Join us as we chat to Ollie Charles, co-founder of Untitled Writing, a platform which aims to amplify underrepresented voices. Ollie tells us about the work that Untitled do, and what everyone should be doing to make sure they are reading widely and sharing the space with other voices.
We also round up by sharing some tweets of the week and sharing a news blast.
Welcome to part B of our podcast. So this one's gonna be really exciting. We've got Ollie Charles from Untitled writing on to talk to us about representation, and diversity within literature. And then as Jack said, in part A, we're going to be sharing our tweet of the week, and some news blasts. So our next guest, we're really excited to have been following them for a while. And we just think the work they do is incredible. So we're going to be speaking to one of the cofounders of untitled writing. Welcome, Ollie.
Hi, there. I'm so excited to be on with you guys.
Tell us a bit about yourself and why you started untitled writing.
So I'm, I'm a, I'm a writer, as I'm sure many of us are. And I about oh, goodness, me. So we founded untitled in 2019. So I think it was 2018, I was part of a LGBTQ plus writers group called the futures in the making, which was a really interesting group of writers in London, and we met weekly, to do to kind of go through some sort of writing development course, which was really interesting, and still in contact with so many of the people from that. And at the end of that, we, we kind of ended it with a presentation of work. And then the whole course was run by Olumide Popoola, who's an amazing writer. And really, you know, people should sought out her work. But she'd organized this presentation of all of our work. And I had such a great evening. And it was amazing, we were at gays the word in London. For anyone who doesn't know that bookshop. It's an absolutely fabulous book shop that everyone should definitely check out. And we, the group of us presented our work, and it was just a really great atmosphere. And it was a really great opportunity to talk to other writers and, you know, a bunch of other writers turned up and it was just a really lovely sociable evening. So after that, I kind of wanted to keep the the positive vibes going, I suppose. And I truth be told, I was genuinely at work one day moaning about the fact that I was trying to figure out how to make the good times roll. And my colleague slash good friend, Nicola Lampard, was listening to my my rant, where I was talking about sort of under representation in publishing, and, you know, obviously, I just come up with the back of this queer writing group. And I was like, I'd love to be able to, like, continue it and come up with a way to do more of these writers events, and, you know, work with underrepresented writers, etc, etc. And she literally just turned around to me and was like, well, then let's just do it. And I was like, are you serious because if you say you're gonna do it, then I'm gonna, like, do it. And she went, alright, let's just let's do it. So we ran an event in Islington. Goodness me now, it must have been beginning of 2019 at this point, which feels like a million years ago right now, right? Like, I literally cannot remember anything that's ever happened pre pandemic, at this point. There has been a whole lifetime of stuff before I know. Um, but yeah, we ran a sort of like, I suppose it was like a pilot event. It was before we had the name untitled, we sort of just ran this event with a bunch of writers, some of them that I knew some of them that I had got in contact with on Twitter, and we kind of we had a space already, and we just, we just did it, we kind of didn't really give it you know, much time and thought we kind of just tried to bring it together and see what kind of stuff I mean, really good time was really nice event. And it was really just kind of full of love. Yeah, which is a really good place to start. And so then we kind of gave it a month or two. And we tried to, I say plan, probably not as strict as a plan. But you know, as close as together kind of came up with the name untitled and a big part of what we you know, sort of how we're recognized is sort of our logo and a lot of the graphics that we use on our social media channels, which are created by a good friend of ours, a creative designer called Paul Stapleton, who is a really good friend of ours and incredibly talented and massive part of what we do is kind of the creative direction of it all as well. So and so that's kind of how it came about. And, and, and it was so important, for me at least to really be working with underrepresented writers, or whether those were LGBTQ plus writers, black writers, asian writers, other ethnic minorities, writers that are working with disabilities, working class writers, so it was just really super important that we were trying to find ways to amplify their their writing to, you know, hopefully one day, you know, be able to help with development of that work and, and get that work out there. And we started by doing these live Live Events in London, both Nicola and I are based in London. And we started by doing these live events. And we always thought, well, we want to, we want to get bigger, we want to come out of London, we don't want to be so London centric. And then the pandemic started. And we had our first event for 2020, organised for in April 2020. And we had to cancel it like three weeks before, which was really upsetting. We had an amazing lineup of writers for that evening. And I think there was like a week where I was like, oh, my god, what are we going to do this, this is either gonna fall apart, like, we've only been doing this for a year, we're not especially established yet. This could either fall apart, and no one will ever remember about it, you know, ever again, or we kind of go in a different direction. And we try and take stuff online as much as we can. And we did. And I have to be honest with you, because we had so much time at home last year, we we were able to really kind of build out what I'm untitled has become so you know, the journal, the festival, the workshops, we do, our live events, collaborating with so many other amazing organizations online and meeting some amazing people.
Yeah, I mean, one thing you mentioned was distinctive graphics. And at the moment you've got that gorgeous purple colour that so sort of distinctively identifies you guys. And it's something that I can picture you so clearly in my mind. So we'd love to hear a bit more about you know, some of those design choices, and especially like about your name, how did that sort of come about?
In terms of the name, we talked about the name first untitled, it took, it took quite a while we were like, as I say, we did the first event, we didn't have like a name, we just kind of did this event this writers salon. And Nic and I were really going back and forth. We had loads of names. We both work in film distribution. And so I'm a publicity background. And Nic has a marketing background. And so we knew that our USP and what we wanted to do was work with underrepresented writers because it it's really important to us. And you know, so many of my closest friends are, you know, sort of underrepresented writers, and we were sort of thinking of, you know, taglines, I suppose, is maybe the way to think about it. And we were going back and forth on like, the whole story, or you don't know the whole story or, you know, we were back and forth around that kind of thing. And we, I think we had loads of names. And we had, we were coming up with names that were longer than one word, we had names, like from the writers chair from, we had all these random things, which I now look back on, and I got a bit cringy actually, some of those. We had something to do with a fireplace at one point. And we were like, oh, it could be a graphic. And, yeah, we had all these things. We were sat opposite each other in the office. And I think one of us was just talking about, like, the fact that, you know, the whole, the whole point of what we're trying to do is people don't know the whole story. They don't know, all the stories from all these underrepresented groups. And I think it was me that was like, well, why don't we go with something like untitled or unknown, or, you know, so that's sort of where the name sprouted from. And I think I said untitled. And Nic straightaway, was like, yes, that's it. And we played around with it a little bit. And it worked with the tagline. And what we love about the name untitled, is it doesn't tell you anything, you know, and the whole point is we want what we're all about is the writers and about their work, and about amplifying these amazing, amazing writers. And so therefore, we don't want to put into the, you know, the readers mind anything, before they've come to the work, you know, it's not about what we're doing or who we are, or anything like that. Everything else is untitled. It's literally about the importance of the work that you're reading. So that's sort of where the name came from. And then in terms of the graphics, so as I say, we've got this, like, amazing designer, Paul Stapleton, who is a really close friend of ours, an ex colleague of ours, and he's a freelance designer, he's so talented, he was really on board with what we wanted to do. And we told him what untitled was and what the concept was, and he was really, you know, interested and devoted to the project from day one, um, you know, and he went away, and one of the things we really wanted to do was have really striking graphics. And we decided that we would kind of keep the graphics simple, but have really strong colouring. So I know that you mentioned about the purple. So what we've done not quite quarterly, we sort of change it with with each major project that the colour changes each time. So when we first launched, we had like a really hot pink, which I absolutely loved. I was very pleased that we started with the hot pink, and we've had purple and red and orange, and we've got a new color that's coming up and sort of so every time we change the color, it sort of represents almost like the next chapter. So like the next group of events or the the next bit of work or whatever. And, you know, our graphics are quite stripped back. They're very, like simple, but they're also just really bold, and I think really beautiful and hopefully memorable. And they work really lovely on social media, which is where we predominantly live, as I'm sure you guys know, you know, that's where we're meeting people and talking to people and learning about opportunities. So we really wanted something that was going to stand out on effectively, a busy news feed yeah, that's kind of where they all came from.
Yeah, I mean, I think it's a really interesting concept. And name really does mean so much. And when you have those distinctive graphics and that name, it really does stand out. And when I think of untitled, I think of, you know, mystery, intrigue, that sort of blank space. Jack do you get like similar vibe?
Yeah, sort of, sort of like, what's the word like enigmatic, almost like there's, like a sense of mystery behind it? I would say,
and you guys do some really awesome events as well. Like, I know, you had a really cool event in September, correct me if I'm wrong. So tell us a bit about that.
We did. We did have a festival in September, which was really exciting. We had this festival in September, I think we decided that like July, or yeah, it must have been like July time that we'd both kind of been on furlough. And we were both coming back to work. But I wasn't full time. And we're still coming up with, you know, ideas and things that I wanted to keep going with untitled. And I'd said to Nic, why don't we just do a day long festival? Like why don't we just try and find some people who are like, happy to join us for the day. And we'll try and do a range of things. And so I wanted to try and achieve some workshops and some panel discussions. And we were always gonna end with sort of our bread and butter, I won't call it which is the salon event of, you know, writers sharing their work. Yeah, we pulled that together within a couple of weeks. And it was such a fun day, I have a workshop that I created last year, which I did a few times, once at the festival, and I did it earlier in the year with the BBC upload festival as well, which is the it's your time to write workshop. And it was just meant to literally be like a thing to start the day to come up with some idea generation. It's all practical exercises, it's not really focusing in on any one thing. It's quite quick paced, and it's just get you ready for the day, almost as if you are like doing the jog of you know, to warm up before going on the I'm not a very good sports person. So I don't know why I started a sporting analogy to illustrate what I was about to say, but you know, the warm up for the day. So yeah, so we started with that. And then we we we had some panel discussions and we wanted to do two panel discussions, which we're about the same thing. We call it what we need to do, which were panel discussions to explore kind of aspects of the literary world, how they pertain to underrepresented writers, and what what really at its core what we need to do moving forward to, to make things better to have more space for underrepresented writers to make sure those voices are heard. And we filled both panels with a variety of amazing people. We had some authors, we had editors, we had people from organizations. And it was just amazing how like happy people were to join us and to spend time with us on that day. It was it was really like it meant so much to us. So yeah, we had some amazing people we had Dr. Yvonne Battle-Felton, who's an amazing author and lecturer. We have Paul Burston, who's an author and founder of the Polari salon. We had Abi Fellows from the good literary agency, Ben Townley-Canning, who's the editor of fourteen poems. Oh my goodness, I can keep going Matt Freidson who is the deputy director of creative future. Professor Sunny Singh, who is an author and lecturer and co founder of the Jhalak Prize. We had amazing people there was like a whole other bunch of people about I'm not gonna just keep listing names, but it was like amazing people who were just really happy to come and talk to us. We had another workshop which was run by Nikki Dudley, of Streetcake, which was really nice she came and did an experimental poetry workshop, which was like a beginner's experimental poetry workshop for people using kind of simple prompts to kind of come up with idea generation. We had our salon and then a last minute, add to the schedule, which was really fun. An absolutely fabulous way to end the day, was with the SI Leeds literary prize. So they had just announced their shortlist. And we actually had the shortlist read the extracts from the work in about evening to end the day. And it was a really fun day. We had like, I think at the end of the day, there's been a couple of months now. But I think we, we had about 400 writers come and join us kind of throughout the day for each of the events, which was just amazing from all over the world. And they just found out about it through things like social media and online, we've been pushing it and sharing it and you know, asking people to share it. And we find that the community online has just been so warm and loving and really, like pleased to share this sort of stuff. So it was an amazing day. I was so both Nicola and I was so tired by the end of it. And as you can imagine, but it was such an amazing day. It was so much fun.
Definitely. And can we expect to be seeing any more exciting festivals coming up from you guys soon?
Fingers crossed. Yes. The plan like our plan was always to try and make it a an annual thing. We'd love to be able to do the festival again this year, probably around September time again. Funnily enough, literally this afternoon, Nicola and I were having a conversation about the festival this year and what that could look like. And ideally, I think maybe for our sanity more than anything else, we might do it over two days rather than one day. Because trying to fit all those sessions in one day, with minutes between them for the both of us was quite hectic. So we might do over two days this year. But yeah, we definitely want to do it again. And we want to be able to invite, you know, amazing people to come back and talk and do more workshops. And we've got some really, hopefully really exciting ideas about kind of different workshops that may be focusing on slightly different things to keep it fresh. And we hope we hope we'll be back in September. With festival again, definitely,
Well, that is very exciting. September can't quick enough, as far as I'm concerned, sign me up to these festivals, I will be there. Another thing we want to talk to you about is that you don't only just do these fantastic salons and workshops and festivals, but you also actually publish issues that showcase underrepresented voices. And we've had a flick through and your issues are mind blowingly incredible. The pieces in there are fantastic. So we'd love for you to talk about your issues, and maybe highlight a few standout or some of your favourite writers or writers that you know, everyone should definitely be checking out.
It's so difficult to pick standout pieces, because I love them all so much. But yeah, again, it was sort of something that came out of 2020. So we had since day one Nicola and I'd always wanted to do some kind of journal in some form. At some point, you know, everyone makes ideas and puts ideas and makes plans, don't they, but it's to actually force things to come to fruition as a different thing. And the other thing I have to say actually, it's probably a good moment to say everything at the moment for untitled is completely unfunded, we have we have no money. At the moment, everything that we do is partly either people's time is donated Paul, as I say our designer, he donates all of the work that he's done for us all that time he's done for that he's done the work, he's donated, you know, to us, and any sort of costs that have had to be paid, you know, our website and URLs and that kind of thing that comes straight out of mine and Nicola's pocket at the moment. So, you know, with everything, we had all these big ideas, but obviously no funding. So there were just certain things we weren't able to do straight away. And then because we were home, obviously a lot last year, we were trying to think of ways that we could keep everything going and you know, reach even more people. As I said, at the top of this, we didn't want to be you know, London centric, you know, there were there are writers all over the country. And certain companies maybe need to realize that for themselves. But we really wanted to make sure that we were as open as we could be. So we spoke about it a little bit. And we spoke to Paul and wanted to make sure it would work with his schedule and the time that he would need to put into it. And we decided to launch untitled voices, which is our global online journal, free to read, free of charge to submit, you know, with no costs at all involved for any of the writers, and or for anyone reading it. And we did two issues last year. And we just were so overwhelmed in a really positive way by how many people trusted us to read their work. You know, we love every single piece that we read. You know, we were so amazed that so many writers trusted us to read their work, were happy to submit and kind of take a chance on us and it was just so lovely. So we did the first issue. We you know, as I'm sure you guys know, you can't say yes to everything even even if you love everything you unfortunately you have to send rejections. And so we kind of we sent some rejections, we ended up with hundreds and hundreds of submissions. And I was just so concerned, I was so concerned on like, day one when we announced it, and we had some really good pieces that we had organized with people like the bookseller, and, and stuff like that. And we had really good things on Twitter, loads of people were sharing things about it. And I just kept turning around to Nicola and I was like, what if we get like three submissions? Like, what if no one submits? And she was like, well, we'll come to that when it happens. And then within a couple of hours, we've got like five submissions, and I was like, okay, we've got five, that's good. And then when we got to like 20, I said to Nic, okay, I'm happy we've got 20. So even if we accept all 20 this is before I'd obviously read any of them. I was like we at least have an issue like we can, we can take all 20 and then yeah, time went on, and it kept getting shared. And we ended up with like hundreds and hundreds of submissions from all over the world. We had loads obviously from the UK where we're based, we had loads in the from the States. We had people from Malaysia from India from oh my goodness, like everywhere from all over Europe. It was just amazing. So yeah, we read all the submissions and we learnt a lot from that first issue about kind of how we need people submit their work and how we wanted to blind read work and, and that kind of thing. And we we published it. And then we did it all again at the end of last year and did a second issue, which was just amazing. It was just amazing. So that's yeah, that's how it came about. And then in terms of goodness me like the thought of having to pick some of them it's like asking you to like pick which baby is your favourite. Like, there are some amazing pieces, right? We've got a few writers between that appeared in both issues. So like Nikki Dudley from Streetcake, who I know we all know she's she's appeared in both there. There are some people that are just amazing to me. We've got this writer called Olivia Toh, who is she's yeah, she's 15 years old from Malaysia. And she we published her in both issues because her work is just the most I love it. It's amazing. It's It's so beautiful. And what she's able to write at 15 years old, honestly, I'm 29 and I couldn't like I wish I could be like that, because it's so emotionally there's so much depth to her writing. It's so beautiful. So yeah, I was so pleased that we've we've, you know, encountered Olivia and there are just so many other amazing writers that we've encountered, through doing it, you know, people that we've kept in touch with people that have appeared in other places that have subsequently, you know, got agents, you know, and we're really excited for them. And I would say some of my favorites, you know, some of my favourite pieces of is a writer called Erica Gillingham, who writes amazing poetry. She's a queer writer that's based in London. She's absolutely amazing. Andrew Kaye. He's amazing. Jaqi Loye-Brown. She did a poem that we published our first issue called One Way Ticket to lock down. She's an absolutely amazing writer and we had her perform at one of our online salons
and Jade Mutyora. Who again, check her out on Twitter. Absolutely fantastic. Jonathan Pizarro, I mean, I could literally just keep going. Round and round we've got British Filipino American writer called Thea Buen who is writing her first novel at the moment, and I've read extracts from her novel and she's so like, so talented. I can't wait to see her book on a bookshop shelf one day, I'm going through the names now and I'm just so excited. I just want to read like the issues all over again. Like, I could just keep naming people yeah, Carola Huttmann, she does piece in our first issue. Cleo Henry. She was fantastic. I feel bad not naming everyone I want to name everyone, honestly, JY Saville. She's an amazing working class writer from the north of England, who we had a short story of hers called twelve weeks rest, which is just so moving. And it's particularly focused on what she was listening to. And going through during the pandemic, we've got a poet called Ruby Martin, who if you've not come across Ruby, she is hysterically funny and just so talented and so funny and really worth reading her work. And that was that all those names, I've just given you are just first issue writers. Now I'm looking at the BIOS for the second issue. Ismin Putera, who wrote this beautiful poem called I know why the ghost cry, which is really a really moving piece. It's made me super excited looking at these, I haven't looked at them for a few months. And now I'm like, I want to read it all over again. Yeah, I'm not gonna sit here and just read loads of names. People probably don't want to hear that. But honestly, like, I would really like recommend checking out these people's work because it's just such a joy, but I'm trying to think of a better word. And it's just such a like, moving thing that people are so happy to like, share their work with us and let us read their work and publish it like it's such a yeah, it's such a privilege. There's an amazing writer called Aisha Phoenix, we published a story of hers called in essence, she was actually shortlisted for the SI Leeds literary prize, which is how we met because as I say, they shared our festival last year, and we're so pleased that Aisha, sent us a piece of her work. Iqbal Hussain, we've got two short stories from him. In the second issue, Peter Scalpello, who's talented, he's got some pamphlets coming out this year from broken sleep books, which I'm so excited to read. Ye Min who is a retired teacher and drama therapist for the NHS. Absolutely fantastic work. Yeah, I mean, I could just keep going. But I would really, really hope people check out the issues and read the work themselves and sought these writers out because they're so talented.
I can certainly agree with that. I was absolutely like shocked at the amazing talent in these issues. There are some really interesting experimental prose pieces and fantastic poetry pieces. And honestly, if there's one thing you want to read this weekend, make it this because you will not regret it on untitled writing has the most fantastic voices out there. So do you guys have any issues coming out soon? Is there anything we can be looking forward to? Or do you guys have submissions opening soon?
So this is a big exclusive because nothing's out and we haven't said anything yet. No. So we're going to at the moment, it's looking like we will probably open submissions again next month, so February, so keep an eye out on our Twitter and Instagram for that. We'll be opening submissions next month for our may issue I want to say is when we were releasing the next issue. Yeah, so I think the plan is we were really happy with doing two last year, and we did two, and then both of them had two volumes. So there was quite a lot of work. So we were really pleased with that. And we were really happy with the way it turned out. So we will likely fingers crossed, people still want to submit to us and, you know, share their work. And the aim will hopefully be to do another two online issues with hopefully two volumes each again. So yeah, our may issue, we'll have submissions opened in February. So all of the submission details and everything will be on our website. And yeah, we really, really hope people submit their work, and we can't wait to read more.
Oh, wow. Fantastic. That is definitely something to look forward to. In these dreary lockdown days, everyone get your submissions for February ready.
So obviously, Untitled is concerned a lot with representation. And that was sort of what made you want to start it in the first place. Could you tell us a bit about the importance of representation?
This is gonna be our sort of segment where we talk about an element of writing. So last podcast, we spoke about narration, and this time around, we're gonna speak about representation and voice in that way. So we'd love to hear your thoughts on this, Ollie.
Yeah, definitely. So I mean, for me, I think one of the best ways to illustrate it, I suppose is is to talk a little bit about Reni Eddo Lodge and her book, why I'm no longer talking to white people about race, which every person should read. So that that book originally came out. I want to make sure that I get this correct. The book was first published in 2017. And, you know, we're talking about three years later 2020 and, and in the sort of wake of the BLM movement, and and everything that was going on last year, following the murder of George Floyd went to number one, you know, during during the summer of last year, that means it took three years for the book to go to number one, and she's also the only she was the only black. This isn't that this is at the time, I'm reading this off of a guardian article that was published last June when she went to number one. So I appreciate you know, this might not be totally up to date, but I just think it's a really good place to start illustrating things. Reni Eddo Lodge was the only one of only two black authors to have taken the number one spot in the UK book charts, which I just find find outstanding and crazy. And, and I know that subsequently, you know, things moved on with with the work of like Bernardine, Evaristo, and she obviously a lot of people picked up her work last year. And I know that also went to number one. But for me, like, that's just insane. Like, I just think that, in my in my opinion, like that is probably all you need to really know about representation in, in at least a UK book charts like why has it taken this long? The the Nielson book charts started recording book sales in 2001. And so it's astounding to me that it took almost 20 years for black British authors to get to number one.
100% when you lay the facts down like that, it's shocking. It's horrifying, absolutely awful. And, I mean, why has it taken this long? Has it been, you know, fear of straying from the normal, familiar, straight white male perspective? I mean Ollie, what do you think's taken us so long to get to this point where we're still not obviously 100% completely diverse, and we're not where we should be. But why do you reckon it's taken us even so long to get to this point?
Well, I mean, I think you hit the nail on the head a lot Leia. Because, you know, with that sort of that image that we all have with this, like straight white man, and I think for the longest period of time, the straight white man was, you know, and still is, in a, unfortunately, in a greater extent is the what's the term the gatekeepers? You know, the decision makers, and I think that these gatekeepers couldn't and wouldn't think about anything outside of their own experience. And I know, you know, I'm a white guy, I'm a, I'm a queer, white guy. So but but for me, like, there's something so exciting and necessary and important about me reading these narratives that aren't my own story. And that's what I love about voices, for example, is being able to read all these amazing pieces of work that I might not day to day, have access to or be, you know, know anything about. So it just astounds me why you would only want to know and read and understand and live your own little bubble, your own little life. And I think that for the longest period of time, these gatekeepers weren't open to other narratives to other stories? And I think it has a lot. I think what, you know, I think we, I say we white people, we've got a lot of work to do to make sure that we are kind of not just taking the whole, taking everyone's time with our stories, they're not the most important stories. And I think for the longest period of time, people think they people thought they were, and that's not right. And, you know, we've got a lot of work to do to make sure that other voices are amplified and heard. And we should do that we should be promoting black voices, asian voices, queer voices, you know, disabled voices, you know, it doesn't need to be the stories that we're used to hearing for the longest time anymore.
Absolutely. I mean, that's why it's so essential that places like you and platforms like untitled writing exists, because it means that it's not just every so often when something happens in the news, or we get something else gets brought to light, and then the sort of social media trend, and then it's over. And then we have to wait until the next thing the next tragedy happens before the voices are represented again.
Yeah, and that's a lot of last year, there was a lot of like, as you say, a lot of organizations and people who sort of, you know, I don't know, whether one can say they were with good intentions or not, but they sort of jump on a bandwagon maybe and they sort of go, oh, this isn't the news, we want to be seen to be, you know, open to this kind of story or promoting this kind of voice. And as you say, that it shouldn't be something that you do just because it's at the top of the news agenda that day, like that's something that we should be doing daily, forever, because we need to be promoting all these different voices.
Yeah. And I mean, straight, white people still fill up quite a lot of, you know, the spaces out there. And I mean, what can we do as, you know, straight white people to sort of take a step back? Because I think that's definitely something that people should consider doing. But it's like, how do we do that? And some people definitely find difficulty with that. So I was thinking, Ollie, do you have any suggestions around that? Um, speaking of someone who identifies as different than Jack and I who do identify as straight white individuals, like, is it as simple as just shouting out of the voices as much as possible? Or, you know, is there something more that we need to be doing, I mean, really is about sort of education here, I think, because we are at this sort of territory where a lot of people want to help, but they're not exactly sure on how they can help amplify these voices and what steps they can take. And I know you can't speak for, you know, all underrepresented voices here. But it would just be really useful to get your insights on some maybe some suggestions or pointers that you think people that do have quite a lot of the space, and they are quite lucky to get that space, what they could do to help share that with others.
I think it's just being aware, right? Like, it's just being aware that we aren't, you know, you you guys aren't, we aren't the only voices in the market. And we aren't the only voices that are valid and should be heard and reading, I think the biggest thing we can do is read widely read other people's work, read on wide voices, buy those books show, you know, the bookshops show publishers that there is a demand for, you know, these kinds of stories. And, and if you've got a platform, like shout from the rafters about them, do what you would normally do, but just make sure that you're aware when you're doing it or who you're doing it for, like, whenever I absolutely love a book, I'll shout you know, all over my Twitter about it, I'll do whatever. And you just need to be I think, a little bit more aware that there is so much variety available to us. And it doesn't just come you know, like it doesn't come straight away from the big the big, big publishers like I'm sure there are, you know, diverse, a few diverse authors. But you know, there's so many amazing independent sort of small publishers that are working so tirelessly for diverse with diverse voices. And yeah, I think that's the biggest thing we can do is to to make sure that we read widely to make sure we understand the issues that are right in front of us to read the reports, being proactive. And I think it was on our panel last year Dr. Yvonne Battle-Felton. So she wrote a book called remembered, which is an amazing book. And she said, and I'll never forget it. She said on the panel last year, the British in the in the UK specifically, we're amazing at research, like our industry, we're always doing research research to say why diverse voices aren't being represented research that says what could be done to you know, get these voices out there. But what we're not very good at is the action is the like, okay, we've done the research to say there's a problem. Now let's actually resolve the problem or at least work towards resolving the problem. Part of that is about reading widely and promoting the work and not just reading the latest white writer, you know, big white, famous man's novel, because that's the author, we all know, I'm sure the work is wonderful. And it's, you know, it's equally valid. But sometimes we just need to take a moment and step back and go, like, Look, I can read his novel, but I can also read this beautiful novel from, you know, a black writer or an asian writer or some, you know, with a different experience. And I think that's the biggest thing we should be doing.
I mean, I remember, when I was growing up, I didn't have that much diversity in my reading, I mean, specially in terms of school, we looked at one sort of straight white narrative. And, you know, there are a couple of women writers thrown in there, which was absolutely fantastic when that happened. But for the most part, it was about one sort voice, like, we never, you know, explored the world. And I don't remember reading many voices from the LGBT plus community, as I say, it was this one perspective over and over again, from beginning to end, and that's really sort of heartbreaking. And I mean, obviously, we have these movements now are really pushing towards diversifying the curriculum. But I think it's tricky when you're a young person you grow up around this one narrative. I mean, I don't know how it was for you Jack?
In terms of my high school. I mean, we didn't read that much. I would say we sort of focus on a few novels that which are all written by white man. And in terms of like poetry and plays, I think, yeah, that'd be the same. Obviously, Shakespeare that sort of thing.
I mean, it's all Shakespeare, right? Like, I mean, don't get me wrong, like, Will did a great job back in the day, but like, there were other writers who aren't William Shakespeare, and I know that might be sacrilege to some people. And don't get me wrong, I like a I like I like an adaptation of Shakespeare now and again, but we have toupdate, we have to go with the times. And we're not we don't have to just study William Shakespeare anymore. I mean, there was an article that I remember reading September last year, I've pulled this article up. And the headline is many GCSE pupils never study a book by a black author. This is specifically talking about, you know, schools in the UK. And it's it goes on to explain that the largest exam board in the country, so Aqa doesn't feature a single book by a black author amongst its set texts for their GCSE English Lit syllabus, which is mental, which is like absolutely not, which is not appropriate whatsoever. Like, it talks about the fact that there are just two novels by non-white authors. So Kazuo Ishiguro's never let me go and Meera Syal's Anita and me, but nothing else. And I know like, I know that there's a lot of people working hard to try and change this. And, you know, I was signing petitions last year about talking about getting texts like Reni Eddo Lodge's texts onto syllabuses and talking about black history. And yeah, just kind of widening on knowledge. Because it's only ever going to be positive. Like, this is the thing I don't understand, this is the thing I never really got about why these, why it doesn't happen, why we why pupils aren't reading, you know, work by by black authors, like it's only ever going to be a positive thing to widen your intellectual scope. That's my personal opinion on it. But I would much rather learn and understand about different people and be more knowledgeable and open to these opportunities, then just to learn about my own little blinking window.
Yeah, I mean, obviously, it's really important to have authors themselves, representing different voices. And then we get this sort of weird space where some authors try really hard put in diverse characters, like, into the writing, and sometimes that is not quite successful, and they don't have proper knowledge of these voices, and it gets presented quite badly. So what do you think about like voice and representation within, you know, writing itself?
Um, it's something I'm always thinking about. And, you know, you never want to be writing like someone else's narrative when you don't necessarily have the skill is one thing. You don't want to just write something for the sake of it, you know, you don't want to be a white writer, who's just writing a black narrative, because you haven't necessarily understood that the struggle and the work that needs to go into that story, I think that you can, I think there's, by all means you should have, you know, a mixed world because that's the world we live in, you know, when I write, I write a variety of races and genders and identities in my own writing, because that's the world we live in. I mean, I know I know, I'm, you know, based in London, and I know that's not necessarily the way that other people In other parts of the country, maybe think but we do we live in a, in a multinational world country, you know, full of different people with different identities and why not, you know, why not illustrate that in your work? I just think that's super important as long as it's like thought through and not just done for the sake of it, and it has been considered and it is legitimate.
Yeh and it is so important I think so have representation because it means you know when young people or really young easily influenced read these stories where there are different characters it is not so unfamiliar and there is a break in that narrative and you know they can look around and read people that are different to them, but that is celebrated and that is beautiful and they don’t have to be afraid of them.
Well exactly, you are not born with prejudice right? Like you aren’t born racist or homophobic, you are brought up in an atmosphere that makes you think that this is wrong or you aren’t normal or whatever so like as you say Leia kids are now growing up with hopefully a slightly more diverse representation in what they are watching or the toys they are playing with but that’s just normal. That should just be normal even though it hasn’t traditionally been like that. Because kids aren’t born automatically racist, I personally think that when kids are so small, they don’t see those things. Obviously when you are an adult and you understand the struggles and conversations, you don’t want to get to a point where we are erasing anything or erasing identity because that is also important to be considerate of. But when you are a kid, you don’t see that and think of that kid is different to me but somewhere along the line they are taught it, it is in their environment, for whatever reason and that is where that all stems from.
Yeh and I mean it all just goes back to fear doesn’t it. The fear of unfamiliarity because you know you’ve never grown up with it being taught or explained to you or you’ve grown up in a way where things that are unfamiliar are negative, and I think it is all about the education perspective and teaching children when they are young that different isn’t bad, its just different and there is a lot of goodness in that. I think it is a lot harder a habit to break when you are an adult and if you haven’t had that growing up and you go into the world and meet different people I think that can be scary, and I mean it is not an excuse for any sort of discriminatory behaviour but we definitely need to work on young people as much as possible because when you are an adult thats when things start getting a bit tricker in terms of breaking those bad habits and that bad education.
100% they say that all the time don’t they but like even learning new things when you are older is more difficult, making friends is more difficult when you are older. When you are a kid, you are a blank canvas and you want to learn about the diversity of the world around you when you are as young as you can because then you appreciate the different stories we all have to tell.
Ok Ollie, well thank you so much for chatting to us about diversity and representation in the literature world that was really interesting and it was so good to have you on and you know get some tips about what everyone can do to sort of widen their reading and amplify voices the best they can. We are so excited to read your next issues and see more amazing festivals and things from you in the future so just thank you so much for joining us!
Thank you so much for having me, it has been absolutely lovely chatting with you guys and thank you for what you guys do as well like for starting this podcast absolutely amazing the stuff you guys are doing at Full House, I absolutely love reading the stuff you guys put out so far.
Thank you so much! So now we are going to look at some tweets of the week, we have two this week because they are both really good and discuss different topics so we wanted to talk about them so if Jack, you’d like to read out the first one!
So out first tweet of the week is from Jowell Tan and it says ‘the arms race between lit mags to have the nicest rejection is a win-win for all of us’
Yeh, I just think this is such a funny tweet! Like when I see it, I’m just like oh my god that is so true! Because it really is like this sort of battle to be the nicest mag but in a good way. It isn’t like an actual you know war. But it is good that everyone wants to be nice right?
Yeh and arms race sounds a tiny bit sinister almost but I guess the phrase to use here would be like competition breeds innovation so as people and lit mags are sending out better rejection letters, everyone is wanting to improve to be slightly better.
Yeh like the standard has been raised so much which is obviously a really good thing. I’m glad that it is a win for all the writers out there. It just means they are going to get better and nicer rejections at the end of the day and I just think that is a really positive thing.
So our second tweet is actually a response to another tweet, so the original tweet is ‘How many times do you submit to a publication before moving on’ by Lucky Jefferson and then twitter user webbish6 responded ‘I submitted to Poetry Magazine for the first time when I was 19. I got into it last year, when I was 46.’
And that is just incredible and it is what we were saying before, in part A, you are never too late to chase your dreams and you should never give up on something. This is incredible that this person has been submitting for so long and you know they never gave up and it has paid off because they have finally got in. It can be very disheartening when you get a few rejections in a row from the same magazine but it just goes to show that if you keep going and you keep persevering then you might get in, if you never submit, then its always going to be a no because you’ve never even done it, so my motto is always if you try then there is at least a chance of a yes, if you don’t try, you are making it so that its an 100% chance of a no. So they were our highlighted tweets of the week and now we are going to round off the podcast with a quick newsblast. There is a fantastic new book by Astra coming out called ‘Auditioning for poem atlas’ which tells the story of the time the olympian deities discovered visual poetry. Crow name are open for submissions, they’ve got 10 days left on their submissions so get those in. Elsewhere mag are still open for chapbook submissions. Taylor Byas has won the frontier poetry award for 2020 for new poets, the piece is incredible so you need to check that out, congratulations Taylor! Muzzle magazine are looking for some new poetry readers to join their staff and the details can be found on a link on their twitter. Adverse magazine have an empty inbox and want you to send your submissions in so get those in while you have the chance! Babel board have some fantastic new pieces out today, some visual pieces and some poetry. Ice Lolly Review are open for submissions. The Winnow magazine and other literary magazines included are starting a weekly newsletter with pictures of cats, and general lit mag news so you can DM them on how to get that in your inbox. And finally Feed lit mags issue 1.36 is live so you need to go over and check that out! And now we reach the end of the podcast, part b. So thank you so much for joining us and we look forward to seeing you in two weeks time!