22 August 2023

Why debut novelist Taylor-Dior Rumble wanted to write a black British romcom

22 August 2023

Debut novelist Taylor-Dior Rumble didn’t understand why authors are told to never read their book reviews – until she saw one critique, and it all started to make sense.

“This particular person had a real issue with the dialogue and the way the characters interacted with each other. There were a handful of reviews that went in on the language actually, I think one even relegated it to ‘TikTok speech’,” says Rumble, whose debut The Situationship is the first romantic comedy released by rapper Stormzy’s Merky Books imprint at Penguin.

“Obviously, I can’t be offended at reviews because everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Not everyone is going to love the book, but the way my characters speak is how real communities have spoken in this country for decades, [and] it’s a blend of patois as well.

“We don’t have an issue with Klingon in Star Trek, whatever they speak in Avatar and Game Of Thrones, or every single iteration of Pride And Prejudice. But it’s this [black] community you suddenly have an issue with? Let’s interrogate that.”

The 26-year-old from Catford wants to centre black British voices, their lived experiences, and the nuances of living in south London in the stories she chooses to tell – starting with The Situationship.

It follows Tia, who decides to put herself out there after the love of her life shows up with a girlfriend. She reluctantly joins a dating app and instantly connects with handsome photographer Nate, who is everything she thought she was looking for. But there’s one problem – they are yet to have ‘The Talk’.

The former BBC apprentice journalist had already decided how the book would end, but she had no idea where to start. She was raised on black American romantic comedies such as Brown Sugar and Love Jones, read a lot of novelist Jasmine Guillory – who for Rumble is like the “Shonda Rhimes of black romcoms” – and has been influenced by Issa Rae’s TV show Insecure and Sex And The City. So Rumble wanted to write a story that explored black love, undefined romance, womanhood, and how full our lives really are.

“I remember sitting down, staring at my blank Word document and thinking, ‘How the f**k do I do this?’ until my 10-year-old sister and little cousin, who was 17 at the time, came to mind. I thought about the one thing I wanted them to get out of the book, and it was to go where the love is, whether that’s in your career or relationship.”

It was the death of her father from a serious illness at the end of 2019 that changed Rumble’s perspective on everything. “Grief has definitely changed me. Within a year, the strongest person that I knew was the complete opposite. It’s definitely the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced,” she admits.

“I was doing all my grieving during lockdown, which was a blessing in disguise. It was also where I really started to think about why I run away from really nice, emotionally available guys. I had to unpack that and I feel like I know myself so much better now.

“Life is actually too short to be too prideful to say how you really feel or communicate exactly what you want romantically. Whether that’s to remain single and celibate, work on yourself, or find someone to connect and build a life with. I think everyone in the dating scene is just scared. There’s a lot of ego and pride, fun and games.”

Rumble goes on to expand her acute analysis on modern dating – just like her book – and does a complete 180 when she starts talking about why situationships can be a “good thing”. This is when your partnership is difficult to define – it’s not quite a committed relationship, but more than a casual encounter.

“If we’re both on the same page and don’t want any real commitment, but still want to enjoy the intimacy of a couple and some level of emotional support, a situationship can work. But both parties need to keep an open channel to ensure they are both on the same page,” she says.

“It’s the lack of communication that makes a situationship turn sour. And if you really think about it, what I’ve just described sounds just like casual dating. It’s all about semantics and the labels we give to things.”

But isn’t it also about people being scared of commitment too? “Of course,” says Rumble. “I think it’s the fear of being let down and disappointment. It stops me from doing a lot of things. I used to hate celebrating my birthday, because I was scared of people cancelling and not turning up. Or maybe people think they won’t be able to make people happy for a sustained amount of time.”

The Situationship by Taylor-Dior Rumble is published by Merky Books, priced £8.99. Available now.

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