The book I've been working on so frantically for the last few years is finally coming out in May, now everyone wants to know why I wrote it. So, why did I?
I Wrote A Book
I wrote a book. It took about 8 weeks, and was mostly rubbish to begin with, but nonetheless, I Wrote A Book. Friends I asked to read it for me declined to give much feedback, other than there were some good bits. Translation: most of this book is not good. I've worked a lot on my little book since then. A not-so-little 88K words or so, its been through many iterations; what's remained true, is what my not-so-little book is. An own voice story inspired by my experiences as a brown girl growing up in a white environment.
"I know. There are so many fucked up statements in that sentence, I don't even know where to start - but thats the 90s for you."
Blow Up The Glow Up
When I sat down to write it, I had no grand plan; although I thought a lot about being a child of the 90s, a decade so committed to the 'glow up' it spawned a genre of makeover shows in every category (Extreme Makeover anyone?). When you wished, hoped, and part planned to wake up one morning a different version of you: a version that would take off its glasses á la Plain Jane in Neighbours, and everyone would suddenly realise you were a supermodel. I know. There are so many fucked up statements in that sentence, I don't even know where to start - but thats the 90s for you. A decade of She's All That (make her over story), Drive Me Crazy (make him over story) and Clueless (designer make her over story, which taught you to say 'as if' to all your friends in a faux American accent). I won't lie. I tried to start the 'as if' revolution in North Norfolk, but it never really took off.
Invisible 90s Child
It's hard to explain what it feels like to come of age in a time when changing yourself - was considered the height of aspiration. Even harder still, to explain what it feels like when you look like neither the before, or after, in this scenario. If the 80s was the decade that fashion forgot, then the 90s was the decade that forgot anyone not white, thin, and straight existed.
"I felt I had to apologise for my existence - and then apologise for apologising, because I am English, after all"
I Was Here
So maybe I forgot I existed too - or at least felt I had to apologise for my existence - and then apologise for apologising, because I am English, after all. When I sat down to write my book, I never considered the why of it all. It just felt right. Necessary. A story I was ready to tell. But maybe the truth, was a chance to fix it for 15-year-old me. A do-over. To metaphorically graffiti - I Was Here - on the walls of my adolescent life. Because I existed, even when the world told me not to.
A Change Is Gonna Come
It's 2022, and things are changing. Perhaps not everywhere, at quite the speed we would want it to, but the world is changing. My children will see themselves in books and songs and films and magazines - they'll know they exist; because my job is to make sure of it. But is the work done yet? Can we stop for a cup of tea and a bourbon biscuit, when Bridgerton casts a South Asian actress as its romantic lead? Or when the most successful Marvel movie ever, has an entirely black cast? Yes, and no. The UK has a rightwing government hiring the likes of known racists to 'level up' the country. The US is barely recovered from the division of Trump. Spotify spent $100M on a podcast where two white men critique the use of the word 'black' as a means for a black person to describe themselves - as if there were any agency behind the concept of blackness, a term created by white slavers to describe the people they were chaining to ships. I guess some people still think it's their place to decide.
"There is still work to be done. Still statues to topple"
There Is No Such Thing As A Plain Jane
There is still work to be done. Always. Still statues to topple, be they small or big, real or metaphorical. My not-so-little book may not, as one friend put it, win any awards - but maybe it will. Maybe the lesson 40-year-old me needs to teach 15 year old me is simple. It's not about what they say, it's about what you say. And that right there, might be the real reason I wrote my book. To topple my own statue. To have my Plain Jane moment 2.0. Not the fucked up, I am now beautiful because I have changed myself to fit the western world's notions of what beauty is, but to remind myself that I exist just as I am. My perfectly imperfect self. To take off my metaphorical glasses, and be seen. And I don't need a makeover - better hair, better lighting, a newer skin, in order to do that. I just need to accept myself. To listen to myself, just as I am. To like myself, just as I am. To look inward, not outward for validation.
Maybe if my book had existed when I was 15, I wouldn't be giving myself this pep talk now.
Hopefully, I'll save some other 15-year-old the bother.