I first met Leah in our regional writing group nearly five years ago. Now her debut middle grade novel is hitting shelves with glowing reviews. Leah’s story One Shadow on the Wall follows the life of Mor, a young Senegalese boy who makes a promise to his father to keep the family together. After his father dies, Mor faces pressure from his aunt who wants to split him and his sisters apart and from a local gang that wants him on their side. Leah found the inspiration for Mor’s story while visiting Senegal and seeing a young boy sitting on a beach wall–she wondered what his day would be like and the idea for a story bloomed. Thank you, Leah and good luck with your amazing new book!
What would you say you’ve learned the most from writing One Shadow on the Wall?
There have been so many lessons along the way to writing this book but the biggest is probably—cherish glimpses of possibilities. That is how this book started . . . because of a glimpse at a boy on a beach wall in Senegal.
But here are ten other takeaways thus far:
- Be patient with my writing and myself. When and if things are meant to happen, they will.
- (This takeaway goes along with the first.) Don’t rush . . . nothing ever turns out how it should when I rush.
- Be kind to my writing and myself. It is okay if it isn’t perfect on the first, eighth or ninth try. Keep trying.
- Welcome the mistakes, because they often lead to some unbelievable possibilities.
- Treasure true friendships and writing time. They are both rare gifts.
- Do not try and walk someone else’s path. Your journey is yours for a reason.
- Write for the kid you used to be.
- Write for the kid you wish you were.
- Write for the kid you hope to see.
- Lastly, and probably the most important for the long haul and for our spiritual wellbeing: Celebrate and appreciate the small successes even more than the great ones.
And as a last, last note: Don’t forget to smile, laugh, and have fun along the way … otherwise what is it all for?
Was there something that stood out to you about writing middle grade? What about writing from a background that wasn’t your own–a young boy from Senegal?
I really had to research it all. When I began writing this book, I was new to the genre so I had to really figure out what was at the heart of a middle grade novel. Then I had to find and listen to Mor’s voice, and his hopes and dreams. I also had to learn about Senegal, and the values and mindsets of many of her people.
I pretty much stumbled into this project not knowing ANYTHING at all.
Everything was new—writing in the voice of a boy—a Senegalese boy. Writing about a village, a Senegalese village. Writing about an experience so different from my own where assumptions, and preconceived ideas swirled in the air and needed to be tamed. I knew the harm in them ruling the story and tried my best to write from a place of understanding by doing research and asking questions of those who live this experience and by people who have come to call Senegal home. I truly wanted to create characters (and hope that I have) that young readers can identify with, and that no matter how far apart their lives might be from my characters that they might be able to see a piece of themselves in my work. My hope is that I have captured even a fraction of the heart, hospitality, and beauty that is so much a part of Senegal.
Thank you, Leah, for sharing such valuable insights.
Thanks for the interview, Johnell, I enjoyed thinking about your questions. Happy writing & reading everyone!
For more information on Leah and her book, please visit her site at: http://www.leahhendersonbooks.com
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