The teacher with the write stuff for black boys

5th March 2010 at 00:00
Author identifies gap in children's fiction market and fills it with her own burgeoning publishing company

Ola Laniyan-Amoako has sympathy for teenage black boys who find reading boring.

"They say they don't enjoy reading, but it's not the reading, it's the material," says the primary teacher. So she has started her own publishing company to provide stories about people and places they know.

Mrs Laniyan-Amoako, who teaches at Rainham Village Primary School in Essex, began Urbantopia Books in the summer holidays last year. Already, her fledgling company has been named as one of the 100 most promising prospects by small business networking website Smarta.

"I used to write as a hobby, since about the age of 13. As I got older, my stories extended and I wanted to get them published," she says. "I grew up in a small household, me, my mother and sister, on a council estate in north-west London, and I wrote from that perspective.

"But when I looked for people who published that sort of material, there were no publishing companies doing it and I thought there needed to be, so I set one up."

Her first book, Leon - Spit on the Mic, is aimed at teenagers and is due to be published on March 10. Another book for teenagers, an adult novel and a children's book are also due this year.

But combining a business with family life and a full-time job teaching a mixed year 12 class means keeping unusual hours.

"I really enjoy doing it, so it doesn't seem like work. At the moment, I do the bulk of it on Friday nights, after 11pm, once my two-year-old son and husband are in bed, then I can work until about 4am in peace."

Having written several books herself, Mrs Laniyan-Amoako, 30, is now keen for black and ethnic minority writers to contact her.

"My books are to be used as an example of what I want," she says. "I'm looking for other writers, particularly from Asian backgrounds."

She has self-funded the venture and kept costs down by using the Graduate Talent Pool website to find an illustrator.

"I started my career in Hackney", says Mrs Laniyan-Amoako. "That is a very diverse area, but almost all the books, especially in key stage 2, were not relevant for ethnic minority children. Where were the black characters they could identify with?

"There are lots of books about African or Caribbean children but never British ones who lived on estates, like they do."

She hopes that by writing herself, she will show her pupils that whatever their background or wherever they're from, they can also make up stories - all they need is an idea.


Saci Lloyd is author of The Carbon Diaries 2015 and the more recent 2017 sequel. She teaches media studies at Newham Sixth Form College in London. Her first book was the subject of a film rights bidding war between Johnny Depp's production company Infinitum Nihil and the creators of TV show Shameless, Company Pictures.

Michael Morpurgo was a primary school teacher in Kent before he became a children's author. He has written more than 100 books, such as Private Peaceful and Warhorse, and has won many prizes, including the Whitbread Award.

Dreda Say Mitchell is author of Geezer Girls, Running Hot, Gangster Girl and Killer Tune. She was a secondary school teacher in Dagenham, east London, before becoming a deputy head at primaries in Tower Hamlets. She is now an education adviser, writer and broadcaster.

Philip Pullman is author of the His Dark Materials trilogy. He became a teacher at the age of 25 and taught at various Oxford middle schools before choosing a career in writing. He has won the Carnegie Medal and the Guardian Children's Book Award.

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