Yomi Adegoke on writing scandal in the digital era

Yomi Adegoke talks online comments, critique and cancel culture following the release of her debut novel, The List.

Yomi Adegoke

Yomi Adegoke is no stranger to the online world, having spent the last decade of her career delivering thoughtful takes on race, feminism and pop culture to the digital sphere as an award-winning journalist. However, even the writer herself did not initially imagine her next step would be a foray into fiction with a focus on the real life issues dominating today’s virtual reality world, including cancel culture, wokism and mob rule.

What began as an idea for a long-form article turned into the hottest novel of the summer. The List, about a social media scandal surrounding fictional influencer couple Ola and Michael, is a thrilling page-turner leaving the reader hungry for the next morsel. Now, with five star reviews in her pocket and bestseller lists in sight, Yomi expands on her writing journey and her own experience within the online world.

Congrats on your debut novel! Tell us where the inspiration for this nail-biting story came from.

It was in 2017, during the height of the #MeToo movement, when women were holding individuals to account after men were allowed to escape accountability for so long. As a journalist and someone who studied law, I was working at Channel 4 where we had to follow Ofcom regulations and thoroughly fact check and use the word ‘allegedly’. It threw us into a fake news crisis. I thought, there’s something about the way that anonymity and movements can be weaponised, even when they have the greatest intentions. It made me feel a bit uncomfortable, how easy it was for things to go viral without any fact checking.

So I wanted to write a long read. I wanted it to be a nonfiction report with interviews, but it was quite fraught because we were in the midst of #MeToo movement, so I stepped away from that idea. Then lockdown hit and I had infinite time, so I thought I’d give it a shot and see what it would be like as fiction. I didn’t have any expectations for the story, because I genuinely wrote it to pass the time. I would never have dreamt that it would reach the level that it is now.

“I was interested in the way we, at times, demonise women who are attached to men who have been accused of abuse.”

Hair: Cloud 9 Braided Lace Wig Goddess Locs in colour 1B. Dress and earrings from Alémais.

What have been the best and worst parts of this writing journey?

The worst part was writing it. I had never written fiction before, so I was unsure of how to approach it. When I first started, I wrote 80,000 words in lockdown and I sent it to an agent. She read it and loved it, but said that we should cut out 50,000 words. That can do a lot to a writer’s self-esteem, but I totally understood where she was coming from. I was concerned about being taken seriously as a writer, so I was writing in a voice that wasn’t my own, and the agent picked up on that.

The best part of the process was when I let loose and started to enjoy the experience. I always thought it was pretentious when people acted like the characters wrote themselves, and you (as the author) were just witness to their journey. But when I began to write, I found that these characters soon developed their own sense of self and I really got an idea of who they were as people.

In one storyline you manage to explore many prevalent issues from feminism and wokism to homophobia, and real life versus influencing. Do you think social media has shaped these experiences in our lives today?

Absolutely. There are so many themes in the book, and I didn’t set out to look at all of them. These conversations have been happening since the beginning of time, but social media has made them mainstream. Not just the #MeToo movement, which brought the normalisation of sexual abuse to the fore, but Black Lives Matter, or issues pertaining to the LGBT+ community – there are lots of different conversations that have now been able to take shape in a meaningful way in society because of the internet.

Jacket: Pinko

We’re not immune to getting swept up in the latest Twitter drama. Is this something you’re guilty of too, or do you try to avoid it?

I would be lying if I said it wasn’t something I’m still working on. Back in the day, I was similar to the people you’ll read about in The List. I’d see the mess, see the drama, and it would almost become a version of reality TV, which I watch a lot of being a columnist for The Guardian. You would watch the lives of real people fall apart, but it didn’t feel real. It’s an example of how we are encouraged to perform, whether that’s a performance of public life or virtue. That’s why I’ve been trying to temper my use of social media; I still watch things unfold, but I try to be less of an active participant.

As someone with a big social media following, how do you stay grounded and present in an industry where many perceive being ‘chronically online’ as the norm?

It’s all about my friends and my family. They remind me that there’s a real world. There’s a theory that you’re only supposed to know 150 people, but when organising the launch party for the book, and the guest list was 120, I felt like I needed to triple the guest list because I know a lot of people. I think a lot of us are in the same space because we know a lot more people than we would have between 10 to 30 years ago because of social media. My friends and family remind me that, while you are meant to know only a small number of people, there is a life offline and they remind me of what my priorities are.

Also, in the same way that people tell you to ignore negative comments online, I also try not to internalise positive comments, in the same way that I wouldn’t internalise a negative review of an article or of the book. Doing that can lead to a very inflated sense of self and ego. Both negative and positive feedback should be taken with a pinch of salt. If not, it’s very easy to drown in your own thoughts and get carried away.

“There are lots of different conversations that have now been able to take shape in a meaningful way in society because of the internet.”

Suit: Ghost. Earring: Mam.

Does that mean you’re staying away from the Goodreads reviews?

Staying far away. I’ve been writing on the internet for over 10 years, and I stopped reading comments in 2014. Back then, I would read racist comments on my articles, and it affected me because I was in my early twenties. So I created a policy that I wasn’t going to read comments under articles. If someone wants to find me on Twitter or Instagram and say something to me directly, I know that it could still be a horrible comment, but at least there’s a bit more effort to it. It means that I haven’t brought it on myself, whereas if I’m going out of my way in an effort to seek comments, that’s different.

As well as being an author, you’re a columnist for Vogue and The Guardian. Where does your journalism career fit among your busy schedule, and how do you balance it all?

It’s harder now. Non-fiction writing will always be my first love. But, for example, with my column in The Guardian, I don’t even have the time to watch as much reality TV as I’d like anymore. I watched Love Island this year, but I missed the winter edition, and there has been so much that I’ve missed because I didn’t have time. It’s the same with my Vogue column. It used to be every week, then it was every fortnight, now it’s every month. This is a very busy period, but I know it won’t be like this consistently. I’ve had loads of ideas for long-form pieces – they’re evergreen, so I’ve put them in my notes and I’ll revisit them when I’ve got the time.

You went for the big chop with your hair in 2019. What would you say are the pros and cons of having short hair?

The pros are endless. I don’t wear makeup on a day-to-day basis, so it takes me less than half an hour to get ready in the morning, and 25 minutes of that is me showering. Also, the feeling of washing your hair when you have very little of it is so lovely. It’s that kind of ASMR touch on the scalp. I feel like short hair inherently makes me chicer, because while I have always dressed like I do now, when I cut my hair, people suddenly started telling me I was well-dressed. I love being bald. It’s so fabulous.

The con, for me specifically, is that I’ve always loved wigs. I was never known for having a signature hairstyle. I’d have braids, then dreads, then a wig. I used to switch it up so much. But now, because I’ve been bald for four years, I had been flirting with the idea of wigs again but all my friends have forbidden it. I want to grow my hair out and get dreadlocks. I’ve always wanted to experiment with my hair. I used to do it all the time, but now it’s so limited. At best, I can dye it. But it’s so short that it doesn’t really make that much of a difference. It has become such a signature look and I’m not really a signature look girl. I like to experiment.

What part does your hair play in your identity today?

I’ve never been married to my hair. I’ve always been open to change. That is my identity; it has always been fluid. I’ve never really had a signature style in clothes or hair because I’ve always been a changeable person. I like to change how I dress myself. I’ve never really tied it to identity, except in the sense that, because it’s quite fluid and open to change, I know that’s how I am, so it’s always been an extension of that.

With such a hectic schedule, what are your skin care essentials?

For my cleanser, I use the Dr. Barbara Sturm Cleanser, which is great for darker skin tones in particular. I have dark circles which have completely disappeared since using it. Secondly, I use the La Roche- Posay Effaclar Clarifying Lotion. Then I use the Master Serum by MIXSOON x UNA and The Eye Smoother by Mantle which is a CBD brand. After that, I use a Dr.Jart+ moisturiser and the Centella Sun Cream by MIXSOON, and a moisturising spray by Dr.Jart+ to finish. I swear by Dr.Jart+.

One of the perks of your job is attending industry events. What’s the process for getting the right outfit for the occasion?

I’m a serial outfit repeater, apart from on the red carpet. I also like to plan a look, and I like to make a statement. Right now, I’ve got a gala coming up and I planned my outfit a month in advance. At last year’s gala, I really liked my dress – it was a Jessica Rabbit-esque black evening dress with a boa – so I’ve been planning to top that, because I like wearing a statement look every time. The same goes for the launch of The List. I planned that outfit over a month beforehand. I’m always on Farfetch and Net-A-Porter looking for something iconic. I wouldn’t say my taste is anything other than maximalist; I like statement pieces and prints. But that means I’m not the easiest person to shop for, as I can be quite unpredictable in terms of what I like. It’s a fun process though. I feel it’s a bit like doing cosplay.

What are your habits for self-care?

I’m not brilliant at self-care, but I do treat self-care like work. That doesn’t sound like self-care, but what I mean is that, if I need some time off, I’ll put it in my Google Calendar. I block it out, and it doesn’t matter what comes up in that period, I’m not going to do it. For me I need a minimum of two days off during the week. I will never have a week where I don’t have time off. I always schedule it in and treat it like a job. I make sure I have down time. Otherwise, if it’s not in my diary, then I’ll just see it as time that I could be working. I’m very strict about relaxing. I make sure I get rest by taking it seriously.

CREDITS: Photography by Zek Snaps. Hair by Kevin Shanti. Make-up by Natasha Wright. Styling by Deborah Latouche.

Feature image: Hair: Yomi is wearing the Sensationnel Ultra Wig Jumbo Afro in colour 2. Suit: Ghost. Earring: Mam.

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Spell Magazine 03 Autumn 03 – out now

“I’ve never been married to my hair”

Yomi Adegoke 

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