In Conversation with Sandra Agard
Updated: Aug 7, 2022
This week I have the honor of interviewing the wonderful Sandra Agard.
Sandra has been a Professional Storyteller, Writer, Cultural Historian and Literary Consultant for over forty years in a variety of venues and settings around the UK and abroad. These include libraries, schools, colleges, universities, theatres, museums, art galleries, literary festivals, shopping malls, prisons and in the community.
Born in Hackney, London, to Guyanese parents, her storytelling, cultural and literary backgrounds are steeped within the African and African-Caribbean Oral Traditions blended with the Black British perspective.
Harriet Tubman, A Journey to Freedom was released in October this year, as part of the Trailblazers series from Stripes Publishing (Little Tiger Press). Her book is available from Waterstones and Amazon.
What place did writing have when you were growing up?
Writing is part of my DNA. For as long as I can remember Writing has played a key role in my life.
My parents would buy me these red exercise books from the local market and I would fill them up with stories. Stories of my sisters, best friends and my classmates. These stories ranged from secret agents to space police to flying unicorns, murder and mystery. In fact I had an entire series of suspense tales.
At school my teachers encouraged me to write too. I often shared my stories with my classmates.
I have to mention my love of books. Reading went hand in hand with my writing. Libraries have always played an important part in my life both as a child and as an adult.
Did you have a favorite book as a child? What was special about it?
There are so many, as reading was one of my great loves as a child and still is.
I loved reading Fairy Tales. Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers
Grimm were always top of my list.
It’s always difficult to choose a favourite but I liked the Famous Five and the Secret Seven by Enid Blyton. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell I loved too. There was also a series of books that were titled by colours, Red, Green, Blue, Yellow. These were a collection of stories on various subjects.
But my all-time favourite (and one I always come back to) is The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis. It’s the magic, mystery, fantasy and majesty of the story I love. I remember the joy that this story gave me and still does. As a child I did not know anything about the religious element of the story. It was just a great exciting adventure tale with fantastic characters and a brilliant plot. And the adventure continued in subsequent books. Although the rest of the series did not have the depth it was always wonderful to visit Narnia again and again.
What is it about writing that you enjoy the most? What is the hardest aspect of it?
What I enjoy about Writing is developing an idea and watching it grow and grow. For me ideas are everywhere and so starting a story is always an easy step. It’s continuing that is always the issue. In other words, having the discipline to develop the story to its conclusion.
What advice can you give to children who are getting started as little writers?
Well, first of all, well done, you have made a start as you begin your writing journey.
Ideas are everywhere and as writers it is important that you obtain as many ideas as you can to develop and write your stories, poems, articles. So, make sure you always carry a notebook or when you get older a mobile phone so you can write those ideas down. Turner, the notable English artist, always carried a sketch book as he travelled the country so he could go back into his studio to paint his ideas into fuller paintings.
As a writer one should write something every day. This can prove difficult as we all lead busy lives. Find a time that’s best for you and your family and go with it. Make sure you can be flexible for times can change.
Writing takes practice so keep at it as much as you can.
Read. Read. Read. It is important that you read all kinds of books – even ones you would not usually read.
If you have a favourite genre, subject, read books on that topic. Check out the style, vocabulary, rhythm, plot, action of the book. You are not copying another writer’s style but shaping your own style of writing.
Never throw anything away. It might not be working at that moment but you can come back to it later. Remember you are learning and developing your art.
If you can, join a writing group. Does your school have a writing club?
If not, start one. Gather some friends and ask your teacher or the librarian if you can set up a group.
Share your work with other people. This is always a gamble but find people you can trust who will give you an honest opinion of your work.
And that brings me to the subject of Criticism. Be prepared to be criticised and do not take the feedback personally. You are simply improving your writing.
And what would you say to their parents?
There is one word I want to share with Parents and that is Patience.
Please be patient with your child. Every child develops at different levels. Time and time again I have seen children who arrive at the workshops with no confidence, shy, reserved…but by the end they are writing, reading, sharing their work eagerly with others. They have gained so much confidence, courage, knowledge, they often surprise their own parents.
I realize that schools are very different these days, sadly there does not seem to be the place for Time but as Parents you can help your child find this safe and confident place.
Plus, do you write yourself? Do you read?
It’s alright to continually encourage your child but what do you do for yourself. Find your own space, your own time to write for yourself, read for yourself. Indeed, you could read and write together. Some of my most satisfying workshops have been Family ones where everybody is sharing the creative and imaginative experience.
For your homework – actually do some writing and reading together at home. You might surprise yourself on the journey you have embark.
And if you used to write, read but have stopped begin again. Find the time, the space. We lead such busy lives, but when do we stop and focus on ourselves? Just Do It, as that famous tagline says.
What was the most interesting thing you learned about Harriet Tubman's life? And if you could, what would you tell her or ask her?
I think the most interesting thing I learnt about Harriet Tubman was the
depth of her courage. She was a real tour de force and believed utterly and completely what she was doing was right.
Harriet believed that everyone should be entitled to shape their own destiny. Even when her work on the Underground Railroad was done, she continued to fight for justice during the American Civil War and for Women’s Suffrage.
Harriet was a formidable woman who gave so much of herself and I would have liked to thank her for her courage and inspiration. She never let anything deter her despite the enormous difficulties she faced. And she never got caught!
I discovered her extraordinary story and other enslaved people through reading books like Julius Lester’s To Be A Slave and Virginia Hamilton’s The People Could Fly.
Can you share with us any tools that can help children in their writing journey?
As Writers one should always have a dictionary and a thesaurus by their side. Wonderful tools of the writing craft.
I would recommend the following sites as excellent reference points for writing and reading:
The Book Trust – www.booktrust.org.uk
Centre for Literary Primary Education (CLPE) – http://clpe.org.uk
The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre – www.roalddahl.com
The National Poetry Library – South Bank, The Royal Festival Hall
The Poetry Society – http://poetrysociety.org.uk
Breaking New Ground – Speaking Volumes http://speaking-volumes.org.uk
Booklove Multicultural Travelling Book Carnival @thisisbooklove
I’m incredibly grateful to Sandra for participating in today’s post. Sandra was my creative writing teacher for two years at Canada Water Library, and she has been incredibly supportive of my work. I know my writing journey wouldn’t have been the same without her!
Sandra’s works has been published in a number of publications. These include:
· Talking Blues (Poetry)
· Time for Telling (Stories)
· Myths, Tales and Legends (Stories)
· A Girl’s Best Friend (Stories)
· Watchers and Seekers (Poetry)
· Times Like These (Poetry and Short Stories)
· Unheard Voices (Stories)
Sandra is also a playwright. Her plays have included:
· We Are Women (Tom Allen Centre, Stratford)
· Conjuring Tales with Brenda Agard (Tom Allen Centre, Stratford)
· Women and Sisters (Royal Court Young Peoples Theatre)
· The Rainforest Revisited with Keith Waithe (Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith)
· Abena’s Stupidest Mistake was performed at The Drill Hall in December 2004 and was produced by Talawa Theatre Company and directed by Paulette Randall.
· Treasures of the Rainforest with Keith Waithe (The Children’s Polka Theatre, Wimbledon)
Sandra was the Literature Development Officer at Southwark Libraries and Lewisham Libraries in South-East London for eighteen years. She programmed and co-ordinated Live Literature programmes and the Rhyme and Reason Poetry Festival. She was also the Storyteller in Residence, Creative Writing Tutor and Book Doctor.
Sandra was The Centenary Storyteller at The Roald Dahl Museum in Great Missenden in 2016.
Sandra is currently a Workshop Programme Leader for Schools and the Community at the Ministry for Stories in Hackney. This post concludes in December 2019.
Sandra is currently reading Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi.
Her book about Harriet Tubman’s life is available from Waterstones and Amazon.
Read more about Sandra here.