Autumn 2020

In the face of adversity

By James McConnachie

The publishing industry has been looking at itself critically, of late – partly in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, partly because it has needed to look at itself for a long time. As with planting trees, the best time to start recognising and fixing structural inequality was twenty years ago; the second-best time is today.

The reports ‘Rethinking Diversity in Publishing’ (Goldsmiths, University of London) and ‘Writing the Future: Black and Asian Writers and Publishers in the UK Market Place’ (Spread the Word) make troubling reading. It is clear that writers from non-white and working-class backgrounds have too often been marginalised, their books too often treated as exotic or niche. 

It is easy to feel that authors have less to reproach themselves with than publishing conglomerates. We haven’t paid impossibly low starting wages. We haven’t slapped ethnic-signalling covers on books by Asian and Black writers, as if they could only be of interest to Asian and Black readers. 

Such thinking is complacent. All authors feel excluded – it is in our nature (and the inevitable consequence of an industry that increasingly delivers success to the very few). Some authors, however, are more excluded than others. 

I always felt I became a writer the hard way, working my way into the industry cheque by cheque. But in truth my lucky breaks were not just lucky. I got my first paid commission because my dad reminded me that the man across the road was a writer. I worked on my first travel books knowing that I could live with my parents between trips. At the outset, then, I had contacts and capital. Many authors have neither. In fact, many face barriers that some of us might not even have appreciated exist, or not before reading these reports. 

Dismantling those barriers will not happen overnight, or as a result of gestures. I can promise that every member who pitches an article to me receives a fair hearing and a proper reply. That we will continue to seek out and publish articles that reflect the experiences of writers, translators and illustrators from all backgrounds. And that the SoA represents every member with equal pride and professionalism. As Ben Okri puts it, in his powerful statement on p.5, ‘we must all fight for one another’s freedom.’

While I was grappling with my own response to the two diversity reports, I considered giving the lead articles of this issue the title ‘Black Authors Matter’. Alongside Ben Okri’s statement, Michael Fuller, the UK’s first Black Chief Constable, describes the controversial changes to his memoir’s title. Jason Young asks why Black Britons from the Georgian period are so rarely the subject of historical dramas. 

It became clear, however, that the Autumn issue had developed its own theme, which was related but broader. Joan Smith confronts the PTSD she acquired as a result of her work on violence. Bob Hastings tackles the restrictions imposed on educational writers. Julian Simpson embraces scriptwriting without visuals. Tom Henry argues that ghostwriters are not a lesser species. Dea Birkett considers the plight of travel writers in this time. 

The underlying theme – reflected in artwork by one of this issue’s guest artists, Soofiya – is this: how authors handle adversity. How we support and collaborate, push back and stay strong. And how we keep working. As Martin Luther King put it, ‘whenever you are engaged in work that serves humanity and is for the building of humanity, it has dignity, and it has worth.’ As members of the SoA, we are alike in that dignity.

James McConnachie | @j_mcconnachie


Cover artwork by Tomekah George

Tomekah George is an illustrator and occasional animator. Tomekah is especially interested in working on stories and with companies that promote a positive message or draw attention to issues around the world. Read the Q&A with Tomekah here

tomekahgeorge.comInstagram: @tameks_g | Twitter: @tameks_g

In this issue


A time comes – Ben Okri on listening, justice and an end to silence

What’s in a title? – The importance of book titles, by Michael Fuller

Adapt and survive – Richard Lea on the pandemic and the publishing industry

Q&A: Soofiya – Interrogating identity in art

Seeing ourselves in British history – Jason Young on the stories that need to be told

The future of travel writing – Dea Birkett asks: where can travel writers go?

The lasting damage of violence – Joan Smith discusses writing with PTSD



Out of the shadows – Ghostwriters are real writers too, argues Tom Henry

The writer behind the writer –Andrew Crofts on ghostwriting fiction

The speed of sound – Julian Simpson explores writing for audio



Writing with your hands tied – Bob Hastings on the constraints of ELT textbooks

Q&A: Penelope Lively – Booker Prize winner and former SoA Chair

Reading between the lines – Amanda Craig: what are your characters reading?

What to say, how to say it – Anna Caig offers advice on online interviews

Indexers, all about – Working with indexers, by Paula Clarke Bain

Grub Street – Andrew Taylor’s quarterly digest



What’s on? – Online events from now until December

Spotlight: SoA groups and networks – Latest activities and events

News – SoA elections, awards, industry news and more

Letters to the Editor

Welcome, new members

Services for authors