So THAT was 2019
I don’t normally document my year, I usually move on and will sometimes talk about my hopes for coming 12 months. But 2019 has been something of a wild ride and I had to get some of it down just so I could read it and weep or laugh. The last 12 months have been a wondrous, terrifying, strange journey into the surreal, the joyous, the painful, the heartbreaking and the downright enraging experience that is life.
I’m sure other years have had all these elements, but this one is the first that has had so many extremes wrapped up in 12 months. In honour of those ‘firsts’ this is the first time I’m going to properly review my year – not chronologically cos that’d be crazy – and note down what lessons I’ll be taking from what has happened into 2020 . . .
The year began on a terrible note. I’d left 2018 knowing it was coming, but when we did lose someone very loved and very close, it was still a terrible blow. I wasn’t sure how we were going to cope going forwards, I knew we would cope because you have to, but I wasn’t sure how. I’m still not sure how we did, but we’re getting there. I dedicated Tell Me Your Secret to our loved one and I think about them all the time.
After this, it felt like things were not going to be good again, I’ll admit that. But life is nothing but stubborn and surprising, and the good times did indeed show up in my world.
It’s All Science To Me
I was asked by the Royal Society to be a judge for their annual Science Book Prize. I was a bit, ‘Me?’ at first then my husband, a scientist, impressed upon me what an honour it was to be asked, and said I should do it. And I’m so glad I did. Not only did I get to read some excellent books that added to my knowledge of the quantum world, the skin and the environment, I also got to meet some wonderful people. I got to hang out with Professor Sir Nigel Shadbolt, Stephen McGann, Shukry Habib and Gwenyth Williams who were a pretty cool bunch of people. I also met Professor Brian Cox who presented the award. It was a hard slog reading all those science books and then having discussions about what we thought and THEN coming to the decision we could all live with but I think the right book won in the end.
Lesson for 2020? Don’t always think some things aren’t for you, think about it before saying yes or no.
Hello Secret . . .
My first book with Headline was published and made it onto the bestseller list – twice! I can’t speak for other authors, but for me, whenever I finish a book and send it ‘out there’ I’m always terrified about how it will be received and how it will fare in the big wide world. It’s never a simple case of just bashing it out, and after some recent experiences, I was questioning my abilities. I knew from my wonderful editor, Jen, that she loved it and very soon other people were buying it and telling me they loved my 15th book, too. In fact, enough of them bought it to make it a bestseller and I couldn’t have been happier.
Lesson for 2020? keep showing up and keep going.
Ms Morrison, Missed
Toni Morrison died. I went onto BBC News to talk about her the day it happened for a few minutes. It was all anyone seemed to talk about for a time, and so many people had insightful things to say about her. It was a comfort of sorts to see so many people with so many amazing things to say. And, while it was a shared grief, privately, my heart felt like it was breaking.
I’m by no means a Toni Morrison expert, I loved her writing, and I have gifted her books, but her dying felt like once again, a good person had been taken out of the world and they weren’t replaced. And I hated knowing that we aren’t going to have any more wisdom imparted by her. I know others will and have come, but I still feel sad that Toni Morrison’s wisdom won’t be added to by her and that she was here for a finite time. Her work will live on, of course, but I am still bereft that the world has been robbed of another black voice that was leading light.
Lesson for 2020? When the nonsense in the outside world rises (as it has been recently) remind myself of my most favourite Toni Morrison quote: ‘The function, the very serious function of racism, which is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining over and over again, your reason for being.’
Back to Trinity
I had the absolute pleasure of having an event at my old college, Leeds Trinity University. It was called Trinity & All Saints College when I attended and it was a lot smaller. But, it was nice treading over the grounds again and catching up with some old friends. In fact, it was such a nice time I started to wonder why I didn’t still live in Leeds.
Lesson for 2020? I’ll be trying to get back to Leeds a bit more often and I’ll make more of an effort to see my old friends down here. I’ve let that slip this past year and I must reconnect with them.
I had my confidence bashed
Aside from the bereavement, I had some struggles this year. Several things seemed to conspire to bash my confidence on so many levels. At one point, I thought I’d never show my face again, let alone write another word. I rarely talk about these things because, well, it’s hard to admit when things get tough. And people constantly expect you to be positive and ‘up’ all the time.
But, you know, it was a case of taking a proper step back, having a long hard look at myself, examining what I’ve achieved, the people I’ve helped and inspired, and realising who I am. And who I am is Dorothy Koomson. I can do this. I got back out there, attended every event with that at the front of my mind, started my next book, and remembered to enjoy as many things as I can. It wasn’t easy, but I did get myself back together enough to carry on. And wouldn’t you know it, hot on the heels of getting myself back together . . .
I was presented with a Black British Business Award.
I was given the Image Award at The Black British Business Awards. The Image Award recognises and celebrates an individual, who over a considerable amount of time within their chosen profession, has stood out amongst the crowd and set a record of excellence. I could not have been more surprised when I was given this award. After being ignored in certain circles and certain people seeming to go out of their way to act as if I don’t exist, to be presented with something that not only recognised my work but celebrated it, was next level amazing. I never expect these things to happen to me so I was very taken aback. I’m not sure who nominated me but I’m truly grateful to them.
Lesson for 2020? Even if it doesn’t seem like it, other people see and appreciate you.
My words, their mouths/fingers
At a few author events I was lucky enough to attend recently, I sat and very quickly experienced a tingling up my spine and upside-downed stomach when I heard very well known, successful authors parroting words that I had said in recent months about writing. I was open mouthed.
Oh I know, I don’t own words, I don’t own ideas and writing motivations, but when people who I’ve heard over the years deride the things I’ve publicly said I do and they have stated quite clearly that they don’t, emote on how these things are part of their book-creating process, well, I can’t help but think they’re full of it. And using my words, not because they mean it, but because they sound good to those listening.
If that wasn’t enough, I was lucky enough to write a piece nominating some rather excellent people for an award. They, happily, won. And the award givers, shamelessly, took my name off the piece I wrote about the nominees and basically passed it off as their own. What was sent out into the world was practically word-for-word what I wrote. Again, I sat with my mouth open reading it, impressed by their gall, hurt by their behaviour.
When black people (women particularly) say people steal their work and ideas, do believe them, this has been happening to me for a long time but this is the first time it’s been so consistently high-profile.
Lesson for 2020? To be honest, I don’t know – like something I mention below, it’ll be hard to speak up without those involved turning themselves into the victims and me becoming the evil one.
I wrote a sequel
Over the years of penning books, I’ve been very much of the ‘don’t do sequels’ school of thought. I almost always put my characters through so much that it didn’t feel fair to revisit them and dish out more pain. But in 2019 I had a story to tell and it needed The Ice Cream Girls to help it be told. And it was HARD. Really, really hard. Writing All My Lies Are True tested me to my core and I was pretty wiped out by the end of it. But you know, it’s my job, I have to put everything I am into it to make sure that I’ve done the best I possibly can to do justice to the story, so I had to do it. It was exhausting, but I can’t wait for you to read it.
Lesson for 2020? Work is hard but it’s what I do and what I love. And because of that hard work, I get to call myself a bestselling author.
I met some truly brilliant people in 2019
I met a LOT of new people in 2019 – it was like a roll call of truly brilliant souls entering my world properly. I finally met Nicholas Pinnock, who played Dr Evan in the TV version of The Ice Cream Girls. I’ve been in touch with him since 2013 and we finally met. And I met Jamelia. Have always loved her music and to meet her and have her tell me she liked my books . . . just heart eye emoji. Along with her I had an excellent chat with JJ Bola and Mr Robin Walker.
And I met Daniellé Scott-Haughton. Have followed her for ages on Twitter and when the divine Paula Akpan and Nicole Crentsil (who I met them for the first time this year, too) asked her to interview me for Black Girl Fest I was truly overjoyed and honoured.
Oh and then there was Aimée Felone founder of Knights Of, Eishar Kaur Editorial Director of Knights Of, who have shown the world what is possible when you have a dedication to inclusivity like they have. And I met the amazing film director Amma Asante. And I met Dawn Butler, the MP. And I met Tobi Oredein, creator of Black Ballard, an online magazine for black women, who told me that she had named one of her wedding tables after me (chuffed, crying face emoji).
And then there were amazing readers who sometimes travelled for hundreds of miles to come to my events. I appreciated every single one of them who gave their time to show up.
Basically, I met so many brilliant people this year, I’m sorry if I’ve left anyone out, but these are just some of the ones who found themselves ensnared in the Koomson Klutch™.
Lesson for 2020? I love meeting people so hopefully more of that will happen in 2020.
I met the next generation of writers
Two of my most favourite literary girls are Melissa and Natalie of The Black Girls Book Club. I’ve attended a couple of events with them in the past, but together with my brilliant editor, Jen, Melissa and Natalie came up with a masterclass where up and coming writers could ask me (and Jen) anything they wanted to help them get writing. It was such a brilliant event because I got to meet all these wonderful black women at the start of their writing careers, I got to help them as much as I could, and I got to feel so proud at what I knew they could achieve. If you don’t already follow Melissa and Natalie at Black Girls Book Club, do, they are a couple of the shiniest stars on the t’interweb.
Lesson for 2020: Keep my eyes open for these wonderful women’s stories.
‘I’m not her’
So, another low: a white author* who I’ve known for well over a decade thought I was another black author. When I say ‘known’ I don’t mean online known, or ‘met in passing’, we’ve been to many, many events together, we’ve had many, deep meaningful chats about painful, personal experiences and we were, at one point, at the same publishers. So, it’s fair to say I thought we knew each other. Apparently, not.
She walked in to the last event we attended together and made a comment that made me suspect she thought I was this other author. I batted that comment away. But twenty minutes later she was back to tell me that it was me she was talking about and then launched into some detail about why it was definitely me. I listened to her dig this huge hole then eventually said, ‘I’m not her. I’m the other one.’ Cue: Awkward silence.
She was sort of mortified – not mortified enough to not try to excuse what she’d done by saying how she’d grown up in an area that was 99 per cent white – but kind of mortified. It was a very strange experience. I look nothing like this other black author, by the way except we both happen to have dark skin. And not even the same shade. What’s most upsetting is knowing I’ll probably be expected to brush it off because she didn’t mean anything by it. You know what, though? I get to decide how I feel about this and how I feel is . . . urgh, just urgh!
Lesson for 2020? People – even the ones you think you know – are going to throw you urgh, just urgh balls!
*I’m not going to name her because this isn’t my first rodeo as they say – once names are named, lots of people who I like will perform all sorts of mental gymnastics to find reasons to excuse her and reasons why I’m being unreasonable to not just laugh it off, the net result of which will be me ending up as the bad guy in a situation not of my making where I’ve been poorly treated.
Urgh, just urgh.
Lesson for 2020? Urgh! Just urgh!
My face ended up on a T-shirt
At the Black Girl Fest in October 2019, I had a look around at the market place. There were so many black women selling all sorts of goods and it was fantastic to see and be amongst so much brilliance. At the Hannah Pratt Clothing stall I saw a T-shirt with an array of women black British women who had contributed something unique to society depicted. I smiled to myself at all that excellence on one piece of clothing and was about to move on when one of the ladies from the stall told me that I was number 31. Me! On a T-shirt! Me! I almost burst into tears.
Couldn’t believe that I had made it onto a T-shirt with all these other amazing women. So there you go, Dorothy Koomson on a T-shirt, you don’t get any more rock and roll than that. You can buy copies of the T-shirt here: Hannah Pratt Clothing
Lessson for 2020: Look at me on a T-shirt!
And so this is where I leave you. So much more has happened, and I could go on and on, but those were the things that have been at the forefront of my mind. Has 2019 been as ‘interesting’ for you as it has for me? Are there things you’ve learned in 2019 that will help empower you in 2020? Drop me a line let me know if there are.
Thanks for reading and if I’m not in touch with you before, Happy New Year and see you in 2020.