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Introducing Diana Anyakwo and her debut novel, My Life As A Chameleon

I’m so excited and happy to share the news that my debut novel, My Life As A Chameleon is coming out in 2021 with Atom Books!

My Life As A Chameleon is the story of a young mixed-race girl striving to find her place in the world and is based on my memories of growing up in Nigeria. Like my main character Lily, I often struggled to fit in. I think many of us have experienced that feeling and it can be such a lonely place. We sometimes feel like we stand out too much and want to hide in the background, or sometimes we feel like we are invisible and long to shine so others will see us.

Being mixed race myself, I often thought this meant not being enough of either culture –  always existing on the edge of an invisible but tangible boundary, and being too white for one culture and too black for the other. What I didn’t realise as a child was the advantages this gave me, the ability to dip into two different worlds and see things from two perspectives, like viewing a room from two different angles.

My Life As A Chameleon is set in Nigeria and England in the seventies and eighties. It tells the story of Lily, a young girl in Lagos, the daughter of an Irish mother and a Nigerian father. Lily’s time is spent observing her family or playing alone, so we see her world and interactions with others through her eyes.  Her father suffers from schizophrenia. Lily’s relationship with him is difficult, but she doesn’t yet understand his illness and the effect it has on her family. She just senses there is something ‘wrong’.  This was an important issue for me to explore – the impact on a family when a parent suffers from mental illness or indeed, any chronic illness. My father suffered from schizophrenia and it wasn’t until I was an adult that I finally understood his often strange and frightening behaviour.

Lily is sent to live in England in Moss Side, a deprived area of Manchester in the 1980s – a completely different setting, a completely different culture. She witnesses racism and violence, experiences poverty for the first time. Yet again, she struggles to fit in.  She returns to Lagos a year later when her father’s health starts to deteriorate. As she helps care for him in his last days, they finally find a connection they had struggled so hard to make during his lifetime.

Lily grows into an anxious teen, but she navigates adolescence and all the challenges that accompany it with her characteristic sensitivity. Despite everything, Lily finally feels like she belongs.

I’m sharing this story because I believe we can all relate to the intensity of our feelings as we are moving from childhood through our teenage years to being an adult and I want young people to feel that whatever they are going through, they are not alone.