It’s important to have characters you recognise yourself in in popular culture. I remember reading a quote from the Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman, about only reading a book with a black character when she was 23 years old: “I was very aware that I was not in books I was reading. I still remember feeling totally invisible in the world of literature.” I found that sad, and very disappointing.
I’m an advocate of increased diversity. I believe women, men, multiple races, religions, ethnicities, LGBT, and disabled people should be represented equally in every sector. Not just because I believe it’s important for people to see themselves in CEO’s, newsreaders, scientists, government ministers, films, novels, and know they can aspire to achieve those same things themselves. Not just because I think we would have a fairer and stronger society if we used everyone’s experience, input and knowledge, regardless of all labels. But for selfish reasons: I want my work to reflect my life, my friends. I want to write women that I recognise, women that are real, complex, fully formed, not always sugar and spice and all things nice, not tropes. I wanted to write my mates, someone I’d go down the pub with. Nasreen’s mother is second generation British Asian, and her father is British White, but Nas’ skin colour doesn’t define her. Her race is not her ‘story’ in Follow Me. She’s just Nas. Freddie isn’t a token millennial feminist woman. They’re just a couple of people doing the best they can in their lives. For me they’re important because they’re real. We see so much façade in our lives: retouched adverts, glamourous movies, photoshopped and curated images all over social media. It’s all smoke and mirrors. I wanted a real reflection. Not a fantasy one. Freddie and Nas could be me, they could be you. They’re role models because they’re out there doing it: living, fighting, surviving. Just like the rest of us.
A huge thank you to Angela Clarke & Helena at Avon.
Get hold of your copy of Follow Me here.