being published.

Huge thank you to the Storymix team of Sara Grant, Rebecca Barber and Annabella Costantino for their help with organising the event, as well as the authors for taking part. Thank you also to the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) and A New Chapter books for working in partnership with Storymix on this event.

To read more about the publishing process behind Aziza’s Secret Fairy Door, you can read this blog post here. For more on the importance of diverse series fiction for children, there is a Storymix blog post coming soon! Be sure to follow Storymix on Twitter and Instagram so you don’t miss updates on future events, offers, books and more. To discover opportunities for writers and illustrators of colour, please check out the Storymix website, Book Trust and The Bookseller!