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The story behind Becoming Brave by Jennie Cashman Wilson

In my new picture book, “Becoming Brave,” I share a deeply personal journey about my own childhood and the impact of the pressures to conform. The story revolves around my transformation from a free-spirited, creative child into someone who felt the constant need to be ‘good’ in order to please the adults around me. This shift ultimately led me to abandon my true desires in favour of approval. Meanwhile on the other side of the world there was a boy who had fallen in love with the trumpet and would do anything to keep playing. The turning point in my life came when I met that grownup boy Abram, a jazz musician who showed me what I’d been missing. Following his passing three years later, I realised that I had nothing to lose and gradually started embracing my fears. It took nearly seven years for me to truly understand the concept that it was okay to fail, which is when I penned ‘Becoming Brave.’

Writing a picture book with the messages of love, loss, fear and courage was not my initial goal. It happened serendipitously. My journey towards ‘Becoming Brave’ started when I embarked on a two-week clowning course in 2019, where I got to embody the magic of embracing failure and learned how I could transform it into something else. Following on from this experience I began working through ‘The Artist’s Way’ by Julia Cameron and that led me to scribbling down my initial ‘Becoming Brave’ story. My words remained hidden in one of my journals for months, but eventually, I found them again. The decision to share my story was driven by my desire to encourage people, especially young children, to have confidence in themselves and their creative potential, even in the face of setbacks.

I first shared my story when I had the privilege of speaking to a thousand primary school children at Symphony Hall in Birmingham, sharing my experiences and those of Abram as part of their annual Generation Ladywood project. This project was close to my heart, as I had watched a whole year group grow from reception to Year 6, which was incredibly special. I wanted children to understand that being brave involves acknowledging fear and the possibility of failure, while also reassuring them that they would be okay. I aimed to convey that failure is not something to fear but rather an opportunity for growth and creativity. The message of ‘No Fear!’ became our annual chant, emphasising the importance of courage in the face of adversity and I’m thrilled that I had the chance to share my story with them first. As the story evolved into a children’s picture book, it felt important to emphasise the process of finding courage from within rather than pushing away fear, hence the title ‘Becoming Brave’.

I’m so grateful to Little Tiger for their commitment to bringing this story to life, especially Nikki, Isabel and Emma who were so passionate, patient and collaborative in their approach. Tomekah’s illustrations are beautiful, and it I feel very lucky that she agreed to take on this story as her first picture book. Thank you and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed making it.

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The inspiration behind Only This Beautiful Moment by Abdi Nazemian

I’m so honored that my novel ONLY THIS BEAUTIFUL MOMENT is being published in the UK and Commonwealth by Little Tiger for many reasons, not least of which is that when I was growing up, I never thought a book that’s both this Iranian and this queer would ever be published, let alone that I would write it. This is in many ways a book about coming out of the shadows. My family, like many immigrant families, hid the secrets of their trauma from me. And perhaps learning from their example, I spent too many years hiding my queerness from them and from the world. What I found in writing this book is a firm belief that while our trauma can be passed down from generation to generation, so can our joy, our love, our loyalty, our poetry.

ONLY THIS BEAUTIFUL MOMENT is about three generations of men in the same Iranian family. Each of the Jafarzadeh men – Moud, Saeed and Bobby – tells the story of a teenage journey between Los Angeles to Tehran or vice versa. Because the novel takes place in the 1930s, the 1970s, and present day, it allowed me to dig into the complex connective tissue of history, and how we’re always carrying our history within us. It also allowed me to depict intergenerational grace and forgiveness. Throughout my life, I’ve struggled with western friends who wanted to cast my family and my culture as the villains of my story for not embracing my sexuality. My friends often spoke the language of American self-empowerment, which tells us that if someone doesn’t accept us as we are, we should bid them goodbye. I spoke the language of immigrant families, which taught me that family loyalty comes before everything else. I felt caught between two worlds for most of my life, and often still do, which is why I try so hard to unite those two worlds in my fiction. In bringing conflicting worlds and identities together on the page, I hope to inspire myself to keep bridge-building off the page, and to keep striving for unity and forgiveness in a world full of division and shame.

I hope readers of this novel will be similarly inspired, and that they see this novel as an invitation to engage in many of life’s biggest questions about where we are now and how we got here, and to come up with their own unique answers. And I also hope that readers who are interested in the novel’s depiction of political issues, such as anti-queer legislation and western intervention in the Middle East, come away with an appreciation for how issues they may view as purely political are deeply personal for families like the Jafarzadeh family. Just like Moud develops a deeper empathy for his father and grandfather by learning their stories, I hope this novel inspires readers to really take the time to get to know people’s histories, and develop a deeper empathy for others. We’re all carrying so much intergenerational joy, trauma, love, fear, loyalty, and only by recognizing our common humanity can we create the most beautiful moments.