Stories of Wales and Africa: Publishing success for families’ storybook

Families and children from the North Wales Africa Society will see their own story in print this year as Y Lolfa prepares to publish The Fish Princess – a story created by the families through workshops with author Casia Wiliam and illustrator Jac Jones.

The project was coordinated by the BLAS programme at Bangor’s Pontio Arts Centre, which has a long-standing relationship with the North Wales Africa Society. It was one of a number of activities which received funding from the Books Council of Wales’ New Audiences Grant in spring 2022.

The Fish Princess was created during a series of workshops with Welsh and African artists, exploring traditional African and Welsh ideas and stories, and different storytelling formats. Children’s author Casia Wiliam then worked with the families to create a brand-new story, taking inspiration from the workshops and weaving African and Welsh traditions and ideas into the narrative. Once the story was complete, illustrator Jac Jones worked with the children and families to explore the characters and how they would look in the finished story.

Welsh publishing house Y Lolfa, with the support of a publishing grant from the Books Council of Wales, will publish the book in both Welsh and English, and it will be available to buy in the spring.

Dr Salamatu J Fada, Director of the North Wales Africa Society, said: “This is one project that brought both the Welsh culture, and some parts of the African cultures of Ghana and Nigeria specifically, together. The families all enjoyed developing the ideas with the guidance of the diverse facilitators who were involved in the project. We are immensely pleased with the process and can’t wait to see the published book. Diolch yn fawr.”

The project also created opportunities for Trainee Tutors to take part and develop their own facilitation skills for community and collaborative projects in the future. Olaitan Olawande and Marie-Pascale were Trainee Tutors as part of the scheme, working with the families to develop their story.

Olaitan said: “It was an amazing experience to see how families worked together to create a story. The input from different generations meant there were some new ideas and concepts that could be created. I think working with families and this process of storytelling allows for open conversations between families; it can provide a space for children and parents to share novel and pre-existing stories whilst also applying them to some real-life challenges. Imagination is limitless and the importance of family can be shown in the story-making process. The published book is one that will go down in history; as the saying goes, ‘it takes a village’ to make something truly amazing.”

Marie-Pascale said: “I’m happy to have been a part of this MARRIAGE OF CULTURES that led to so many smiles and to the cognitive involvement of our children: being tomorrow’s ADULTS that will understand the unifying BEAUTY OF DIVERSITY and uphold it.”

Author Casia Wiliam said: “Together, these families have created a brand-new tale that is full of old magic and fantasy. It weaves together Wales and Ghana, intertwining Welsh and African traditional ideas and narratives. It’s a special story, and I must admit that this has been one of the most fun and exciting projects I have been part of as an author. I can’t wait to hear how the families respond to the book when it is published in Welsh and English in the spring.”

Arwel Jones, Head of Publishing Development at the Books Council of Wales, said: “It’s been wonderful to see this project develop as one of the recipients of the New Audiences Grant. It started as a group of families and children exploring ideas and their imaginations to celebrate and bring together Welsh and African cultures through stories. By the spring there will be a finished book that will be published by Y Lolfa and available in bookshops for families across Wales to enjoy.”

The Books Council of Wales’ New Audiences Grant has awarded funding to 43 different projects to create new opportunities and develop new audiences within the publishing sector in Wales, thanks to support from Creative Wales.

The purpose of the grant is to strengthen and diversify the parts of the publishing industry the Books Council currently supports, and the grants specifically prioritise new publishing ventures, authors and audiences.