We want to believe that the creative industry operates within a meritocratic framework because it paints a nice picture of reality. But it also happens to be a lie — a harmful one, because it implies that marginalised members of a given industry are the ones to blame for the lack of opportunities, the double-standards, the misrepresentations, the prejudices they face. That BAME authors aren’t getting the recognition and the same opportunities as white authors because they haven’t earned it is a dangerous misconception.

Moreover, there is a tendency in fiction to confuse diversity with identity. People who aren’t part of a given minority community can, of course, write about marginalised characters all they want, but what we, as an audience, really want is accurate representation.

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The CCBC recently released the statistics on diversity in children’s books that were published in the US in 2018. Out of all the children’s books published in that year, only 23% were about children of colour. And it turned out that there were actually more books written about animals than about BAME people. 1% of children’s books were about Native American characters, 5% were about Latinx characters, 7% were about Asian characters, 10% were about African/African-American characters. But 27% of children’s books published in the US in 2018 were about animals. 27%. That’s more than all of the books about BAME characters combined.

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Stories taught me how to live — I learned from books how people interact, how they think, how the things they feel translate into body language (for instance, a person who clenches their fists is an angry person, and a person who keeps checking their watch is a person who needs to be somewhere else). The questions I’ve had growing up, the answers I’ve revised repeatedly over the years, the lives I’ve lived in the pages of books have shaped me into the person I am today.

I write for children because I know how hard growing up can be. When you are young, everything you feel, see, hear is so much more immediate, so much more vibrant, and as exciting as that sound, it can also be equally terrifying. Your life changes every single day when you are young — at every new fact you learn about the world, at every new street corner you discover; a lake is as big as an ocean, and a walk in the park is never just a walk in the park. I write for children because I want to be there for them. Stories were there for me when I had nothing else.

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Anti-climatic, cacophonous, inconclusive. Life is just bad fiction.

I once had a dance trainer who was kind to me on some days and cruel to me on other days. I’d known him since I was fourteen years old, and we grew apart half a decade later. My memories of those turbulent years are hazy, muddled with gaps in the chronology, perhaps due to my wish to forget.

For the most part, L– was a kind and talented choreographer from South Korea, and while his Thai and English skills left most of his students struggling to communicate with him, I was one of the kids with whom he had no difficulty communicating. Perhaps it was due to the fact that I had never been very great at understanding spoken words anyway. Perhaps I had grown up used to reading the body language of others because I understood early that people don’t usually mean what they say.

Our teacher-student relationship continued for five years. After he left L— D— Studio, I continued to take private lessons from him, sometimes at a rundown studio in T— T—, other times at a more expensive venue. But I’d always remember that cramped, rundown studio and, eventually, the new dance trainer, J–, who came to replace L–.

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This year has so far been a blur of out-of-reach ambition, sucky time management and an onslaught of illnesses. I am racing against time to make a name for myself before I graduate — an extremely understated summary of the laundry list of requirements needed to be considered for a Tier 1 Visa. My goal is to be able to stay in the UK without having to forever juggle between academia and career — without having to be treated as a subnormality whose credibility must be accounted for by a Nine-to-Five tyranny. Gods know what morally depraved ‘unforgiveables’ a female mammal from a high risk country might get up to if she’s left to her own devices.

Getting a Tier 1 Visa right now seems like an impossibility. I am required to win awards like BAFTAs or the Man Booker Prize etc. And that’s on top of having to be famous and critically acclaimed in at least two countries. RIP. Continue reading

i already feel like a fraud every other day, living in and breathing in and feeding on my insecurities and worries for the future. i feel like i will never make anything out of life, never reach my full potential, never become who i am supposed to be, who i want to become.

my ambitions are driven by fear. i want to make something for myself. i want to live like i am capable of living. but i don’t know how. there are moments where i sit in front of the screen or a notebook and all i can feel is the panic welling up inside me, the frustration over my own incompetence, because i can’t get the words to make sense, i can’t get myself to make sense and i want to cry. but, there are also moments where i laugh at my own words, where i think myself a genius because all the plot points are coming together, and in those moments, i can believe whole-heartedly that my ideas are beautiful. but it’s like striking a match in the dark. it flares and flickers out.

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Recently I have realised that I do not write much about myself — myself as a physical, living being who is a part of this world. Instead, I talk about the abstract and the vague, ever-changing nature of a ‘self’. I dwell inside my own head to work out what it is that makes me who I am. While I do think about the physicality of life — the bodily pain and traumatically pivotal encounters from my childhood — they are only memories translated to me through hazy illusions of realism and distorted impressions of emotions and images. Sometimes these memories move, but only as glitches of corrupted film reels. More often, my memories are stagnant sun-faded polaroids.

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I used to be a quitter. A loser who would readily go down without a fight. I remember a time where an unconscious slight would make me burst into tears. Even as I grew up, I stayed that way. Every fight and tension that involved me during my younger years would end up with me losing and crying.

At fifteen years old, my schoolmates called me Crybaby. Bullies would make fun of me for this trait that I couldn’t seem to shake off no matter how hard I tried.

It’s still the same now.

Only, I no longer berate myself for being sensitive, no longer apologise needlessly when something isn’t my fault, no longer quietly accept the decision others make of my worth. Or I at least try not to.

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This was the time I studied under a bigoted professor, withstood harassment, stood up to racial slurs, received unjustified grades, re-entered myself into a mental hospital and came to a conclusion that it is always easier to be brave for other people.

(I hasten to add that this happened a year or two ago; I only write about it now because I am able to be objective enough to not start crying about it.)

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President Faust, members of the Harvard Corporation and the Board of Overseers, members of the faculty, proud parents, and, above all, graduates.

The first thing I would like to say is ‘thank you.’ Not only has Harvard given me an extraordinary honour, but the weeks of fear and nausea I have endured at the thought of giving this commencement address have made me lose weight. A win-win situation! Now all I have to do is take deep breaths, squint at the red banners and convince myself that I am at the world’s largest Gryffindor reunion.

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