I am excited to feature Annahita De la Mare, an author that is doing her part to positively influence the next generation of girls! When she was looking for books to read her young daughters, she couldn’t find many that sent the messages that she hoped they would internalize... so she wrote them!
She has written a series of books that challenge gender norms with female characters who are strong, clever and adventurous; with interests that buck societal stereotypes. Annahita exemplifies the #LiftAndBeUplifted mission of challenging the bias of gender stereotyping that can hold back even the most ambitious girls from being everything they can be.
I’m proud to say that this remarkable woman just happens to be my second cousin! Like me, she was raised in a dual culture family, where a woman’s role can take on magnified and nuanced meaning. You are going to love her as much as I do!
Click here to order Annahita's books from Amazon!
1. Rarely is someone's journey linear. Can you explain what you wanted to be when you grew up, and how your career landed where it is right now?
For some reason I wanted to be a high court judge. Absolutely no idea why except that I wanted the white wig and black robes, ha! But if I think about what I LOVED when I was a child, it was reading and writing. At primary (elementary) school I used to copy whole chunks out of books (I think I really enjoyed the actual writing) and make up stories. As a teenager I wrote bucket loads of poetry. After uni when I traveled I used to write epic travelogues and send them to all my friends. I always wanted to write a novel based on Iran, but never really got round to doing the research for it. Instead, I started a career in management consulting where I stayed for about 7 years, the only writing I did being PowerPoints, strategy documents and epic spreadsheets. I still read a lot though.
I got married in my early 30's and after a few years, we decided we'd have children and I stayed home with them. We read (and still do read) hundreds of books and I started to notice a trend. There were barely any characters of colour and there were very few female characters DOING stuff like being adventurous and enjoying the great outdoors. Everything seemed to be about princesses, fairies or unicorns. It inspired me, and I started writing myself. Eventually I published a whole series of books about three cousins who discover an old hot air balloon, fix it up and fly it on adventures around the world.
2. Which single word do you most identify with?
Passionate! I think it’s probably the word I use most to describe myself. I am passionate about writing, about representation in children’s books, about smashing gender stereotypes, about introducing children to big words, about parents enjoying the books they read as much as their children. I get very carried away when I start talking about my work, I just can’t help myself!
3. What is the biggest barrier that you experienced as a woman in your career/life?
Having children. Honestly, before I had children I wasn’t a feminist. I honestly thought we had reached gender equality. I was rated highly at work, I got promotions when I went for them (even when head to head with male colleagues), I got offered great stretch roles, no one ever made me feel they noticed / recognized my gender at work. Until I had children and wanted to go back to work.
Because I realized there was no way I could be the same person I was at work before having children, after I had children. Having children puts these constant worries in your mind and some people are really good at mastering that and pushing them to the side (because mostly, they are really banal worries that really don’t matter), but I wasn’t. I, and my baby, could not get settled with her in childcare, so I had to quit. It didn’t help that the cost of childcare is so high that going to work would barely have been worth it. I really would have been doing it just for my own sanity, which felt selfish at the time when my head was awash with hormones (but now I recognize is a completely valid wish for anyone). Anyway, I tried searching for other roles that were 20%, 40%, 50%, but nothing ever came up. Nothing that would also have challenged me.
.4. What advice would you give other women going into the professional world?
Don’t think about the fact you are female. I’m not saying hide that you are female, don’t “act” female (whatever that might mean), just don’t think about it. Just think about yourself in terms of what you can offer the role / company. ENJOY your work. This is so important. Don’t work hard to impress people. Work hard because you love it. Every job has some crappy bits to it - just get them done efficiently so you can spend the time really getting stuck into the stuff you enjoy. And if there aren’t enough things to enjoy, look somewhere else. Recognize what you are good at (particularly soft skills) and find a way to build that into your role, knowledge you can always build, soft skills don’t come naturally to everyone.
5. Go-to ice cream flavor?
WOAH. Toughest question yet. Can I do it by country?! In the UK: mint chocolate. In Japan: cherry. In Iran: rose water and saffron. In the US: something with cookie dough, cinnamon, maybe a bit of caramel. In Italy at one of those proper gelateria: I stand there for 10 minutes panicking then get three scoops that I can’t even make a dent in.
6. How do you define what it means to be a woman?
I don’t like to define myself by my gender. I am a woman, but I don’t want to define myself by that. I spend my whole life fighting against my daughters being defined as girls, rather than being defined as individuals. All of my writing in children’s books is about smashing gender stereotypes. I create characters that embody traits that are traditionally thought of as feminine as well as those that are considered masculine, because I think that’s totally unfair on children that don’t fit stereotypes perfectly, and because I find it restricting and completely unnecessary: gender is just a social construct.
7. What do you think holds women back in the professional world?
Self-confidence / worrying about what other people think of us. Especially the latter, I still struggle with his now. It’s so deeply ingrained I can’t stop myself. You just have to fight against it. Constantly. As long as we are always just, we really shouldn’t give a hoot what people think.
8. Who is your female icon?
I've got loads! Michelle Obama, Serena Williams, Francesca Cavallo, Sasha diGiulian, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie….and many more!
9. You have had enough accomplishments to fill a novel! Which are you most proud of?
My books! It is SO scary and nerve-wracking publishing a book independently because it's all on you. I’m not just a writer, I’m a publisher. You’re basically opening yourself up for direct criticism, from anyone around the world, for something you are personally passionate about. It’s the same for any small business owner. When you work in corporate like I did before, you always have the company behind you. You’re not doing something just for yourself. But with the book, it was mine, all mine, all my ideas, all my execution. The illustrations were not mine, but what was in them was my idea, whether they were good enough, was my decision. And whilst of course I had plenty of proof-readers, any missed errors? My responsibility. Any print issues? My fault. Everything was down to me, and I managed it, so I’m pretty damn proud of that!
10. You are incredibly generous. What was the kindest thing someone has ever done for you?
I think if you really think about it you can define much of your life by small acts of kindness. My friend who sent her son up the road to me to drop off some cough medicine when my girls and I were sick with the flu. My mother in law driving over from Germany to look after the kids so that my husband and I could celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. My friend who looks after one of my children every week for a few hours so that I can more easily drive the other around for her music lessons. My husband getting up with the kids when they wake up early so I can have an epic lie-in. My friend who sends a card for every Christmas, birthday and anniversary even though we haven’t seen each other in about six years. My friend who has told all her friends about my books because she thinks they are amazing. The random people that I have never met or who I don’t know well who send me emails telling me how much their children love my books. My daughter letting me have a piece of her chocolate when I barely ever let the poor kid have any.
But there was one act of kindness that has always stuck in my mind. When I was 21 I went traveling around the world. In Cambodia, I was involved in a motorbike collision and amongst other things I injured my foot and couldn’t walk on it. About a week later, I was hobbling along on a crutch down a side road towards this internet cafe (do internet cafes even exist anymore?! This was 19 years ago!) and the owner of the cafe, a woman who was probably in her 60s or 70s, saw me coming, literally rushed down the road to help me up the road, sat me down, fetched a stool and lifted my leg to rest it on the stool, brought me a cup of tea and checked on me constantly (in Khmer and lots of nods and hand pats). It just touched my heart more than anything ever that this woman, who had probably known such hardship and brutality under a horrible regime that had only ended 20 odd years before, had only kindness and love to give.