INTERVIEW: Author Dorothy Koomson talks her writing journey from journalist to best-selling author

Dorothy Koomson has 15 published books, one of which (The Ice Cream Girls) was adapted into an ITV drama series. Born to Ghanaian parents she grew up in London as the second-born out of four children and had an international life that still shapes her writing until this day. She went to college in Leeds in the north of England, worked in Australia and now lives in Brighton, UK. On top of all that she’s also been nominated for a Black British Business Award (BBBAward) and challenges what it means to write about the ‘black British experience’.

I was standing in a book shop when…
When I got a call saying I had been shortlisted as a finalist for a BBBAward and I thought, oh wow!

Dorothy is a finalist in the Arts & Media Leader of the Year category at the BBBAwards, which takes place in London tonight.
Credit: steve@stevedunlop.com

I do my job of writing books and…
Being nominated for awards is like the icing on a fantastic cake because I never expect anything.

I started writing books at…
Thirteen and always loved writing stories. When I worked as a journalist, I would write chapters for my books on the train into work and on weekends.

I did have books when I was younger but…
We didn’t have much money and we’re reliant on the library.

I read all sorts of books…
Including Jackie Collins’ books, sci-fi and comics!

Growing up in an African family…
It was instilled in me that doing well in school was very important.

I wanted to be a librarian when I was a child…
And went to the library every day after school to read books. But as I got older, my dream was to be a magazine editor and I was lucky enough to work in magazine for many years.

Credit: Niall McDiarmid

It so sad what’s happening to libraries in the UK because…
They are the great equaliser, no matter who you are, they give you access to books. Being able to read is one of the most empowering things you can have in life. Not everyone has the internet and libraries are the heart of communities.

When I was in-between jobs and researching books…
I would go to the library and found that they can be a haven for homeless people too.

My first novel…
The Cupid Effect, was published in 2003 when I was in my early thirties, but that was after multiple rejections. Finally, I sent it to a small independent publisher, but didn’t hear anything for nearly a year, then got a letter with an offer for a two-book deal.

The criticism I got from publishers about my stories were…
It isn’t obvious that some of the main characters were black and they didn’t focus much on ‘the black experience’.

Black people are not a monolith…
We are as individual as anyone else, so what is the ‘black experience’? I was just telling stories for women like me. Experiencing racism is not the entirety of my characters experience, it’s not the entirety of my experience either.

Credit: Niall McDiarmid

My subsequent books also went through rounds of rejections…
I could wall-paper a room with the rejections I’ve had over the years!

If you want to be a writer…
You must believe in the story you’re writing because that will keep you going when you get rejected.

The late Toni Morrison had a great influence on me…
Because she told great stories and was unapologetic about the stories she wanted to tell.

I don’t write for a particular reader…
I write for people who want to read good stories, be entertained and learn something.

It’s great to walk into a book shop and see books written by black people…On the shelves in prominent places, because that wasn’t happening 15 years ago when I was first published. But there is still work to do in giving black writers opportunities in other genres, including children’s books and science fiction.

I think Jacaranda’s #Twentyin2020 campaign is fantastic…
And a great way to give black writers a platform but the problem will not be solved overnight, even though things are improving.

I’m very fortunate that I have two careers which I love…
Journalism and writing books; although I don’t do as much journalism now but use my journalistic skills as an author.

I do lots of things to relax…
Including pottery making, knitting and staring into space!

You can find more from Dorothy here.

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