Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Guest Post - Representation Matters by Rhoda Baxter

If you’re a regular reader of my books (thank you!), you’ll know that I always have at least one Sri Lankan secondary character in there somewhere. There’s a reason for this. Let me give you some background. I’m Sri Lankan by descent. Although I was born in England, we travelled around a bit (my Dad’s an engineer and went around the world building things) and I spent a lot of my formative years in Sri Lanka. I was a voracious reader, I read every English language book I could lay my hands on. At that time, there were very few English books written about non-white characters (I think the first book I read where the characters were not white was Roots, which I didn’t read until I was in my teens). This didn’t bother me. In fact, I barely noticed it. I just assumed that all the people in ‘book world’ were white.

 It was only many years later, that it occurred to me that ‘book world’ wasn’t a separate place, but a reflection of the real world. But it wasn’t a terribly accurate reflection, because not many people looked like me. Again, it didn’t bother me as such because, the point of fiction for me was to step into someone else’s head. I have a strong enough imagination that the colour of the skin of the character poses no challenge. I can read and enjoy their story regardless of what colour they are.
 Then I decided to write a romance novel. I wrote it about people who were Asian. It was only when I tried to sell this book that I realised there might be a problem. I wrote a second book - more commercial in tone, with white main characters - I found a publisher relatively easily. This seemed to work, so I carried on writing white characters, smuggling brown people into the background. It wasn’t a big deal, because I still hadn’t realised quite how much representation mattered.

What changed it for me was having daughters. My girls are mixed race. In the winter they’re merely golden skinned, but in the summer, they’re brown. Like me. When they were tiny, they didn’t notice that they were different from their school friends. But as they grew older, they did. Then one day, one of them mentioned that she wasn’t pretty because “only white girls are pretty”. Naturally, I was horrified that she thought this. It was then that I finally noticed that my girls were reading books and watching films in order to learn about their world... and they were not seeing many people who looked like them. Now, I can’t do much about the films and TV series (although, CBBC and Netflix shows make a serious effort towards diversity), but I can do something about what I write.

So I wrote a book with a main character who is mixed race (Grace, in Please Release Me). Her ethnicity is essentially irrelevant to the story and it’s barely mentioned, but she had black hair and brown skin. The book came out, people like the story, it gets good reviews. Hardly anyone has noticed that the heroine is different to any other heroine. The only person who commented was someone Sri Lankan, who said she was delighted to see someone who looked like her in a romance novel. This leads me to think that readers aren’t as resistant to diverse characters as the publishing industry thinks they are.

I’ve used race as an example, but this applies across a huge range of factors. At long last, it is now possible to see same sex romance in ‘romance book world’ without it being a scandal. But what about disabled people? Do they not fall in love in book world?

If we can live in a world where people of all races and abilities and orientations can hang out together, we should reflect that in the fictional worlds we create too.

So I will continue to write Sri Lankans into my novels. Why? Because I have to start somewhere. Representation matters. When my daughters are old enough to read my books, they will be able to see themselves in ‘book world’. And that means a lot to me.

Thank you so much Rhoda. I love your books but rarely notice what ethnicity the characters are, far more focused on what they do, or who they fall in love with, but of course you are correct, book world is no where near as diverse as the real world. 

The book was released on the 9th of October and will be on special offer at 99p until the 15th of October (after that the price will go up to £2.99). If you buy the book before the 15th of October you will also get a book of short stories and a companion recipe book (containing recipes from the prequel Girl Having A Ball) absolutely free.

Grown up tomboy Olivia doesn't need a man to complete her. Judging by her absent father, men aren't that reliable anyway. She's got a successful career, good friends and can evict spiders from the bath herself, so she doesn't need to settle down, thanks.

Walter's ex is moving his daughter to America and Walter feels like he's losing his family. When his friend-with-benefits, Olivia, discovers she's pregnant by her douchebag ex, Walter sees the perfect chance to be part of a family with a woman he loves. But how can Walter persuade the most independent woman he's ever met to accept his help, let alone his heart?

Girl In Trouble is the third book in the award nominated Smart Girls series by Rhoda Baxter. If you like charming heroes, alpha heroines and sparkling dialogue, you'll love this series. Ideal for fans of Sarah Morgan, Lindsey Kelk's I heart novels or Meg Cabot's Boy books. Buy now and meet your new favourite heroine today.

Rhoda Baxter bio:
Rhoda Baxter writes contemporary romances with heart and a touch of British cynicism. her books have been nominated for a variety of awards. She lives in Yorkshire with her young family and is on a mission to have afternoon tea in as many cake shops as she can.
You can find her wittering on about science and romance and cake on her website (www.rhodabaxter.com), Facebook or on Twitter (@rhodabaxter). Do say hello.


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