Journalist as Author: Davina Hamilton, Riley Can Be Anything, Riley Knows He Can and Ella Has A Plan
By Phoebe-Jane Boyd
13 Oct 2020
‘I wanted to write stories that featured black
characters, so that black children – including my own – would be able to see
themselves reflected in the stories,’ says Davina Hamilton, author of the Riley
series of children’s books.
Following time at publications including The Voice, Davina rerouted her love of writing into children’s fiction, her latest being Ella Has A Plan. Read on for what inspired her to create Riley and Ella and the importance of diverse representation in children’s literature.
Can you introduce the Riley series in a couple of
Riley Can Be Anything
follows young lead character Riley who – with the help of his big cousin,
Joe – learns that he can be anything he wants to be when he grows up. Riley
Knows He Can sees Riley preparing to take centre stage in his starring role
as the wise king in his first school play. He’s nervous about the performance,
but with the encouragement of his big sister Ella he’s able to take to the
stage with kingly confidence. Both books are rhyming stories and both aim
to instil self-confidence in young readers.
Could you tell us about how you came to write the books?
Before writing the books, I enjoyed a lengthy
career in journalism, so I’ve always enjoyed writing. I had a desire to write a
book at some stage and – as cliche as this probably sounds – it
was after having my children that I considered writing children’s
books. I wanted to write stories that featured black characters, so that black
children – including my own – would be able to see themselves reflected in the
stories. I also wanted to address the wider issue of diversity
in children’s literature, as I believe it’s important for all
children to see varied representation in the books they read, so they learn and
understand that diversity is normal and not some sort of oddity.
Can you share a bit about your new release Ella
Has A Plan?
It’s a rhyming story that follows clever,
kind-hearted Ella, who is determined to come up with a plan to stop her two
quarrelling cousins from ruining her mum’s big party! The story is targeted
towards children aged 6-9 and it promotes the importance of kindness, and
learning to get along with one another by trying to find common ground. It also
encourages independent thinking among young readers when it comes to problem
solving and conflict resolution. All of this is reflected through various
generations of a loving black family – cousins, uncles, aunts and a great
granddad, who are all part of this family tale.
Do you have plans for other books in the series,
or writing in a different genre in future?
I’m sure I’ll write another Riley or Ella book in
the future, but my next book will take a slightly different
direction. It’s a baby book that will be targeted towards new parents and
parents of very young children. It’s a short rhyming story that aims to ease
the worries/fears that so many new parents experience. I hope parents read it
to their little ones, almost like a lullaby, as it aims to be soothing for both
the parent and the child.
What advice would you give to other journalists
thinking about writing a children’s book?
Someone once gave me the advice: ‘Don’t get
it right, get it written’. I think that’s a really useful tip,
especially for writers who tend to procrastinate or overthink the process, in a
bid to get everything perfect the first time around. You don’t need to aim for
perfection – certainly not in the first instance. Much like journalism,
writing a children’s book often begins with an idea. So once you have your
idea, start jotting down notes, sentences or any further thoughts that can then
be fleshed out and built upon to create your story.
What books are you reading right now, or about to
I’m a notorious book-buyer, but
I often lack the time to read what I’ve bought! Next on my reading
list is I Am Not Your Baby Mother by Candice Brathwaite.
Are there any examples of your everyday journalism
that you’re especially proud of or would just like to share?
My journalism career has been so varied and there
are many things I’m proud of. I worked as an arts reporter-turned arts editor for black-British publication
The Voice newspaper for 14 years and covered too many stories to mention!
I’ve also written for publications including BuzzFeed, Huffington
Post and gal-dem magazine. In essence, I’m proud to have been able to
write about issues that affect/reflect the black community – most recently, articles that
discuss the importance of diverse representation in children’s
Are you available for freelance commissions,
speaker opportunities or other roles?
I still dabble in journalism every now
and again, so I’m open to freelance commissions. As an author, I’ve delivered
numerous readings and workshops, so I’m always open to those opportunities –
though in these times, they’d obviously have to be virtual.
If I’m a PR professional with a story or another
opportunity for you, how should I get in touch?