Alex Falase-Koya & Alice Boyle
As part of The Stories We Tell Ourselves, we invited six pairs of emerging and established writers, from the UK and Australia, to each pen a letter to their past or future self. Across a series of six videos, these writers respond to the theme ‘Who are we now?’ by speaking directly to versions of themselves that are still familiar, curiously anticipated or completely mysterious.
Here, Alex Falase-Koya, winner of Spread the Word’s 2019 London Writers Awards for the YA/Children’s category, and Alice Boyle, winner of the 2021 Text Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing for her forthcoming novel Dancing Barefoot, take turns reading each other’s letters aloud and then discuss the points of connection and difference in their responses.
You can watch the video, and read along with their letters, below.
From Alex Falase-Koya
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.
Bombs away, am I right? You want to talk? Let’s really talk.
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.
From Alice Boyle
Dear 16-year-old Alice,
We need to talk. I know you’re doing your best right now. It’s not easy having glasses, braces, frizzy hair, and a really big nose. That’s a lot for one head to pull off. It wasn’t easy getting 7% on your latest maths test, either – I think Mum’s still pissed about that, 16 years later, but she’ll calm down eventually. The hardest thing, though, is being one of the only openly gay kids at school, especially when people all around you are using the word ‘gay’ as a synonym for ‘shit’.
I know that you’re starved for representation and recognition. The last book you read with a queer female protagonist featured parental rejection, social isolation, an eating disorder, and a near-fatal car crash – and it won a bunch of awards. It’s either that or The L Word, where everybody’s too busy cheating on each other to actually go to their jobs. Plus, you have to sneak into the study to watch it at 11:30pm because Netflix doesn’t exist yet. I get it. It’s a desert out there.
Luckily, I’m here like the Angel Gabriel (was it Gabriel? I don’t remember. Wait, are we failing Religious Education too?) to bring tidings of great joy: things are about to get so, so much better. First of all, you’re about to land your first girlfriend (I know, spoiler alert! Try to look surprised when it happens). You’re going to find a haircut that works for you. The braces will come off and you’ll grow into your nose eventually. The best thing, though, is the wealth of queer life, community, and representation that’s about to unfurl before you.
I know it’s hard to imagine, but there’ll be a time not too far from now when being queer isn’t just tolerated – it’s celebrated. You’re going to find people who see the world like you, who love like you, and who are keen to explore queerness in all its messy, blazing beauty.
You’re going to find people who see the world like you, who love like you, and who are keen to explore queerness in all its messy, blazing beauty.
We’ll have out and proud athletes, celebrities, politicians, and so, so many authors. You’ll go to the library and be spoilt for choice. In these books, you’ll read about people who are like you, who are falling in love and finding their community, and – the biggest thrill of all – nobody’s going to die at the end. Keep writing, pal, because one day your book will be on that library shelf, too.
I’m so excited for you, because you don’t yet realise how much change is coming – a tidal wave of it. You’re going to belong to one of the last generations to cop shit for being gay. Queer people, trans people, BIPOC, disabled people – we’re going to step into the sunlight and celebrate the wonder of each other, because we really are wonderful. We’re bloody fantastic.
It’ll be hard work. I’m not going to lie to you: there’s a lot of ugliness out here, and still a lot of shit to be done. We’re not finished yet – far from it – but at the end of the day, you’ll have your beautiful, sprawling clan of family and friends who’ll love you for your distractible, overly verbal, very gay self.
See you soon. You’re going to have a great time.
P.S. By the way, when the orthodontist gives you your plate, keep it out of reach of the dog. Please, just trust me on this one.