Samantha Renke is not only one of PosAbility’s beloved longstanding columnists: she is also a successful media personality, presenter, actor, speaker, and inclusion and equality consultant, and has just added author to her long list of talents and achievements. Samantha’s new book, You Are The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread, is out on 21 July and it should be on the top of your list of books to read this summer.
We find out from Samantha what we can expect from her debut book and how she rose to the challenge of becoming an author.
By Rosalind Tulloch
For anyone who is familiar with Samantha’s work or writings in PosAbility Magazine and beyond, you will know that she has character in abundance. Samantha calls it as she sees it, she is bold and confident and draws people to her vivacious personality. She is the person you want to gravitate towards at a party because you know that the conversation will never be dull and the drinks will always be flowing.
Samantha has written for PosAbility for a number of years (we tried to recollect how many, but neither of us are very good at dates, so we landed on six or seven years), but we have rare face-to-face meetings as we live at opposite ends of the UK. Instead, we have occasional meet-ups at events and plenty of emails. It was therefore very refreshing to see her face over Zoom and have a chat about her book, and in true Samantha style she appeared on my screen with the line “sorry I have no make-up on, I’m really f***ing hungover,” followed by her unmistakable and infectious laughter. Turns out Samantha was living it up at a red-carpet event celeb spotting and taking advantage of the free bar the night before. Who can blame her?
In the background, her Sphynx cats Lola and Bruno lazily stretch out in a hammock and occasionally distract my attention as they jump down, bored at our conversation or upset at the noise of too much laughter disturbing their peaceful existence. Samantha tells me she has now acquired a cat pram to enable her to proudly parade her two beauties around outside. She is a self-confessed cat mum and her book shares some very interesting insight into why she feels such an affinity with Sphynx cats, a breed that she describes as “marmite” for most people, but in her eyes, “they are beautiful”.
With our catch-up and cat introductions out of the way, Samantha shares how she came to write her debut book that has been published by Ebury, part of Penguin Books, which she admits was exciting in itself as she remembers her first books at school being Penguin-published books. I think most of us can relate to that.
“Before the pandemic, I was supposed to be doing Happy Place Festival, and that’s how the book came about. I was supposed to be one of the speakers for Happy Place and it didn’t end up happening in the way I wanted – it all went virtual. I had really wanted to meet Fearne Cotton; I really wanted to be on stage, and then that didn’t happen, but I did became really good friends with Fearne and we were sending each other WhatsApps all the time and that’s when she told me she is doing this book imprint through the Happy Place brand. Every year she is aiming to publish four books through Happy Place, and Ebury and wants to get voices out there. Then she said “do you want to be one of them?” I was like, yeah!”
When asked to describe what the book is about Samantha tells me: “It’s a funny one – because it is in conjunction with Happy Place they said it has to have that Happy Place feel, so I think a lot of disabled people will, first of all, be going, “oh my god I don’t want it to be an inspiration piece” – because we all hate inspiration porn, right? I was really mindful of that, but then equally I would say while I hate inspiration porn and I hate being objectified, I actually do want to be a role model and I do want to be inspirational, but for all the right reasons and not the negative reasons. I guess that this book is inspirational because I have accomplished some amazing things, but I hope it doesn’t go down the inspiration porn route.
“I want it to be a book where non-disabled people will perhaps learn something new about disability and learn something new about life in general, about how you get from A to B and seize opportunity.
“As we know, if you have met one disabled person, you have only met one disabled person, so I am not at all saying that this book will resonate with every disabled person, but I think it is a book about life; it’s a book about being a human, and yes I do talk about my disability identity a lot. That was purposefully done because it is a big part of my life and I am proud of that part of my life.
“I have picked out significant moments in my life – big and small – talking about grief, talking about the loss of my father, talking about troubles at school and how I was bullied, talking about relationships, talking about breaking the world of entertainment, talking about my spinal surgery. I explore a lot of milestones in my life – the good and the bad – and I have just reflected on that and I have reflected on it in a way that shows my life experience, but you can probably take away something from this as well.”
Writing a book is a daunting task, especially if it is your first time, but Samantha confides that she left London last November to move back into her mum’s house for a few months while the latest variant of coronavirus did the rounds. This not only kept her safe, but it allowed her a quiet place to lock herself away in her room and just write every day. This process took three months, and when it was finally done, the sense of relief must have been palpable, right?
“No. I am a big worrier so I knew that it then had to go on to people to read, then it had to go on to the legal team and I was terrified about the legal team because they were like ‘we want you to write a memoir but you can’t really talk about people,’ because you need to get their permission.”
“I think I am in a good place now, but I am worried, because to be honest my biggest critics are other disabled people, and I am worried because right when I first told a few disabled friends that I might be writing a book, straight away they were like “oh you’re not going to do an inspiration piece?” and I thought don’t say that. So, I am a bit worried about that and I have been very mindful. I have said a number of times in the book that this is my journey; this is not reflection on everyone, but I think to begin with that was maybe playing on my mind too much and I had to really shake that off, because I had to be true to my own experiences. Particularly when I’m talking about relationships. I have not had a good time with relationships: the worst discrimination I have faced has been from men, and I had to say that. I know that is not the same for every other disabled person but I would be dishonest if I was to say that wasn’t something I experienced and I had to be true to that.”
Open and honest
Samantha was very concerned that everything about this book was to be an authentic representation of herself. She has written the book herself in a very open and honest way, she also chose the title (thanks to a meaningful Boy George track), and she had great input on the cover which combines leopard print (Samantha’s favourite) with a touch of the beautiful art of Kintsugi. It encapsulates Samantha very well.
Samantha admits it was hard writing about certain experiences, including the loss of her father when she was nine years old, and spinal surgery that didn’t go to plan, however, she shares that it has been a cathartic experience: “Some of the challenging content floored me and I had to step away from it, that was a challenge. It is very cathartic, but I dug up a memory that I had suppressed, and it came to me when I was writing one of the chapters and I was like “wow”. It was like having a therapy session but actually not having anyone there to talk about it with. I’m really glad that I was with family though.”
Asking about any future book aspirations Samantha eagerly talks about plans for a series of children’s books featuring her Sphynx cats Lola and Bruno. Watch this space!
You can pre-order Samantha’s debut book You Are The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread at: https://smarturl.it/SlicedBreadBook
Read more from PosAbility: Physical Disability Rugby League World Cup showcase fixtures and nations confirmed