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Meet Ayesha Clough, author of ‘Howdy, I am John Ware,’ one of the books we were fortunate enough to donate this September. Read on to learn more about her and her work.
How did you end up being the author of children’s books?
It was never the plan! I couldn’t find any good books for my son, who is crazy about cowboys and horses. That struck me as odd – especially since we live in Alberta, the heartland of Canada. There were lots of ponies and unicorns, and some older books, but nothing that made cowboys cool by today’s standards. As a mom and former journalist, I figured I could do something about that. And here we are.
Why did you choose children’s books over other audiences?
I’m used to writing news stories … short, sweet, simple, “just the facts, maam”. Full-length novels and fiction are beyond me. So a biographical series that I could research and write in a fun way for children was right in my wheelhouse. Besides, I’d love our children to have strong local role models, and to see Alberta in their books. I want them to grow up with a real appreciation for our western values and way of life. I want to plant seeds of imagination while they’re young, so they have dreams to chase after into adulthood.
You have been a news reporter, a business owner and a publisher. How do you think this has changed how you approach writing books?
Great question! As a news reporter/editor, I have “story sense” … I know a good story and a good writer when I see one. As a business owner, I can discern which of those stories will sell well. I write up a mean spreadsheet and business case before proceeding with any book. It’s tough to make money in publishing, even for the big guys. So imagine a tiny market like Alberta. I live by my husband’s diktat – “Whatever you do, don’t lose money.” He’s my biggest investor so far, so I have to listen, haha!
What drew you to writing the stories of Albertans?
Children’s literature contains a lot of generic mass market content – a lot of it is good, but a lot of it isn’t. Please excuse me for being blunt, but I am horrified by the quality of writing and artwork in some children’s books.
The big publishers aim for the widest possible audience to help recover costs, but this means Canadian children are bombarded by non-Canadian content. I want my son – and every child in Alberta – to grow up seeing Alberta on the page. I want him to know who he is, where he comes from, and how lucky he is to be Canadian.
Albertans are humble people. As a transplant from B.C., and a city girl all my life, I was shocked at the beauty of this province, and the wonders of western life. Maybe Albertans want to keep it a secret, but I’m happy to shout it from the rooftops – or at least from the pigments on the page.
What do you think is missing in the current curriculum and literature of youth today?
I’m not familiar with the Canadian curriculum – I am a first-generation immigrant, born in New Delhi, and taught the Indian curriculum all the way through high school. That said, I’m shocked by how little some of my Canadian-born friends know about residential schools, immigrant histories, and Canadian history and politics in general. I was exposed to some of this in university and as a news reporter, but there are huge gaps in my knowledge too. I might start a lobby for ‘Canadian-content’ rules for literature in schools, just like we have minimum rules for “CanCon” music on the radio. There is so much more we can all learn about our country, and the people who made us what we are today.
If you were to leave your readers with one message, what would it be?
Canada is a very special country, made up of so many diverse communities. We’re not perfect, and there’s lots more work to be done, but there’s so much to celebrate and be proud of. We know the world needs more Canada. So please support Canadian content wherever you find it … music, art, film and television, food, books, crafts, you name it!
What are you hoping will be the next steps for you and for your books?
I have more ideas than time or funding! After the ‘Howdy’ series about pioneering Albertans, I’d like to do a ‘Newcomers’ series about the struggles of immigrant communities as they find their place in the fabric of Canada. I have been blessed to have incredibly talented authors and artists work with me. I hope we can keep putting out beautiful books from the Rockies to the Prairies. I’m working on grant applications, as I need to become more financially sustainable. And I hope one day, a reader will write me to say that something they read in a book I published changed their path for the better.
Check out Ayesha’s book at the link below: