Yesterday, the news broke on Twitter that SC had been removed as co-host from Query Kombat and Nightmare on Query Street, popular query competitions designed to help win an agent or editor.
The reason? His “passion for the Write Inclusively campaign may be unsettling or umcomfortable for people who don’t write from the POV of ethnic characters, or who don’t portray ethnic characters as ‘honestly’ as [he] would like.”
Okay. I’m not going to talk about the decision, as many articulate people have already commented on Twitter. I am going to talk about my personal struggle to write diverse books and why we should strive to do better.
I have written before about my difficulties identifying as a queer woman of colour, and about feeling responsibility for writing diverse books.
My first novel Binary Witness is shit on diversity. Despite having a female protagonist, it doesn’t even pass the Bechdel Test. One of the only queer characters is a victim. There are no prominent people of colour. It does work to accurately portray mental health issues, because that is a significant fever of mine, but that is all.
The worst thing is that I didn’t even realise it. It was only about six months after publication, when I was talking about diversity in fiction, that I realised how I had unconsciously written an all-white, heteronormative world. In my defence, the real Cardiff isn’t a hotbed of diversity, but it’s certainly moreso than my novel would suggest.
In Code Runner, I decided to do better. I introduced a woman of colour who I intended to replace a white male recurring character. I included a couple of microaggressions towards her. However, she was largely in the background – she smiled and did her job. It was a start.
In my latest WIP The Deaths of Miss Gray, I was determined to work hard. My nineteenth century London must include real people. I have queer characters of differing stripes, who flaunt their sexuality based on their privilege. I have characters of colour who suffer prejudice and discrimination, though I could’ve done more with this. I have women front and centre.
And yet still I can do better. In Amy Lane book 4, I can include more of Indira’s experience as an Asian woman in Wales. In Deaths, I can explore what happens to the black performer Cassandra when she ventures into the white, well-heeled parts of London.
We can all do more. We can all do better.
The point is that we have to be willing to accept we need to grow and learn. The writers that feel uncomfortable at being told their portrayals aren’t accurate? Those are growing pains. You need them to become a better writer.
We need to tell each other when we fall short so that we can all do better. And that is why we have #WeNeedDiverseBooks and #WriteInclusively.
Right now, my books don’t meet the threshold for #WriteInclusively – and I’m asking myself why. Are you?