Jordan Stephens made a name for himself as part of chart-topping duo Rizzle Kicks. He has since gone on to find success in writing, campaigning and presenting. Proving his creativity knows no bounds, he has now made his official debut as an author. Jordan and Beth Suzanna, who illustrated the book, sat down with Awallprintss to unpack the powerful messaging behind the story.
“I hope I haven't fluked this,” Jordan says candidly as he begins to explain his latest venture.
The platinum-selling singer, writer, campaigner and presenter can now count author among his extensive list of accomplishments.
Jordan, who shot to fame as one half of Rizzle Kicks, appears visibly accomplished over a Zoom call as he tells me how his first children's book The Missing Piece is finally complete, years after he first had the idea.
The 30-year-old, Brighton-born writer says the project is largely inspired by his self-proclaimed obsession with completing things.
The book follows the story of a young Sunny who has a love for completing puzzles, which she believes is the pinnacle of happiness. She’s then gifted an elaborate 1000-piece puzzle by her grandmother with a single piece missing. On her hunt for the piece, she embarks on a colourful journey of discovery and friendship which opens her eyes to the power of human connection.
Whilst the colourful picture book may be primarily aimed at children, Jordan says he hopes parents reading it will resonate just as much with the themes as the book serves as an all-important reminder to cherish our bonds and the importance of living in the present.
The Big Bad Mood singer's words were brought to life by illustrator Beth Suzanna, who joins us on the call.
She highlights that parents are often overlooked in the messaging of children’s books, in spite of reading frequently being a shared activity.
“I think even just the messaging and communicating that in a way that both adults and kids can love is really important,” she says. “I think it's sometimes overlooked [even though] it's something that they do together. So it's something that should appeal to both people.”
As for the children picking up The Missing Piece, Jordan is firmly optimistic it will serve as a reminder they can keep coming back to.
“I want it to be an anchor for children,” he explains. “A space of comfort that they can return to full of colour and a reminder that balance in the world comes from connections and people around them not to the material world.”
The decision to feature a grandmother at the heart of the story was largely inspired by fond memories Jordan has of time he spent with his grandmothers growing up.
“The idea of being in the countryside is definitely inspired by where my British grandmother used to live,” he says.
“[For example] the neighbour [in the story] who fixes watches and makes jam is genuinely something I heard about my grandmother's neighbour. So, I think I had this imaginary place based on where my granny used to live.”
When I ask him about the advice he hopes to impart on his future grandchildren, Jordan tells me how he wants them to be connected to the real world - in spite of technology becoming more prevalent.
“I fear that, as a grandparent, I would have to remind the child about what the outside world is,” he admits. “I can't imagine what it's like now growing up in a world where you're surrounded by screens and the internet. I would always want a child to feel connected to the world around them and just know the benefits of that. I was very fortunate to have experiences in my childhood without screens where I felt great.”
“Like looking out of windows and shit,” he jokes.
“My favourite place was this shared garden, where my granddad shared an apple tree and I would just sit in the garden and think about stuff,” he adds. “It's hard because the world is changing and I have to try not become a senile grandparent, I don't want to be like, ‘back in my day you wouldn't you wouldn't need iPads to do that.’”
Having been raised around a multitude of different races and cultures, the decision to incorporate diverse families is something Jordan says he was keen to showcase in the book.
“My experience of London was being a door away from a different culture,” he says. “The British Empire has blended South Asian culture and Caribbean culture, that's just the reality that we live in now. When I was at school as a kid, I was really into South Asian culture and a lot of my close friends were South Asians. So I just wanted Sunny to stop off at a South Asian house. I had to find a way of encapsulating that experience without being too vague but then also [incorporate] something that was universal enough to be understood.”
Jordan says that whilst he was “unaware of the larger role that race plays in society” as a child, he sees The Missing Piece as a “beautiful opportunity” to shift the lack of diverse faces in books, for the benefit of future generations.
Beth, who crafted a range of immersive visuals for the project, adds that it was a "privilege" to bring this representation to life through her illustrations.
“I think we both knew how important it was to both of us,” she says. “But especially [with] children's books, they’re some of the first things people read so I think it's important to have diverse representation in there. It's the first time that kids will see either themselves or – as importantly – people who don't look like them. I think that to be able to have that privilege to draw different characters is amazing.”
The Missing Piece is out now.