I wanted to write my debut novel The List as a non-fiction book in 2017. We were in the throes of the #MeToo movement, and anonymous lists were being circulated about abuse in various industries like music, TV and journalism, and I remember coming across one—the “Shitty Media Men” list—and it seemed to have been the catalyst that led to a movement taking place across the world. I found the concept of that really interesting.
What happens when you are trying to achieve justice and address critical, systemic abuse that’s been ignored for so long? The internet has developed at a speed that the law hasn’t necessarily caught up with, so we’re in real time, still trying to understand the impact of such a public fallout. So, I’m always saying to people that The List is first and foremost a book about the internet. You can swap out anonymous allegations of abuse with anonymous TripAdvisor reviews—it’s the idea of anonymity that I was really fascinated by.
How can we attempt to create a safer world and safer societies by using the internet as a tool? I began writing it from Ola’s perspective [the book’s female lead], because I felt like we don’t see much from the female perspective when it comes to allegations and the women that they immediately affect. I thought, okay, what about the mothers and daughters and sisters this would affect? And it ultimately became fiction from the woman’s perspective, but one perspective lends itself to the whole thing being one dimensional, so then I incorporated Michael’s perspective, too. But it’s so difficult to talk about without spoilers!
Part of the fun of bringing the characters to life, especially now that the book is going to be a TV show, is having the opportunity to play with their outfits. Ola’s sense of style is based on a close friend of mine who basically lets her accessories do the talking. So she wears purple-rimmed reading glasses, and she has blue braids and she always has her nails done. But when it comes to actual clothing, she’s a journalist and quite serious, and her sense of style is pretty pared-back. Ola’s partner Michael is based on the guys that I knew growing up in my area.
I feel like a lot of straight, Black men aren’t encouraged to experiment with fashion, and whilst queer Black men are leading the charge in terms of avant-garde style, there isn’t much scope for men who subscribe to “laid-back London chic”. He’s an inner-city boy who’s always got the latest trainers, and I really thought about what the characters are going to look like and how their London identities play into how they dress and express themselves. It’s so much bigger than me.
Ola is a South London girl and I’m from Croydon, and I’ve got that weight on my shoulders to make this feel accurate and real. I want people to read the characters and see them and think, “I know that person! I know how they dress and I know where they’re from,” and that’s been the most exciting thing to be able to bring to life.