All Stories, a free mentorship programme for underrepresented children's book writers was launched on 30th March 2021. Here, the fifth in a series of interviews with All Stories mentees, Deputy Editor, A. M. Dassu speaks to Ikuko Ishiwaki to find out more about her writing and experience as a mentee.



How long have you been writing for?


My history of writing has been a sporadic one. I am a bit ashamed to say this because many writers have been writing constantly at all stages of their lives. When I was in a primary school, I wrote short stories which I have never shown to anyone. The second wave came when I was in my early twenties, and it lasted for a few years. My third 'writing bout' has been going for a few years now and started with a Christmas gift from my partner, who paid for me to enrol in a writing class. I am now committed and I am no longer a 'from time to time' writer.



What made you want to write for children?


I love children and they seem to like me. They amaze and fascinate me. I am attracted and mesmerised by the way they are, their thoughts and their development. To write for children is a kind of 'extension' of my fascination and appreciation of children. Picasso famously said, “All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once the child grows up.” It is absolutely true. I always imagined myself reading to my children the way my parents did (although my father said 'to be continued' after reading only a page or two as he fell asleep) but I did not have children. If I cannot read to my children, why not write for children?



Can you tell us a bit about the book(s) you’re writing? (Age range, genre and anything else you’d like to tell us.)


I write quirky picture books, including a story about cats’ ears, the adventure of a pencil, a child learning to ride a bike and a son of thunder. I’d like children to 'ooh' or 'aahh' when they read my stories.



What has your writing journey been like up to this point?


As I mentioned, my writing journey has been very sporadic. I always had the excuse of 'being busy' for everything including writing. Now I have an urge to write and to join the All Stories’ family is the really one good thing that has happened to me since the pandemic. (I was in the tourism industry, which has gone down the pan.) I would love to make the best of this opportunity. To be coached, mentored, and have the undivided attention of my mentor is so good. I had thought my writing would not go anywhere but now I feel I may find a way to somewhere.



What are your goals for the mentorship? How is the mentorship going so far?


My goal is to get to the door to the agents, with six or seven manuscripts ready. I have been slow, digesting what I’m learning and what I should improve. I have problems with one particular story but I am working on it as I would like to include this story among my 'ready to go' basket. I adore the whole mentorship scheme. To be mentored by Niamh is marvellous. The webinars on various topics, which are very well structured and informative, are more than I ever hoped for – and there’s so much useful and encouraging information from Catherine too. There’s also the comradeship with all 14 mentees. We write for different genres, we are at different stages of our writing journey and we live apart but I feel I have allies. I hope this will carry on after this mentorship ends (the thought of which makes me sad).



What’s it like to have a mentor for your writing? Is it what you expected?


It is simply wonderful. I am very fortunate to be paired up with my mentor Niamh Mulvey. We both live in London so we meet up in person and we even have a 'usual' meeting place now. She is digging deep to find my strengths and weaknesses in a very encouraging way. I feel she is genuinely interested in my development.



What are your thoughts on representation in children’s literature?


If I had stayed in Japan, I would be less conscious about 'diversity', let alone its existence in the world of children’s books. Japan is a nation of one race and when a nail sticks up, it is hammered down. Times are changing in Japan but there is not as much diversity as in the UK. The world will be a better place if we all know that there are people from different countries, cultures and environments. We are all different and we are all individuals. All of us should be aware of this from an early age.



What is your favourite book and why?


I have to say The Wind in the Willows, especially the chapter when Mr Badger serves porridge to two little hedgehogs and their feet do not touch the ground. Absolutely adorable. I also adore Miyako Matsutani, a Japanese author who passed away not long ago. She wrote a few board books, many picture books and chapter books – the latter containing twists of Japanese folklore. As for contemporary picture books, I like Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers, for the quirkiness.



Ikuko Ishiwaki is a Japanese writer living in London. She writes picture books that include a little of her 'Japanese-ness' while tackling subjects that will engage readers. Recently leaving her daily work of tourism, her mantra is write more and read more.

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