Sheffield-born writer taking inspiration from grime music and lockdown distance from his nephew self-publishes children books as ‘passion project'
A Sheffield-born ‘passion’ writer who started creating audiobooks for his nephews during lockdown has now self-published four paperbacks that arrived on his doorstep the day before World Book Day.
Kweku Ackom-Mensah, 34, grew up in the Ecclesall and Hunters Bar areas of Sheffield and attended High Storrs School, before he left for London 12 years ago.
Now living in the capital, he spent the first lockdown writing children’s stories alongside his day-job for his nephews, Xander, two, and Hugo, four, that he was unable to see in person.
From tongue-twisting jungle adventures about skunks, to a whimsical world of humungous beings, Kweku created characters and prose that take inspiration from British sub-cultures such as grime and hip-hop.
Four self-published paperbacks later, the writer has called it a ‘passion project that has spiralled out of control’.
Kweku, who works in start-up funding in his day-job, said: "I have been doing creative writing for years now but decided to go into writing children’s books during lockdown so that I could send my nephews some stories, and some audiobooks, just for them, which they really really liked.
"So then I got in touch with a couple of illustrators – my partner’s cousin did the first two, and a friend of a friend did the second two.
"It is literally a passion project that has kind of spiralled out of control, which is nice, but what I wanted to do at the beginning was see what it was like to actually manage the entire thing myself and have that autonomy.
"I have taken a lot of influence from stuff I listen to such as grime, hip-hop and spoken word – a lot of the stuff that is coming out of the UK at the moment is independently owned, so I am taking some influence from that and to see what it is like to manage my own business like that.”
The books are for children aged three to eight and include a QR code that can be scanned to hear the audio recording, recorded by Kweku in a ‘freestyle’ tone, veering away from your stereotypical children’s audio books – something the writer believes is unique about his stories.
The books are written in an ‘informal adult’ voice, rather than the simplistic way some children’s literature can be written, Kweku, who is called ‘Uncle Kweks’ by his nephew, says.
"I think the temptation when you are writing for children is to underestimate them and to use vocabulary that is very simplistic, or to use rhyming schemes that are quite straight-forward.
"But if you look at grime, as a primary example, that is a renaissance that is completely turned away from by a large part of the community because it is happening in a certain subset.
"But the level of vocabulary being used, and the age they are writing it – young people – coming up with serious works of art; that’s the idea that I love, building some complexity into interesting, user-friendly vocabulary and put it into children’s stories.”
The writer wants his style to be completely ‘different’ to your typical children’s books, and he utilises slang to punctuate his stories.
“My writing hasn’t actually taken lots of influence from other writers.
"My writing process is, ‘okay get into my own head and run with it’; I want to write something completely different.
"A lot of slang is thrown in there, the way informal adults might talk to each other. One whole story is about this skunk going through the jungle and having a really good time with all these creatures and ‘skanking’, a colloquialism for dancing.”
One of his other books, entitled ‘The Dragon and The Whale’ even arrived at Kweku’s door freshly printed the day before World Book Day – but there was a catch.
Kweku said: “I had no idea about the timeline that was going on when you self publish, I was supposed to be getting it out for Christmas but the books landed at my house the day before World Book Day with a notice on them that said, ‘do not open for 24 hours as the resin is drying’, so it was like, ‘great, serendipity there’. It was kind of crazy.”
Kweku’s parents came to Sheffield in the 1970s, his dad from Ghana in West Africa, and his mum from the south of England, and they still live in Sheffield today.
Although Kweku now lives in East London, he is ‘proud’ of his Sheffield upbringing.
He even mentions his inspiring English teacher from High Storrs, Mrs Bradfield, whose ‘enthusiasm was contagious’.
He said: “I went to school in High Storrs, and grew up in Ecclesall, Hunters Bar way and Sheffield is this thing you can’t help but be proud of.
"It is one of those liberal cities up north that has an awesome vibe about it and lots of my Sheffield upbringing I have very fond memories of, it is a cool place to come from.
“You miss the ‘salt of the earth’ northerners but London is an awesome city as well and I have a big group of Sheffielders down here that I spend a lot of time with.”
The books can be purchased online at www.unclekweks.com.