Ruby Yayra Goka is an award-winning prolific Ghanaian author. She has already written 15 diverse and fun books for children and young adults Her books have been featured in a few of our past Booksie Boxes.
What kind of stories did you hear or read growing up? Were you a bookworm?
I read everything when I was growing up. My favourites were anything Enid Blyton, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Sweet Valley, The Babysitters Club, Paula Danziger, Judy Blume, Tom Sawyerr and Huckleberry Finn, Hans Christian Andersen, Goosebumps, Flowers in the Attic, African Writers Series, The Pacesetters etc.
Yes! I was definitely a bookworm. I was the type who would have a storybook on my lap while lessons were going on. I did get in trouble for that.
How did you discover your passion for writing?
I’ve always written (I have an uncompleted manuscript from when I was in Junior High School) but I never actually thought I was any good at it. That changed in 2009/2010 when I entered a competition (the Burt Award for African Literature) and won third place. Winning the award was a great validation. It helped to know that people other than my family and friends thought the stories were good too.
Why children’s books?
Why not children’s books? When I was growing up, one of my first books by a Ghanaian writer was The Jasmine Candle by Christine Botchwey. I was completely enthralled by it. Everything about the book was a delight — the descriptions of food, the scenery, the characters, everything!
Of course, before The Jasmine Candle I had read books in The African Writers Series and The Pacesetters series but those books were for a more mature audience. There were very few books for African children and young adults.
When I started writing this was something I wanted to help change.
I want African kids to know their stories matter, that they matter. That they are good enough as they are to be represented in the pages of a book.
I hope in the next ten to fifteen years, if Booksie asked a writer which stories/ books did they love as a child, there would be some African names in the list as well.
What is your writing process like? Where do the ideas come from and how long does it usually take to get a full story done?
Ideas come from everywhere — snatches of overheard conversations, reading another book, news stories, dreams etc.
I don’t have a fixed writing schedule. I spend more time mulling over the storyline, characters etc as I go about my daily activities. I write when a section of the story falls into place or when it becomes clear to me what’s supposed to be happening.
When I’m really into the story I hear characters having conversations in my mind. That makes it easier. All I have to do is write down what’s going on. I used to always have a book and a pen with me to jot down ideas. Now it’s even easier. I make notes on my phone when something catches my attention.
The duration varies. I finished the first draft of two of my books in two weeks but there’s another book I’ve been working on since 2010. It varies. I try to just go with the flow of the story. I try not to rush it.
How long did it take you to move from idea to illustrated and printed book in your hand?
From idea to first draft please refer to the question above.
The duration for illustrations and printed book really depends on the schedule of the publishing house I’m working with it. So far it’s usually been about nine months to a year.
Do you have any advice for anyone interested in writing, especially for children?
Read, read, read.
It’s important to know what books children enjoy and read those. That gives you a fair idea of what gets a child interested in the book.
Should an aspiring children’s writer go the publishing house route or the self-publishing route?
It’s a decision the author will have to make for themselves.
Some factors to consider include:
- Your target audience
2. Your finances (to pay for an illustrator, graphic designer, editor, printer, book promotions and adverts etc.)
3. Your marketing skills
There are lot of resources online to help self-published authors. The author will have to weigh the cons and pros and decide for themselves.
Who are your favourite children’s books and authors?
Anything Enid Blyton (I loved Mallory Towers, Famous Five, Secret Seven, the Faraway Tree). Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Sweet Valley Twins and High, Tintin, Archie and Judy comics, The Jasmine Candle and Spears Down (Christine Botchwey, The Gods are not to Blame (Ola Rotimi), The Marriage of Anansewa (Efua Sutherland), The Way we Lived (African Writers Series)
What are your thoughts on the children’s literature and publishing scene on the continent?
I think it’s really picking up. There are more books pictures of black children on their covers now than there were when I was a child. But we still need more books with African characters in the different genres horror, adventure, sci-fi, fantasy, detective stories etc.
Let’s come to something that Booksie is passionate about, raising children who are readers. As a writer, what will your advice to parents who want their children to read more be?
I think parents should visit bookshops with their kids and have kids browse books and pick what they (the kids) find interesting and what they want to read.
It’s important not to make reading a chore, something the child will view as punishment but to make it fun and exciting.
What are you currently reading?
I just finished reading Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine by Gail Honeyman, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Next on my list is The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.
When should we expect your next book?
Fingers crossed. The end of this year maybe.
Ruby Yayra Goka is a dentist by day and an author by night. Ruby has always loved stories and storytelling. She is a multiple winner of the Ghana edition of the CODE Burt Award for African Young Adult Literature (having won six times), which recognizes excellence in African writing. She has fifteen books to her credit.
The Author Spotlight series gives us a sneak peek into the backgrounds, writing and publishing process of some of our favourite African authors. Know any authors we should feature? Let us know and we’ll get on it. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.