I nagged my parents for a typewriter for my sixteenth birthday; they duly saved up and bought me the present of my dreams.
I then eagerly proceeded to bash out two books, set in the Deep South – inspired by the 1960s Sidney Poitier film, In The Heat of the Night. Apart from watching this film avidly, I had no other knowledge or experience of the Deep South other than the horrors of racism I saw play out on my TV screen.
I travelled across the world in my mind to write those stories but, for years, I paid no attention to the vivid tapestry right in front of me. My own family – and the rich and wonderful culture I was brought up in.
Growing up in the 1980s and 90s, as a child of Windrush generation parents, I often struggled with a question that never quite rose to the surface, but always lay somewhere beneath my skin. Should I be more English or Jamaican? Now I am older, I can happily enjoy both cultures, but I didn’t always feel this way when I was struggling with the ups and downs of forming my own identity – and I didn’t find any characters in children’s books to foster a sense of camaraderie or belonging.
This is one of the main points of my Sunshine Simpson series. I wanted to write a book for children to see a Black British character as the central protagonist, in an everyday way, enjoying life but having ups and down along the way like any child forming their own identity. Perhaps the books will be a mirror for some children and a window for others.
I also wanted to write a book that drew on the music, food, stories, language (patois), wisdom, and laughter that was all around me when I was growing up.
So, while the story of Sunshine Simpson is very much a fictional one, I think it carries something of the spirit of the Windrush generation: curiosity, bravery, joy, and hope. I want to help keep their legacy alive, so that their adventures will never be forgotten. They deserve that; they worked so hard and gave so much to a country that until recent years had overlooked and hadn’t celebrated their achievements.
Black history is wide and far-reaching and is part of everyone’s history. It is also important to have well-rounded representation that focuses on more than trauma. October’s Black History Month (BHM) certainly offers a focal point for reflection and celebration.
Book two in my Sunshine Simpson series – Sunshine Simpson Cooks Up a Storm – sees Sunshine’s teacher set the class an assignment during BHM to come up with a list of Black Britons, who have made a significant impact within their chosen field, whether sport, education, science, or the arts. I hope the empowering life stories and achievements of the inspiring figures featured within the book can be used to inspire not only young Black children but ALL children to be aspirational and to cultivate their own dreams.
I never finished those two books I mentioned at the start of this piece, unsurprising really as I have never even been to America’s Deep South. Maybe one day, I’ll dig those stories out and take another look. But, for now, this is what I am compelled to do. We were never ones for saying “I love you” in my family, but the love was always there. This series is my love letter to the Windrush generation and my parents. A thank you for that typewriter! They deserve it.
My Name is Sunshine Simpson and Sunshine Simpson Cooks Up a Storm by G. M. Linton are both out now in paperback from Usborne