Authors of Slay in Your Lane, Elizabeth Uviebinené and Yomi Adegoke, make their fiction debut with The Offline Diaries. The book follows Adé and Shanice, two young Black girls navigating secondary school social dynamics, grief, new beginnings, and complex inner worlds expressed through a series of diary entries and social media interactions.
AZ recently caught up with Yomi and Elizabeth to talk about their latest collaboration, crafting character and the importance of sincere, diverse representation in children’s literature:
What’s life been like for you in the wake of Slay in Your Lane and all of the success that came with that?
Elizabeth: It’s been such a whirlwind, honestly. I would say the last few years have been really full-on but in a good way. I guess it’s just been quite interesting to do different types of books during this time. So it’s been really good in that way.
Was a book like offline diaries always part of the plan or did it just kind of materialise?
Elizabeth: [It was] definitely not part of the plan. I think it just materialised like most things…I don’t like forcing things,I honestly just prefer to just write books that I wish existed. I think The Offline Diaries is another one of them.
What was that transition like to go from nonfiction to fiction?
Elizabeth: You know what, I thought would be a lot harder but it’s been very therapeutic and I’ve really enjoyed it… Maybe because it’s fiction, maybe for a younger audience (middle grade). I really did enjoy it in a way that I could never say I’ve enjoyed writing the other books I’ve written.
How did you conceive of Adé and Shanice, was the Caribbean/African dichotomy a conscious choice?
Yomi: I’m a middle child like Adé. I have an older sister and a younger sister, which is why I chose to write Adé in that way. There are elements of our lives in it for sure but whilst we could have had two Nigerian characters, we grew up with friends from different backgrounds and we wanted that represented in the book; to have that diversity of the black experience. it was definitely conscious.
With you and Elizabeth co-authoring this did you choose a character each to write to or was it collaborative all the way through?
Yomi: We both wrote a character Elizabeth wrote Shanice, and I wrote Adé’s perspective, which is pretty similar to Slay in Your Lane where we both took certain chapters each.
So did young Elizabeth share any similarities to Shanice or were you completely different?
Elizabeth: I would say that like, I’m a bit of a weird one. There’s a part in the Simpsons where Lisa Simpson was looking out of a window at this guy. Can’t remember who the character but it was somebody fancy and then she was like, “I just don’t get it. It’s like an enigma with an enigma.” And that’s me. I wouldn’t say growing up I was introverted by any means but Shanice is more of an introverted character.
In primary school, I was very much extroverted. Then in parts of secondary school I was extroverted and I guess I went into my shell a bit but I’m a Taurus so I can do a bit of both so yeah, I definitely think that I was able to kind of tap into parts of Shanice based on how I was when I was younger, but not all of them…I would say she’s almost too sure of herself. That’s what stops her from being quietly confident.
What was it like writing a character from a different cultural background to yourself?
Elizabeth: Yeah, it was, it was quite interesting.I grew up in South London, in Peckham and one of my best friends was St.Lucian …It’s such a shared experience when you’re black and British, that you are obviously heavily influenced by Caribbean culture. There was a point in primary school where I definitely was like “oh I’m Caribbean” genuinely because it was just a done thing, rightly or wrongly. I guess tap into things that I wanted to experience [unlike Shanice] I’ve never been but hopefully one day I get to go.
When we wrote Slay in Your Lane it was obvious that Yomi and I are Nigerian. We speak about Nigerian heritage influencing us in everything from education to how we see marriage. With [Offline Diaries] it was very important to really bring out cultural elements of who these girls are and not do a tick-box exercise where they’re just Black.. they’re very believable, real girls.
How did you research the characters?
Elizabeth: Just desk research, to be honest, and drawing from people that we’ve spoken to previously in life.
How did you decide on the diary/ Social Media format?
Yomi: Lots of people wanted a diary or a journal or something practical to write to off the back of Slay in Your Lane so we were kind of on a diary vibe and Elizabeth loves diaries, she’s always talking about how she used to journal as a kid.
The social media element is there so we could look at the phenomena of inauthenticity online and cyberbullying. We wanted that kind of contrast where you have their real inner thoughts and hopes and fears and feelings outlined in a raw way in the diary format, and then contrasting that with the conversations that are maybe a slightly different tone on Chatback the social messaging app…, you also get the little posts and stuff and you kind of just see the Instagram versus reality or in this case, Chatback versus reality. It lends itself to be quite immersive. I think lots of kids do have diaries. Lots of young girls especially and it allowed for fun illustrations as well.
I noticed that the book touches on the subtle sexism and misogyny that often thrives in black communities and households. Did you deliberately integrate those elements into the book? For example people’s attitudes towards Shanise’s dad being a hairdresser and the dynamic between Shanice and her brother; how her brother kind of has a slightly easier life in the home than she seems to.
Elizabeth: I can’t say it was deliberate. Definitely not. I think it was just like, trying to make these characters as like, I guess, as just as believable as possible and make things real, so if that came out, that’s a good thing but it wasn’t intentional by any means.
What is your favorite thing about writing for younger audiences?
Yomi: We both love kids…kids are just very blunt and honest and fun. My favourite thing is just being able to empower [young readers] in a kind of more subtle way than Slay in Your Lane does… through representation, kids books are really lacking in diversity, one of the least diverse sectors of the industry. So being able to kind of just normalise that representation and see how much it means to kids. It’s been amazing.
Elizabeth: I think there’s a real nice escapism that you don’t get when you write adult books sometimes especially nonfiction actually because the nonfiction books I’ve written are very much centred around, like, you know, race, you know, work and things like that so it can get too serious. There was a level of escapism that I really enjoyed, which meant that I could tap into my imagination. I don’t think I do that enough at all.
What was the most difficult thing about writing for a younger audience?
Elizabeth: Not coming across like you don’t know what you’re talking about when it comes to [youth culture]. The most challenging thing was ensuring that it’s coming across as authentic to how [young people] talk now.
If readers are to take just one thing from the book, what would you like it to be?
Yomi: That friendship is super important. Friendship and its power are definitely at the core of what me and Elizabeth do. the power of friendship, the power of forgiveness and the power of being ourselves are the biggest themes of the offline diaries.
Do you have plans to continue writing together in the future? Can we expect more from Adé and Shanice and for this to be the first of a series?
Elizabeth: This is part of the series for sure. I’m really excited to go into this mode in children’s books… [Offline Diaries] is the first of three from us, where we follow Adé and Shanice and their trials and tribulations.
The Offline Diaries is available to purchase from all major booksellers.