Liv Little: Why We Need More Black Queer Fiction

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Liv Little
Liv LittleCourtesy of Audible

The gal-dem founder has released her first work of fiction – speaking to Sagal Mohammed, she explains why we need more stories about the experiences of queer women of colour

Liv Little, the founder of gal-dem, has debuted her first work of fiction as part of Amazon Audible’s new podcast series Hag – a selection of forgotten folk tales re-written as feminist fables. Her story, entitled The Sisters is a refreshingly modern and necessary short tale of race, sexuality and family dynamics, focusing on two black queer women who, despite being twin sisters, have entirely separate experiences while coming to terms with their identities.

Originally based on the story of two brothers in a deathly feud over a common love interest, Little’s re-imagination is set in London’s Tavistock Square and follows Grace and her sister Maya. The young women, who are of British-Jamaican descent, both struggle with their sexuality in contrasting ways: Grace is rejected by her mother and forced to leave her family home after coming out, while Maya faces the gut-wrenching consequences of a closeted life. The story explores their complex narratives, with themes of death and loss, changing relationships and self-discovery at its core.

Here, Little reveals her inspirations, the challenges of writing fiction and why we need more stories about the experiences of queer women of colour.

Sagal Mohammed: What was it about folklore that sparked your interest when debuting as a fiction writer? 

Liv Little: It was an area I had never explored before but it was the idea of retelling an old story with a modern interpretation that drew me in. I’ve always been interested in the mythological elements of folk tale but when we were writing our stories, we didn’t have to stick to the old magical, witchy way that traditional folk tales are told. We were able to incorporate aspects of that in a more subtle way. My story focuses on relationships and families and then there are small elements of mythology in certain parts like the gloomy halls of the hospice, where the twins visit their dying mum.

SM: Traditional folk tales or urban myths don’t usually explore race and sexuality the way you do. So what other stories did you seek inspiration from when writing The Sisters?

LL: I sought inspiration from a collection of short stories which I had read in the past. Things like Difficult Women which is a brilliant book by Roxane Gay that looks into so many different dynamics and stories. It’s pretty bleak and heavy and really intense but those are a selection of short stories that I really love. I also love How to Love a Jamaican by Alexia Arthurs. There were lots of things to seek inspiration from and as a new fiction writer I liked that you’re able to unpack quite a lot within a short story. I love that there can be so much drama within such few pages and there is something special about being able to get to know all these characters and their voices in just ten to 12 pages of text. 

SM: How important is it that more stories that are centered on queer women of colour exist and what can be done to create more?

LL: More, more and more is what I want to see. There aren’t a lot of stories like this out there. But there is a really brilliant Jamaican author I love called Nicole Dennis-Benn who identifies as a lesbian. I read her novel Here Comes the Sun which I thought was amazing because it touches on so many things. I think it was the first time I’d ever read a story that had very obvious queer elements and relationships between women. Especially as a half Jamaican woman myself, that to me was incredible. I couldn’t put that book down – I read it from start to finish really quickly. I just loved the way it was written. The description is wonderful and she weaves all of these important perspectives into the main story.

As a journalist I read about the black queer community and there are many writers, authors and commentators so I get to read about these stories in a non-fiction context. But in the world of fiction there is still a massive gap. So when I was reimagining my folk tale I think it would have been weird for me as a black queer woman for that not to come through in my story. Even though fiction is a fantasy, for me, especially as a new writer, my own life experiences were naturally reflected. I don’t think I could have written my first piece of fiction without drawing some inspiration from my own life.

SM: What was the most challenging part about writing fiction for the first time?

LL: Fiction is hard. It’s a very different skill and you have to tap into a different part of your brain. With the chaos in London I find it really hard to have the space to be creative and completely open. The thing that is so beautiful about writing fiction is that you have to open up your mind in that way. It’s just a very different place you’re coming from.

When writing non-fiction pieces like a profile feature for instance, you want to be a little bit descriptive and set the scene but with fiction that is taken to a whole other level. You have to actually make people envision what it’s like to smell that steak or feel that touch and see that face without giving them anything visual. That was something I struggled with in the beginning. You just have to remember that just because you know what it looks like in your head doesn’t mean everyone else will.

SM: Was there anything about the process that surprised you? 

LL: I think I was just really shocked that I could write a piece of fiction that wasn’t awful. I kept thinking ‘God, everyone is going to hate it.’ So it’s nice to see that that isn’t the case – so far at least. I was so nervous about sharing it. Usually with non-fiction pieces I feel comfortable letting others read them but with this, I just didn’t. My girlfriend kept telling me to send her a draft and she reads a lot but I kept putting it off. When I did eventually send it over she gave me loads of notes and then my sister who is 13 and my biggest critic also gave me some notes. I knew when I had the approval of my very critical 13-year-old sister, it was going to be fine.

SM: What do you want people to take away from your story?

LL: With most novels and stories there is this very clear moral message that you’re trying to convey. But with mine, it’s about self-discovery, figuring out who you are in the world and trying to navigate that. Not everyone is going to understand you or get you and that was the fundamental principle. Whether that’s through the main character going on a journey of loss and reconnecting with her mother or her sister finding out who she is and what her sexuality could and should look like if she allowed herself to explore it fully. It’s about learning that who you are and how you are is enough. I wanted to use death, illness and trauma as a way to strip back to the fact that none of this other stuff should really matter. Life should just be about your relationships and connections to people.

Listen to Amazon Audible’s new podcast series Hag here.