Singer and rapper Stormzy appeared at the famous literary festival at Hay-on-Wye in Wales to talk about his publishing imprint, Merky Books. In his slot, he spoke to mark five years since its launch, and its aims to develop and produce diverse storytellers.
He said that he had a revelation about finding his own authentic voice when he started reading a particular novel at school. "With literature and writing music, both are about finding your voice... and the way you write. When you're young there's a way you write in school, there's a comma and... you put all these words in and all the fancy moves.
"But it's not about that. It's about telling a story. There was an amazing book in school called Vernon God Little and I was so amazed by this book. It was written in the style of the character. Two words and then a full-stop.
“That's when I realised the whole smoke and mirrors of writing being Shakespearean, eloquent. It's not about that. Your truth is enough. Your words are enough. Your voice is enough." The star said it was important that Merky, which has published works by Derek Owusu and Malorie Blackman, covered all genres.
"The reason I wanted all these various memoirs, poetry, fiction, non-fiction, is Black people are not monolithic, we are multi-faceted. Growing up where I was... people think, OK, you're a young Black boy that raps, that's what you do.
"And it's like, no. There are days when I'm really angry... days when I feel on top of the world... even with literature, we are multi-faceted." Merky will explore another genre this summer when it publishes its first rom-com, author Taylor-Dior Rumble's debut novel, The Situationship.
She said: "Being published by a diverse publisher like Merky Books is important to me because throughout the entire process, I didn't feel like I was explaining my characters or their world to my team, nor did I feel the need or pressure to edit my story for the white gaze.
"My book touches on impostor syndrome and the microaggressions Black women face in the office and it was so cathartic talking through those points with an editor that already gets where I'm coming from. I'm incredibly inspired by how a lot of what Stormzy does, outside of music, centres on giving back to the community and helping others achieve greatness."
The man himself hopes his imprint, a collaboration with Penguin Random House UK, will continue to grow and inspire. "My actual dream is being 80 years old, no-one cares about Stormzy any more - he's just chilling with his dogs - and I see someone and they say, 'Yo, I'm a published author, I sold so many books on Merky... and it's nothing to do with me.
"It's not a vanity thing. It's just this engine that allows Black authors to come and grow and thrive."