As part of The Stories We Tell Ourselves, we commissioned 12 writers from Australia and the UK to write a letter to their past or future selves. In response to the question “Who are we now?”, these writers consider what conversations and stories need to be had and created for us to reimagine, rethink and rebuild the world around us.
Writer Alex Falase-Koya writes to his future self:
“Is it worth anything? I know I’m skipping the small talk and pleasantries, but I know we don’t like that now so I’m guessing ten years into the future we’ll have even less patience for that stuff.
So, once again, is it worth anything?
I kinda need to know.
I toil away at this. Late nights, early mornings. You know the drill.
The price of writing can be measured in experiences I didn’t have. The person those experiences might have shaped me into is sacrificed at the altar of writing every day, and I’m okay with that.
I understand that there’s a cost to all this and I’m more than willing to pay, I just need to know what I’m getting back.
The sheer pleasure of writing? Sure, great, until we introduce a deadline and a third draft where the characters still make no sense at all. Let’s not fool ourselves, this still takes a lot of effort.
Money? Sure, that’s always nice and very useful. But if you get into writing for the money, you’re probably going to be a little disappointed. Maybe you’re rolling in it, but I’m not.
So, what else is being offered here? I have one other thing I can think of. The idea that we can change the world. The power of books to make the world a better place, a more equal place. Now, that’s enticing, isn’t it?
Now I don’t know if anyone gets into writing because of it – I didn’t initially, but it sure can keep you going through the trials and tribulations. Keeps you warm on a cold night.
I just don’t know if I believe it anymore.
Bombs away, am I right? You want to talk? Let’s really talk.
In this content-saturated world, what if all the books we write are just more content to be consumed? All the themes, life experience, and representation. All the things we write to push the world in a better direction. What if all that is just consumed in an instant before someone literally closes the book on all of that equality stuff and moves onto something else?
We always talk about surfacing the right voices, making sure marginalised people get a chance to speak, but how often do we work on making sure that other people are listening? And I mean really listening.
This is probably a distant memory for you now, but do you remember after the Black Lives Matter protests? Do you remember what happened?
All those books about anti-racism were all suddenly at the top of the bestseller lists. But months later nothing really felt like it had changed – everything was still the same.
If you were worried that there aren’t enough racism scandals nowadays, don’t worry the book industry still has you covered!
You see why I’m here now, writing this.
Is it worth anything? I need to know.
I want to go on strike until you reply, to put down my pen, but I can’t. There’s a hope that keeps me going. I hope you’ll write back and tell me that of course it’s worth it, that I was silly for ever thinking otherwise. That my writing can be measured not in racists converted, but in courage stirred in the hearts of people who never got to see characters who look like mine and a writer who looks like me. I hope that’s how I get to contribute in my own small way to the changing of this world. I hope you tell me that’s enough. Maybe it is, for now.”
Alex Falase-Koya is from London. He has been both reading and writing children’s fiction since he was a teenager; anything at the cross-section of social commentary and genre fiction floats his boat. He was a winner of Spread the Word’s 2019 London Writers Awards for YA/children’s. In February Oxford University Press will publish the first two of six titles in a new early fiction superhero series, Marv, illustrated by Paula Bowles, as Alex’s debut. He now lives in Walthamstow with his girlfriend and two Kittens, and is also working on his YA debut.
The Stories We Tell Ourselves is a partnership between Spread the Word, The Wheeler Centre and Melbourne, City of Literature. It is part of the UK/Australia Season; a joint initiative by the British Council and the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
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