Getting to know Alesha Dixon
April 12, 2019
Alesha Dixon knows how rewarding it is to write stories. As the judge of this year’s Explore Learning Writers’ Awards, we got to know Alesha and hear her advice for aspiring young authors…
Why are you excited to be involved in this year’s writers’ awards?
Having written stories myself, I know how rewarding it is and really hope children will take as much pleasure from it as I have. This is a great way to capture young imaginations and encourage thinking about bigger issues while developing their writing talents. I am really looking forward to reading all of the imaginative ways the children of this country would change the world in this year’s competition.
What is your top tip for children when they’re thinking about starting a story?
My top tip for coming up with a good character is looking around at people you know and using them as inspiration. There are so many amazing, unique and interesting people in the world. All you’ve got to do is look at your friends, look at your family, your teachers and look out for those interesting qualities in their characters and use them.
What is your advice to children who are reluctant writers?
I think just to believe in yourself; nothing that’s worthwhile comes easy, so keep pushing forward.
What is it about writing your stories that you love?
As a mum, I can see the power that a storybook has on a child. I have always loved the idea of writing a children’s book, and having Azura has galvanised me to take it seriously. I have been reading books to her every night since she was born. I thought long and hard about the narrative arc and the characterisation because I wanted it to have subliminal messages that would make children feel positive about themselves.
How do you get your inspiration?
I’ve always been someone who enjoys writing – whether that’s music, poetry, or books that have never seen the light of day – but I guess the initial idea came from reading to my daughter every night, seeing the kinds of books she reads and the films she watches, and noticing the imbalance.
Superheroes are something we’ve all grown up with, but I feel like Aurora Beam’s character – an 11-year-old girl of colour from the UK – is quite new. I felt like this was a good opportunity to inspire children to realise everyone has the ability to achieve what they want. And although Aurora Beam is the one with all the superpowers, she’s helped by a lot of people. She has an amazing group of friends called the Bright Sparks, and they all play a really key role in her succeeding.
You’ve had such an incredible and varied career – what are you most proud of?
As a mixed-race woman, I’m so proud to have a woman of colour on the front of my book that my daughter can look at and say, ‘My hair is just like Aurora Beam’s today!’ That’s important because I didn’t really have that growing up.
How did you feel about writing when you were at school?
I always loved writing when I was in school. English was one of my favourite subjects. I’ve always been a creative person. My mum said I was always writing in journals, writing songs or poems.
What motivated you to write your Lightning Girl books?
I was reading stories to Azura, I was looking at the types of characters that she was reading about and looking at her role models, and I felt like there was a gap in the market for Aurora Beam. I want my daughter to be able to look around and see a balance in terms of being represented.
The theme of this year’s writing competition is ‘a chance to change the world’. What would you do to change the world?
When I was little, my mum made me feel that looking different was wonderful and I really want to pass that on. Equality isn’t about being the same, it’s about being treated the same. Beauty comes in many forms, many skin colours, many hairstyles and textures. It’s hugely important that children see those reflected in the books they read and the characters they encounter. Things are improving – Disney princesses are far more diverse than they used to be, and you can see a shift in the sort of women featured in magazines and on catwalks – but we’re not there yet.
What was your favourite book growing up?
I had favourite authors as a child – Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl and Judy Bloom. I even remember the first book I read which was a Peter and Jane book when I was five! I loved Judy Blume books especially because they were a little bit controversial. I think when you’re young you always feel older than you are and Judy Blume for me was a very clever writer because she connected with a young audience and made them feel grown-up.
What stories do you love to read now?
THE GRUFFALO, by Julia Donaldson. What’s lovely about having a daughter is reading amazing books to her. Donaldson has a clever way with words and the illustrations are fun. We’ve read it to Azura, loads of times. It has subliminal messages as well, which I love.
Did you have a particular person who inspired you at school?
My mum has essentially been my best friend and biggest inspiration. She taught me how to be a good person and showed me that life is about giving and helping others – any good quality I have is probably from my mum!
My career hero would be Oprah Winfrey; she came from nothing and is now probably the most powerful woman on the planet with the best intentions, which is really about encouraging people to live their best life. She’s a beacon of light, a good soul and she’s proof that there’s no barrier you can’t overcome. Once again by the way you conduct yourself and apply yourself in life.
What’s your top tip for parents to get their children excited about entering our writing competition?
Make the whole process fun, if they enjoy what they are doing they will put more effort into it!
What makes a winning story?
Great imagination and fearlessness! Something that tugs at your heartstrings and something that can make you laugh out loud.
Not only will Alesha Dixon be choosing the winning story in the Explore Learning Writers’ Awards, but she’ll also be visiting the winner’s school to present the exciting prizes of a family trip to Disneyland Paris and £500 worth of books for the school! Pretty exciting – so why not enter today?
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