Tuesday, 20 November 2018

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Why We Need to Support UKYA & MG Authors of Colour

Why We Need to Support UKYA & MG Authors of Colour

A Spark of White Fire by Sangu MandannaBear with me, this is going to be a long one. Today, I want to talk about something I feel is incredibly important; how readers of UKYA & MG should support our authors of colour. When it comes to diversity, although the US still has quite a way to go, the UK is very far behind. A lot of the diverse books published in the UK? They're books written by US authors. In 2017, CLPE launched a study, Reflecting Realities - A Survey of Ethnic Representation within UK Children’s Literature 2017, which found that only 1% of children's books in 2017 featured a BAME character. The study looks at all children's books, not just YA & MG, and it doesn't say how many of that 1% of books were written by BAME authors, but you can bet that some of those authors, if not the majority, were white.

We need more representation of people of colour in our books. But more than that, we need accurate representation. And the only way we're really going to get that is if we have authors of colour writing stories about people like them. And as Mariam Khan points out, the lives of UK and US teens are different. But when UK publishing aren't buying books by UKYA authors of colour, or only buy them once they've been bought in the US and some buzz is created around them, it's difficult for us to get that representation.

This Is What It Feels Like by Rebecca BarrowsThere are two UKYA authors of colour that I know of whose novels were bought by US publishers, but not UK publishers. Two authors who live in the UK whose books, as things stand, are not published where they live. Sangu Mandanna's latest novel, A Spark of White Fire - a sci-fi retelling of the Sanskrit epic the Mahabharata - is published in the US by Sky Pony Press. Rebecca Barrow's two novels, You Don't Know Me But I Know You  - a contemporary novel about an adopted teenager who is pregnant, who thinks about her birth mother as she tries to figure out what to do - and her latest, This Is What It Feels Like - another contemporary novel about three former best friends and band mates, who split up due to problems they were dealing with, and now want to reform and rebuild their friendships -  are both published in the US by HarperTeen. None of these books are published in the UK. Rebecca Barrow was recently interviewed on LGBTQ Reads where she discussed, among other things, about not being published in the UK, and the lack of support in publishing for UK marginalised authors.

And then there's London Shah's debut novel, The Light at the Bottom of the Ocean - a sci-fi set in the future where the world is underwater, and British Muslim Leyla must enter a submersible marathon to try and win the freedom of her father, who has been arrested, but is innocent - which will be published in Autumn next year by Disney-Hyperion, but will go on sub to UK publishers after it's edited. London Shah told me that when she was querying agents, all but one of the UK agents couldn't connect with the story, and the one that was interested wanted her to change the whole premise. However, she received offers from five agents and agencies in the US.

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha NganAnd then we have the books by UK authors of colour who were only bought in the UK once hype was already generated in the US; Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan - a queer, Asian inspired high fantasy where Lei is forced to become one of eight Paper Girls, concubines to the Demon King, but falls in love with a fellow Paper Girl, and decides to fight for her freedom. And (the technically adult) Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri - a high fantasy inspired by Mughal India about Mehr, a nobleman's illegitimate daughter who is forced into a marriage by the Mystics after it is discovered she has the magic of the her mother's people, the outcast Amrithi, running through her veins (protagonist is 19, but major trigger warnings for violence against women, attempts to force someone to rape another, and possibly more - I'm currently reading). Natasha told me her novel was sold to a UK publisher a year after it was bought in the US, and Tasha said Empire of Sand was acquired in the US before the UK, but has a US agent; she found it easier to find US agents who were specifically looking for diverse fantasy than UK agents.

So clearly we have an issue in the UK with publishers and agents either not wanting stories by authors of colour, wanting them to change them before representing them, or aren't looking for diverse fantasy. This is massively screwed up. It's like they think books by authors of colour - diverse stories - are risky. And some UK publishers are only willing to take a risk on those books once buzz has already been generated in the US. And it's out of order. Our authors shouldn't have to look overseas for representation or publication. They should be able to find it here.

Empire of Sand by Tasha SuriYou're probably thinking there's not a huge amount we can do about it; readers only read, we don't control what gets representation or a publishing deal. Except... we have buying power. We can show publishers and agents that we want UKYA novels written by our own UKYA authors of colour by supporting the authors of colour who do have books published. Publishing is a business, and if agents and publishers see books by our own authors of colour doing well, they can't ignore that. We need to tell them that we want these books, we want these stories. We need to support our authors of colour who aren't being published in the UK. We need to support those who are only published in the UK once buzz is generated. And we need to support those who have had or will have their books published here.

Buy their books. If one of their books isn't something you're particularly interested, maybe it buy it for a friend? I'm not expecting you to buy all books by authors of colour, that would get pretty expensive, but if all YA readers bought some, or requested and borrowed them from a library - if we made an effort to support and spread the word about these books, perhaps agents and publishers will take note and listen.

With that in mind, here are the UKYA novels by authors of colour coming out in 2019 that I know of to keep an eye out for, to pre-order, to buy, to request from your library. All links go to Goodreads.

Oh My Gods by Alexandra Sheppard   Kick the Moon by Muhammad Khan    Monsters by Sharon Dogar    Proud ed. by Juno Dawson

My blog focuses on YA over younger books, for the most part, but we should also support our authors of colour who are writing middle grade, so here are some books to look out for, for the children in your life.

The Tunnels Below by Nadine Wild-Palmer    Asha & the Spirit Bird by Jasbinder Bilan

And YA and MG authors of colour who have had books come out recently or years back who we should be supporting - all links go to their websites or Goodreads' author page, or their Twitter page.

If I have left anyone/any books off of these lists, please do let me know. I also have a list on Twitter featuring all authors mentioned in this post, which you can subscribe to here. I'd also recommend following Wei Ming Kam and Mariam Khan on Twitter, two passionate advocates of UK authors of colour. For example, read these tweets from Mariam on UK publishers supporting USYA but not UKYA, Mariam's tweets on UKMG, and Wei Ming's thread on CLPE's study

So talk to me! What books by UKYA or MG authors of colour do you love and recommend? Any of the books mentioned that you'll be buying/borrowing? What do you think of how UK publishing treats UK authors of colour?

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