In Other Words: a collaborative and inclusive reading list

A collaborative and inclusive reading list books by women of colour inclusivity in publishing books authors women writers women writers of of colour - a reading list to broaden minds on my blog, Our Story Time www.ourstorytime.co.uk

My views on reading are simple: I think everybody should and must read and I think everybody must read as many perspectives as possible. Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction or creative non-fiction or literary essays or personal memoirs: the more perspectives we read, the more we understand (even when it is entirely imaginary!). The more empathy we have. The wider our world becomes. I believe that reading authors of different backgrounds, as many as possible, facilitates this.

If sameness breeds sameness, inclusivity breeds creativity.

The publishing industry is still overwhelmingly white. What does this mean for all those authors of different backgrounds, with different stories to tell? It means it’s still overwhelmingly hard to be published because their stories are still defined as stories of difference. Our stories are not recognisable unless they live up to a mainstream perception of who we are, of who they want us to be.

(I write all this with the privilege of having been published once but also with the struggle of trying to be published again.)

Some months ago, I hosted a book giveaway on my Instagram. I gave away three books that showed the sort of different perspectives and rich stories that I’m talking about. I did this because it matters to me that people read these voices. I’m still not convinced that enough people do enough to seek out those stories by authors of different backgrounds to them. If it means I have to send books out to people in order for them to be read, then I will. I’d do it with my book too only I’d rather you bought it and then leave a review.

The giveaway led to a discussion, with so many people joining in and sharing their favourite books either on inclusivity as a subject, or simply fiction by an author of a different background. I decided to compile all the recommendations together into a reading list to share.

If you want to broaden your bookshelf or simply want a wonderful new book to read that perhaps you might not have come across before, then here are some brilliant recommendations. This is by no means a finite list, but it’s a very good place to start.

An Inclusive Reading List

On inclusivity/ race

Essays / Collections / Short Stories

Poetry / Essays

Novels

Memoir

Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments below - I look forward to reading many more.

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How to find your writing voice

How to find your writing voice: writing inspiration advice for writers. Read more on my blog Our Story Time

A former student of mine from my flagship writing course The Quiet Words once asked me how it was that I managed to sound consistent in everything that I wrote from my book to my blog to my Instagram captions. “How did you find your writing voice?” she asked.

At first her question confounded me and I did not know how to answer it because what she saw as consistent, I saw as simply being me. And then I realised that was the answer after all. How do you find your writing voice? Well, you be you.

Of course, this is easier said than done especially if you’re an aspiring writer, still working out what you want to write about let alone how you want to write or what sort of voice you imagine writing in, especially if words are something that you might struggle with.

But I believe that finding your writing voice is not just about finding a certain writing style. It is about language, yes of course, but it is also so much more than that. It is about finding yourself. It is allowing yourself to write in a way that feels honest and not permeating into what is popular, fashionable or what works for other people. Finding your writing voice enables you to write in the confidence that you sound like you - because you are you. Not because you’re trying to be someone else.

But where do you begin to find that voice that is authentic, true and sincere? A voice that can only be yours? Well, it takes time and practice.

As a journalist for over a decade, the voice I wrote in wasn’t my writing voice. Sure, I might have shared my opinions in comment pieces, or presented other people’s perspectives in features and news articles, but my voice was always in line with an in-house style, the particular tone of whichever publication I happened to be writing for.

It was while writing my first book, In Spite of Oceans, that I found my writing voice because I was unconstrained by expectations of having to “sound” a certain way. The voice of my book is the voice through which I see the world. It’s the voice of my thoughts, the way I speak. It’s even the voice of this blog. I wrote In Spite of Oceans in the voice of a quiet observer, on the fringes, looking in. I think, in a way, that’s the person I’ve always been. The more I write, the easier it is for me to know my writing voice. But it has not always been this way.

When I fell pregnant for the first time, I set up a blog to write about pregnancy. This was my first mistake - a blog “about pregnancy” is as vague as a blog “about food.”  I had read other people’s pregnancy blogs and thought it might be fun to do the same. This was my second mistake - I literally thought I could do the same, adopting the tone of other pregnant people’s voices, the voices of people I had nothing in common with other than the fact we were pregnant. I thought that in order to have a blog about pregnancy I had to sound like every other blog about pregnancy. I don’t like swearing for instance (don’t laugh, it’s the school girl in me) and yet there I was, profaning about morning sickness. Neither am I sarcastic and yet again, there I was, trying out deadpan awkwardly. I’m not like that in real life and therefore I can’t write like that either. It’s no wonder this blog did not last very long.

I tell you this in order to show you that when you’re writing on your own platform, a blog say or a draft of a first-person book, the only way you can sustain it is to write as you. You can’t pretend to be someone you are not. You can’t adopt another person’s style and expect to be able to keep that going.

Your writing voice is the atmosphere you want to evoke, and you can enhance your voice through your writing style. It’s your writing voice you want your readers to remember you for.

There are many reasons a writing voice is important: for drawing readers in, for building a loyal readership that falls in love with your words and for some people, establishing a strong brand. But these aren’t the only reasons. Being consistent in your writing and your writing voice is not just about being consistent for the sake of an audience. It’s about being consistent to yourself, for yourself. Finding your writing voice is about staying true to who you are.

Seven ways to find your writing voice.

  1. Record yourself. If you find it difficult to face a blank page and find it hard to express yourself in writing, record what it is you want to say instead. Talk it out and then transcribe. It doesn’t matter at this stage if you don’t yet have all the words you think you need; you will find ways to express yourself better through language with time, the more you read. At this stage, don’t worry about having to sound a certain way. Just think about sounding like you. Listen to yourself.

  2. Think about a writer whose work you admire. How would you describe their work? Is that how you’d like your work to be described too?

  3. Write down three to six ideals words you’d like to describe your own writing - the way in which you want readers to think about your work. For instance, your words could be witty, contemporary and bold. Or poetic, whimsical and dreamy. (And can you already see how these two descriptions would result in two very different writing voices?).

  4. Hold yourself up to those expectations. Always keep those three to six words which you’d like to describe your own writing in mind anytime you write. Every time you finish a piece, ask yourself if the writing you’ve produced lives up to those adjectives. If not, keep going until it is.

  5. Read widely. The more you read, the more you immerse yourself in language, the easier it will be to find the vocabulary you need to express yourself in a writing voice that will eventually come naturally to you.

  6. Let go of any assumptions. You don’t have to “sound” a certain way to be a writer. A big mistake that I often come across when editing other people’s work is that in writing they often sound far too formal or contrived. They are trying too hard to sound the way they think they ought to, when really they need to simply relax and write the way they talk. The literary techniques will come later, but for now, you just need to capture the essence of who you are in writing.

  7. Whenever you find yourself cringing over something you’ve written, chances are it’s most likely because it’s not authentically you. It’s not your writing voice. Scrap it.

Do you dream of being a writer?

Then join me on my online writing course, The Quiet Words, a course in the craft of writing creatively. Start your journey here.

The Quiet Words runs from Monday 30th September to Monday 18th November 2019.

Here’s what previous students have said about it:

Huma’s warmth, passion and expertise shines through in The Quiet Words. It felt personal, as if she was sitting right beside me each week sharing her insight and wisdom. Right from the start Huma’s message to us was: “You are a writer, you can do this, I am here to help.” There are so many practical elements of the course that I will take away with me, but most importantly it was this message: that she believed we could.
— Kim
The Quiet Words is simply magical. It’s not about following rules, it’s about listening to what’s inside and learning to trust that we know what sounds just right to us. It’s about getting back in touch with yourself, your creativity. The Quiet Words gently reminds us that this is there inside us all along. You’ve helped us reconnect with that and nurture trust in ourselves.
The Quiet Words is invaluable. Thank you.
— Claire


Autumn comes again

back to school writing manuscripts writing advice the submission process read more about on the reality of writing and submitting to publishers on my blog Our Story Time www.ourstorytime.co.uk

Today is my children’s first day back at school today. Just like that they’re gone. The last eight weeks, a smudge on the back door.

I started our summer with hope. Earlier this year, I sent samples of my second book to my agent and she in turn is sending it on to publishers. They call this the submission stage. “My book is on submission,” we might say - except writers only ever say this to each other, and very rarely to anyone else outside of the publishing world. Why? Because for some reason we’re supposed to stay hush. Never talk about the process until the deal is done. But in doing so, we don’t talk about what it feels like to fail and like this piece says, failure is the norm for writers. Yet we hide it. We hide the rejection and only announce our books when the deal is done as if by magic, as if there haven’t been tears spilled behind the scenes.

I wish to be open about the process though, because it is at the very least interesting to know how it all works as well as to know how it feels. How we are to have more inclusivity in publishing, if we aren’t more transparent about the very process itself? So right now, my book is on submission. I have not failed but I am still waiting. It’s a long, long wait, one that is anxiety-ridden but I am also hopeful and excited. It may all come to nothing but equally it very well may. One way you can help is by continuing to share my work, my social media feeds and if you’ve happened to read my book, In Spite of Oceans, I would be incredibly grateful if you might consider leaving a review. And meanwhile, I will wait for hopefully good news to come down the phone. At this moment, there is simply no way of knowing which editor might read my book, who might fall in love with it in its very raw form. But here I am sharing. So if I’ve been quieter than usual over the summer, now you know why. It is because I am writing. I am writing. I am waiting for news.

And so as this new season begins, I’m prioritising writing more than anything. For the first time in what feels like years, I’ve taken steps to finally organise childcare during the week so I can write on various pieces I have in the pipeline properly, not just on stolen snatches of time which, if I’m honest, has been utterly exhausting.

I’m excited about what this extra time may mean and I’m delighted to make my comeback into journalism with a few pieces over the summer, including my piece in The Guardian today about motherhood memoirs. I’m equally thrilled to have a short story of mine selected from over 100 submissions for publication in Let Me Know When You’re Home, an anthology of women writers writing on friendship brought together by Dear Damsels. You can help bring the publication into print here.

I’m hoping that some of you will be prioritising writing too. The Quiet Words, my online writing course on the craft of writing creatively, begins in little under a month on September 30th. And here’s my other hope - that some of you will join me, that you’ll discover the value in taking a step out of the noise of everyday life to reconnect with a certain stillness that might give you the focus to write. That you might listen to the voice inside of you that beckons you to put your thoughts into words, to begin to figure things out. The Quiet Words is waiting, right here.