Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain is bringing her children’s book to Dubai for the Emirates Festival of Literature.
Since winning UK television series The Great British Bake Off, Nadiya Hussain has presented TV shows, written newspaper columns, and published quite a few cookery books.
But now the mum-of-three is focusing on a very personal project. My Monster and Me, illustrated by Ella Bailey, is her first children’s picture book.
The heartfelt tale about a little boy whose worry monster follows him wherever he goes, is inspired Hussain’s childhood experiences of anxiety with the hope that no child who reads it will ever have to suffer in silence, like she did.
We catch up with Hussain ahead of her Dubai trip to talk bedtime stories, the importance of reading and sometimes just needing to walk away from it all.
Are you looking forward to coming to the Emirates Festival of Literature?
Absolutely, I came over a couple of years ago and it was really good. It’s such a lovely atmosphere.
From recipes to children’s books, how and why?
It probably helps that I have children. When the kids were growing up (mine are 13, 12 and nine) making up stories was just a part of our bedtime routine. We would read books together and then I’d ask: “how would you end this story?” So in some ways I’ve been creating stories for years with my kids and just not realised. It has felt like such a natural thing to do and I’ve always loved doing it. One of the best things about writing, is writing for children.
My Monster and Me touches on such an important topic, anxiety in children.
Yes, I did a documentary for the BBC on my own anxiety and during filming realised that we didn’t actually ever touch on anxiety in kids and how it affects them. I knew something was missing, so I went to the library and searched for a book about anxiety in children in the family matters section and noticed that there wasn’t anything on the subject at all. So I thought well, if it doesn’t exist, somebody needs to write it.
Do you see more kids books in your future?
I hope so, I really do hope so. My three are getting older, but my brother’s having a baby, so there’s always someone to write for. There’s something about writing for kids that I really enjoy. They engage in a way that adults can, but don’t. It’s really lovely.
Do you have a favourite book from your own childhood?
Growing up in the culture I did, and certainly in my family – my cousins and even my friends – we weren’t read to at night. Reading wasn’t something that was encouraged, it wasn’t something that we really did at home. So I spent a lot of time in the library when I could. But in terms of my favourite book from when I was a really young kid, it has to be The Hungry Caterpillar. That’s the one I read to my kids even now, sometimes. Then when I got a bit older, say around nine, I really enjoyed the Nancy Drew collection.
Having missed out on that bedtime story routine yourself, do you value the importance of it with your own kids?
Oh absolutely. I mean there’s the time before bed when they are all a little worked up, we call it the witching hour. Kids kind of lose it at around 6pm and we have to look for ways to calm them down. So even now I still encourage them to get into bed and read a book – and I don’t see that ever ending. I mean I do it too, and I’m the mum! I really hope it’s something they continue to do. It’s something that I didn’t have growing up as a child and it’s such an important part of growing up… To read – for their imaginations, their creativity, their writing and for their mental health. To just have something that isn’t attached to anything else they are doing in school or at home… To be able to allow their imaginations to become completely lost in a story.
What books did you read to them when they were younger?
The entire Harry Potter collection, which is amazing! Every time a David Walliams book came out we read it together. They don’t really like being read to anymore, but one book we do bring out every now and then is a picture book called Some Dogs Do by Jez Alborough, which is still one of their favourite books to read at night, even at their age.
You mentioned Nancy Drew, and she is a quite the heroic girls’ role model, what about literary villains. Any that you particularly love?
Oooh, literary villains! I don’t think I really remember reading any books with really nasty villains in… I have recently gotten into Stephen King, which I never used to enjoy and I couldn’t understand why anyone would ever read that sort of thing. But I’ve just finished The Invincible and I loved everything about it. I mean, I looked at it, a big, thick book with hundreds of pages and thought “I want to read that!” I demolished it, it was wonderful.
You’ve got so much on your plate, and have three kids, you must be so busy. Any tips for mums doing it all?
I think from the outside it looks as though we’ve all got it together, but the reality is we are all struggling a little bit, and I think the first step is to admit that. It’s okay to struggle, it’s okay to not have time to do everything. It’s important to take time to do the little things. I find myself doing things like walking away from it all. You just have to sometimes. Work will still be there tomorrow. What I do with my kids is when I’m really busy, and they’ve got a million things to get done, is put on our coats and trainers and walk out of the house and away from it all. Just for an hour. We head to the woods where we collect moss and stones and then we come back and it’s all still there! But we’ve taken that time out together and that’s important.
Dhs39. Fri Feb 7, 10am-10.45am. Emirates Festival of Literature InterContinental, Dubai Festival City, www.emirateslitfest.com (04 355 9844).