A teacher told Kareen Getten that writing was not a career. Despite this, she is the author of ‘When Life Gives You Mangoes’ and ‘Two Sisters, A Story of Freedom.’ What a brilliant job she has done of proving that teacher wrong…Kereen grew up in Jamaica then moved to the UK where she has lived ever since. She is passionate about writing stories which children can relate to… and mangoes.
‘When Life Gives you Mangoes’ has been named by Oprah Magazine as one of the Best Caribbean Books for your 2021 reading list. It has also been shortlisted for the Branford Boase prize and Jhalak Children’s and YA Prize. We caught up with Kareen to ask her ten questions about why she writes, her inspiration and what’s coming up next!
Why did you start writing books for children?
It came about purely because I wanted to write a story about my childhood in Jamaica. I lived in a small town, and our house was on a hill that overlooked the sea and was surrounded by trees. I thought it would be a perfect backdrop for a childhood adventure.
How did you get your book out into the world?
I wrote the first chapter of Mangoes some years ago and put it to one side because I couldn’t find the story. I got an agent with another story and when that wasn’t picked up by a publishing company, I took another look at Mangoes and finished it. We sent it out to publishers in the UK and US and it went to auction. Pushkin Press bought it for the UK and Delacorte for the US. It was then published in October 2020.
Why did you write this book?
I wanted to write about my childhood in Jamaica and I also wanted to write about friendships at that age. How important it is, and how devastating it can be when you lose that friendship.
Do you relate to any characters in your stories – which ones and in what way?
I probably relate to Clara the most. Clara is very independent; she loves Mangoes as do I! And she loves nature, so do I. She also thinks very deeply about things which I do too.
What’s your favorite book and why?
My new favorite book is A Glasshouse of Stars by Shirley Mars. It’s so beautifully written. I love gentle books that really focus on taking you inside the protagonists’ head, so you really feel connected to them, and Shirley does that so well.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a writer! From when I was eight years old and started reading for fun. That’s all I wanted to be until my career’s teacher told me it wasn’t a career and to rethink my options.
What do you want children to get from your books?
I want them to see for themselves. I want them to be able to relate to the characters, and to feel seen. Most of all I want them to not guess the ending!
Best advice you’ve ever been given?
To never get rid of my work, no matter how small. I could use it later.
Finish this sentence for us…Reading from diverse bookshelves….
Enriches your reading experience.
A message to readers of your book?
Thank you to everyone who has read When Life Gives You Mangoes. The feedback and response has been amazing. I hope you loved reading about Clara’s journey as much as I did writing it.
Thank you Kereen for sharing some insights about Jamaica and your wonderful writing with us all.
Now if you want to find out more about Kereen, then this beautiful piece of writing for Foyle’s is not to be missed. Just come back here and do your book buying afterwards.
Kereen’s book has gone into our 8-11 subscription boxes which deliver 2, 3 or 4 wonderful inclusive books to your door every month. Along with some puzzles and activities and lovely gifts. Head here if you want to check them out…
It has also gone into our bigger boxes. These are usually bought by schools, but we have plenty of parents buying them to diversify their bookshelves in one fell swoop. So, if you’re a school or someone who wants to get their home bookshelves fixed up, head here.