Yesterday, I had the chance to go to an event at Manchester Waterstones all about the BAME anthology, A Change is Gonna Come. If you follow our blog here or over on Twitter you will have most likely seen that we read this for our read-along two weeks ago (if not, how on earth have you missed it?) Five of the twelve authors were speaking at the event, four of which are new voices and their story in this anthology is their first published work! This made for such interesting conversations and also made it feel more relatable in many ways. The authors on the panel were Tanya Byrne, Yasmin Rahman, Phoebe Roy, Mary Bello and Aisha Bushby! Also, a big thanks to Charlie from Stripes Publishing who led the questions and was also really lovely to meet!
This is the first Waterstones event I’ve been too and it was a bit quieter than I expected it to be, which I was a little gutted about, purely because it’s such a great book! However, i don’t know the general turnout for these things so I have no comparison for it. The positive however is that when talks are smaller, they feel more intimate and there’s more time to chat to both other people and often the authors too. This was a plus at some of the quieter lit panels at LeakyCon (post coming soon! Wonderfully, Catherine Johnson who also has a story in A Change is Gonna Come was there!) as you could have more of a chatty, relaxed atmosphere which is lovely.
The questions asked last night were really good and full of variety. The authors all had such different, personal insights and experiences to share which I loved so much. One question was about how they came up with their story with only the prompt of ‘change’. Something Yasmin said really stuck with me as she said she wrote her story Fortune Favours the Bold about human connection and how those connections with others can change you; how you can meet one person and the way you see things changes. Anyone who knows me knows I’m very passionate about connecting with others and the kindness and the way you treat people can affect so much, so this really hit me and I realised it’s the reason I love Yasmin’s story.
The importance of inclusion was discussed as opposed to diversity. I’ve seen the word diversity be debated before in terms of how it separates people. I think it was Tanya who said that diversity assumes there is a neutral point (which would be straight, white, cis, male) and that everything else is ‘other’.
This is such a good point and I read something a while back with the filmmaker Ava DuVernay which said something very similar. If the aim is diversity, then straight, white, cis male will always be considered the norm and everything else (some identities more than others) will be seen as other. For example, as a white woman, I do not feel under-represented in YA books but regarding my sexuality, I do – and most books about queer women always feature white women. It’s why Tanya’s story, Hackney Moon, is such a beautiful story. It’s rare to find a queer female relationship in books and this one involves women of colour, a happy ending and all the well known tropes of love stories only really seen in straight romances.
Listening to Phoebe talk about her very literal vision of change for her story was really interesting too. Phoebe’s story Iridescent Adolescent could be described as magical realism and is very, very unusual compared to the rest of the stories. The protagonist undergoes a very physical change into a bird; it’s a really beautifully written story and the description is so rich. The authors all gushed about each other and their inputs (women supporting women!) and both Phoebe and Mary were rightly praised for their beautiful descriptions in their writing. Mary’s description of Nigeria in Dear Asha was so stunning and so multi dimensional that I really felt like I was there.
Topics such as the representation of mental health was also brought up, particularly in relation to Aisha and Yasmin – Marionette Girl deals with OCD, which Aisha said was very personal to write, and Fortune Favours the Bold describes anxiety, something which I found really clear and real from reading it.
This panel was so wonderful (I keep using that word but it’s true!) and I’m even more excited to read other works by these authors (or future works, fingers crossed!). I really want more events with these authors and I’d also love to go to more Waterstones events – they seem so lovely and intimate and full of bookish nerds just like me!