A picture of Sade holding a copy of Snowy Joy book, reading or talking to an audience
Sade Fadipe
4 Apr, 2024
Sade Fadipe: Snowy Joy, a Tale of Refuge

‘Throwing, rolling and playing games in the snow has always been on Adanah’s wishlist of things to do before she turns ten. It just never snows where she lives! So when she gets whizzed away for her first snow-holiday, she is truly thrilled! But a storm soon strikes, and her aeroplane’s wings shivered with an unusual frenzy, as if it had caught a cold. Yet the dreadful weather hints on more danger ahead!’

Sade Fadipe is a children’s author, with a background in teaching. She is an Ignite Partner, Trustee to the Essex Book Festival and founder of CALFE (the Children and Authors’ Literary Fanfare Events). Her first book, A Fun ABC (US edition ‘A Visit to Grandad’), was recognised in 2020 with the Baker’s Dozen award and as a Caldecott-notable. Liz Hunter-Gray ask her questions about ‘Snowy Joy: A Tale of Refuge’, a book she wrote and self-published in 2018, later transforming this into the stage play ‘Snowy Joy and the Griots’.

When did you first get the idea for Snowy Joy, and when did you first start writing for this?

“Mummy are we Refugees?” My youngest was nine when she first asked the question. Being the only Black girl in her year group, she was inquisitive about her identity, about aspects of the news she had stumbled on a couple of times, and about questions she had been asked. Rampant then, was the Syrian crisis in the west, Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria (where she had spent a part of her childhood), news about families with children crossing the French channel on dinghies, and much more. My kids had caught me, at the sounds of their presence, instantly changing the tv channels, shielding them from the News – my strategy to avoiding difficult conversations.

Yet, in answering her question, I found myself digging into history… personal stories about how their grandfather came to study in England in the 1950’s. Why he had come in the first place. Half-stories still unravelled about why their grandmother had an English name, even though she had never left the soil of Africa. Stories in the bible of how families were always on the move either due to famine, flooding, dominion, or war. I explained that humans have always been on the move but that the how and why, is what makes the difference.

What was the first production of Snowy Joy like, how did people react, what feedback did you have?

Convinced that I had a story worth sharing with the world, I sent the manuscript to my publisher in 2018 and unlike them, they went quiet on my pitch. So, I decided to self-publish the book to avoid further rejections, knowing I was treading on sensitive grounds. On publishing it, they were the first to receive a copy and their comments spurred me on; I sensed a regret on their part.

Self-published in 2019 and launched at the V&A Museum on Nov 2nd, 2019, by March 2020, Snowy Joy got caught up in the lockdown.

A picture of the cover of Snowy Joy - an illustration shows a family playing in the snow with a plane in the background

At that point I decided to transform Snowy Joy into an online production. By Dec 2021, I garnered the support of friends and family across the decades, and they all agreed to take on distinct reading roles. From the 1st to the 3rd of December 2021, we went live on Zoom. I called it Snowy Joy and the Griots. This was our very first Appearance.

A black and white illustration of the characters in snowy Joy taking a plane ride

Where has Snowy Joy been shown since?

By February 2022, sponsored by Chelmsford For You, Edith of Chelmsford Ideas Hub requested a live version of what we had done online. And so, we rehearsed online, towards a physical event. Of remarkable interest, I was soon to meet people I had been planning with, in real life! Prior to the day, I met Sofia Rojas who set up the backdrop, created the scenery within the Art Place Pop Gallery and managed the public element of the event. On the very day, I met Godwin Daudu, also a Chelmsford resident and casts I was seeing for the first time in 30 years!

The first presentation of Snowy Joy and the Griots at the Art Place in Chelmsford

It was a bitterly cold and typical winter’s day, but warmth was a common experience as the Chelmsford audience tucked into the story of Snowy Joy. At the time, I was unaware of the vast number of people seeking refuge in Essex during lockdown.

The first production of Snowy Joy, cast members line up, Sade is taking a bow in the middle

In October 2022, I was awarded an Arts Council DYCP for its further artistic development.

In December of that year my fellow teaching colleague Margaret Omoniyi, who runs a drama school in Nunhead, London, mentored me and a few of her students, as key Snowy Joy characters.

Since then, for two consecutive years, we have delivered live stage productions in London on a low budget pulling on our resources. The 2023 Production involved twenty-three pupils from St Margaret Magdalene School in the Southeast. It was a public performance with a hall packed audience.

What audiences are you trying to reach with the book and production, what do you hope Snowy Joy brings to people’s lives and to society?

Themed on displacement, migration, kindness, empathy and human dignity, Snowy Joy cuts across and beyond a particular race of people, even though I infuse elements of both my African and English heritage. I use it in celebrating my parents’ youthful lives here in England.

Children aged seven and above may already be indirectly affected by displacement. It just takes a best friend moving school, moving house, or suddenly disappearing – it really does not take much. My children felt traumatised knowing they had friends closed to bomb-blasted areas. As parents, we want to shield our children, but I find immense joy seeing my children being part of the audience during our productions and the embraces they swamp me afterwards, just by being a voice for the vulnerable. Our opinion on issues is what children latch onto. So, the question is what are we telling are children about the question of REFUGE?

My audience can be found in schools, libraries, and homes. I have experienced truly poignant moments when teachers within the upper primary phase and their pupils engage in conversations around children that may have been at their schools prior and had to move on due to displacement.

I am also in negotiations with the sanctuary Schools program in which all schools that I work with will gain sanctuary school status.

What challenges have you had in this project?

My long and lonely decision to preserve it as a self-published product means that I am solely and directly accountable for its success and that can be tough. More especially as it could be viewed as is a controversial topic. Yet my moral belief about a common humanity keeps me on track with the message of Snowy Joy.

What are your dreams for Snowy Joy?

Whenever so often I think about Channel 4’s 1982 film The Snowman, and Howard David Blake’ song Walking in the Air, I dream of Snowy Joy being the culturally diverse version of this work. If this happens in my lifetime, it will have to be a dream come true.

I would like the world to know that Snowy Joy was birthed (written) and first presented Live in Chelmsford.

As a stage play, I would like to continually play the role of narrator and keep developing my storytelling skills.

I would also love to keep engaging children in conversations around refuge and safety for all children.

If I could change anything, I would like Snowy Joy to be taken off me as a book by one of the bigger publishing houses. There are two more volumes to come within the Snowy Joy Series.

What can Ignite members and others in Chelmsford do to support?

Within Essex, our theatres need cultures reflecting its demography across the county, using the people, skillset, capital, and resources with which we have been endowed.

I would love to see the stage play across Essex, involving creatives within Chelmsford supporting myself, Margaret and Dee Lana our constant character who plays Grandma, with the authenticity it deserves. Obviously, this will require theatrical skills: a creative team, a technical and all that it takes to make an outstanding end of year production and Funding.

I know there are talented people within Ignite and beyond that can help. So, please do contact me via contact@sadefadipe.com referencing SnowyJoyATG@Theatres to share any advice, resource, and training available in making this dream a reality.

To find out more about my work please visit my website https://www.sadefadipe.com/ and do leave a comment. Thank you.

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