Nadiya Hussain on writing her first children’s picture book, aimed at helping children with anxiety
She says her feet “haven’t touched the ground” since winning the sixth series of The Great British Bake Off in 2015. One of the show’s greatest successes, Nadiya Hussain has presented TV shows, written columns for leading newspapers, and published more than a few cookery books. But now the mum-of-three is focusing on a very personal project. My Monster and Me is her first children’s picture book with illustrations by the talented Ella Bailey. Having suffered from panic disorder for as long as she can remember, Hussain wanted to help children who might be going through something similar and give parents the tools they need to talk about worries and anxiety.
The Great British Bake Off star was the subject of a one-off BBC documentary earlier this year in which she talked frankly about her experiences with anxiety. Aired as part of the BBC’s Mental Health Season, Nadiya: Anxiety and Me followed Hussain as she visited schools to see what teachers do to help pupils who are suffering from similar problems. As part of the documentary, Hussain also talked to experts at King’s College London in the hope of learning how she could prevent anxiety being passed down to her children.
But it was the frank and honest discussion about her own experiences with anxiety and panic attacks in a cognitive behavioural session that earned her the most praise. Hussain revealed how the condition – which had not been formally diagnosed before she took part in the documentary – had seen her pile an enormous amount of pressure on herself and had even been the cause of lost friends. Stemming from childhood bullying and serious health problems in her family, she described it as “a monster” she struggled to control.
Hussain’s new children’s book is a heartfelt tale about a little boy whose worry monster follows him everywhere. Inspired by her own experiences, it’s penned in the hope that no child who reads it will have to suffer in silence – as she did.
Absolutely Mama caught up with her to find out more.
Q Have you always loved storytelling and did you always want to write a children’s book?
A Writing is one of my very first loves – it’s the way I express myself and it’s something I’ve always loved doing. When I was about seven I wrote a poem that won a national competition and that was it, I got really into reading and writing in a big way and I’ve been doing it ever since; reading, writing, lots of poetry. I express myself in writing quite a lot although I never had a diary as a child, it was always make-believe and stories.
I’ve written recipe books with stories and I love writing for children, so it’s been exciting to work on my first picture book.
Q My Monster and Me has such an important theme. What sparked the idea?
A I’ve struggled with anxiety since I was a child. I’ve always thought of that anxiety as my monster. Some days the monster shouts in my face and no matter where I turn, he keeps shouting. Other days he’s behind me and will tap me on the shoulder throughout the day so I can’t totally ignore him. Some days he’s small enough to put into my pocket. He’s always there though. I wanted to share my story with young readers and their families so they know they are not alone and can learn the power of sharing your worries.
Q We love the story and the illustrations. How did you come to work with Ella Bailey?
A My publishers suggested Ella as the illustrator and I’m so glad they did, I LOVE her illustrations – she really got the message of the book.
Q What sort of stories do you read at home with your own children? And do they have any favourites?
A David Walliams is a god in our house; there is nothing the man can do wrong. They absolutely love him and cannot get enough of his books. And my kids are really odd because they really like cookbooks!
Q We have to ask, are you watching this year’s Great British Bake Off? What do you think so far?
A I’m watching GBBO but always on catch up so I can fast forward through the adverts. Who has time for four tea breaks?!
Q And finally, what’s the most amazing thing that’s come out of going on the show?
A When I finished Bake Off, I thought that was it! I’d fly under the radar and I’ll just go back home and go back to normal life and actually I’ve done quite the opposite. I have been so busy since, my feet haven’t touched the ground. I don’t know if I can still call myself a stay at home mum anymore. It feels like I am still one – but with the added bonus of doing the most amazing job. I don’t have a title but when anyone asks my kids “What does mummy do?” they always respond with “She lives her dreams”. So that has to be the best thing to have come out of going on the show.
My Monster and Me
Published by Hachette Children’s Group
Out this autumn