Yassine Belkacemi is one of the notable success stories of the Creative Access programme to get more people from BAME backgrounds into publishing—and he is determined he won’t be the last. The scheme opened up an internship at John Murray, leading to a permanent position and rapid promotion to publicity manager.
“Creative Access’ success depends on its interns’ success, and I want to help promote diversity in any way I can,” he says. “The energy for it is there, and we’re starting to see pockets of it [in publishing], but it needs to be industry-wide. We’ll get there.”
Here, he shares five things inspiring him to think and work differently right now.
Hardware: I got given a digital radio for Christmas and I have been pretty occupied with it ever since. In my line of work, radio plays a huge part in terms of the kind of publicity I can get an author, which can help the book and author in terms of their profile and sales. So, it is always good to know the kind of voices and the kind of stories that work (and don't work) on the radio. It also helps me as well in my pitching for books. There are often loads of things you can say about one particular book, many merits that you could extol, but I think as a publicist I'm always looking for that story that you tell about a book that gets people hooked, interested and talking to one another about. Listening to the radio, a medium that depends on making immediate emotional connections with its audience lest they turn off, helps me think about that more deeply.
Software: I find a lot of articles that I am keen to read via Twitter, usually ones that are in tweets that begin ‘If you only read one thing today…’ Pocket is a good app to be able to store all these articles for later for when I have time to look at them and decide which will be the one I read today…
Book: You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson. I love Ronson’s books but this one really made me think a lot about people’s behaviour online. The internet, and social media in particular, has shown it has the potential to become a tribal beast where the mob now have mobile devices as pitchforks. In some cases, our behaviour online can be very knee-jerk, hysterical and based on not being properly informed. Ronson’s subjects in his book shows the lasting effect such behaviour can have on people. Behaviour that none of us would dare to indulge in if we met these people face to face.
Idea: Many years ago when I was at a university in Virginia, USA as part of an exchange program, I went to a talk by Ira Glass, the This American Life host. In the talk, he broke down one of their episodes into all the separate component parts - each interviewee's story, the music, the overarching theme of the episode, even the silent pauses - and sewed it all back together. It was amazing and at the time really uninspiring. I left the auditorium grumbling about how I could never do something like that and that only geniuses like Glass could do such things.
Years later I was watching a video of Ira Glass on YouTube talking about storytelling and there was a part about ‘Good Taste’ (which you can watch here) that really stood out for me. He says that we have good taste and you have a notion of what you want to achieve but that there is a gap between your ability and the ideal you want to reach. He continues to say it is at this moment where most people quit (I know this feeling well). Glass then says you need to believe in this good taste and continue to work at your craft and that you’ll get there. This idea that through hard work and sustained work, your ability and taste would eventually collide so that you’d eventually produce good work, and that it wasn’t some mysterious alchemy that only some people innately possessed, really helped my confidence - while also letting me know I can get better.
Person: Kendrick Lamar. We live in an age of hype. Whether it is the 'next big thing in literature'; 'the new Leo Messi'; 'The best sourdough pizza in East London'; 'The hottest ticket in the West End' - expectations are built up and you're more likely than not to be disappointed. Therefore, I really admire those who live up to their own hype by executing their craft in their inimitable style. Kendrick is one of them. Hip-Hop for a long time had become formulaic and repetitive, and over the last few years Kendrick has built a body of work which is nuanced, veiled, searing, complex and sophisticated, spanning politics, race, modern society, nations. This has built him a huge and diverse listernship who hang on his every word, decode every syllable. Just look at the most recent track he dropped. Roll on April 7th!