To mark this year’s Black History Month, Spread the Word asked four writers from the Spread the Word community to contribute to this feature honouring this year’s theme Saluting our Sisters which celebrates the contributions and achievements of Black women in the UK and around the world. Author Davina Tijani tells us about her journey as a writer and three Black women authors she loves, and shares advice for Black women writers starting on, or starting out on, their journey.
Tell us about your journey as a writer
My journey as an author began in a library. As a kid I was a huge reader and my dad was also a voracious reader. Dad would take my sister and I to the library every weekend. Surrounded by books, I would dive into a sea full of fiction and non-fiction. We would read a ton of books right there, for hours and take even a considerable few home with us to enjoy later. These were the first and significant steps into my future as a storyteller.
Growing up, I loved history, geography, and mythology. When I was in school, I would devour the infamous “Horrible History” books and the DK Eyewitness books. I absolutely loved Marcia Williams’ comics on Greek Mythology. Mythical characters that I related to were Hercules and Odysseus for their heroic and quite dangerous pursuits. I was fascinated by the powerful creatures such as the Minotaur, Cerberus, and the Hydra. The tales of the Iliad and Odyssey also captivated my younger self. As I got older, I got more exposed to African mythology. My family are from Nigeria. There, they have the Orisha, which is a pantheon of gods. We have Yemoja, the Goddess of the waters, Oya, the Goddess of storms and Oshun, the Goddess of love. I connect with Mythology because it provides a deeper insight into world history, cultures, and traditions. It has always played a huge inspiration in much of my writing.
My first ever novel idea came to me on a bus home whilst I was still in Sixth Form. I would have been around 17 years old; it was an adult sci-fi story (with some healthy nods to mythology) and I couldn’t ignore the ideas buzzing around my head. I had to free it! I spent the next 7 years, working on it. Even though for now, it remains unpublished. I learnt a lot writing it, including planning, editing, the art of storytelling and world-building. Through that manuscript, I ended up meeting my current agent Davinia Andrew Lynch at a manuscript surgery workshop and the rest as they say is history. The first book in my middle grade series, Yomi and the Fury of Ninki Ninka, inspired by Africa mythology, was published by Little Tiger and came out in July 2023. Book 2 is out early 2024 and there are more stories to come from the Nkara Chronicles.
Tell us about some Black women writers you admire and why
There are several Black women writers I admire such as Malorie Blackman. From a young age, she demonstrated people who look like me can become a successful and well-respected author. Nnedi Okofator and N.K. Jemesin are two acclaimed and highly respected SFF authors who I deeply admire and respect, they have paved the way in speculative fiction through their intricate world building and phenomenal power of storytelling. I also admire Claudia Jones, a journalist who campaigned for civil rights and founded the West Indian Gazette, one of the first black newspapers in the UK.
Do you have any advice for aspiring and emerging Black women writers?
My advice to authors is to understand your writing style in terms, are you a planner (plan every detail of your story) or a pantser (don’t plan, just go with the flow). By identifying which one you are, you can build better writing patterns and figure out how you can write better and more smartly. I would also recommend authors learn the processes behind getting a book published and the general mechanisms of publishing. For example, knowing what an agent does, what an editor does, how to write a query letter, how submission works and developing an understanding of the different publishing houses and the various imprints.
About the contributor
Davina Tijani is a writer for adults and children with a penchant for world mythology and enjoys incorporating it into her writing. She grew up an avid lover of films and books especially Star Wars which sparked a lifelong love of storytelling in all its forms. Davina was born in London, United Kingdom where she currently lives. She later studied at The University of East Anglia and University College London, before pursuing writing. Her first book, Yomi and the Fury of Ninki Nanka, the 1st book in the Nkara Chronicles is out now.