Dorothy Koomson talks her writing journey from journalist to best-selling author

Dorothy Koomson has 15 published books, one of which (The Ice Cream Girls) was adapted into an ITV drama series. Born to Ghanaian parents she grew up in London as the second-born out of four children and had an international life that still shapes her writing until this day. She went to college in Leeds in the north of England, worked in Australia and now lives in Brighton, UK. On top of all that she’s also been nominated for a Black British Business Award (BBBAward) and challenges what it means to write about the ‘black British experience’.

I was standing in a book shop when…
When I got a call saying I had been shortlisted as a finalist for a BBBAward and I thought, oh wow!

Dorothy is a finalist in the Arts & Media Leader of the Year category at the BBBAwards, which takes place in London tonight.

I do my job of writing books and…
Being nominated for awards is like the icing on a fantastic cake because I never expect anything.

I started writing books at…
Thirteen and always loved writing stories. When I worked as a journalist, I would write chapters for my books on the train into work and on weekends.

I did have books when I was younger but…
We didn’t have much money and we’re reliant on the library.

I read all sorts of books…
Including Jackie Collins’ books, sci-fi and comics!

Continue reading Dorothy Koomson talks her writing journey from journalist to best-selling author

Book Review: Homegoing

When I read the feature about Homegoing in Stylist magazine last year, I tore out the page as a reminder to get the book. I misplaced the page and months past… During a random clear out, the page floated down from my top shelf and in an act of spontaneity I went straight online and bought it! I think it was a sign, that the page came floating down from above lol.

I can’t believe this is Yaa Gyasi’s first book, the intricate research underpinning this novel is evident and impressive. Starting in 1700s Ghana, Homegoing travels the lives and lineage of two sisters (Effia and Esi) engulfed in the horrific mire of slavery, civil rights and freedom. This isn’t just another ‘slavery book’; Gyasi honestly depicts the role Africans played in the slave trade without diluting the brutality inflicted by Europeans.

homegoing, books, African, african diaspora
I read most of this booking overlooking the Atlantic ocean. The very stretch of ocean African slaves where transported across…

Part of me wanted to read this book because it was set in Ghana, where my family is from. In 2004 I went to Cape Coast castle in Ghana which was one of the main slave ports of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Even then I could feel the heaviness of the lead-filled air in the dungeons. The tour continued, and we were taken to the church which sat on top of the dungeons. I was speechless as I walked in…a church sitting on top of the chained slaves ‘living’ in their own excrement.

I was intrigued to see how the lives of these two sisters would unfold. The story flows onto dissect the complexities of amalgamated families; the love and damage they inflict upon each other. At one point both sisters ‘lived’ in Cape Coast castle in starkly opposite conditions. Inevitably there is a mixed-raced character, the son of Effia and James (a British slave trader stationed at Cape Coast Castle) – Quey. Trying to deal with his own conflicts, Quey takes his destiny into his own hands and convolutes the family tree even further.


homehoing wtmk 2
It was hot out there, so got a fresh coconut to get me through the next instalment…

Across the three hundred years the novel covers, psychological and emotional knots of slavery, the raging wars between the Asante, Fante tribes and British colonisers, then flows into the realities of black life in America. From slavery on the hot plantations of Alabama, to the jazz clubs and crack epidemics of New York. The beginning of the end occurs in swanky art galleries and elitist halls of higher education. Homegoing makes history palpable in the present and is a prime example of they saying [paraphrased] we do not know were we are going unless we know where we are from. 

Despite the sombre backdrop of slavery, this book took me on a rollercoaster of emotions. From the subtle expressions of love in the ugliest circumstances that made me smile to the vivid descriptions of brutality that made my stomach churn. Homegoing is a profound read that can capture anyone of any background, among the various themes throughout the novel is a tale of family. Intricately and intelligently written by first time author Yaa Gyasi, born in Ghana and raised in Alabama, USA. Homegoing is a must read and is available on Amazon.

The family is like the forest; if you are outside it is dense; if you are inside you see that each tree has its own position
Akan proverb

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Book Review: Black Privilege

There was a lot of hype around this book by ‘Charlamagne tha god’ (yes, this is the stage name he – Lenard McKelvey – gave himself back in the day. That’s the way he spells it too!). Co-host of the hit New York based, radio show The Breakfast Club, which I occasionally listen to, it’s fair to say Charlamagne is an acquired taste. From his own admission, a lot of people don’t like him, but those who listen to him do so because of his brutal honesty. Not to say that he doesn’t make stupid, ignorant comments sometimes, but he is brutally honest in his opinions which I respect to an extent.

Whether you don’t care about him, like him, love him, dislike him, hate him, want to punch him in the face – I don’t think anyone can deny that Charlamagne can evoke emotion on even the simplest of topics! It’s this personality that probably helped drive his debut book –

Black Privilege: Opportunity Comes to Those Who Create It

black literature, black brivilige, books
Reading for 2018…The privilege is ours for the taking.

I couldn’t envisage reading a book by Charlamagne because sometimes I just can’t take him seriously. I couldn’t see myself engrossed in Charlamagne’s words on a page. Watching him interview music artists was enough to be honest, I didn’t think I could get much value from his book.  It wasn’t until people who were not ‘fans’ of him per se, said I should read it. They were the last people I would expect to read a book by Charlemagne! So, going to a podcast festival in London, where Charlemagne and co-host Andrew shultz’s podcast, The Brilliant Idiots were the headline act was a good opportunity to get the book and see what all the hype was about (it’s a New York Times bestseller).



The book is an autobiographical concoction of Charlemagne’s early days, convoluted career path and the pearls of wisdom he picked up along the way.

“I want to speak to you about the village that raised me…how the spiritual legacy of the African slaves can still be felt in South Carolina four hundred years later”.

The book is split into 8 principles, including “5: Put the weed in the bag” and “6: Live your truth”. When you live your truth, it can’t be used against you, I think that’s a way of him saying embrace your ‘flaws’… In the book Charlemagne states that he looks like a teenage mutant ninja turtle. “By embracing my egg-shaped dome I’ve taken the ammunition away from people…by laughing at those comments instead of getting uptight, I’ve replaced a perceived weakness with power”.

As he’s a hip hop radio personality, hip hop culture and the music industry features throughout the book, including some of the most controversial interviews he has done including that “Kanye Kardashian” one. Charlemagne’s early years are quite predictable he was a good kid that went bad due to peer pressure, sold some drugs and did some stints in prison.

“So many of the mistakes I made could have been avoided.”

As the book progresses it’s his work ethic and ability to see the glass as half full that kept me engaged. Along with his brutal honesty of course. He talks about being bullied, being a bully, getting beaten up and working for free to get valuable work experience. He appears to be negative in some parts of the book like in principle 3: “F**K your dreams” but I found it a bit refreshing. Not that I don’t have hopes and dreams but I’m also a realist and a firm believer in finding your purpose and not doing something because everyone else is doing it. Not every black person is going to be an athlete, singer, video vixen or rapper and we shouldn’t limit ourselves to that even though the money is good IF it all works out.

“…the dreams you think are yours are actually somebody else’s. You’re only chasing them because you’ve seen them work for others.”

Charlemagne also talks about rising to fame and falling again, sleeping with his girlfriend / now wife’s cousin, the profound impact reading books have had on his life and criticisms of hip hop culture. For someone obsessed with hip hop culture the flaws of hip hop were probably difficult to admit. Sometimes you have to see something you love for what it really is. Various anecdotes are given, explaining how he has been able to push his way onto the screens of many.

“Exploring people and ideas outside your comfort zone is one area where hip-hop has been, unfortunately, very weak”.

The book starts well and gets you hooked, wanes a bit in the middle but has a consistent pace to keep you focussed on getting to the end. For his core audience the book is on point; for those who didn’t think it would offer much (like myself) the book showed someone who didn’t look like they had many prospects (no shade..), though faith, optimism and relentlessly pursuing his passion got to where he wanted to be. As the saying goes, “it takes years to become an overnight success”.

Speaking about the highs and lows of his early days, the virtues and flaws he realised in his parents are what humanised Charlemagne for me. Coming from living in a trailer in rural Moncks Corner, South Carolina, I can’t knock his hustle. Obviously, his story is from a young black hip-hop obsessed male’s perspective, which may put some people off. However, I didn’t expect much else because he is only speaking from his perspective. Some of his ‘pearls of wisdom’ may not necessarily be ground-breaking but described from his perspective introduces them in a new light that many can apply to their own situation – whatever it may be. Even those arguably outside his core audience (like me) who didn’t think would get much out of the book can get something from it – if willing to be open-minded.

As this was a book by an author that I never thought I would read, I was pleasantly surprised and would recommend this book. I’m a realist who admittedly who straddles the border line of pessimism (I’m working on this for 2018!). Reading this gave me the ‘elbow in the ribs’ reminder that the glass can be half full if I want it to be. This is not an endorsement of Charlemagne in general as I said he can say some stupid things at times. However, the book is a good read with the take home message, “embrace the concept that you are privileged [regardless of circumstance]. I believe in the power and privilege of God.”

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