Dear Dorothy

The Second Time We Met, Frances Mensah Williams

The Second Time We Met, Frances Mensah Williams

A few years ago, I was struggling to find a publisher for my romcom novel about a young Black woman in London overcoming confidence and cultural obstacles to find love. At the time, it felt like books featuring Black characters had to be either non-fiction, literary, or steeped in trauma or gang violence. In despair, I asked a friend: Is anyone successfully publishing commercial, relatable and – yes – fun romantic fiction featuring Black women?

‘Have you read any Dorothy Koomson books?’ was the reply.

And so began my obsession with your writing. I dived into The Cupid Effect, devoured The Chocolate Run and others and was quickly reassured that Black women could transcend the role of ‘sassy best friend’ and become the heroes of their own stories. Your books showed that I not only could, but should, write stories centred on fully rounded Black female characters who get to navigate the mundane, the extraordinary, the painful and the hilarious just like their white counterparts.

Your books proved I didn’t need to wade into genres less comfortable to me to tell stories reflecting our contemporary, multicultural, interracial world. I could write about dodgy boyfriends and even dodgier bosses, interfering Mothers-in-law and stubborn relatives, career hiccups and culture clashes. I could write about flawed Black women and explore with gentleness and humour what they wanted from life and love, what they feared, and who they aspired to be. What complete and unfettered joy!

I was ecstatic when my novel From Pasta to Pigfoot, featuring pasta-loving Faye, a young Black Londoner on a mission to find love and connect with her cultural heritage, was eventually published. I felt vindicated by the sequel, Second Helpings. Yet, three years later, when trying to independently publish a new novel about the tangled lives of three best friends in Ghana, the doubts – and a strong dose of imposter syndrome – set in.

You had just published a new book and I attended your book launch to finally see you in person. During the Q&A, I braved a question: ‘How did you keep going in the face of rejection?’ After you cheerfully admitted to having been rejected by almost every publisher when you first started, you looked me in the eye and said: ‘You believe in yourself, and you keep going.’

And so, I did.

As I celebrate the publication of my sixth book, The Second Time We Met, I want to thank you, Ms Dorothy. For leading the way, but also for your generosity and regular shout-outs about the work of other Black female writers; for seeing us and raising us up beside you whenever you can. Thank you for reading that book set in Ghana - Imperfect Arrangements - and for endorsing and championing it.

Now, when my confidence wavers, I ask myself ‘what would Dorothy say?’ and I hear ‘Believe in yourself and keep going’.

And so, I do.

Yours in friendship and gratitude,

Frances x