“I know who I am and what stories I want to tell, and that there’s not really a boundary of what I can put into a story,” says reporter and children’s author Benjamin Dean, whose first book, Me, My Dad and the End of the Rainbow, was met with critical acclaim last year.

Its follow-up, The Secret Sunshine Project, was released on 31 March and gave him the chance to take his writing to a new level: “Obviously, I know who I’m writing for. These books, the first two, are predominately for kids, so I know who I’m writing for and how I write for kids. But, the second book tackles grief as well as Pride, as well as empathy and kindness, and in some ways, hatred and bigotry as well.”

Benjamin tells GAY TIMES that the story follows Bea, a 12-year-old girl who attends a Pride event in London with her family at the start of the book.

“It’s a magical time for them as a family,” he explains. “But unfortunately, due to illness, their dad passes away and we rejoin the story in chapter two a year later. Things have got really difficult, and they’re forced to move to the countryside and in with gran. And while they’re there, Bea will do anything to try and bring a smile to her sister’s face as she wants to try and bring Pride to the village.”

Me, My Dad and the End of the Rainbow was praised for its uplifting tone and effortless inclusion of diverse characters and storylines.

Benjamin says this level of representation came naturally for him during the writing process and that “it would have meant the world” for him to see it when he was younger.

“I feel like I get to kind of go through and, in some ways, right some of the wrongs that I didn’t get as a kid, but also just to create completely new things that are absolutely nothing to do with me,” he tells GAY TIMES.

Although the stories are fictional, Benjamin says there are elements that are inspired by his own life.

He adds: “My first book in particular, people always ask me if it is a reflection of my own relationship with my dad, and I don’t have a relationship with my dad at all. And really, writing that first book, it was a little bit of therapy for me. It was like writing the relationship I almost wish I had with my dad or a father figure, between Archie and his dad.”

LGBTQ-inclusive children’s books have, in the past, been hard to come by, but Benjamin explains that “now is as good a time as any to write real life” and that it would be “wrong” to not have that represented in his work.

“You know, I do live in London and I have such a diverse group of friends and people that I know and I think, slowly but surely, publishing and books are moving past whitewashing and straightwashing everything,” he continues. “You know, we live in cities, there are gay people, there are trans people, there are Black people, there are Asian people, there are people from every walk of life. And it would be so wrong of me to write a book that is not representative of that, particularly when they are set in places like London.”

Bea’s older sister Riley is a lesbian in The Secret Sunshine Project, but it was important for there to be no “huge coming out moment.”

“It was kind of already established that we have characters who are gay, that’s already been dealt with off page, we’re at the stage in her life where we don’t need to deal with that,” he tells GAY TIMES.

Benjamin continues: “I think when I write stories, I’m very conscious of making characters who are all different from each other and are representative of the culture that we live in, but also that I’m not kind of doing it for no reason. I’m not ticking boxes and going down, being like, right, we need one of these characters. I’m just kind of, righting wrongs that I never saw when I was growing up.”

The Secret Sunshine Project is out now (S&S, £7.99) and can be bought here.

Benjamin’s upcoming third book, The King is Dead, is scheduled for a 7 July release and will follow a prince who is the first Black heir to the throne and unexpectedly becomes king at the age of 17 when his father dies.