Norma Charles is undoubtedly a woman of many talents and trades: since moving to the UK from Jamaica in 1959 she has worked as a nurse, lab technician, social worker and practice teacher, and now, at the age of 81, children’s author.
Foley Crow: Friend or Foe? is the culmination of eight years of writing, a long and successful career in social work, and influences from Norma’s childhood. Following the story of two mischievous little crabs who leave the safety of their home and end up in the clutches of the menacing Foley Crow, the book emerged from a desire to teach children about stranger danger. I was intrigued by this quirky tale, and keen to know more about the woman behind the words, Norma Charles:
“I think my writing was enhanced by my father’s storytelling as a child. He was so prolific at storytelling, and I think it was only in later life that I realised that they were mostly made up! In the evening after supper time the family would all sit there, eyes wide open, to listen to these stories that he used to tell. One of them was about two crabs and a crow and that really stayed with me and I wanted to utilise it, so that was the formation of my Foley Crow.”
Although Foley Crow is Norma’s first published work, she has always been a writer. In fact, as a child she earned the nickname…“Scribbler. Everybody said I always had my pencil, scribbling down. They’d say ‘what are you writing?’ and I would say ‘nothing’ but, really, anything that was interesting, I would scribble it.”
I have one granddaughter… and she has two sets of parents, one white side, and one Caribbean side… I am writing this book as a Colourful Grandparent!
Indeed, this ‘scribbling’ has paid off. Foley Crow holds 5 star reviews, and has been described as a ‘lovely little story for youngsters in these uncertain times’. And yet, ‘lovely little story’ is perhaps doing a disservice to the writing which, although charming, subtly conveys more serious themes. Norma’s long career working in child protection in Nottingham has given her an expert understanding of the dangers that some children are tragically exposed to, something that has left her with a lifelong passion for safeguarding children from harm. She goes on to explain that ‘abuse is a very taboo subject amongst families. And because of that, I just felt that I needed to do something in the book that makes it as simple as possible for parents to explain.’ Her hope is that parents can use her book to educate children without frightening them, ‘so that a child can sit on their lap and they can read it to them’.
Foley Crow, then, is not just a book, but a teaching resource; one that can be used in educational settings to encourage an open conversation about child safety. Norma reflects on her own experience of teaching with fondness, and is sure that this time has only improved her writing, allowing her to ‘put myself in the child’s shoes’ and consider ‘what they would say and what they would do’. In fact, she is clear that starting to write later in life is nothing but advantageous, having not only worked in child protection and teaching, but raised two children, completed a Master’s degree focusing on safeguarding children and cultural heritage, and served as the Chair of the Race Equality Council.
So, what’s next for Norma Charles? She has no intention of slowing down, and speaks excitedly about her latest literary project, Molly’s Colourful Grandparents. Much like Foley Crow: Friend or Foe?, Molly’s Colourful Grandparents is a book heavily influenced by Norma’s own personal life and experiences, and explores racial diversity within families. ‘I would say that I have a diverse family’, she muses. ‘I have one granddaughter and I have been a part of her life since she was born, and she has two sets of parents, one white side, and one Caribbean side.’ Norma intends to place her close relationship with her granddaughter at the forefront of the book; laughing, she tells me ‘I am writing this book as a Colourful Grandparent!’