Beverley Naidoo crafts tough teenage fiction. Much of her writing is inspired by the personal challenges young people face because of politics around them – for instance, as a street child in South Africa in No Turning Back or as a refugee in London in The Other Side of the Truth.
Born: Johannesburg, South Africa, May 21st 1943
Jobs: NGO worker, Teacher, Education Adviser
First Book: Journey To Jo'burg, 1985
Born in South Africa, Beverley Naidoo grew up as a white child under apartheid – the racist system that denied equality and justice to black South Africans. As a student she became involved in resistance to apartheid and, at 21, was detained under the notorious ‘Ninety Days’ law.
Beverley was exiled from South Africa in 1965 and wrote her first two novels, Journey To Jo'burg and Chain of Fire, in the UK. While Journey To Jo'burg won awards in the UK and USA, it was banned in South Africa until 1991. Prevented from doing research for Chain of Fire in South Africa, Beverley immersed herself in materials smuggled out of the country by journalists, photographers and researchers.
The genesis of No Turning Back was somewhat different. Following Nelson Mandela’s release from jail in 1993, Beverley returned freely to South Africa, where she was able to conduct first-hand research in the tense lead-up to the country’s first democratic elections. She spent six weeks with theatre director Olusola Oyeleye running drama and writing workshops with young South Africans, including street children. A year later, Beverley returned with a final draft of No Turning Back, to gather responses from some of the same young people.
Research for Beverley’s new novel The Other Side of Truth took her to London, exploring life for young people forced overnight to become refugees. In The Other Side of Truth, 12 year-old Sade and her brother Femi are sent to London to escape political trouble in Nigeria. They find themselves alone in a new – often hostile – environment. Beverley deftly weaves together themes of political oppression, exile, Africa and childhood. She won an Arts Council Writer’s Award in 1999 for work-in-progress on the novel.
WHAT SHE SAYS...
"Like my schooling, my reading as a white child in South Africa did nothing to challenge the complacency of white domination. But there was one book relating to another great crime that affected me deeply... The Diary of Anne Frank... I recall identifying strongly with the teenage Anne, imagining myself subjected to Nazi terror, not once suspecting that I myself was part of a system engaged in its own kind of ethnic cleansing."
"For me the question was always: how can I convey such brutal abuse of power without losing my young readers' hopes and beliefs that there can be other ways in which human beings relate to each other?"
"There is a rather fashionable view in the West that if you start off writing with strong political intent you will inevitably write fiction badly because your message will predominate. I take a less fashionable view that politics with a small 'p' does not preclude writers from creating good fiction... as long as they take their craft seriously."
WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT BEVERLEY NAIDOO...
"Written with valuable insight, gritty but optimistic, this is a totally believable, absorbing read." The Guardian on No Turning Back
"It is a tribute to Naidoo's talent that she makes you realise that this is not the end of Sipho, just one stage in the emerging complexity of his life and that of his new country." TES on No Turning Back
“A wonderfully accessible story laced with powerful messages of family commitment and human rights. Beverley Naidoo’s own South African origins and subsequent exile in London provide heartfelt spine to this book.” Jon Snow of Channel 4 on The Other Side of Truth
Silver in the Nestle Smarties Children’s Book Award 2000 for The Other Side of Truth
Arts Council of England Writers’ Award for work-in-progress for The Other Side of Truth
African Studies Association Children's Book Award for Older Readers 1998 for No Turning Back
International Reading Association Teachers Choices for 1998 for No Turning Back
Josette Frank Award (Child Study Children's Book Committee Award)1998 for No Turning Back
Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies 1998 for No Turning Back
Book Trust 100 Best Books of 1997 for No Turning Back
Shortlisted for the Smarties Prize 1995 for No Turning Back
Shortlisted for The Guardian Fiction Prize 1996 for No Turning Back
‘Vlag en Wimpel’ Award 1991 for Chain of Fire
American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults list 1991 for Chain of Fire
Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies 1990 for Chain of Fire
Shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal 1990 for Chain of Fire
Shortlisted for the Smarties Prize 1989 for Chain of Fire
Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies 1986 Journey to Jo’burg
Parents’ Choice Honor Book for Paperback Literature 1986 for Journey to Jo’burg
Child Study Children's Book Committee Award1986 for Journey to Jo’burg
The Other Award 1985 for Journey to Jo’burg
PLACE & DATE OF BIRTH:
Johannesburg, South Africa, in the middle of the Second World War
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D Taylor
‘Summertime’ from the musical Porgy and Bess
MOST TREASURED POSSESSION:
A pair of wooden heads that almost seem to breathe - the inspiration for Sade’s own Oko and Iyawo in The Other Side of Truth
Salaam Bombay which is dedicated to the street children of Bombay
When did you start writing?
When my children were six and ten. Their father and I were born in South Africa - a beautiful but very sick country made ugly by racism and injustice. The apartheid government forced us to become refugees. Our children were born in Britain and I wanted them and other young people to know about the land from which we had come. My first book was Journey to Jo’burg. I hoped my readers would travel with my brave characters on their dangerous journey and, like Naledi and Tiro, end up by asking important questions about fairness and justice.
Where do you get your ideas and inspiration?
Stories are all around us. The most interesting are often hidden, tucked in between the cracks. You need a microscope and imagination to lever them out! Sometimes, a strong photograph or image might catch my attention and stir up questions about what lies behind someone’s eyes or beyond the frame. I am especially interested in how adult power and politics touch children’s lives and the choices young people make. Little details often give clues to the larger picture and I like to dig out and explore ‘big’ stories and issues using my own microscope and imagination.
Can you give your top 3 tips to becoming a successful author
1 I am not the first to say: Read, read, read.
2 Talk, talk, talk about what you read. Each of us reads through our own eyes. A friend will often pick up something I have missed and we can respond differently to the same book. Talking about a book helps to expand our reading. We can discover new viewpoints, think more deeply and reflect on what we feel.
3 Be curious about human beings and their stories… and write, write, write!
Playing with our children beside a stream in Yorkshire.
Favourite place in the world?
What are your hobbies?
Reading, walking and talking, going to the theatre, swimming and yoga.
If you hadn't been a writer what do you think you would have been?
A dancer if my teacher hadn’t thrown me out of her class when I was five because I couldn’t point my toe!