Candice and Nikesh discuss their latest books

Candice Brathwaite and Nikesh Shukla at Henley Literature Festival 2021

Candice and Nikesh were interviewed by Leah Boleto who did an excellent job at connecting and differentiating the authors as they shared their unique and yet related journeys.

The audience got to hear from the authors on what is important to them and the inspiration behind their books. Candice‘s book is called ‘Sista Sister, notes on things I’ve learned the hard way, so you don’t have to’. Nikesh’s book is called ‘Brown Baby: A Memoir of Race, Family and Home.

Candice wanted to write a book that would have been welcomed by her younger self. She speaks of Sista Sister as a coming-of-age book that centres identity and personal development. Looking back at some of the episodes recounted in the book she is still shocked at what we can put ourselves through to attain some arbitrary concept of beauty. Now at 33, with age and hindsight, she is confident in who she is. She remembers too that before Black Lives Matter (BLM) her book was rejected several times but now people are interested in stories centring a variety of women. Her main aim is for someone like the younger her to see “my life now and know that they can have such a life and that they are deserving.”

Nikesh had followed two comedy books with The Good Immigrant. It came out in 2016 and was very successful. He shares that he hadn’t realised what it would be like to tour the country and some of the world talking about race in a post- Brexit post-Trump world. “It messed with my head,” he says.  He then became a parent and wrote an article trying to explore his daughter’s response to her dolls; she ignored the white one but continuously hid the brown one. In exploring that he stumbled upon the question that is at the centre of his book –

“How do we raise our kids to be joyful in a world that feels bleak that I feel so angry about?”

Both books touch on parenthood as the parent and as the child. Having moved out of London Candice is aware of the different ways this might affect her daughter. When her preschool child experienced racism from another child she began to look for solutions and this led her to paying for public school. Whilst that was the best option for her child, she was now working through her sense of privilege that she can afford to do that, whilst many others did not have that option.

Nikesh started writing the book as a parent but as he looked forward to raising his daughter, he kept remembering his mother. She passed away when his first novel came out, so he kept busy and avoided dealing with it. With the birth of his first child the memories of his mother brought his grief to the fore. He wanted to connect to his mother’s wisdom but in reconnecting to all of that he would have to say goodbye to her again. He wanted to capture her on the page. The writing took him to a dark place but there was a sense of lightness once the book was done. Now 10 years after his mum’s death he is reimagining a life without her.

For Candice there was grief too.  Her father died whilst she lived in Italy some years ago. Despite being an only child, she was not given the opportunity to clear out her father’s house and does not know where his ashes are. She admits to feeling orphaned and accept that she may never get closure.  She has a vivid memory of seeing him in the funeral parlour and how awful they made him look. In random moments she thinks she’ll set up a funeral parlour herself so no one else will be left with such an unsettling image of their loved one.

After he moved to Bristol, Nikesh spent some time commuting to London and staying in his childhood bedroom. He was able to clear out his mother’s stuff. In clearing out the family home he came across one of his mother’s Tupperware dishes in the freezer. As he heated up the meal it smelt like her kitchen and her food. Turning on the radio to her favourite station made it ‘a magical thing.’.  It also made it clear to him that he needed to start cooking this food that he grew up on.

He is now building a life in Bristol, getting to know the community and engaging with important conversations. More recently in talking about the Colston statue his kids found out about the Bristol bus boycott. They wanted him to explain what racism was and he went from trying to explain it to them, to just seeing the world through their eyes.

Candice shared the negativity she can receive from being the first to do many things. She admits to being delusional but explains that is the only way she could aim and believe in the possibility of the life she has now. She felt she needed that extra belief and manifestation was that for her.

Both authors spoke to the challenge to create in the modern age and the distraction of social media. They suggest that it is not possible to do their best work if they are tied up in conversations online.  Some advice for us creatives is to give the brain space and take time to sit with complicated feelings. Candice quoted a friend’s mother “silence can never be misquoted.” Nikesh quoted Michaela Coel who said that it’s okay to disappear for a while and see what comes in the silence. He has been taking walks and seeing what comes. As Candice reiterated, it is about living in alignment with ourselves and knowing “I am deserving of a good life.”

Shirley Anstis

Author of Black British Members of Parliament in the House of Commons, 22 Stories of Passion, Achievement and Success

Black British MPs in the House of Commons, 22 Stories of Passion, Achievement and Success

Black British Members of Parliament in the House of Commons #book

Black MPs in the House of Commons.

An intriguing mix of success and struggle

Reading, Berkshire, January 2021

Envision Publishing announces the arrival of the paperback edition of Black Members of Parliament in the House of Commons, 22 Stories of Passion, Achievement and Success by Shirley Anstis. The book draws attention to the journeys of serving Black members of parliament: who they are, how they got there and their contributions so far.

The UK parliament is made up of 650 Members of Parliament. Of these, 22 are of Black British, African and Caribbean heritage, representing 3%.  Despite this small number they are making an impact and can be seen as role-models for another generation who may not know of them or their work.

It comes highly recommended by leading Black political figures Lord Simon Woolley and David Lammy MP.

I love this book. It’s simple, straight forward and yet at the same time fantastically complex. Above all, though it is wonderfully inspiring.’ Lord Simon Woolley in the Foreword

This is the first book of its type and captures a moment in time. The data covers the events of the recent past so MPs are quoted on the impact of the Grenfell Tower fire, the Windrush Scandal, Black Lives Matter and many more. Every October we have Black History Month in the UK and schools are unsure how to approach it, with many ignoring it altogether. Lockdown has given many people an opportunity to slow down and appreciate the unique experiences of different parts of society. This book educates and informs adults and young people at a time when everyone wants to know more and be an ally. 2021 is the year to follow through on the hopes of 2020.

Having worked with young people for 10 years Shirley Anstis knows how much they long to see successful people who look like them. By highlighting these 22 individuals Shirley Anstis gives the reader an insight into other successful people to expand their horizons and the future they desire for themselves. 

Some of these parliamentarians have dedicated their lives to party politics and representation whilst others have recently transitioned from a different career path. There are many ‘firsts’ included here. These include Diane Abbott as the first Black female MP, Helen Grant as the first mixed female Conservative MP and Kwasi Kwarteng as the First Black African Conservative MP. 

A fascinating collection of personal stories, struggles and successes….it inspires us to fight for more.’ David Lammy

‘Black MPs in the House of Commons…’ has been extensively researched using the House of Commons database Hansard. Media interviews and MPs own social media provide many opportunities to get quotes from them. This is not a critique but a celebration of people doing their best to act in accordance with their beliefs.

Get in touch with  for interviews and talks. You can order your copy on Amazon or direct from the author on


Shirley Anstis MA., BSc. is an integrative counsellor in England. For more than 10 years she has been supporting her clients to work through their stories and live the life they envision. As a Careers Adviser she witnessed many young people struggling to find role models to give them hope for a successful future.  Her other books: An A-Z for your Life, Discovering and revealing who you are today’, and They Call Me…A look at nicknames in the Caribbean island of Grenada’, explore aspects of identity. Having lived in the Caribbean and the U.K. Shirley is aware of the complexity of our stories and explores this in her therapeutic writing workshops. Sample more of her writing on and contact her here for interviews, talks and collaborations.

New book!

Black British Members of Parliament in the House of Commons

22 mini biographies of serving Black MP’s, including well-known names and many groundbreakers. Be inspired by their dedication and achievement, succeeding against the odds. They are all different and represent the Conservative and Labour parties. Some have been around for many years and others only entered parliament in 2019.

Black British Members of Parliament
Black Members of Parliament in the House of Commons

Meet your representatives and read what they are trying to do with the opportunities they now have. You will be inspired by some and may be annoyed by others. Find out more by ordering your copy today

Mental Health Mates with Poorna Bell, Bryony Gordon and Melissa Helmsley

Mental Health Mates at Henley Literary Festival, October 2019

This was a space for the panel and the audience to connect to their own mental health experience and connect through a shared but very individual story. The panel was hosted by Bryony Gordon: journalist and author of several books including ‘You Got This’ which came out earlier this year. The other panellists were Melissa Helmsley and Poorna Bell.

Melissa Helmsley, is a chef and author of several books including ‘Eat Happy: 30-minute Feelgood Food’. As a guest on an episode of Bryony’s podcast she began to open up about difficulties in her past which led to them becoming friends and Melissa becoming an ambassador for Mental Health Mates.

Award winning journalist and author Poorna Bell has been an active mental health campaigner, especially after the suicide of her husband. She is the author of two non-fiction books, Chase the Rainbow and in Search of Silence. Having used power lifting to help her through the grief of losing her husband she has founded @seemystrong, a space to encourage others who do not see themselves in traditional fitness images to have a go.

It turns out this talk was in two parts: a panel discussion followed by a walk under the name of Mental Health Mates. The movement, started by Bryony, aims to encourage mental health walking groups across the country. There were representatives from the Reading group and I spontaneously decided to join them on the walk from the Henley Town Hall to the Riverside Museum.

I found the panel very open to sharing their mental health experiences, touching on various aspects of their past and present. This is not easy to do, and I really applaud their willingness to be vulnerable so publicly. Each member of the panel came across as individual and, to coin a modern word, relatable.

Because the panel were so honest it felt like a discussion between friends. I feel privileged to have been in the room and don’t think everything needs to be shared here, outside of that intimate setting.

Melissa was partly brought up on army bases in Germany whilst her mum sought to stay connected to her heritage as a Catholic woman of Filipino ancestry. This meant that she felt there was little space in the home to talk about the death of her father.

Poorna saw her apparently strong mother pushing through challenging situations with ease and thought that was how she should approach life. But this led to bad decisions.

Bryony has struggled with anxiety and obsessive compulsory disorder for many years. Years ago, she did not want to believe that her childhood affected who she became as an adult, but she’s eventually accepted the truth of this. We like to think that we were created the way we are now, but the circumstances and environment of our childhood must play some part in the adults we become.

All three spoke of becoming more self-aware, whether that is through therapy or taking time out to slow down and reflect. In different ways they all experienced families that did not encourage talking about feelings. This means they did not want to accept when they were upset and even more, did not want to upset anyone else by sharing how unhappy they were feeling.

Poorna could testify to how becoming stronger, through power lifting, has helped her to feel better and more capable. She also shared the importance of having someone who would help you stay accountable to looking after your mental health. In her case it is her sister. This person can check in as someone to talk to, but also to ask if you’ve eaten, slept, been outside etc. Other well-known beneficial activities include mindful breathing, meditation, journalling and fresh air.

Melissa shared the nourishing and comforting effect of hearty healthy homemade soups. This is brain food that can affect mood. She also talked of working with the imposter syndrome: when we talk down our achievements and believe we’re not good enough for something, even though objectively we are.

An engaged audience had several questions including parenting a child with OCD, the role of medication and the impact of austerity. The panel handled these well. On parenting the advice was to love without judgement, realise your child does not want to be like this either and try to help them find the right support. On medication the advice was to accept it if you need it and use it respectfully, as intended. Of course, financial struggles and political uncertainty have an effect on our mental health but in the context of human existence Bryony offered – “This too shall pass”.

The subsequent walk to the River and Rowing Museum provided an opportunity for audience members to get to know each other and share life stories. It was a warm and friendly gathering and a nice way to reflect on what was said by the panel with others willing to be real about life’s choices.

Shirley Anstis

Counsellor and writer @shirleyanstis on Twitter and Instagram