Author Amie Taylor on the making of her new creative workbook for children – The Big Book of LGBTQ+ Activities.
Miserable unicorns, queer princesses and merpeople – my career has at times been challenging, but never dull. Having always freelanced as a writer, theatre maker and artist, the different strands of my work have often crossed over. I trained in theatre, moved into theatre and arts education after leaving university, then in my late 20s shifted over to working with the charity Diversity Role Models tackling homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in schools. When I left there in my early 30s, I wondered if there might be a way to pull all of these many strands of my career together.
When I was growing up, there were no visible LGBTQ+ role models in my life. Thanks to Section 28 and poor media representation, I didn’t knowingly meet a gay person until I was 19. The result was not realising I was gay until I finally did meet some incredible role models in my mid 20s. That was all it took – seeing other people like me, to help make sense of my own life, and the path I was on. For me it happened far too late, a lot of LGBTQ+ people will talk about having their teenage renaissance in their 20s because they feel as though they missed out the first time around. After I’d come out and given myself a little time to stabilise, I made the decision to shift at least some of my freelance work into ensuring that young LGBTQ+ people growing up now, have the role models my generation lacked; which was when I joined Diversity Role Models, first as a volunteer and later on as part of their freelance facilitator team.
I loved my time with Diversity Role Models, regularly working in primary and secondary schools to tackle homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying and language – incredibly important work, and it wasn’t unusual to leave a school at the end of the day having seen a shift in attitudes in one, if not more of the young people. After sometime working there, I began to consider that perhaps I wanted to work on earlier intervention and somehow merge this with my theatre work. By the time young people reached age 9 or 10, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia were often already deeply ingrained in the culture. I decided to start making theatre shows for young children with LGBTQ+ characters in. No explanations, no discrimination, just happy, adventurous, fun and likeable queer characters, starring in their own stories. I was very fortunate to get Arts Council Funding to make two plays: The Diaries of a Miserable Unicorn and Once Upon a City, and have spent the last two years touring them to a number of theatres and festivals.
When JKP asked if I’d be interested in writing this book, it felt as though a lot of different pathways had been leading towards writing it, and that there was potential to take some ideas I’d had for stories in my head for a long time and get them out on to the page. I spent the days of August 2019 writing tales set in and around Clear Sky Castle, featuring anti-gravity jelly, homophobic unicorns, mouldy gherkins, palace parades and queer princesses, as well as devising quizzes, word-searches, writing and colouring activities and some more in-depth explanation about LGBTQ+ identities. I wanted to create something that any teacher could pick up, photocopy, read and share with their class, even if they themselves were not LGBTQ+ or familiar with the current phrases and terminology. I also wanted to create something fun and silly, because I think we learn best when things are fun and a bit silly!
So I am hopeful that from September, when inclusive relationship and sex education (RSE) becomes compulsory (that means they have to teach about LGBTQ+ relationships in RSE as well as heterosexual ones), this will be a helpful guide for teachers, some of who may be teaching this for the first time. Although written primarily for teachers, I wrote the book bearing in mind that some parents or carers may want to use at home it too, and it could certainly be used in that setting.
I’m so incredibly excited for the whole host of brilliant characters from Clear Sky Castle to make it in to schools from September 2020, and look forward to a new generation of LGBTQ+ young people growing up with the characters I never had.
With beautiful illustrations from Liza Stevens, suitable for ages 5-8, The Big Book of LGBTQ+ Activities is published on the 21st August 2020.