Black Books on my TBR

I said I was going to read more books by black authors, and I love a good list, so here are some specific books on my TBR (to be read) pile I plan to get to soon:

Poetry

Novels

Non-Fiction 

I generally like to consume my non-fiction on audiobook, so I have my upcoming Audible credits earmarked for both of these.

Other

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy my other recent blog post about ten books by black authors I’ve already read and loved, which you can find linked here.

Summer Writing Update

My last writing update was in March. Before lockdown. Before George Floyd was murdered and the Black Lives Matter movement took to the streets again. Before so many things, most of them stressful and traumatic (and some of them both).

The world has changed in some ways, stayed frustratingly the same in others, and we all are struggling on. So, let’s catch up.

I’m going to be talking about my reading and writing for the first half of the year in this post, but I recently shared a health and fertility update here, if you’re interested. And if you want to read about my response to the BLM movement, see here and here.

Reading

Sadly, because of the aforementioned global shitstorm, there is not a lot to report here. I am currently four books behind in my reading target for the year – 28 books read so far out of 65 (43%) – but am confident I can and will catch up.

Writing

Shockingly, I have been writing more than ever. I genuinely don’t understand how or why this has happened, because I’ve lost count of the number of times in the past three months where I’ve been close to tearing my hair out with frustration at my supposed lack of words. (As my long-suffering husband can attest.)

Here is a little breakdown in stats:

  • January – 9,000 words
  • February – 29,000 words
  • March – 24,000 words
  • April – 28,000 words
  • May – 32,000 words
  • June – 22,000 words

Overall, that’s 144,000 for the year.

Obviously the numbers are a little rounded, but compare them to last year when I wrote a total of 166,000 words over the course of the full twelve months, and 2018 when I wrote 146,000. It makes me wonder what word count I’d be sitting with right now if the world wasn’t on fire.

But what I will note is that, despite the steep rise in my word count, the projects I’ve been working on are not what I had intended right at the start of the year. For the most part, I haven’t really had the brainpower to work on “original” fiction, instead sticking well inside my comfort zone of fanfic.

Going forward, I have some plans, uh… planned. July is Camp NaNoWriMo, for which I have set my monthly goal to 30,000, but outside of that I’m keeping my writing goals for the rest of 2020 fairly quiet. Things are going on in the background, but it’s too early to talk about them yet. By the time my end of year update comes out, all will be revealed, so stay tuned! And please let me know how your writing is going.

‘Till next time!

Three Things I Have Learned Recently

If you’ve been following along with this blog recently, you’ll know that I made a commitment to learn more about racism as a means to combat it in my own life. One of the ways I’ve begun to do this is by watching more content by black creators on YouTube, and from that I have learned three main things so far.

Before I get into to the things themselves, I want to add a caveat that I’m aware this is only the tip of the iceberg and obviously I still don’t know a great deal even about the three things listed below, so it’s entirely possible I will get things wrong and I encourage you to merely use this as a jumping-off point for looking into things yourself. (Also, if you do spot an error please let me know!)

I’m gonna share a little about these things not for some weird kind of self-congratulatory reason (because, honestly, I’m ashamed I didn’t know about them before, not patting myself on the back for finally starting to catch up) but to pass on the knowledge to anyone else who might not know.

But enough preamble. Here are the goods:

What Happened in Tulsa

Tulsa is a city in Oklahoma. The Greenwood district had the wealthiest black community in the United States and was known as “Black Wall Street.” That was until 1921, when mobs of white residents took to the streets, murdered many* black people, injured many more, and destroyed homes and black-owned businesses. It has been called “the single worst incident of racial violence in American history.” AND – just to add insult to injury – it is mostly left out of history textbooks and high school classrooms. If and when someone tries to tell you racism isn’t a real thing, tell them about Tulsa.

*The numbers seem to be a little unclear, and apparently there were a few white people killed, too.

What Juneteenth Is

The anniversary of June 19th 1865 (now known as ‘Juneteenth’) is a day of celebration for black emancipation, but it was not in fact when slavery was legally abolished in the USA. This was just when, two-and-a-half years after it got outlawed, news of the change in law finally reached Texas and was put into effect there. Because Texas was the furthest the news had to travel, it was the last state in which slaves were liberated.

Though, actually, on this note: it is important to recognise that a disproportionate number of black people are arrested and unfairly put in the prison system (for things that white people ordinarily get away with, as well as legitimately for no reason at all), which requires them to use their incarceration time completing unpaid labour. So it can be argued that, in this way, slavery still continues to this day.

(In editing this post and having it looked over by an American friend, I am reliably informed that prior to this very summer of 2020 when Trump started making plans to have a rally in Tulsa on Juneteenth, the term Juneteenth was not widely known about even by many Americans outside of Texas.)

Colorism is a Thing

We all know that racism is discrimination based on the colour of someone’s skin, with people of black and brown skin tone often being the ones discriminated against. There is a whole debate on whether white people can be subject to racism but I am not getting into that. I personally feel like the argument does a lot to take the focus away from what matters most, which is that day in and day out, black people are losing their lives, homes, and careers over such injustices.

(Note from my editor friend, which I feel better explains what I’m trying to say in the point above: “It is a semantic distinction. Nobody argues that white people cannot be discriminated against based on their race, but many scholars use prejudice or discrimination to describe that and keep ‘racism’ for the institutionalized prejudice against minorities.”)

At any rate, colorism is a phenomenon in which black people with lighter skin will face less racism than black people with a darker complexion. Generally, the darker your skin is, the more discrimination you will face, with people who can ‘pass’ for white experiencing the least of all. (Please note, this is a generalisation and there will of course be exceptions to the rule!)

Something to watch out for is when companies try and include a black person in their marketing to make themselves appear more inclusive/diverse, the black person they pick will often be light-skinned. If you’re only having your eyes opened to this for the first time now, you might be startled to discover that it’s actually pretty common. I ask you to dig a little into who is behind the marketing campaigns (Google is your friend) and question such things publicly (even if it’s just on Twitter).

In the meantime, I’d be interested to hear about what you may have learned recently in the comment section below.

Health and Fertility Update – June 2020

I don’t honestly know if anyone following my blog is interested in updates about my health, but I do know that I myself find them useful to look back on. At any rate, it’s been a year since I voiced my frustrations regarding trying to get pregnant and that was the last real health-related update I shared, so I figured this post was overdue.

In terms of mental health, I have been all over the place, but with everything that’s going on in the world right now, I suspect that’s the same for most people.

I talked before about trying to lose weight, but that’s ground to a halt, partly because of lockdown but also because my local Slimming World group disbanded prior to that and my motivation went out the window when my fertility consultant moved the goalposts on me.

I had been trying to get my BMI down so that I could access fertility treatment, and the entirely arbitrary number they had originally set for me to reach was a real struggle. Then, at my last appointment, I was told that the clinic had their funding cut and so they were moving my target BMI even more out of reach. Like, impossibly out of reach for someone with PCOS and my body type. While this was an obvious blow, I got some clarification over exactly what they had planned for me in the hypothetical situation I did reach the magical number and they told me IVF, which is not something I knew before then. Continue reading

10 Black Book Recommendations

I have not read a lot of books by black authors – this is something I will be consciously focusing on from here on out – but of the titles I have already read and loved, here are ten I really want to recommend:

  1. The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon – This is a YA novel that took me by surprise. I heard about it all over booktube for ages before ever picking it up, but am so glad I finally listened to the hype and gave it a shot because it’s now one of my favourite books of all time.
  2. The Color Purple by Alice Walker – A classic novel told via the medium of letters. Heartbreaking at various points (trigger warning for all kinds of abuse) but handled so wonderfully. The characters are so fleshed out, they read like real people. It tells you not just what it’s like to be black, but specifically a black woman, and someone who questions their sexuality too.
  3. Becoming by Michelle Obama – Memoir/non-fiction from the former first lady of the USA. I listened to this on audiobook, which is read by Michelle herself.
  4. My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal – The story of a mixed-race boy who gets taken into care alongside his baby brother but is separated from said brother because the baby is white and therefore more likely to be adopted. Again, heartbreaking, touching, and very human.
  5. Kumukanda by Kayo Chingonyi – A poetry pamphlet about belonging, masculinity, identity, and coming of age.
  6. Tree Trunks That Hide the Elephant and the Whale by Willetta Fleming – More poetry here, this time from a woman local to me here in Northern Ireland.
  7. Boys Don’t Cry by Malorie Blackman – When I first started thinking about this list, I knew for certain I’d have to include Malorie but I had a hard time picking one of her many, many titles (she’s so prolific and so well-loved, I’m actually gonna do a separate post all about her and her books in the coming weeks, so stay tuned for that). This YA novel (about a teenage boy who discovers his ex-girlfriend had a child by him and now expects him to raise the child) isn’t one of Malorie’s most well-known books, but it really touched me. There is also some queer representation.
  8. Unheard Voices – An Anthology of Stories and Poems to Commemorate the Bicentenary Anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade, edited [and including a powerful short story] by Malorie Blackman.
  9. My Name is Why by Lemn Sissay – This is a memoir about growing up in care, being abandoned, and finding yourself. When Lemn was taken from his mother, he didn’t even get to keep his real name. This is a startling look at what it’s like (or, at least, what it was like) to be raised within the ‘system’ in the UK, and how the system is (or was) so very broken.
  10. Terror Kid by Benjamin Zephaniah – Benjamin is primarily a poet, but this is one of his novels. It’s middle-grade (aimed at a slightly younger audience than YA), about a boy who is torn between wanting to address the injustices he sees around him and trying to stay out of trouble. Soon, he discovers, trouble finds him and he is thrust into a situation well beyond his handling. There are some important topics and issues raised in this book, my only wish is that explored them a little deeper.

Coming soon: a list of ten books by black authors I plan to read next. If you have more suggestions, please leave them in the comment section below.

This Affects You

This is the t.shirt I bought. It’s available on Etsy here.

I didn’t want to make this post. I’m worried it’s a bit of a disaster, in terms of flow/coherency, but I can’t let that hold me back. The topic is too important. You may be a white person reading this who will want to click off, or scroll on past when you realise this is another anti-racism post, but stick with me here because this is about you.

I’m ashamed to say I posted my support of the Black Lives Matter movement here on this blog last week, and I considered myself done. I wondered how long it would be before I could get back to ‘normal.’ Business as usual.

THAT is my white privilege raising its head, and I’m sorry. I should be better than that. I WILL be better than that, going forward. That’s a promise. If I’m exhausted by everything happening in the world right now (and I am), I can only imagine what it’s like for Black people who have to face this every day. This is their normal, they can’t escape it, and that needs to change.

So, that’s up to me. I am done being part of the problem.

Here’s a thing I learnt this week that I’ve never thought of before: racism is a white issue. (I really can’t believe I was so ignorant to only just realise this. I am so sorry.)

Yes, it affects non-white people the world over, but we white people invented it and we are the ones who need to stop it. We’re the only ones who actually can stop it, because we’re the ones with the power.

You can turn away and pretend it’s not your fight, but that won’t change the fact that you have a responsibility.

On that note, if you want to do something but aren’t sure where to start, read this post by Kandise Le Blanc.

As for myself, I won’t be going back to ‘normal.’ Alongside my donation to the NAACP, I will be wearing my brand new Black Lives Matter t.shirt publicly (no matter how uncomfortable it may make some people – including myself – or if it gets me shit), I will be more vocal in challenging my friends and family in their problematic opinions, and I will be lifting up more black voices here on this blog.

If you are a person of colour and want to have your say here, please get in touch and I’ll set you up with some kind of guest post. An interview, or profile, or something. We can chat.

I don’t want this online space to only mention black issues just when everyone else is already talking about them. The issues don’t vanish when the media moves on to something else, so I’m gonna make an effort to talk about them more regularly so that they don’t slip out of the spotlight/get swept back under the carpet.

Three posts coming soon you can look forward to:

  • 10 Black Book Recommendations
  • 10 Books by Black Authors on my TBR
  • A post in celebration of Malorie Blackman

If you have more ideas for things I can do, I’m more than willing to listen. I’m here to learn. Are you with me?

Rage Against the Machine

I’m white and I’m scared.

You might read that statement and jump to the conclusion that I’m nervous about my whiteness getting “discriminated” against or some such bullshit. I understand the assumption – there’s a lot of that about – but it’s just that: bullshit.

I’m not scared of black people fighting for their rights, I’m scared for them. So many lives are being lost and it’s all because fucking white people don’t like skin coming in any other fucking colour?! Is that any reason to murder people? What the fuck is wrong with the cops? THEY are who I’m scared of. The government is who I fear.

I’m white and I’m angry.

This should not be happening. Solidarity with my black and brown brothers and sisters. I’m so sorry you’re being hunted.


If you’re reading this and are as scared and angry and sorry as I am about the injustice that’s going on right now, and has been going on for decades centuries already, here’s three things you can do:

  1. Listen: Watch this video of a poem by Anesu Mtowa, to get a black perspective on what’s happening.
  2. Educate Yourself: Check out this Twitter thread containing videos of protests that the media aren’t showing. Black and brown people not looting, or destroying anything, but peacefully! standing their ground. In a lot of cases, fires are being started and windows are being smashed by racists so that the black protesters are blamed.
  3. Make Your Mark: Here is a Twitter thread of relevant petitions you can sign, demanding justice for a number of black people killed/threatened/abused and/or wrongly jailed by police.

Writing Masterclasses: A Review (Part One)

Recently, I’ve been taking part in online writing classes via Masterclass.com, and I thought it might be beneficial to others for me to review a little of my experience so far. So, here we go.

Overview

Masterclass is an online streaming service that offers video lessons in a range of topics from world-renowned experts with wealths of experience. There are over 80 courses, consisting of twenty lessons at ten minutes each on average. Topics are grouped together under Culinary Arts, Design, Photography, and Fashion, Film and TV, Music and Entertainment, Business, Politics, and Society, Sports and Games, Science and Technology, Lifestyle, and of course Writing.

The writing classes are what this review is going to focus on, as it’s the particular thread I’m pursuing.

In total, at least right now, there are 251 video lessons on writing from twelve different writers: David Sedaris, Joyce Carol Oates, Neil Gaiman, David Baldacci, Billy Collins, Dan Brown, Margaret Atwood, R.L. Stein, David Mamet, Malcolm Gladwell, Judy Bloom, and James Paterson. These cover storytelling, writing comedy, drama, mysteries and thrillers, writing for younger audiences, writing poetry, etc.

Features

As a streaming service, you can access Masterclass via pretty much any device with an internet connection. I personally use the site ‘in browser’ via my laptop, but there are apps for the iPhone, iPad, Android devices, and Roku (though I hold my hands up here and will admit I have no idea what that actually is).

As well as the main video classes themselves, there are semi-regular ‘Masterclass Live’ special, one-off lessons.

There is a community forum to discuss the teaching on offer, ask questions, and request feedback on work, though I’m not sure how well this is moderated. From the brief look I’ve taken, it doesn’t seem like the instructors themselves interact with this space at all. Continue reading

Embracing Norn Iron

I have lived most of my life in Northern Ireland. I was born here. My parents are from here. My husband and his family are from here, too. You could say I’m kinda invested in this place.

But this place is complicated. Geographically, it’s complicated. Politically, it’s really complicated. Culturally, it spends most of its time confused and upset.

Because of this, and for a whole host of more personal reasons, I have always felt conflicted about good ol’ Norn Iron. (As the locals call it.)

It’s quite possible I’ll always feel a range of emotions about here, but what I have come to terms with is that this country – this land – is part of me, and I am part of it.

I used to see being in Northern Ireland as being the worst of two worlds, almost literally. And there is a little basis for that viewpoint even now, but you don’t need to be a genius to see how pessimistic that is.

As I have gotten older and discovered how much I don’t know (about lots of things, not just regarding N.I.), I have learned that the choices we make and the opinions we hold have power. If I stayed stuck in my previous mindset I wouldn’t necessarily be wrong, but I would be worse off for it.

These days, I’m actively choosing to watch out for positives because, yes, they do exist if you look for them. Not everything has to be doom and gloom. And being aware of positive things and appreciating them helps to encourage further positive things.

Prime example: the literary community, like all of the other communities, is divided in a lot of ways. There are opportunities open to the UK, and there are opportunities open to Ireland. This used to frustrate me, because my heart would pull one way, my head would push the other, and I never knew which way, if either, I was actually supposed to go. I was caught in the middle, foolishly thinking I had to pick a side, wholeheartedly dedicate myself to it, and cut myself off entirely from the other.

And here’s what I took way too long to figure out: I don’t have to be either/or, I can be both!

That’s liberating. That’s revolutionary. That… probably should have been way more obvious than it actually was, but that terrible mindset I was talking about had blinded me like it blinded – and still blinds – so many others.

All of that to say this (because, yes, I am coming to a point here and it will explain the photo I’ve picked to accompany this blog post): back in the day if you had asked me to take part in a project celebrating Northern Ireland, I may not have said anything, but internally I would have cringed. Now, though – with my new found acceptance of this place and my place in it – I am more than happy to take part in such a project. Ecstatic, even. And asked to take part I was!

When lockdown first started and ‘social distancing’ was still a relatively new term, Angeline King – the lady currently at the helm of Women Aloud NI – hatched a plan to give WANI members a project to distract ourselves with.

“Let’s write a book!” she said, and we only went and bloody did it!

North Star is an anthology of short stories and poems that celebrate the six counties of Northern Ireland, and has a specific section for the city of Belfast, too. I am in there and I am proud to be so.

Again, national pride can quickly become a thorny issue, but this isn’t about that. This is about representing the best of our communities and pulling together to make them even better.

From here on out, that’s certainly what I’m hoping to achieve. Who’s with me?

NO Thank You to Toxic People

Fairly recently I introduced my husband to the song ‘I’m the one that’s cool‘ by Felicia Day/The Guild. I bought the single in iTunes years ago, and obviously still like it, otherwise I wouldn’t still be playing/sharing it, but it does contain one thing that drives me absolutely mad.

The song is about always being picked on – verbally and physically assaulted – for not fitting in while at school, and the tables having turned now both parties are adults. That’s fine. I like that things have changed, but the fact that Felicia is writing a song about it all these years later tells me that, despite those changes, the scars haven’t completely gone away. She still thinks about it.

This fits with my own experience. It makes me feel seen. But then comes the line:

I appreciate you for being cruel
I’m burning bright thanks to your rejection fuel

Which, quite frankly, boils my fucking blood. Because no, I do not and will not appreciate anyone for being cruel. No one ever burns bright because of ‘rejection fuel’, they sometimes survive and thrive despite it. And that’s only sometimes, because so many other people never make it that far. To say otherwise is doing a disservice to those people, and the people who do make it through the other side, as well as the bullies themselves. Because who the hell would ever feel the need to change and stop hurting people if they’re being told by the very people they damaged that, actually, no, it’s okay, you did me a favour?!

Sadly, this phenomena of giving thanks to abusers isn’t exclusive to The Guild. The two other songs that spring to mind are ‘Fighter‘ by Christina Aguilera, which includes the lines:

After all of the stealing and cheating you probably think that
I hold resentment for you
But uh uh, oh no, you’re wrong
‘Cause if it wasn’t for all that you tried to do, I wouldn’t know
Just how capable I am to pull through
So I want to say thank you

And ‘Thank You‘ by Jamelia, which puts it:

For every last bruise you gave me
For every time I sat in tears
For the million ways you hurt me
I just want to tell you this:
You broke my world, made me strong
Thank you

But I’m sure there are many more examples than that. I find it’s one of those things where, once you’re aware of it, you start seeing it everywhere. And okay, listen, I get it. I understand wanting to turn the narrative on its head – to make a positive out of a negative – but this is not the way to do it. Don’t thank your abusers, thank yourself. You got through their torment, whether on your own or with the help of others. If it feels too weird to be grateful to yourself, then thank the people who held your hand, let you cry on your shoulder, or offered you bandaids, not the people who made you need all those things!