Whilst I was at Pride, naturally I came across many young hopefuls who wanted to enter the competitive world of magazine journalism. In my experience the people who applied for an internship at Pride fell into two camps: the truly dedicated VS the ones who probably watched The Devil Wears Prada on loop and as a consequence carried HUGE misconceptions about the realities of working on a magazine. You could differentiate between the two almost from the get-go. The girls who worked relentlessly, stayed behind to finish their assigned tasks and asked the right questions were usually the ones who came out on top. While those who perked up at the mention of a celebrity, produced sub-standard ‘can’t be assed’ copy, and gave attitude when asked to do menial tasks, rarely lasted beyond the two week probationary period.
New author Naomi James definitely fell into the former category. When she started interning at Pride I loved her attitude right away. She was dedicated, enthusiastic and knew her stuff. Instantly we hit it off. I remember her expressing quite few times her desire to become a published author. It seemed like a lofty ambition due to her tender age, but Naomi’s cool assurance suggested that she was half way there as she possessed one of the most neccessary qualities needed to survive in publishing – self belief. She asked me to read her manuscript Urban Lessons in -E-Love and I was pretty impressed. The story centred on the life of Marcia Burton AKA The Bumper Queen and her battles with weight, low self-esteem and her attempts to find a suitor living in the fast-paced and often abrasive city of London. It was one of the first books that I had read that had really captured how technology had become an integral part of our everyday lives – internet, email, Facebook – as Marcia’s love life unfurled and imploded on the virtual highways.
The book was definitely geared towards the I-Pod generation, and I felt despite a few necessary tweaks, was a strong enough idea to be considered for publishing. Naomi approached several publishers who asked her to re-draft and re-work her idea which she did. I read samples of subsequent drafts and felt that with each one the story and Naomi’s writing style became stronger and more polished. A few weeks ago an email appeared in my inbox from Naomi with a sample from her new e-book Roses: A Definitive Little Anecdote. We’re back in Marcia’s world as she encounters more growing pains dealing with the disappointments of love and the challenges of being an ambitious young adult entering the working world. It’s a fun, light-hearted read which is perfect for the beach (although I wouldn’t advise you to take your lappy to lie on the crystal clear waters of the Med, print off the pages instead). What really resonated was the authentic use of inner city London vernacular that as a Black Londoner I rarely see in fictional print. I also adored the vibrancy of the characters, the positive statement the book makes about female friendships, and Marcia aka The Bumper Queen, in whom we find a truly worthy heroine. And this is coming from someone who is years away from the book’s intended readership. I would’ve loved to have something as relatable when I was a teen or in my early twenties. Naomi has really tapped into something here, and if she continues, I’m confident that she can make a real success of herself and even spawn a new genre which engages young black and mixed race fiction lovers. I caught up with Naomi to congratulate her on the release of her new book (which is free by the way) and ask a few questions about her arduous journey to becoming an author.
So Naomi, congratulations on your new book, so in total how long did it take to write from idea to completion?
The concept for ROSES initially came about in late 2008 after I wrote my first novel URBAN LESSONS OF E-LOVE. I wanted something that would act as light-hearted introduction to my main character Marcia Rochelle Burton and her flamboyant world.
Why did you decide to self-publish rather than go the traditional route of producing via a publishing house, and more importantly – why did you decide to make it free?
After a few years of even trying to get publishing houses to look at URBAN LESSONS OF E-LOVE, I decided to take the self publishing route. I thought it would be a good way to for the intended audience to familiarise themselves with my work. Using what resources I had available, the project has given me the chance to also apply the skills I‘ve picked up from working in Communications and PR. Whilst putting the material together for the story and the associated marketing has been hard work to say the least, publishing the story in an e-book format has cost me next to nothing, hence making it free of charge. As today’s world is pretty much dominated by viral communication, I thought publishing ROSES online could not only be a good way of self promotion but also allow me to my message across. I’m open to my work being printed by a publishing house but if doesn’t happen my goal is to put the books in print myself.
What are your thoughts on the state of Black British publishing today, do you think there is a scarcity of Black British authors?
There are some Black British authors such as Dorothy Koomson, Alex Wheatle, Lola Jaye to name a few who have been fortunate enough to have been picked up by big publishing houses but there should definitely be more. I don’t believe there is a lack of Black British authors, but in my experience I think it is more to do with the lack of exposure. Who is your book aimed at primarily? ROSES is primarily aimed at 18-25 year females but reactions so far has shown that both sexes outside that age range can relate to it. Judging by the initial feedback, the main reason for this is because whilst the characters are fictional, the audience can identify with the some of the personality traits, actions and issues featured within the story. To help add to Marcia’s realness and as a way for her to interact with her readers, she even has her own Facebook profile firstname.lastname@example.org
So what’s next for you, are you currently working on book two? I’m currently working on the spin off story that looks at the life of the other characters featured in ROSES. Once this has been completed, I will be re-working URBAN LESSONS OF E-LOVE. You can download your free copy of Roses: A Definitive Little Anecdote here