• Ella Fothergill

Interview: Fliss Goldsmith (Local Author)

Our resident children's books enthusiast and review, Ella, sat down with local author Fliss Goldsmith last week to talk about her first book, Discover Families, published by Purple Diamond Press, that is finding national acclaim for its pioneering approach to showcasing diversity in children's books.

1. What inspired your passion for writing and what motivated you to write this book?

Ever since I was little, I have always loved writing. I remember owning a type-writer and sitting behind the sofa creating hundreds of little stories - it was just what I liked to do. As I got older, my various jobs in radio and the performing arts allowed me to write poetry, podcasts, scripts and radio shows. Yet, I never would have thought that one day I would produce a book until my daughter - a girl who loves sports, superheroes and the colour blue - commented on the lack of girls ‘like her’ in children’s stories.

She said to me, ‘There is no one like me in these books. All the girls wear dresses, they all like pink, they all want to play princesses, I really want to find a book with me in it!

I replied, ‘okay, I’ll write one then.’ That was the birth of the idea, really.

2. You mention that you really wanted to remove all stereotypes from the Erin and Roderick series. Do you think that representation and diversity is important in children’s texts?

Kids are always looking to connect with stories and if there are no characters about them, then they just disengage. There have been a number of parents who have contacted me to say that their kids are so absorbed with this book because they can see somebody just like them. That was so rewarding to hear, the best thing actually. The sales and stuff like that are not where I am interested. I am interested in making a difference for children and families - that’s where the excitement lies for me. So yes, I do think representation is important, especially in children’s books.

3. Your lovely illustrations also showcase diversity. For example, there is a father with a tattooed sleeve, a mum with a purple walking stick etc. Was this something you clearly wanted and communicated with the illustrator?

Yes, I was very clear about what I wanted from the start. I actually created a whole A4 page for every character in the book: what they eat for breakfast, what they wear, where they work etc and sent this to my illustrator, Ian. I thought that it would help him create each person exactly as I had pictured them in my head, down to every last detail - and it did! He drew them perfectly. However, I do remember his struggles with the dad’s tattoo! Ian was pulling his hair out trying to make it look right but I was adamant that it needed to work. It mattered to me because people of all ages have tattoos and it is details like these that make characters real people. I find that, often, these differences are removed from children’s stories so I really wanted to throw in as much individuality as I could through the pictures.

4. Schools that have attempted to introduce lessons about the lgtbq+ community/ inclusive lessons have often been met with some backlash. How would you respond to parents who believe that teaching about diversity is too soon, or even inappropriate, for young children?

The way I see it is that children come into the world full of questions and curiosity. If we teach these inquisitive kids about diversity, including different cultures, religions and lifestyles, all we are doing is opening every door of opportunity for them. However, if we fail to explain people’s differences and individuality, we are closing these doors. How, as a parent, could we intentionally close doors and possibilities for our young people? In my opinion, we should discuss every option and let children make their own choices. After which, if they so wish to follow their parents’ path, then they will - but only after having every option made available to them.

I am so passionate about diversity so I’m not afraid to have these discussions with people. I am not there to have an argument, simply to have a conversation because that is where change happens.

5. Do you think the way to teach tolerance is through children’s books and what you would like your reader to take away from Discover Families?

Yes actually, I do. Kids are inherently kind and curious in equal measure. So, if you teach them about diversity when they are young, they are more likely to be accepting and future generations can grow to become even happier and more tolerant. My hope is that when I have grandchildren - if I ever do - diversity will be everyone’s reality and the fact that we are all different is accepted and celebrated.

I always say that I am trying to champion diversity, equality and inclusion through love, tolerance and understanding. If we can put love at the forefront of books then we can understand each other and tolerate people’s differences. I hope that is what young readers can take away from Discover Families.

6. Finally, do you have any more plans for future writing endeavours?

Well, I am currently in the final stages of the manuscript for the second ‘Erin and Roderick Discover’ book and it is something I am very, very excited about! This time, Erin and Roderick ‘discover’ disabilities whilst having fun on a sports day. I hope it will celebrate children with different abilities and talents, helping kids to understand that everyone is special, regardless of their varying skills or strengths. It is a gentle story with a powerful message, out in July 2021.

I have also been running free workshops for children. Not too long ago, I did one about creating their own book character from an authors perspective. Once the pandemic goes, I would also love to get into schools and start the process there and I would LOVE to talk and engage with parents.

Find out more about Fliss and her author journey at her website: www.flissgoldsmith.com

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