(Not an urban environment for scuba-nauts!)
I tend to get preachy about this topic – but this is meant to be inspiration. So I'll put aside questions of tokenism and appropriation by saying that if you research and imagine with empathy, these shouldn’t be a problem. We are all people, anyway.

 NB I am leaving gender for another posting – not enough space!

Since October is Black History Month, I’ll start with race. There are fabulous resources all over the net – but check out these on Making Britain: How South Asians shaped the nation 1870 – 1950 from the OU and the Asian and African Studies blog from the British Library if you fancy something a little different. Full of amazing stories and images. Whether you work in fantasy or if you’re a ‘realist’ – how about researching a back-story for one of your characters?

Clearly, there’s a lot more than sticking a wheelchair into a crowd scene that we can do. One of the most entertaining sites I know of is Ouch! from the BBC. It isn’t worthy and the blogs are fascinating – plus there are more links. (Illustrator friends – there are stills, an archive, and a great article about the disabled icon further down). You get to hear things from the viewpoint of the people involved.

Cultural background 
Personally, I think this is far more important than the shade of a person’s skin – for writers especially. What can a character’s heritage bring to their way of thinking? What about practical things like food and drink (I hate generic stew in fantasies – it’s just lazy), what you sit on, how things are celebrated? Clearly, dress, artefacts and colour choices for example, will fascinate illustrators too. Lots of lovely materials available at ethnographic museums like the Pitt Rivers (the Explore section is chock full of online resources).

A special plea 
Don’t forget the glorious riches of the British Isles (and Europe, for that matter). Look deeply into our regional customs, dialect and visual traditions. Standard ‘white’ characters are SO dull. Everyone comes from somewhere, has history (I speak as an adoptee).

Investigate a range of possibilities to make your character specific and memorable. If you make the effort to research with respect, you will be paid back a hundredfold. If you stick to what you think you know, you’ll get stereotypes.

With apologies from the soapbox by Philippa R. Francis (who writes as K. M. Lockwood).


K. M. Lockwood is a writing name of Philippa R. Francis. Once a primary school teacher, she became a graduate of the MA in Creative Writing at West Dean College in 2011. Her story The Selkies of Scoresby Nab was short-listed for the Mslexia Children’s Novel Competition and long-listed for the Times Chicken House in 2012/13. She was born in Yorkshire but now lives by the coast in Sussex. Her writing shows her deep fascination with British folklore and the sea. Her interests include reading, scuba diving and belly dancing, though not at the same time. She also blogs at the-wedding-ghost.blogspot.co.uk


  1. As a parent of a child with autism, language problems and learning difficulties I am always glad when creative people include disabled characters even if it is, as you say, a wheelchair in a crowd scene. I think that it is important to show that disability is part of everyday life and that disabled people are part of every community.
    Sometimes creative people are scared of including disabled characters because they are worried about getting it wrong. My suggestion would be yes do read the blogs and websites but also, if you can, take time to meet and talk to people affected by disabilities - maybe you could talk to their families and their teachers as well. If you have published a book that is suitable or are an illustrator, why not hold your next event at a school or club for children with special needs?
    But don't just ask them about their problems - find out about their lives, they are not just defined by what they can't do there will be many things they can do, they have interests and dreams just the same as the rest of us. A rule of thumb is that is important to show the personality behind the disability and not to patronize. I think that Candy Gourlay did a very good job with this in her book Shine. Her main character has a medical condition that prevents her from speaking but this does not overwhelm Rosa's personality or completely define her, she is full of life. Plus there is a compelling story that is very well written. I love this book in so many ways!

    P.S. You may also like to look at this website: http://www.inclusiveminds.com/

  2. Hi Amanda

    Thanks for mentioning Inclusive Minds. We've got lots of experience in the publishing industry helping publishers, illustrators and authors make their books more inclusive.

    I'm looking forward to the post on gender. One on different types of families and LGBT representations would be fab as well.


    1. Hi Beth, I'm glad you noticed my mention and totally agree about different types of families. There is room for everyone in kid lit in my opinion.

  3. I agree that cultural background is very interesting. We live in such an amazing world full of variety. However, the shade of a person's skin is the first thing one sees and it is important that people of all skin colours are represented in literature. Malorie Blackman calls this "A mirror to every child's life". I shall be discussing this and other issues in my blog http://www.multiracialfamily.me.uk. This mirror also applies to all different kinds of families as mentioned by Amanda.

    1. I am very late to this but must just say I agree with you, Odette.

  4. Well, ultimately it's about the story ... so if mulitculturalism gets in for the sake of it - like putting a plaster on a knee - then it's just as bad as ignoring the vast richness our diverse society has to offer. Thanks for the thoughtful post Philippa - even if you were towering on your soapbox!±

  5. Yes, Thank you again Philippa for helping us out of the ruts we may have settled in.


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