Get to know… Sonia Hope

I made a commitment to writing in 2015 after a lengthy period of postgraduate study which became a tug of love: to keep studying, or to write the stories I felt, after a sudden and destabilising bereavement, were going to keep me sane. I chose to write stories.

Between 2015 and 2019 I took many creative writing courses, and they have enabled me to improve my craft. However, a recurring theme emerged. The stories and novels on course reading lists, presented as examples of high quality writing, had one thing in common: they were mostly written by white, western writers – a broad and varied category, with scope for variety in style, theme and content – but the result was a near-total dearth of stories containing characters who are people of colour, and an absence of fictional worlds created by those from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America and elsewhere. As someone who researched Black British women’s writing and is familiar with the ways in which writers can be marginalised and forgotten, this is important to me.

When I came across the Writing Room Short Story Workshop on Twitter, I was interested but sceptical. I contacted Kate to find out more. The course sounded promising, but the reading list would be the deciding factor. Kate reassured me that the course tutor, Kiare Ladner, has a broad perspective and this would be reflected in the recommended reading. Kate was warm and persuasive.

I signed up. The course was lively and enlightening, with intense but sensitively facilitated workshop sessions. I also took the Novella Fever course, and I still refer to the course material, my notes, and the feedback I received.

Writing Room encourages community by keeping in touch with past and present students, inviting them to take part in further courses and projects. I am still in contact with some of the writers I met on the courses, one of whom invited me to join a writing group and, as a direct result of being part of the Writing Room community, I had my first print publication: a story in Ambit. Also, I now have a mentor whose work I admire supporting me while I draft my novel.

My experience of reading alongside talented writers at the end of term showcase in 2019 was a real pleasure. A spirit of warmth, inclusivity and love of writing was in the air. I remember it fondly.

I am a Gift

I was brought to London on a ship that, having offloaded its human cargo on the island of Jamaica, now returned to dock in Southampton. I do not like to think of my mother and sisters, sold before we could even say goodbye. I will never see them again.

A stranger took me to a saloon in Abchurch Lane where merchants, ship-owners and underwriters gathered. Inside, the heavy aroma of coffee wafted through the air. I could almost taste it, the colour of dirt, of sand, of sugar. In the coffee house, no one was surprised at the sight of me, my dark skin, my puny body draped in ragged clothes.

The stranger had no use for me and wanted to sell me. Every man he approached glanced at me dismissively. I was of no use to them, either. Eventually, the stranger entered into conversation with a man wearing a peaked merchant’s hat. He was so fleshy that his clothes barely contained him, and the chair he was sitting on could hardly stand his weight. The merchant said yes. He needed a companion for his wife. He was away at sea most of the time, and she was often lonely. The merchant looked me over with his watery blue eyes, pinched my cheeks and squeezed parts of my body. I was small enough, smooth-skinned enough to be a pet for her.


I hear a woman speaking at the enquiry desk. My name is Margot Teal and I have an appointment for 2pm. Her voice pierces the cool quiet of the reading room.

Margot sits down at the nearest table and arranges her laptop, notebook and pencil and a camera in front of her. The archivist is by her side, unwrapping the portrait. Margot wishes the archivist would stop fussing and leave her alone with the treasure she has travelled for hours to see.
I am a gift. Oil on canvas.

My mistress sits in a grand armchair in her drawing room. Her dress is ivory silk, her cleavage pink and full, her hair concealed by a lace cap. I am almost enveloped in her voluminous skirts. She gazes at the viewer, composed and certain.

I am at the edge of the portrait. A satin turban topped with a feather is perched on my head – it matches my ocean-blue tailcoat and navy breeches. My stockings are as white as my mistress’ skin. My shoes are black patent leather; the gold buckles shine and reflect the finery of our surroundings.
I am kneeling, balancing a tray with a cup and saucer in one hand, offering refreshment to my mistress, my face tilted towards hers.

Margot lowers her magnifying glass towards me, trying to read between the fibres of the canvas and the brushstrokes of oil paint.

She will never know who I am. My name will not have been recorded, not even in my mistress’ memoirs. My only satisfaction is that I know her name, but she will never know mine.