DEBUT JOURNEYS Annemarie Anang


Welcome to this virtual landscape where debut authors get to take us along ancient streets, deserted beaches and dark forests, showing us what inspired them, pointing out the crossroads and obstacles along the way. This month Helen Victoria steps out with author Annemarie Anang whose debut I AM NEFERTITI  was out earlier this month.


Let’s begin our journey...


There’s nothing like a good walk to fuel creative ideas and give us inspiration in our writing. Where are you taking us on our walk today?


My home. I live in a Swedish forest where I’m surrounded by an abundance of fir, pine, birch and poplar trees. From my house I can see a stream which is home to ducks, geese and swans. Owls, cuckoos and magpies frequent our forest and I enjoy hearing their calls. When it’s warm weather, I write outside in nature as I love to feel the warmth on my face. If it’s chilly then I write in my cosy greenhouse. Our winters are very long so I’m usually writing by my old fireplace, looking out onto deep snow. Being in my forest helps to rejuvenate myself when I create.


What about the landscape you have created in your novel? How important is the setting to your plot and themes?


I chose a musical setting, not just because I’m a musician, but also because it’s fun! If the setting excites me, then when I write I should be able to excite children too. Nefertiti is in a band, she plays the drums like my daughter does and I AM NEFERTITI is set in a rehearsal space.


In her music series video, Annemarie explains how 'Miss Potts calls Nefertiti 'Nef' 
and this makes her shrink to the size of your thumb'. (Illustration by Natalie Quek)

As the saying goes, a journey of a thousand steps starts with one. Tell us about your inspiration for your novel.


The message of my debut children’s book I AM NEFERTITI was an urgent one for children to hear – love yourself. The main character Nefertiti was named by her grandma after the great Egyptian queen Nefertiti, and the name means 'A beautiful woman has come'. 

Your name is a part of your identity, often associated with a meaning, history or an interesting story. Over the years, I have learnt that the effect of carelessly mispronouncing, Westernising or shortening people’s names can lower self-esteem. I want children to love their name and who they are, and to be proud of their identity. I wanted each child to celebrate the joy of being themselves and feel like they belong. 

'I live in a Swedish forest, home to ducks, geese, swans, owls and cuckoos...
(Picture credit: Oskars Sylwan, Unsplash)

Now we have got into our stride, can you tell us what you loved most about writing this book?


I thought I’d start my writing career much later in life, but the lack of diversity in children’s books made me pick up my pen just two years ago, when my daughter was four. When I discovered that less than 6% of children’s book creators are people of colour, and that in 2019, only 5% of children’s books had an ethnic minority main character, I decided that I had to contribute to increasing those percentages. What if children who looked like my daughter could grow up seeing themselves reflected as the smart, hilarious or adventurous main character in books, TV programs and other forms of media? 

This would encourage self-love, acceptance, confidence and feeling like they belonged: vital for wellbeing and healthy development. And what if all children were exposed to main characters from every sort of background? Not only would they have considerably more empathy for others, but they would grow up believing that everyone belonged. How much more peaceful would the world be then?

Not only would they have considerably more empathy for others, but they would grow up believing that everyone belonged


I’m a former primary school teacher, now an actress, and I decided that I could not allow my daughter to grow up as I did, without seeing myself reflected in books and other media. So, I set out to become a children’s book creator and write books in which the main character is either black or brown, like my daughter and me.


I AM NEFERTITI features a main black character, alongside a group of children from diverse backgrounds in the band. It is a story for everyone, regardless of their heritage and background; all children should read books about different kinds of children – that is how empathy can be nurtured. I am really happy to be making a difference. I have also enjoyed working with Natelle Quek who has illustrated the story so wonderfully and Five Quills have also been great to work with.


We seem to be lost in the woods now. Can you describe some of the challenges you faced when writing this book?


I’ve just begun my writing journey and as an actress I’m used to regular rejections and hurdles; it’s part of my job so I’m not easily phased by them anymore. I wrote I AM NEFERTITI and edited it until it was the best version of itself and I could do nothing more. I shared the story with a close family member who is in early years education and a friend with a background in editing, and they both loved the story. I wanted to get feedback from a critique group but didn’t have enough time for this as I was trying to meet a submission deadline for a big publisher. 

Many people on the SCBWI BI Facebook group helpfully recommended Natascha Biebow as an amazing freelance editor with her Blue Elephant Storyshaping business, so I asked her to read a couple of my stories. She gave me some invaluable feedback and I enjoyed our communications so when a few weeks later, she in her other role as Editorial Director for Five Quills made me an offer along with publisher Daniela Schneider, I accepted.


I set out to become a children’s book creator and write books in which the main character is either black or brown, like my daughter and me

For I AM NEFERTITI, we wanted to create a diverse cast of characters, so deciding on just the right character names that had the assonance and alliteration to go along with our choice of instruments, and for everything to fit seamlessly together, took many re-readings. Choosing the sounds the instruments make when they are harmonious and discordant was another big challenge – this was about finding the beat, rhythm and read-aloud quality of the book. Video recording myself was very useful for this process. That was one of the biggest challenges of writing the story.


As we head back, can you tell us how it feels to be a first time author?


It was a wonderful moment to hold a copy of I AM NEFERTITI in my hands because I am writing to make a difference in children’s lives and my own daughters life. It was a joy to read it to her at bedtime that evening.


We had a live virtual book launch hosted by Chicken and Frog Bookshop. Natelle Quek is the fantastic illustrator of I AM NEFERTITI and she led a draw-along of Nefertiti playing a ukulele. I read the story, introduced children to different instruments from Nefertiti’s band, and led a sing-along with my ukulele. It was lots of fun!

Nefertiti, her friends and instruments. (Illustration by Natalie Quek)


We’ve finished our walk now so I think we deserve to celebrate with tea in a cosy inn. As we warm our feet by the blazing fire, tell me where you think your writing will take you in the future?


I’ve just finished recording an entertaining music video series I created where I introduce young readers to Nefertiti, her friends and their instruments. It’s called Nefertiti Keeps the Beat and there are eight episodes available on You Tube and social media.


I’ve also begun campaigning with my friend, B Lydum for the United Nations to add a new Sustainable Development Goal target to improve early years’ mental health, support and wellbeing.


I’m continuing to write children books, aiming to make a difference in all of their lives. You can find information on all of my projects on my website.


Finally, I have really enjoyed walking and talking with you today. Can you give us one take away tip for yet-to-be-published writers?


Have faith in yourself and just write. After a rejection, which we all have, take a deep breath, try again and be kind to yourself!


 *Header illustration by Imogen Foxell



Annemarie Anang is an actress and former primary school teacher. She began writing for children after struggling to find books for her daughter that featured main characters who reflected the diversity of children in our world. Annemarie was awarded the 2021 SCBWI/BIPOC writer’s scholarship. A Londoner, born to Ghanaian parents, she lives in Sweden with her young daughter and husband.



Helen Victoria compiles Debut Journeys. Find her on Twitter: @helensimmons100


Imogen Foxell is an illustrator with a particular interest in creating intricate imaginary worlds. She illustrates English literature revision cards for, and interesting words for Her website is Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.


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