Writing People of Colour & Irish Culture • Inspiration Wall 01

I’ve decided to do a weekly Inspiration Wall so that I can talk briefly about writing resources I’m using, pictures that inspire me, books I want to read, things I’m listening to etc. during the week, so read on if you want to know what I’m up to in between writing sessions!

Firstly, a few inspirational quotes for the week!

writing quote writing quote writing quote

Writing people of colour

In my novel for NaNoWriMo – which I’m currently still working on (note to self: must come up with title) – one of my main characters is a black girl with natural afro hair. One of the things that’s always made me a little nervous about writing is how to describe different ethnicities, particularly East Asian and black characters.

Obviously I don’t want to write characters in a way that’s offensive (not only is that insensitive, it takes away from who the character is rather than what they look like) so I decided to search online to see if there were specific words that were particularly frowned upon to be aware of when I’m writing.

I found a great site called Writing With Color, which discusses different suitable and unsuitable words used to describe people of colour. One of the words in particular that I had intended to use was “kinky” to describe my character’s hair. I thought it was a good descriptor but the people who run the site aren’t super fond of it, and I actually picked up much better suggestions while scrolling the site.

writing people of colour

Other words not recommended for usage included “nappy”, which is a derogatory word for natural afro hair, and “wooly” due to the animal connotations. Needless to say, I learnt a lot on the site and I’m glad I checked it out as I feel much more confident about writing people of colour now.

There are so few people of colour in fantasy books that I don’t want to create a black character and then describe her in a problematic way. Quick research like this is so easy to do and can make a big difference to readers who don’t often see themselves represented in fiction; there’s really no reason not to do it.

Main character inspirations 

I have certain ideas in my head of what my characters look like, but I love searching for models/pictures of people who resemble them so that I can properly visualise them as real people.

I’ve finally found three girls that look very similar to how Anika, Neave and Thea look in my head. Thea is the girl with long black hair, Anika is the red head and Neave is the girl with natural afro hair that I spoke of above.

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I’m currently about 60,000 words or so into my story and I know I’m nearly through the tunnel (and into the trenches for the many editing sessions that are coming my way!) Here’s to the next 60k for book 2!

As well as looking for character inspiration (I find that sitting in a café and people-watching is a fantastic way to round out existing characters – the mannerisms and habits and flaws of real people can help make your character seem more 3D) I love checking out aspects of different cultures that I could weave into my stories. I’m Irish myself and we have a very rich cultural tapestry spanning thousands of years, so I’ve been looking into Celtic myths and legends lately.

Irish myths and culture irish culture

One thing in particular I’d like to add to my current story is the style of Irish dancing dresses. If you’ve never seen one, they’re quite short and covered in triple spirals and Celtic-inspired designs. They’re also usually very colourful and bright (and topped with a curly wig). I wish I was any good at art as I’d love to draw out my idea for traditional dresses worn by the women of the country I’ve created in my novel. Basically the colours will be muted in comparison to the loud and proud hues of traditional Irish dancing dresses, but they’ll still feature the heavy spiral designs and they’ll be floor length.

Music to set the scene 

I’ve also been taking some inspiration from sean nós singing – which is a very old, traditional style of singing as gaeilge (in Irish) – as well as Enya (pretty much her entire body of work) and choir music. I don’t know if you write while listening to music, but I’ve recently gotten into it and find that it can really help set a scene in your mind.

Wish listbook wish list

I’ve heard so many good things about ‘Binti’ and ‘Akata Witch’, both written by acclaimed writer Nnedi Okorafor, but I’m not exactly flush with cash right now so I’ll have to wait to buy them.

What has inspired you this week? Let me know in the comments!

Reading as Gaeilge • Harry Potter agus an Órchloch

I’ve wanted to learn how to speak in Irish for the past year and a half and, despite living near a Gaeltacht area in Ireland, it’s proving to be very difficult. I was taught the language from the age of 4 until 18 but in this country that doesn’t mean very much. It’s taught completely wrong; where it should be purely conversational, there’s a focus on literature, poetry and grammar, which does nothing to foster love among us native English speakers.

Initially, due to the structure of learning and ignorance, I really hated Irish and everything to do with it. I didn’t understand how integral it is to our cultural identity and how important it is to try and save it. I also didn’t realise how beautiful it sounded because I was too busy with my fingers in my ears, not listening.

Harry Potter agus an Órchloch One of my most important resolutions for this year is to try to learn Irish conversationally. I have friends who speak it fluently, and I couldn’t be more jealous of them, but I can’t just sit around feeling sorry for myself and my ancestors for having our language ripped from us, because I can still do something. I can still learn it for myself.

I saw an Irish language version of the first book in the Harry Potter series in a wonderful second hand book shop called Universal Books in my town. Unfortunately, I hesitated about buying it and it was snatched up quickly. It is, however, available online, which is the only place to buy it now as no other shops have any copies of it, as far as I’m aware.

I’m going to buy it and read it and, although I only have a basic understanding of some Irish, I hope it won’t be too much of a trial. I have no doubt, though, that I’ll come out the other end feeling like I’ve accomplished something.

I want to be able to speak it, and seeing as adult classes for the language are few and far between (and usually very expensive), I have to do it myself. A translation of one of my favourite books is certainly a good place to start.