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A Black or Brown face in a very white place – an audience with Tomi Adeyemi

Current and former Creative Access interns arrived en masse for our August masterclass last night. Hosted by leading book publishers Pan Macmillan, we were privileged to have an evening with  New York Times Bestselling Author of ‘Children of Blood and Bone’, Tomi Adeyemi.

Tomi kicked off the evening with her thoughts on how ‘British” Love Island is (no hair pulling, chair throwing or security guards!) before launching into her inspiring journey into the world of publishing; the highs and lows and the stepping stones to her dream career.

From data driven marketing, to uploading Twitter ads, Tomi explained how her early jobs in Hollywood motivated her to start working on what she loved the most, writing late into the evening and slowly but surely moving onto what she wanted to do.

“No one gives anyone permission to follow their dreams. Especially people that look like us. But I had a revelation that I don’t have to do what I don’t want to do. I just needed to have enough money for rent and Thai food – and then I could start writing full-time.”

She continued “in the second week of leaving my job, when I was sat at my computer ready to write, feeling relaxed and peaceful; I knew then and felt I was doing the right thing.”

It was not an easy feat for Tomi to stay driven and motivated, but by disciplining herself and understanding that mistakes would be a part of the process, she stayed on track, “My first book taught me everything; it gave me the tools.”

“It’s all about psychology; seeing someone who looks like us, helps us believe we can do it. Without that it seems an impossible dream.”

From the age of 22, Tomi began to believe in herself. And in just three short years, she got herself an agent, a book and movie deal, appeared on Good Morning America, The Tonight Show and BBC Breakfast News – plus of course her personal highlight, receiving a congratulatory email from Michael B Jordan!

The conversation then took a turn towards the current situation in the world of publishing and how it is still tricky to navigate for someone who is BAME…but not impossible. Tomi said at times she would hear “this is great, but can you make it white?”

“Getting your foot in the door is really hard – but once you’re in, succeeding as a person of colour is also very difficult. Publishing is still a very white industry which is why Creative Access is so important.”

However, after seeing success on topics like #BlackLivesMatter from Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give, and middle Eastern fantasies from Sabaa Tahir (Ember in the Ashes), Tomi knew that she had something that would be right for the market and right for her soul. It was important to be creative but also touch on what people like…as well as ‘work your butt off’!

“Our secret weapon is to work twice as hard, to get half as many opportunities, half as much recognition and half as much reward.”

Before finishing, Tomi gave some advice on how to convince those closest to you that you can make a career out of creativity and what you love to do:

“I didn’t go full force until I had the education. Map it out. Commit to it for a year. Have multiple plan B’s. They will be able to see how you’re approaching it.”

“Be honest about your dream, go for it and then focus in. Don’t shrink it to make it realistic. Find someone who’s doing what you want to do then study them.”

We are incredibly grateful to our wonderful speaker, Tomi, for her infectious energy and inspiring words (and for signing all our books) and of course a massive thank you to our friends at Pan Macmillan for hosting us and organising the event.