In her debut book, You Are The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread, Samantha Renke explores everything from perceptions of disability to her relationship with her body and addresses the every-looming question of ‘am I normal?’. Here, Samantha gives Enable readers a behind the scenes look at creating her memoir and what’s inside.
When did you decide to write your first book?
It’s really always been on the cards for me, but around the first time we went into lockdown Fearne Cotton got in touch with me. She explained she was going to be doing an imprint with Ebury, which basically means she would be releasing books under the Happy Place umbrella. She asked if I would like to write a book and of course I said yes, absolutely.
Last October I went back up north to stay with my family and just write it. I knew that my deadline was January 7 this year, so I really wrote the whole thing in the space of three months. Happy Place is all about self development and reflecting on what you’ve learned in life, but straight away I said I do not want this to be branded an inspirational book, I had to kind of educate everyone in the team on what inspiration porn was. I was also very adamant that I wanted this book to be very loud and proud about my disability. There was a lot of conversations around how we could stay true to what I wanted to write and say, and I think we’ve succeeded in that and you can hear my voice throughout.
I also wanted to make sure as many people as possible could access the book. Obviously there will be an audiobook and the usual things like that, but even down to the cover. When I was speaking to the designer we were talking about it having clear text and when I was speaking to the full team at the publishers I made it clear that I wanted the language used inside to be accessible to everyone reading it.
What do you hope people take away from the book?
That disabled people are just people at the end of the day, and I think that comes through really organically. I know disabled people will read it and some people will completely resonate with my experiences and then some people will say you know what, that’s not my journey, but I completely appreciate what she’s talking about. But this is a book for everyone, not just disabled people. The inspiration narrative is there constantly and I don’t see myself in that way: I see myself as a person who wanted to achieve things and found a way to do that, who found a way to be as happy as I could be and have control over my own life.
Disabled people still live with so many barriers and that’s a big part of who I am so I couldn’t not talk about these things, but I also talk about relationships, about challenging conversations and setting boundaries. I talk about taking opportunities and even about failure. I talk about not feeling like I’m good enough and about the relationship I’ve got with my body, my friends.
I’m also constantly overthinking and I think the message here is if you’re thinking it, you can be sure as hell someone else is thinking the same. I want people to find comfort in the fact that you know there’s no such thing as normal. It’s kind of a memoir mixed in with advice and self-help. It could be positioned in so many sections because it covers so many things: it could be disability, it could be body positivity, it could be a whole mix of things which is so exciting.
How will readers see a different side to you in the book?
Normally when I’m working there’s always somebody else’s agenda so you’ve got to really pick what you talk about and cover information and statistics that they want, but when you’re writing a book like this then there’s no one else to consider. It’s quite raw and talks through some of the traumatic things I’ve gone through and even just talks about internalised ableism and my disability in a way that I’ve never really spoken about it before. I feel like I’ve learned a lot about myself.
It’s strange approaching the process, some days I would think ‘do I really want to expose myself?’, and others I would panic that this would be forever printed in a book, but I stuck at it and I’m so glad that I did. It definitely terrified me at first and I probably had a few sleepless nights, but once I started writing I made peace with it and just kind of unburdened myself from the idea of what other people would say or think. I think that’s why it came out so well.
It’s been therapeutic for me as well because there’s no room for secrets. I talk about my father passing away and I actually interviewed my dad’s best friend and got him to write a little bit about my dad. Even just knowing that information, I got to learn a lot more about my family and myself.
What can Enable readers expect from you next?
I’m still not done yet, I always refer to myself as a chocolate chip cookie that isn’t fully baked. I’m constantly evolving and growing. There are some things I wasn’t ready to put out into the world yet, maybe if I become a multi-millionaire and no longer have to worry about what people think I’ll do a big tell-all book with all the expletives, but in the meantime, I would love to release a children’s book where I go on adventures with my two cats Logan and Bruno.
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THE BEST THING SINCE SLICED BREAD by Samantha Renke is published by Happy Place Books from Ebury at £16.99 and is available now.