Meet the Maker: Onjali Q Rauf

Meet award-winning children’s writer Onjali Q Raúf and learn all about her new book The Letter with the Golden Stamp.

In April 2024, Onjali Q Raúf published her new book The Letter with the Golden Stamp, which features Mail Rail and tells the story of a young girl who collects stamps. We spoke with Onjali about her story, passions and what makes her latest book so special.

Onjali gets off the Mail Rail train while looking at the camera with a red smile. She's wearing a red dress and a yellow hijab.

Onjali at Mail Rail on a recent visit to The Postal Museum

Hi Onjali, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Sure! I’m a children’s author, playwright and a women’s and refugee right’s activist. Not to mention a huge lover of all things related to letters and stamps – I’ve been collecting stamps since the age of seven, have at least twenty-six inkwells and corresponding calligraphy pens, and I think I can safely say that Mail Rail is one of my happy places on earth. That’s all the most important stuff you need to know about me I think…

How did you get into writing?

I’ve been telling stories ever since I realised I could make my little brother fall asleep to them. After a while, I started writing or drawing them out at school and in the playground – and I haven’t really stopped since. Becoming an author is a dream that’s been harboured ever since, so later in life, throughout seventeen jobs, I just kept on writing and telling myself stories. Oh, and boring my brother to sleep whatever chance I got. My superpower you see, intact!

What inspired you to write The Letter with the Golden Stamp?

Three things really. Firstly, my own stamp collection – wherever I travel in the world, I always hunt out the local post office first to purchase whatever stamps they have going. The images and stories behind them have always fascinated me. So I knew at the heart of the story, would be a stamp collector. Secondly, my postman Abi – who during lockdown, really opened my eyes and ears as to just how huge a role our postal workers play in keeping an eye to the ground for their communities. And last but not least, the Young Carers I get to meet in the women’s refuges and refugee camps I work in. Having been one myself as a teen, I’ll never understand why they aren’t rewarded, assisted and aided by governments and communities alike. Time they got the help, training and support they need.

What did you enjoy the most, or were most surprised about the history of the postal service when writing this book?

I think it’s a tie between discovering the Mail Rail actually existed, and trying to grapple with the way catcher pouch systems worked. I never knew about either before I headed to the museum a few years ago. I knew on my very first ride on the Mail Rail that it just had to go into a book of mine one day. Millions of letters whizzing underneath the streets of London for twenty hours a day? Magic! And I loved that it was the haven for so many of London’s artworks during World War Two. The catcher pouches – and the speed, dexterity and precision the men working them would have needed to catch the mail bags whilst on a moving train – are waiting to go into another tale…

In your book, the protagonist Audrey has a passion for stamps and enthusiastically collects them. Is this something you share with Audrey? When did you started collecting stamps?

Absolutely! That passion began when I was about seven or eight – when a letter from my grandparents landed and I couldn’t stop staring at the stamp on it – or the postal marks. I haven’t stopped since then, although sadly, my own special shoebox containing at least a good thousand or so stamps from the 1980’s onwards (my mum used to bring lots home from her offices every day), were lost in a house move. Am still traumatised over that loss, but am busy rebuilding the collection.

Your book touches on the figure of the young carer and the importance of community and mutual aid. What changes are you seeking to inspire with your book?

I don’t think many people are aware of just how many children are living on their streets or going to their local schools, who are secretly Young Carers. I think even fewer are aware that Young Carers looking after loved ones who are severely ill, or less abled, or even terminal, are expected to do the daily jobs of doctors and nurses (administering medications; dressing wounds; accompanying people to appointments) and grown-ups with zero training, and zero care for themselves. They need respite. They need recognition. They need payment to help them cope and treat themselves. The estimated million or so young carers amongst us, doesn’t count for the children of colour who are currently not even recognised by teachers or medical staff for their roles. I want to change it all – get people talking, asking questions, supporting the Young Carers in their worlds. And maybe, just maybe, getting them legally and officially recognised and championed. So, in short, there’s a lot to be done.

What would you like someone to take away after reading The Letter with the Golden Stamp?

A deeper understanding and appreciation for what Young Carers have to go through daily. A love of letters, stamps, our postal workers and this magical postal system which is now being driven to the ground. And maybe, a renaissance for letter writing too. It would be a dream come true to hear of anyone beginning on their own letter writing journeys because of Audrey and Mo…

What would you like someone in the future who reads The Letter with the Golden Stamp to know about the moment that inspired its creation and about its significance?

That such a moment came from the seemingly ordinary… a few stamps, a handwritten letter, a postman, and the actions of Young Carers looking after their mums and dads, siblings and grandparents, be that on the home front, in a refuge, or in a refugee camp. All things not many people take care to notice really. But which are each deeply wondrous in their own right, deeply rich in history and stories, and worthy of celebration.

Written by the Postal Museum Team

Onjali’s book The Letter with the Golden Stamp is available in the Postal Museum online shop and at the Museum itself.

Onjali is also the CEO & Founder of both Making Herstory and O’s Refugee Aid Team.  Making Herstory is a charity working to end abuse, enslavement and trafficking of women and girls in the UK and beyond.  It achieves this through several programmes and projects that includes engagement with schools, survivors, and campaigns. O’s Refugee Aid Team is also a charity and work to raise awareness, funds, and goods to support frontline refugee aid response teams and to mobilise communities of all backgrounds to help refugees however they can.