Publishing owner ’emotional’ seeing young people create representative books

The owner of a publishing house has said that seeing young aspiring authors work on books with characters that look like them has made her “really emotional” as the literature will serve as legacies which represent their “amazing” ideas.

Winsome Duncan, who is based in Bermondsey and is the owner of publishing house Peaches Publications Ltd, launched the ‘Look Like Me Book Challenge CIC’ in October 2019 – a charitable organisation which supports young people between the ages of seven and 18 across the UK with their literacy, creative writing, storytelling, peer to peer mentoring and social skills, as well as teaching them about the role diversity plays in the publishing industry.

Group posing together
Sadiq Khan, Winsome Duncan and Andre Fyffe at The Mayor Black History Month opening reception at City Hall (Winsome Duncan)

After reading the Reflecting Realities report in 2019, which she said mentioned that less than 10% of children’s books in the UK have black, Asian or minority ethnic characters, she said she felt compelled to try and change the narrative of the UK publishing industry by having black and brown characters in her books.

“I’m deeply saddened that inanimate objects are more likely to feature than a black and brown face, animals are more likely to feature than a black or brown face”, the 45-year-old told the PA news agency, during Black History Month.

“When I read this, it became the impetus for starting the ‘Look Like Me Book Challenge CIC’ and our mission really is to provide safe spaces for creative expression, narrating experiences of those from underrepresented and marginalized groups, particularly young people, with a broader intention of leaving an imprint of legacies within UK literature.”

The first intergenerational book made as part of the challenge during the first lockdown was The Popcorn House – Teamwork Makes The Dream Work, which is about “two superhero cousin’s Zion and Neveah who discover through teamwork the magical land of Kalaria whilst staying at their beloved grandparent’s house”.

Book cover
‘The Popcorn House – Teamwork Makes the Dream Work’ book cover (Look Like Me Book Challenge CIC)

It received storyline input from 30 authors online, who were “these young budding authors were full of amazing character ideas and storytelling concepts.”, Ms Duncan said.

“We had so much fun – we went and did a photoshoot in Canary Wharf. Out of that cohort, four of those young people for the last three years have been our young ambassadors and some of them are even business owners.”

She added that the “next phase is now working on securing investment to our pilot 3D animation trailer in a series for ‘The Popcorn House'”.

A group of young authors are also in the process of getting an African-Caribbean inspired manga-style comic called Ashe The Justice Warrior published, which focuses on racism in football and how young people can manage their mental health and wellbeing better.

Ashe The Justice Warrior (Look Like Me Book Challenge CIC)
Ashe The Justice Warrior (Look Like Me Book Challenge CIC)

“We worked with 13 to 18-year-olds and we had a group of 32 young people online and two of them were footballers playing amateur league – one was a boy and one was a girl”, Ms Duncan said.

“These characters are at the heart of the comic – which has an African Caribbean influence – and what’s interesting about the comic is that once they’ve read it, they will have an opportunity to create and design their own comics after.

“What we want to do is nurture talent, we want people to generate their own ideas and be seen in pop culture and we could not have done this type of work without the support of the National Lottery Awards for All and UnLtd.”

Ms Duncan said that guiding young people through the publishing process has been “really inspiring and motivating creating legacy authors” and produced many tears of happiness.

“I’ve cried so many times because my story matters, their story matters, our stories matter”, she said.

“I’m a melanated woman and I feel like the world needs to hear all their creative ideas from children of colour and it is imperative for me to fulfil my destiny to be a creative force of good and help young BAME authors to become visible in mainstream media.

“This will enable them to reach their potential, so they can go on to write more number 1 bestselling books and create images that represent them in a positive light as part of the characters they create.”

She added that working on books has also helped to “boost their confidence, increase their self-esteem, improve their public presentation skills and provided acting and media opportunities” and made them feel like “part of a team”.

“And that is why it is so important to me to get these authors to leave their legacies in books and tell their stories.”