Hey Booktube – Speak Up!

Something has been bothering me about Booktube lately, and no, it’s not the fact that every single booktuber and their mother seems to be in the process of writing their own book. (I think writing a book is awesome and the recent controversy surrounding this topic is understandable, yet not really necessary. But anyway!)

I initially shied away from this topic because I was unsure how to articulate my thoughts. I also didn’t want to be harping on about diversity again but you know what?! Until things are truly diverse (a.k.a. until we reach a point in life whereby ‘diverse’ in itself is an outdated word) I’ll be harping on about it.

This article is in no way intended to demonise Booktubers, and nor is it hard fact. It is rather my opinion (as a hardcore Booktube fangirl) and an attempt to disseminate a rather disturbing trend happening across Booktube right now.

For those of you who don’t know, Booktube is a growing reading community on the Youtube platform. Booktubers are famous for posting videos such as ‘book hauls’ (in which they share the books they have just bought), ‘book reviews’ and silly/fun  ‘book tags.’  Booktube has also been stereotyped as only being a platform to discuss YA books (very often YA Fantasy) and contemporary novels. It is also worth mentioning that I am personally inspired by many Booktubers.

Now, for a few Booktubers with thousands of followers, Booktube has become a job. Some publishers work in partnership with booktubers and send them ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) of books in exchange for a review on their channel.  Sometimes booktubers will receive books months in advance, and will speak about these ARCs on their channel, giving their honest opinions on things such as the book’s blurb and cover.

Now herein lies the problem. I won’t name names but some of the biggest (and my favourite) booktubers – the crème-de-la-creme of Booktube, shall we say – really lead the community. If they create a tag, sooner or later, you’ll see other booktubers creating similar tags. If they ramble on about a book, sooner or later, the entire community is obsessed. The biggest booktubers instigate major excitement regarding ARCs, set up book discussions, and attend some of the biggest book conferences and meet-ups in the Western world. They are the first to be on any sort of book hype and the first to know about a release…

So why are they so alarmingly quiet when it comes to diversity?

Now we all know that Booktube in general has diversity issues (namely that the big booktubers with very few exceptions, tend to be white) and that this is not an issue exclusive to Booktube. BUT ALL OF THAT ASIDE, why are the biggest Booktubers so quiet when it comes to Diversathon for example? Diversathon, in case you are unaware, is a large booktube initiative to encourage readers to read more diverse books, whether these books are diverse in terms of race, sexuality, and so forth. So why do I see Diversathon featured on BAME Booktube channels but not on the FOREFRONT leading channels? It’s beyond disappointing to see people you support, people who are vocal on pretty much everything else for a living, clam up when it comes to supporting the community as a whole. Arguably, these big platforms, these white youtubers, cannot help being in their privileged position, but I have a real problem when said privileged position isn’t used to help others.

I’m writing this because I’ve noticed how shockingly quiet these big youtubers have been around Angie Thomas’ book The Hate U Give, which was birthed out of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and explores deeply moving topics regarding race in society.

Everywhere I looked (left, right, centre) I saw ARC copies of The Hate U Give being spoken about on Booktube. This was very inspiring until I noticed that Thomas’ novel was *mostly* being championed by black Booktubers. This is crazy! The Hate U Give is a BIG BOOK. Everyone was talking about it.  John Green called it ‘a classic of our time’ for goodness sake! And if there’s one thing we know about much of Booktube, it’s how much we LOVE John Green and LOVE to take authors’ opinions into account when deciding what to read next. Logically, The Hate U Give spelled B-o-o-k-t-u-b-e with a capital “B.” This is the kind of book that Booktubers die to get their hands on, that the major booktubers won’t stop talking about months before its release date.

Except it wasn’t. This book with a black protagonist about super important political issues, wasn’t being spoken about. It got to the point where frankly, it was embarrassing, awkward, and strikingly obvious that big booktubers were blatantly refraining from even mentioning the largest trending book in the contemporary youtube sphere (heck, in the YA publishing industry as a whole). And yes, the big Booktubers are finally mentioning this book now & yes, saying some lovely things about it (some of them, anyway) but we have to ask ourselves- if big booktubers always instigate a trend, how could it have missed their radar? Short answer: It didn’t. So why did it take so long? The biggest booktubers get the news first. That’s just how it works. They certainly don’t get the news months after smaller channels.

Now, we could say it’s down to the publishers. Maybe the publishers deliberately sent ARCs to black and minority ethnic booktubers, knowing it was a YA book which may resonate with certain ethnicities more? But I really am grasping at straws here because no matter what, publishing is a business, and regardless of race, a publishing house will send out ARCs to the channels with the biggest followers.

What seems more likely? That publishers who have great working relationships with all these big youtubers suddenly decided, ‘hey, let’s just not send them our book’ or that these youtubers at the top of the food chain were staying silent for another reason?

Now this other reason could be fear of discussing race. This makes a little more sense when discussing readathons such as ‘Diversathon’ (but actually, don’t get me started on the silence surrounding Diversathon because I might get angry), but how does it makes sense in relation to simply SHOWING a book and saying ‘I’m excited to read this’ which booktubers do with Every. Other. Book? Often in a book haul,  it is acceptable to mention a book for just a few seconds. Title. Author Name. Publishing House who sent it. Blurb/Vague Idea of What It Might be About. Moving on! So really, I’m not sure fear is the culprit.

Again, I’m not demonising the community. No community is perfect and Booktube is such a big inspiration for me. Whilst I don’t consider myself a Booktuber, my interest in creating content for Youtube has, in part, stemmed from my interest in Booktube.

So Booktubers,

don’t be scared to discuss diversity (if you are). You are in a unique position. Do not think your viewers don’t notice when you stay quiet on topics. Staying quiet does not mean being neutral. It means contributing to issues. Get your act together. You are at the forefront of an important community and helping the readers of tomorrow. And in a community where you are the leaders, the instigators at the very forefront of every discussion and championing new releases, it really is unacceptable to remain quiet for so long on books as pivotal as The Hate U Give.

If you have any thoughts regarding the silence surrounding certain topics on Booktube, give me a shout! I would be very interested in hearing another explanation for this lack of discussion around race.

My 5 Biggest Writing Distractions & How I (Should) Deal With Them

We all know I’m writing this for myself rather than anyone else. However, if the shoe fits…

Here are my current five top writing distractions and some solutions I/we should use to combat them.

  1. PHONE

I’ve put this at the top of the list because my phone is THE number one time killer. Recently I’ve been using my phone to scroll (and rescroll) through Twitter, or to check my emails repeatedly. I commute a lot but instead of using that commute profitably, I’ve been on my phone. No more, I say, no more! From now on, my train journeys shall also involve writing. Phew. I said it. Now I’ve got to live up to it. Waaaaa.

  1. BUSY LIFESTYLE

This is a genuine reason. But authenticity doesn’t make it okay. Yes I am busy, but you know what? If writing is something I care about, I’ve GOT to make time for it, otherwise what’s the point? Writing is something that makes me truly happy, so how dare I not make it a priority in my life? When you start thinking about the things you’re good at, it’ll be a whole lot harder to justify not doing it, because every day you spend not doing what you love, is another day wasted. I only have approximately one or two free hours in a day, and I’m usually so tired that I spend that hour chilling, but guess what – maybe I should, um, do things I care about?!

  1. YOUTUBE

Now here comes the real obsession. I just love Youtube, okay?! I’m not as bad as I used to be, but I could easily waste an hour or two on there watching vlogs and comedy videos and discussion videos and blah blah blah. As a youtuber, occasionally I’ll watch videos for research but this is very rare. Mostly I watch them because I enjoy them. So really, I’ve got to cut down on that youtube time. But hooooow?!!! I really, really love it.  I guess it ultimately comes down to prioritising certain videos. Yes, ten new videos may have popped up in my subscription box, but realistically, I could just watch three, not six.

  1. NOT KNOWING WHAT TO WRITE

Aye, there’s the rub. Let’s not lie; I’m no longer being forced to write short stories as part of my degree. Back in the days of Royal Holloway, if I had a short story to hand in on Friday and I had no inspiration, sure, I might procrastinate a little, but at the end of the day, I would MAKE SURE I had that short story finished (and to good quality!) because I had to. I’m very good at being responsible to others, but now, I WILL BE RESPONSIBLE TO MYSELF.

  1. WANTING TO WRITE ON PAPER

Recently, I keep cringing at the thought of using electronic means to write. I *know* that the creative juices will get flowing once I start writing on paper. So um…this one is easily fixable. Find the mode that works for you (right now I’m craving paper) and…uh…just do it.

(Why does EVERY blog post I write justify the Shia LeBeouf meme, seriously?!)

So, as I said, this is just an article berating myself. Join me and find some time-wasting devices you’re clinging onto and let’s carve some extra time from our schedules together!

Nikki

8 Tips for Creating Semi-Autobiographical Work

I’m currently working on my latest play, For a Black Girl. It’s a semi-autobiographical, semi-verbatim play. In non-theatre jargon, this means I have used dialogue from experiences I’ve encountered in my life, and also dialogue collated from discussions with people I have known. This blog post is all about my experiences of writing and performing in a semi-autobiographical play. So whether you’re working on semi-autobiographical work or not –  hello and welcome to the blog post! Here are 8 things you should consider when making semi-autobiographical work…

  1. Check Your Motives 

Listen, we’ve all had people hurt us in the past. And yes, the story you’re trying to tell may very well centre around the hurt and the people that caused it. But check your motives!  Ask yourself if you really need to mention that ex boyfriend or girlfriend by name. Is it imperative to the narrative that your audience can pinpoint exactly who hurt you in real life, or is it simply imperative to your own frustrations? Yes, it can be highly therapeutic to lash out at figures in our own lives, but you’re writing this for a reason other than revenge, right? (Because revenge comes in many forms and I’m not sure a poetry anthology is quite gonna hack it). What are the wider implications here? What is the message of your play/anthology/novel/film?

By all means, use real life experiences to shape your world. If you have a strife-filled relationship with your father and your work is about abusive fathers and therefore negative filial relationships are evident in your work, then that’s fine. But if you just want to one-up someone, I would advise seriously thinking about why and how (if at all!) this is benefiting your audience. Don’t be fuelled by hatred!

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2. It’s okay to have secrets 

Here’s a crazy suggestion. Unless you’re  fine with everybody knowing the ins and outs of your personal life (if you are then that’s awesome, kudos to you), put LIMITS on what you will or will not reveal. You don’t have to tell people which parts of your work are actually based on you and which parts are fiction. I would even go so far as to suggest that even if you think you’re fine with spilling the metaphorical beans, test yourself first. Reveal secrets to your audience  little by little. If you’re battling an addiction to alcohol, drugs and sex, why not try revealing just one of these addictions? If after your first ‘confession’, you feel emotionally exhausted, paranoid, and downright terrible, this will show you that you’re not yet ready to be so honest about your experiences with everyone. Protecting yourself is key. Yes, art is important but if you’re going to be mentally unstable as a result, your art is going to suffer anyway. And let’s remember that our audiences are not delicate. They can deal with your secrecy. Will they be pissed off? Maybe. Does it matter? Probably not. Nobody has a right to know EVERYTHING.

Here’s an example. We played a game in class last week. Everybody had to stand on one side of the room and say a truth about themselves, such as ‘I love the colour blue’ or ‘I believe in true love’ or ‘I love Beyonce.’ If you agreed with the statement, you stayed standing beside the person who articulated it. If you disagreed, you walked to the other side of the room. After a couple of rounds someone said something along the lines of, ‘I wish I could be having sex right now.’ I confidently walked to the other side. I knew it would be an unpopular opinion but not one person joined me and for a split second I felt a little awkward. Some people in my class were visibly shocked and I felt I owed them an explanation. I could’ve explained it away by saying I’d actually had  sex that morning, or by saying I just didn’t feel like it. Maybe I had a naturally low libido? Maybe I was asexual? Maybe I’d been through some sort of experience that put me off it? Maybe I just didn’t want to? Maybe I was just being controversial for the hell of it? But just as I was about to justify my opinion I realised – actually, no. Why should I? Let them suffer 😉 Let your audience be shocked if they want.  Let them suffer if they want. That’s not on you. Curiosity only killed the cat, not humans.

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3.  Protect Yo’self

In a particularly harrowing scene in my new play, I ended up being much more emotionally fraught than I ever thought I would be. When we finished the run through, my fellow actor turned to me and said, “Should we have safe words?” I think understanding, trust and empathy go a long way, particularly when working with topics very close to home. Be ready to revisit emotions. Be ready to face your inner emotions but also be ready to deal with them externally. Putting yourself in the public eye can be daunting and audiences as a whole are varying in their abilities to be sensitive. In fact, sometimes the public have done nothing wrong but their mere reaction creates heightened emotion.

For example, there are some things I have included in my play that I am no longer hurt by. You may be in a similiar position. Let’s say a person  caused you pain or said a particularly horrible comment (that happily also makes a killer line of dialogue. So considerate, right?). You’ve forgiven the person but it’s dramatically relevant so you include it in your work.  Life goes on. BUT, when certain audiences experience the play, they may be shocked, indignant, and angry on your behalf. You begin to realise: woah, that time my girlfriend called me a ****x@!!** was actually NOT normal. Or, wow, I’ve actually had it tougher than I realised. 

If this happens, take a moment breathe. Revisiting situations can be helpful, but reigniting old pain due to OTHERS’ perceptions (also known as reopening long healed wounds) may not be helpful.

So keep yourself safe and decide BEFOREHAND how you’re going to employ this safety (whether physical or emotional). Do you need safe words? Do you need to debrief every now and again? Do you need to step away from the project once a month? Do it.

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4. Not Everyone Will Get It 

You may be stupidly honest about a particular joyful moment in your life or a particular sad moment. But to an audience, it is ultimately just that: a moment. People may niggle with certain details or straight up disbelieve something which BLATANTLY happened in real life. I remember writing a short story during my university years, in which a character with a well regarded profession said something very offensive to the Black British protagonist. Immediately my creative writing class came alive with cries of:

  • Unrealistic!
  • Inauthentic!
  • [Someone like that] would never say [something like that]
  • The part that didn’t ring true for me was…

I found it very difficult not to laugh because of course, this was the ONE and ONLY part of the story that was literally verbatim. It had happened. It does happen. In fact, my lecturer at the time who is also black was the only one to stand up for me! Remember that other peoples’ experiences may blind them to your own. We walk the world in different ways, which may leave some of your audience like…

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Being easily offended will not serve you well. In fact, I would go so far as to say…

5. Be prepared to be offended 

You’re putting your life (or at least a part of it) on display for everybody to see and critique. Bear in mind some people – emphasis on the *some* – may delight in ripping everything apart. It only takes one scroll through the youtube comments section to be reminded of just how much certain people enjoy spreading mockery and pain. People are going to have a problem with your life and with your experiences. I know. Crazy right? They are, after all, your experiences, not theirs. But nonetheless, you’re putting yourself out there, so be prepared for the worst case scenario of (gasp!) disagreement and/or outright mockery.

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6. Artistic License is Your Friend 

There are pros and cons to using artistic license in semi-autobiographical works. Pros? Well firstly, the form wouldn’t exist without artistic license – it would just be a memoir or an autobiography. Secondly, you’re an artist right? This is where you get to have a bit of creative freedom! The con is that you cannot control what other people think about you. Even if you explicitly say that a particular part of your book/play/whatever, is not about you, people may forever wonder if it really is. Again, this shouldn’t be a problem (see point number 2) unless you care what people think. People like to boldly declare ‘I don’t care what anyone thinks about me!’ but realistically, there’s no shame in it. After all, if your semi-autobiographical performance is all about alcoholism, are you okay with people questioning your own recreational activities? (I think this sort of illogical assumption happens to many artists, regardless of whether their work is pure fiction or based on fact. But with semi-autobiographical work, such assumptions aren’t entirely illogical!)

Following the first read-through of my new play, one of the cast members turned to me and her first question was: “Is this autobiographical?” It isn’t. It’s semi. But people naturally jump to conclusions when they sense parallels between you and your work. Especially if you share certain characteristics with your protagonists – age, sexuality, race, etc. So make artistic license your friend.

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7. BE AWARE OF FORM 

This is similar to artistic license. Don’t be so precious about recounting everything that happened in its exact format. Create work that suits the form!  For example, there are a number of conversations in For a Black Girl which, if I’d transcribed word for word, would make a pretty boring visual and auditory experience for the audience. Just because in real life the conversation began ‘hey how’s it going?’ ‘pretty well, you?’ ‘yeah good thanks’ ‘how’s your mum’? doesn’t mean that all of this needs to exist in your text. BORING. A balance between truth and fiction needs to be reached and you can achieve this by a) skipping to the more interesting parts of the conversation or b) abstracting dialogue & relationships. I.e. Perhaps in real life a random passerby made a comment that you want in the play. However, if it doesn’t suit the theme and atmosphere in the play, can you assign this dialogue to someone else? A friend? A lover? Does it have a similiar vibe? Does it achieve the meaning? I think novelists are pretty adept at doing this, simply because a book is so vast there’s bound to be a whole loada dialogue in there that was gleaned from overheard conversations. But other art forms can use this technique too! Get creative.

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8. Be flexible but don’t forget the original intention

Perhaps the most important. Any work of art is a long and emotional journey. Be prepared to edit, revise and listen. But remember your original intention, always. You’ve done so much hard work – you owe it to yourself.

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So that’s it. Nikki’s 8 tips on creating semi-autobiographical content. Hope this helps! Any more you can think of? Let me know!

My (somewhat unconventional) Motivation in Life

I have a number of motivations in life. I’m a Christian and my main motive in life is trying to run the race that is set before me and to do everything according to God’s will.

I’m an artist and I’m motivated by life and what I see around me, what I consume.

I’m a highly goal-oriented person, so I am motivated by myself.

I enjoy motivation in general, so I am motivated by other people, sermons, self-help books, even instagram pictures!

But another one of my main motivations is somewhat more morbid.  It’s a motivation that people don’t speak of as often. People often say they need more motivation for life, or motivation to study, or motivation to GO FOR SOMETHING THEY WANT IN LIFE, without considering this particular piece of advice.

Here is what I use. Maybe it’ll be helpful for you.

A really popular phrase used to inspire motivation is: “You’ve only got one life,” or, for those of you who are down with the kids of 2014: “You only live once”/YOLO. But let’s take into account the more morbid undercurrent rippling beneath these words, because YOLO can easily be interpreted as:

 

You (yes you) are going to die soon.

 

People my age don’t tend to think about death very much, although I’ve heard your thoughts turn more morbid once you’re in your forties, fifties, sixties and so forth. But isn’t it important to consider now?! I mean, if you’re in your twenties, statistically speaking, you may have less than 80 years to go. So you’ve lived 1/5th of your life already. (Hot damn, there’s a thought). Every time I wonder whether to do something NOW or to put it off until later (or even do it at all) I think, ‘Nikki. How many years do you have left? Just do it.’ Insert Shia LeBeouf meme here…

I don’t mean to say I walk around constantly thinking about death, nor do I believe it helpful to run around frantically worrying that your time is running out. However, death is definitely something I consider when making decisions. One life. One death. THEN YOUR TIME ON EARTH IS OVER. For goodness sake, go CLIMB THAT MOUNTAIN, go FINALLY DISTANCE YOURSELF FROM PEOPLE WHO ARE DRAINING YOUR ENERGY, go WRITE THAT BOOK, go DO THE SCARY THING THAT PEOPLE WILL JUDGE YOU FOR (who cares anyway, right? They’re going to die too).

I remember when I was younger, I read a verse in the Bible that basically says, “It is better to go to a house of mourning, than to go to a house of feasting.”  This confused me, particularly as I understood the overarching message of the Bible to be about the GOOD news, about living a life filled with joy through Christ. So why would I want to spend my time mourning? What I now take this to mean is that: Hey, it’s great to consider death. Why? Because hot damn, it’s coming and when it finally does, I hope you danced in the streets, you connected with people, you wore the clothes you wanted to wear, you were kind and you chased your dreams. Ultimately nobody cares what you do, so you may as well do it. And do it to your fullest potential. If you’re going to love someone, then my goodness, adore them. If you’re creating a work of art, then by George, pour everything you’ve got into it.

This is how that verse finishes (I must admit, I’ve just googled it):

It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.” (Ecclesiastes 7:2)

How amazing is this? To me, it doesn’t seem like the author is saying that it is better to mourn. Rather, it is better not to ignore misery. In essence, when tragic things happen it is better to study them, than to run away because ‘death is the destiny of everyone’. When tragic things happen, we may as well learn from them.

This week it snowed. I watched my UK friends grumble and groan and avoid the snow like it was a white plague from above. I watched my non-UK friends stare at the sky in wonderment, not even feeling the cold because they were so mesmerised by the miracle of frozen water and seeing snow for the first time. The UK people wasted a whole day of their life complaining. (Life is short! Ain’t nobody got time for that) and my non-UK friends cherished the day. I learnt an important lesson.

So yes, it’s great to remember the house of mourning, to remember that life on earth is fleeting. So my message for you today?

Think about death more.

UNBOXING MY BOOK

So I want to share this with you guys 🙂 When I was going through the earlier drafts of the novel, one of the most motivating things for me was watching other peoples’ unboxing videos on youtube, thinking, ‘Work at this, Nikki! That’ll be you soon.’

THE DAY HAS COME.

I hope you enjoy. Also I thought it might be fun to do an editing series on my channel where we sit and discuss all things editing/writerly. I kinda fancy doing a Q&A on my book or just a chat in general. Stuff about character and plot and so forth. Comment below if you’d be interested in watching! And don’t forget to subscribe to my YT account, which is where my artistic videos go 🙂