Future Hero: Race to Fire Mountain, the first book in the major new fantasy series for ages 7–11+, finally hit the shelves on 12 May 2022 after much anticipation! In our previous post, we met Benjamin Scott — who helped storyline Future Hero. You may now be wondering about the author of the books after hearing Benjamin discuss the collaborative process behind the series. In today’s article, we answer the question, ‘Who is Remi Blackwood?’
Remi Blackwood is the pen name of series creator Jasmine Richards, and a team of young and upcoming writers, including Chiemeka Nicely and Isaac Hamilton-Mckenzie.
Jasmine and the team are passionate about exploring mythologies from the African diaspora and giving every kid the opportunity to be the hero of the tale.
Together, they have written the action-packed world-saving adventure with vivacity and vividness. To find out more, I spoke to the team about their involvement with Storymix, their work on Future Hero, and their own discoveries in becoming writers. Check out the interview below!
JL: So, first thing’s first — Why ‘Remi Blackwood’? What’s the meaning behind the name?
JR: I’ll answer this first question, then hand over to Chiemeka and Isaac for the rest of this interview.
Remi is a name that exists both on the continents of Europe and Africa just as the story of the Black diaspora exists in both of these places and has done so for centuries. I went for Blackwood because it felt questy and fantasy-like and is a common surname in the Caribbean which is Jarell’s heritage.
It has been such a pleasure to work with Chiemeka and Isaac on this series. I have a really specific vision for what I want this series to be and how I want the reader to feel. I also carry Jarell around in my head all the time and so I know how I want him to be in the world and his interactions with those around him. His relationship with Kimisi in particular is key to his characterization. My part of the process is to ideate right at the beginning and polish right at the end
As you will see, it is a team effort. We create these books in a way that will get them into the hands of kids as quickly as possible. I have borrowed this model of collaborative writing from the world of TV and I love working this way.
I am pleased that both Chiemeka and Isacc mentioned that they feel like they have grown as writers with this experience as I see Storymix projects as being launchpads and incubators for talented writers like these two. I’m really pleased you are going to get to meet them!
JL: Thanks for explaining, Jasmine! What a wonderful way of creating. Now, let’s hear from Chiemeka and Isaac on their Future Hero involvement.
JL: Hi Chiemeka and Isaac, congratulations on writing for Future Hero with series creator, Jasmine Richards! How did you get involved with Storymix?
CN: In 2020, I received an email from Jasmine Richards about the prospect of a writing opportunity. She had found me as a writer [due to attend] the Black Book festival that was [happening] in September. Unfortunately, due to work reasons I was unable to attend. This was my first ever offer at a collaborative project. I was a little on the fence but I figured the universe was speaking to me and this shouldn’t be a project to pass up on, especially as [the project] specialised in the genre [that] I planned to become an expert in.
IHM: Well, it’s quite a funny route in honesty. A family member of mine went to a creative event and must have gotten talking to Jasmine. She’d promoted her cousin (me) and how I was an aspiring writer. Jasmine handed her a card and I submitted some of my work to Storymix.
It was awful at the time but Jasmine still gave me some really good advice and it definitely helped as I was already motivated to get better. Later down the line, Jasmine and I caught up again and she asked me to submit some more of my work. By this time I’d like to think I had gotten better and Jasmine started to let me know of some potential opportunities that might be coming up to write in the future. I was all in!
JL: When you heard about Future Hero, what was special about the project that drew you in?
CN: Firstly, it was the fact that it would be a part of the Afrofuturism genre and after reading Jasmine’s brief for the project I found it had a lot of similarities to my novel, The Masterpiece. I especially loved the characters she created and their purpose to the story, [as well as] the message of Jarell finding himself, his heritage and purpose as a growing black boy.
Secondly, I loved the goals [that] Jasmine [has] set for how young Black children should [be able to] view themselves with characters they could aspire to be. Although it [was going to be] a challenge having never written a children’s book, I wanted to be a part of this gift for our younger generation.
IHM: When I read the first [outline], the first word I could think of was: cool.
Jarell was someone I felt I could relate to as a young Black boy, and when I read his story, I [framed] my own experiences against his. I think [when] growing up, we all would like to believe ourselves [to be] part of something bigger than what we all know. Getting a chance to explore that and bring this world to life for Jarell was something I was really excited about.
JL: Future Hero is a series written collaboratively with the authors named collectively as ‘Remi Blackwood’. How has your experience been writing as Remi Blackwood? What support or guidance did you find useful in the collaborative process?
CN: At first, it was a little difficult. I didn’t know how closely I should write to the outline, what was allowed to be changed and improved on and essentially, I knew my writing was lacking in a few areas such as ‘showing’ vs ‘telling’. Still, with Jasmine’s guidance, I did gain some clarity throughout as we started the first draft editing and I found her notes to be clear and concise and I got a better grasp of her vision for Future Hero. Also, she [arranged] a masterclass with one of [the] editors to help [me] further understand the [writing] process, such as [using] the close third person narrative. Having gone through this experience, I’ve learned a lot from Jasmine and [gained] a sense of community [whilst] working towards a common objective.
IHM: Yeah, it’s been interesting. A great learning curve for sure, as I’ve only ever had to write in my own voice. Of course, each character has their own differences but at the core it is always me creating and shaping them. Writing as Remi meant I had to do my best to come out of myself and match a certain tone. At times it was difficult keeping my own tendencies at bay, but getting help from Benjamin and Jasmine, and of course the manuscript for Future Hero (Book 1) Race to Fire Mountain and the Future Hero ‘series bible’ to refer to, helped a lot.
But with that being said, Jasmine and Benjamin did stress to me that creatively I would be part of the process. I was able to suggest names, descriptions and add small changes where I thought the story might run more excitedly, and even personal experiences that are unique to the team — [for example,] Jarell’s time at the Barbershop [and] dealing with frenemies from his school. That part I really enjoyed.
JL: Chiemeka, could you tell us a little about your aspirations as a writer and your interest in Afrofuturism?
CN: From a young age I’ve always had a different outlook [on] life. When reading, I wished to ‘fill in the blanks’ in genres I loved, such as fantasy and Sci-Fi. [I wanted] to tell stories I had never seen before and ultimately wished to read. [I want to write about] various African cultures that [have] been distorted and misrepresented in mainstream media. When I found Afrofuturism, a concept of Black-to-Future with an emphasis on Black Power, Black Importance and Black Remembrance of the [mythology] we have always carried, this pushed me to do more with my writing and create Nicelypublishing to focus my energy.
JL: Future Hero: Race to Fire Mountain is not your first book, or even your first series fiction project. Why did you decide to self-publish your series, The Shadow I Cast and The Rise to the Occasion? How have you found the self-publishing experience?
CN: Self-publishing awarded me a lot [of] creative freedom and I wanted to escape what seemed like a long and tedious process to get the attention and approval of established publishing houses, who may misunderstand my purpose as a writer and the content I [wish] to birth into this world.
As a discovery writer, both of my series are still developing. Self-publishing allows me to publish whenever [I want to] without the added pressure of working to deadlines which would [result] in my novels being released prematurely.
JL: And Isaac, could you tell us a bit about your writing aspirations and your journey so far?
IHM: So I’ve been writing since the beginning of 2019. I’d not long finished university and decided I wanted to do something that I enjoyed, and that was storytelling. I originally started doing YA fiction (action/fantasy type novels), but later down the line realised [that] crime fiction was what really interested me.
My aspirations as a writer… I guess to get a chance to have my work showcased and read by people across the world. I’d love to get the chance and experience to venture into different areas like TV or film, but my first and closest aspiration is to go to a bookshop and see something I’ve written, with my name on it, on one of the shelves. That’d be pretty cool.
JL: You have a degree in History and Economics, which is super interesting! How has this influenced your career in writing?
IHM: Yes, I do! It was what I was most interested in at the time — not so much anymore but hey, live and you learn!
In terms of influence, I have always looked at it two ways since [I] graduated. History is a very content-dense subject to study. Tons of books, reading, research, quoting. It made me more disciplined and versed with my writing.
As for Economics, I guess it made me more savvy and open to making money, which as a creative is something you should never avoid. Perhaps me studying Economics has made me more willing to do a writing job, instead of just focusing on my own work.
But I’d say how my degree mostly [influenced me] is [that] it made me not want to go into an industry or field that I didn’t have a passion in. I have no interest in [becoming an economist] or being a History teacher, and so I focus on writing.
JL: Wow, thank you both for sharing! Lastly, we’d love to know what else you’ve been working on. Is there anything of yours that you’d like to tell our readers about?
CN: I recently re-edited my first novel The Masterpiece, which can be purchased at www.chiemekanicely.com & Amazon.
Currently, I’m writing a short story [which acts as] an interlude between The Masterpiece and Passengers Within with [the] aim of a summer release. [The] title, cover reveal, and much more will be on my Instagram @chiemekanicely [soon]. I also have a blog on my website [which] will incorporate videos [from] my YouTube channel, Seshat’s Expressions, and exclusive content [including] sneak peeks into my [life].
IHM: I really enjoy period crime dramas, so I’ve got a few exciting stories in the works. I haven’t yet got any links or promotional profiles, so I guess I’ll just look out for the name Isaac Hamilton-McKenzie in the next year or two!
Thanks for sharing your stories, Future Hero team!
So, there you have it — the identity of Remi Blackwood is no longer a mystery. Maybe you feel inspired to write collaboratively or start your own creative ‘hero’s journey’? Let us know if you enjoyed this article at @storymixstudio on Instagram and Twitter! Future Hero: Race to Fire Mountain is out now and book 2, Future Hero: Mission to Shadow Sea will be following soon, so watch this space. For more Future Hero action, visit futureheroseries.com and check out more amazing inclusive fiction series on the Storymix website.