LISA BENT was inspired to write Symona’s Still Single after years discussing the ups and downs of dating online. For six years she shared her thoughts on her blog, Deeper than Twitter. But it was the response to a Facebook post that showed her those musings on love and romance could be developed into something more. It’s what gave her the boost to write a book.
“It wasn’t until 2017 where I wrote a post about my encounter outside TK Maxx that I really knew I had something,” she tells The Voice. “I was going to TK Maxx and saw a beautiful guy with dreads. I walked past him, looked back and he was still looking at me. I walked on, looked back again and he was still there. ‘Is he going to come over or not? You know what, let me just go and approach,’ [I thought]. So I basically chatted him up and got his number.”
She wasted no time in sharing the news on social media. The post’s popularity convinced her she was on to something.
But it wasn’t just the interest in the topic of dating and loving as a Black woman that prompted Bent to pick up her pen. She felt stories like hers were not being told.
“I myself had never read and still at the moment have never read a romance novel by a Black British author… a lot of my frames of reference have come from American writers,” she says.
A changing landscape
Progress is being made, thanks to schemes like Jacaranda Books and Words of Colour’s #Twentyin2020 initiative, under which Bent’s debut was published. Supported Foyles and The London Library, the independent publishing house committed to publishing 20 Black writers this year. It’s the first time a UK publisher has done so, and it’s how Bent got her book out.
While she acknowledges the landscape has changed slightly since she began writing, citing authors such as Candice Carty-Williams, Bent says there’s still a long way to go.
She believes it takes more than having a way with words to get published because of the makeup of the publishing industry and whose voices and stories are prioritised.
“There is a severe problem within industry. The lack of diversity is known, especially amongst the genre of romance,” she says.
Though she’s now a fully-fledged writer, Bent would never have guessed her career as a published author would launch with a romance novel.
“With my background in counselling, a self-help book was obvious. However, looking back at all my past Facebook posts, romance writing was also on the cards. I knew the discussions and issues that came up for me and my single friends around dating extended beyond my circle and I felt it was important to document it, especially because I have never read anything like it from a Black British author.
“Symona’s Still Single is a commentary on the Black British experience of work, dating and romance. It is one diverse perspective, which is valid and has a place in the British literary landscape, comfortably sitting in both the romance and self-help section,” she says.
Bent wrote this book for Black women, although its appeal is wider than that, and she hopes it will “gently nudge” readers to self-reflect as the protagonist does. Symona seeks to understand her identity, fears and beliefs throughout the book, exploring failed relationships, past trauma and the power of sisterhood.
“Within the book I acknowledge that blindspots and repeating patterns exist in all our stories. And Symona’s journey of reflection shows the power of self-exploration and agency. In-turn, I hope it gently nudges the reader to look at their own journey,” she says.
Bent is no dating coach, and she’s no longer active on the scene as a result of finding love herself. But she does have some advice for those who want their own happy ending.
She says: “The advice that I would give is literally to have a rethink or just have a look at your expectations around love, your expectations around approach and just have a look and see if those ideas are outdated.”
“Dating apps like Bumble are fantastic because it allows women to make the first approach so I guess what I’m saying is, if we can make the first approach online, then let’s build up the courage and be able to shoot our shot in person,” she adds.
While Bent’s debut novel is still very fresh, the excitement around it has already prompted questions about what’s next. And fans of Symona’s Still Single will be happy to hear more may be on its way.
Bent says: “I’m writing the screenplay to Symona’s Still Single as I would love for [the book] to be birthed on to a different medium. I’m interested in seeing the characters come to life visually.”
Symona’s Still Single is out now