So about a month or so ago, I was hit up by Speaking Volumes. As part of the Breaking Ground project where they include 200 of the UK's black and minority ethnic writers in a brochure to showcase the same, they asked me if I wanted to be part of it. I said, "sure." The resultant brochure debuted at this month's London Book Fair. I toyed with the idea of going, but I'll admit I didn't fancy parting with the cost of the entry fee to attend for no more than a couple of hours out of a 3-day event. Let alone the fact that I always have a lot of writing to do. The attention and recognition is humbling and cool regardless.
What I did want to ruminate on is, at least in horror/dark fiction terms, the number of authors who are of black or minority ethnic origin. And this brings to mind an article probably from as far back as a year ago in terms of how few black authors there are being published. Of course, such articles, as do many articles (regardless of content) end up on a number of social media pages, which then attract comment and debate. The gist of the comment that stuck with me was, 'regardless of how many black authors are being published, how many are submitting work?' Which is a good question.
Let me put this in personal terms. For the work I submit to various publications, most of it is rejected. Those publications, as per statements on their websites, welcome diversity in race, gender, sexual orientation - all that good stuff. It would be too easy and stupid to play the race card. But I get shortlisted for publications. Out of submission calls where, as per one example I can remember, around 1100 submissions are whittled down to around 100, it's nice to make the second round, even if you don't make the final cut. In a business where form rejections are par for the course, it's nice to be told that your work moves the editor even if they don't accept it. And there are cases where such professionals hit you up and ask you to submit something. Which is humbling and cool.
So that's me. But as for other black writers or writers of colour out there?
I'm not saying that I'm the only one. That'd be silly. There's Dolly Garland, Tonya Liburd, Bryan Tann, Ezeiyoke Chukwunonso, J G Clay, Malon Edwards, etc. Some of these writers are in the UK, some are overseas. Some I've had the pleasure to meet in person, some I haven't. Not yet, anyway.
What I find is that I'm likely to meet such authors or writing professionals sooner or later, regardless of race. I don't attend a whole lot of conventions - but I do my best to mingle and get to know who's who. And again, regardless of race, I've met some cool and accommodating people. I'd still have to cite last year's FantasyCon as one of the best events I'd been to (and not just because I popped my signing cherry). After how many years, I finally got to meet the Gingefather himself, Jim McLeod, who heads up The Ginger Nuts Of Horror. I can honestly say this man mountain is a great guy and his love for horror and those who create it is arguably what renders him busy up to the eyeballs. Still, through all the joy and fatigue, he wears it with good humour. The husband and wife tag-team of Paul Kane and Marie O'Regan who've assumed the reins of the UK chapter of the HWA - no mean feat, let alone the fact they're writers in their own right. Phil Sloman, the Nice Guy of horror - always cool and welcoming. Dion Winton-Polak, the soft-spoken editor whose moustache proceeds him: a guy with a vision. Ezeiyoke Chukwunonso, easy-going and with an eye on the mechanics of the business in getting your work published and to the masses. Jasper Bark, an author who, when it comes to readings, kicks game with a capital G.
Doing the convention circuit is a great way to meet people and connect with them. Most of the people I meet at conventions are authors, publishers or editors; that kind of writing professional. What I like about these conventions is that you meet old/existing friends and make new ones. You get to chat about the kind of work that moves you, whether it's what you read or what you write. Again, I stress I've met some great people at conventions.
But in short, I see few black people at these events. That doesn't mean that there are few black writers - although I'm not meeting many who claim horror/dark fiction as their M.O. The beginning of the Breaking Ground brochure concedes that some writers weren't included, with one reason being that lesser-known writers get a chance in the spotlight. I can honestly say that I don't deliberate on my race being a factor. It wouldn't surprise me if it were in some cases, because that's just how some things are. I wouldn't let it stop me though. I still write and develop my craft, with the intent to wow my audience. My go-to beta team know my flavour of dark fiction but never know exactly where I'll lead them from one story to the next. I do that regardless of race. And believe me when I say I'll keep hitting publishers with A-game: regardless of race. I've got no qualms about addressing the elephant in the room.
So to all other writers, regardless of race: just stand tall and proud. Elevate your game and make yourselves known. Look around the room - and let me know if there's an elephant here.