Dorothy Koomson’s Big Reveal: Am I Or Am I Not Cleo?

Dorothy Koomson’s reveals the truth behind the character in her book, Cleo. If you have not read My Other Husband yet, this piece will certainly tease your curiosity! Hear more about Dorothy’s book at the Tunbridge Wells Literary Festival this May.

If you’ve read My Other Husband and you’ve heard a little about my life, you’ll probably be wondering: is Cleo in a very thinly disguised version of Dorothy Koomson?

After all, I went to college in Leeds like Cleo, I write books like Cleo, I started off my career in magazines like Cleo, and I live in Brighton after moving down from London, like Cleo.

You’d be forgiven for thinking I’ve simply written an autobiography and have scribbled in a couple of murders to throw everyone off the scent.

Well, after lots of protestations that I am not, in fact, Cleo, I’m going to just come at you with a big reveal and say: ‘Yes, yes I am Cleo.’

Sort of.

Before we go any further, let me state for the record: I only have one husband. Just the one. Honest.

The reason I’m saying I am like Cleo is because of the writing stuff. While writing My Other Husband, I indulged myself a bit – quite a lot actually, when it came to writing about how Cleo feels about writing.

This bit, for example:

And this was me living the dream. With my messy desk and messy flat and bucketloads of self-motivation. I stared at words on the screen . . . Why did I think I could put enough words together to create an actual book?

I let my head drop onto my desk, avoiding the Sharpies and mints and over-sharpened pencils. I stared at the window that had its cream cloth blinds down, and tried to make out the shapes from the world beyond them.

The simple answer was that I could not create an actual book. Writing one was significantly harder than reading one. Writing one was immensely more difficult than editing an article and finding the right headline and voice for that particular publication. Finding the right characters, tone and take-yourbreath-away plot while sustaining it for more than three hundred pages was way more difficult than anything I’d attempted so far.

This actually happened. More than once. Many a time in my London flat I would find myself at 3am contemplating my writing life and wondering about the choices I’d made, the dreams I had. And if I could really do it.

We all know the answer to that one don’t we? (Yes, in case you’re wondering what that answer was. Yes, I could do it.) But back then, it did seem impossible sometimes.

And this bit:

‘Do you think my work is trivial? . . . Do you think me writing basically frothy books and similar TV shows is shallow and trivial and I shouldn’t be surprised when people look down on me? Do you think I should be trying to write literary books that add to the weight of intellect from Black people out there?’

‘No, no and hell no! Other people do intellect because it’s their jam,’ Wallace would say, stroking my cheeks and kissing me again. ‘You do you. Cos you is the other type of intellect – the fun, the light, the gripping, the real.’

I’ve had conversations similar to this with my husband and my agent, both of who answer in similar ways to Wallace. I do sometimes question whether I should be writing literary, intellectual tomes instead of the pacy, gripping tales I tell. But you know what, I know deep down that the stories I write enrich the world in ways that are valuable and necessary.

Just know this: I loved writing this book so much. And a lot of that love came from being able to indulge myself in many ways, especially by talking candidly about my personal writing journey.

So, I’m not Cleo.

But there are bits of her that are like me. And, as far as I’m concerned, if you enjoy the book, that’s all good.

My Other Husband by Dorothy Koomson is out now in paperback, published by Headline. The Author’s Note has been adapted for this extract.

Don’t miss Dorothy Koomson in conversation with  Nadine Matheson at the Tunbridge Wells Literary Festival, Thursday 11 – Sunday 14 May 2023!