Have you heard? The answer is probably yes - sold in a heated eleven-way auction, and already in development as a TV series produced by A24, HBO and the BBC (a combination of production power genuinely unheard of) The List has already confirmed itself as the most sensational and talked-about debuts of the summer, lauded by the likes of Bernadine Evaristo and Deborah Frances-White - and it hasn’t even hit the shelves yet. I greedily inhaled my advance edition while smugly scrolling through Instagram, reading stories of publishing hot-shots and literary starlets in London similarly trying to get their hands on a copy. Journalism does have its benefits, sometimes.
As the author of The List, herself, would appreciate - Yomi Adegoke, has won plaudits as a columnist for British Vogue, The Guardian, and many other publications, and as one half of the groundbreaking Slay in Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible, alongside Elizabeth Uviebinené. Named as one of Forbes 30 Under 30, and as one of the most influential people in London by the Evening Standard, Adegoke has already established herself as one of publishing’s brightest talents - and as Adegoke gestures towards, The List has the same shocking, by-the-minute immediacy as a piece of journalism. The novel follows Ola Olajide, herself a high-profile journalist at Womxxxn Magazine, one half of an incredibly social-media famous power couple alongside her fiance, Michael. Always the first to call out and retweet the exposures of predatory men, the glossy aesthetic of her relationship comes apart when the titular ‘List’ is shared online, detailing allegations of more high-profile abusers. And who’s name would appear on it, but Michael’s. Adegoke’s novel has the tautness of a thriller with all the smarts of the best kind of non-fiction - penetrating, exacting, biting. As we follow the ensuing crisis in Michael and Ola’s relationship, as he desperately tries to prove his innocence, Adegoke performs one of the most dramatic fictional high-wire acts of the year. In her treatment of cancel culture and the saturation of the internet, Adegoke doesn’t demonise these facets of modern life as naturally corrupting, rather portrays them as neutral systems through which the complex inevitability of human nature is only confirmed.

I called Yomi on her way back from a Q&A with the actress Sheila Atim, and I felt incredibly lucky to grab a little time to chat with one of the most in-demand authors of the moment - and even more impressed she answered my questions so brilliantly while in transit. But it felt fitting for a writer such as Adegoke to do so - always on the move, never stopping for a moment, not just keeping up with the moment, but recognised as the moment itself. With The List, she has set a thrillingly dynamic tempo which contemporary publishing will have to, somehow, keep pace with.
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Hi Yomi - thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us today about your utterly thrilling debut novel, The List. You’ve previously worked in non-fiction and essays, as a columnist for British Vogue and in your groundbreaking book, Slay In Your Lane. Was fiction always something you wanted to pursue alongside journalism? The novel obviously covers some of the same themes that your non-fiction writing does - how was it approaching them in an entirely different format?
It was a lot of fun, it was very different and very intimidating. I'm quite confident in my nonfiction; I've been doing it now for 10 years. So, humbly, I feel like I know what I'm doing when it comes to nonfiction. But with fiction, it was so new to me, and I really felt like I was going right back to the drawing board. I went to a writing retreat, and I was writing most of it during lockdown, so I started watching all these masterclass videos about fiction writing. I really had to get back to the basics. It was quite refreshing to approach something and come to it with a level of humility. I remember a friend of mine saying that, often, nonfiction deals with fact, but not necessarily truth. I was actually going to write The List as a nonfiction piece of journalism, as I was really interested in themes around anonymity online; I wanted to do a report.
And then, I decided not to - I mean, I'm a writer, right? So I've always [wondered], could I write a novel? As a kid, I wanted to write books; I had this computer game called StoryWeaver that my Dad bought me and my sister. I spent a lot of time on there, writing books and thinking, maybe one day I could be published. But that was a pipe dream at the age of eight that kind of fell off, especially when I started doing actual journalism; Slay in Your Lane and other non fiction writing. I always had these vague ideas, but I felt like my strength was actually nonfiction writing. It was just because it was lockdown, and everyone else was baking bread and I can't cook or bake, or do anything, with food other than eat it! And I was like, well, I don't know when lockdown is being lifted, so why not? So then for all of lockdown I was trying to write fiction - if it hadn't been for that period, The List probably wouldn't exist. Being able to write it as a fiction book as opposed to a report meant that I was able to be a little bit more nuanced and a little bit grey. I think it allowed the readers to come to their own conclusions more than had it been a nonfiction piece.
Tell us a little about where the idea for The List initially came from then - did the idea for the book enter your head fully formed, or did it require a lot of tweaking and stitching together of parts to get it looking the way it does now? How long was the process for you, and where did the main inspiration come from?
I'm so jealous of people that have entire characters just roll into their one day, because that is the complete opposite of me. I, like many people, during 2017 came across multiple lists that were similar to The List in the book; anonymous allegations that were being levelled against individuals within particular industries. Depending who you speak to, I think everyone has a different reference point. When people heard about the book I was writing, a lot of people said, ‘oh, I know that list, that was about DJ's’, or ‘I've seen that list, it's about actors’. I was like, no, no, no - the first list I ever saw, was actually focused on something else entirely. You come across different people that have different experiences with this phenomenon that was happening during MeToo.
I'm very interested in the kind of approach that we take when it comes to redressing the harms that, often men, have committed within whichever industry, and in the way that we as a society try to hold people accountable. How are we able to utilise something as powerful as the Internet in order to create some sense of balance? In a world where survivors have been let down by the police, by the law, when it comes to abuse, people are taking matters into their own hands, understandably. Then being a journalist, there was that tension for me - is this the right way for this to be dealt with and if it’s not, what is? I also think that when we have conversations in this area, it's so often commandeered by the wrong people. I feel the conversations around MeToo and cancel culture are very much owned by - or the critical lens on it is owned by - the Right. I feel like, as progressive people, we should try and have these conversations also, about what accountability looks like. Whether this is the right way to do things, and if it is, then why. If it isn't, then why not? Because if not, we allow people who are trying to sow division to have a monopoly on a conversation that's very complicated.
I think exactly because of this, the Internet is almost its own character in the novel, which is really refreshing to read as a lot of authors shy away from acknowledging its saturating influence in our lives. For me, reading it, it changed how I thought about how character functions even on a literary level - we now have this extra layer of composition and aesthetic which we have to acknowledge as we write character now, which operates in an entirely different way from traditional realism. Was it easy for you to incorporate the Internet into your writing, where other authors have struggled? What strategies did you use to make it feel so authentic and contemporary?
That's very kind of you, thank you. I'm really glad that that's how that's come across. It felt very second nature to me, because I owe a great deal of my career to the Internet - like Ola, I also started out as a Blogger. I have a conflicted relationship with the internet, because I think there are lots of problems with it, which I'm very vocal about in the book. But I think there's a lot of brilliance within it and therefore, I wanted to talk about it in the most multifaceted way possible. It’s why I have those sections where you can see comment sections and forum discussions. I understand the knee jerk reaction of people writing off Internet books but it’s just so integral to so many people's lives. People like my Mum - she isn't someone who considers herself particularly internet literate, but she's sending me, as Michael's Mum does, fake news and being like, ‘Oh my God, can you believe that this famous person was abducted in Lagos, by this armed robber?’. I'm like, ‘OK, but where's the citation for this?’ And she's like, ‘why do I need a citation, this is on a website?’ That's somebody who doesn't really see herself as engaging with the Internet, but she's then accidentally part of a fake news crisis by virtue of forwarding stuff on without realising. Whether you acknowledge it or not, most people are, to different degrees, very much affected, and very much part of the conversation. So for me, it just felt very second nature. I just didn't overthink it. I'm 31 years old, and I remember when I got my first computer, but I also have lived half my life on the Internet, half of it off. So of course, whilst I remember life before the Internet, it has so heavily shaped my formative years, and my life and my career. I tried to write it as I know how I feel it affects me. And trying not to make it this boogieman, the scourge of Ola and Michael's life. Because yes, it's the Internet in focus. But who is behind the screen? It's people! It's human beings! I really wanted that to be at the centre of how you’re reading these trolling comments in the book that they're receiving. I tried to make it very clear, always, that this is not AI, it’s not Chat GPT. That it’s literally people that are doing it. I tried to humanise the Internet by remembering that there's people behind it.
What’s your own relationship with the Internet like? You’re obviously very visible on social media, and it’s been the basis of a lot of your non-fiction work too - did your attitude to the internet and its influence change or deepen after giving it such a surgical treatment in The List? I know you’ve written before about ‘the absurd reality… of becoming someone else online and the hands of someone else’ which feels totally applicable to The List.
Oh, definitely. I'm obsessed with the Internet because I'm obsessed with people. I write a column at The Guardian about reality TV; I'm obsessed with reality TV for the same reason. Reality TV is a microcosm of humanity, and you learn so much about human nature from it. I see the Internet as very similar. I feel like The List was wholly shaped by my relationship with the Internet, and it hasn't changed my relationship with it because I think the book exists because of it. I was actually discussing this today with Sheila Atim, who was interviewing me for a Q&A - she'll be doing the voice of Ola in the audiobook, which is so exciting. She's brilliant. She's someone who's social media use is very similar to mine, where she very much curates her online space and uses her Instagram as a means of promoting her work.
My social media use is more active, but pretty much comes from the same place, where I am very aware of the Internet’s power, and I'm grateful for it because it has given a voice to people who people, like myself, who wouldn't necessarily be a columnist at The Guardian and British Vogue had it not been for an Internet presence. So I’m learning not to demonise the Internet, and use it in a way that works for me. I've always been someone who's pretty private, and isn't massively keen sharing things about myself. I've written before about the fact that I pretty much use the Internet or Instagram and Twitter like it's LinkedIn. To me, it's all about my work. I know there's pressure to be relatable, and it might sound like I’m undermining things I've said in The List where I'm talking about [for instance] Ola’s online life versus offline life, but the reality is, my online persona is heavily curated. It has no vulnerability to it whatsoever - I'm not pretending that's wholly me, though. It's absolutely a facet of me. But there are other parts of me which are just no one else’s business.
I don't feel like I owe anyone relatability. I don't feel like I owe people certain parts of my life, because I don't know them. And if they're following me, it's usually because of my writing. So they're gonna get my writing, combined with some cute outfits and then some footage of fancy dinners. It's cartoonish on my Instagram - it’s so glam, like everything is perfect! But I know my life is not perfect. If you’re on Instagram and you know your life isn’t perfect, then just apply the same logic to everyone else. Clearly I have a very curated Instagram profile, and my life isn't perfect. That's why I have the same grace for everyone else, like ‘oh, that person's life looks perfect, but it's probably not, because mine isn't either.’ But also, I don't know if it's my responsibility to tell everybody my life isn’t perfect. I can't do the whole ‘here's my real life thing’ with strangers. I will say, however, that I do think that my relationship with social media will change, not because of The List as a work, but because of The List when it comes out. Hopefully it will do well, and if that is the case, then I think that would change my relationship with it again and I’d take a further step back. I'm already kind of disconnected, but I do reply to my DM's and stuff. I love strangers. I love chatting to people, but it can get a bit intense online sometimes. Right now I'm still pretty low profile - I don't know how it's going to be like this time next year.
Ola Olajide, one of our main protagonists whose fiance Michael is incriminated on The List is an incredibly successful journalist at a high-profile magazine, Womxxxn. Did you bring in any of your own experiences as a similarly high-profile journalist to write Ola, to display the rapidly transforming ways we consume culture, cultural writing, and activism, from things you’d witnessed or engaged in?
A lot of people say ‘write what you know’, which is absolutely something that I did with The List. Ola is working at a women's magazine, staffed predominantly with white women, and experiencing microaggressions in the media. There's so many experiences that I've had that Ola has, or similar experiences, for sure. But I had to create a level of distance between me and Ola because - I don't know if this will make sense - because Ola couldn’t write Ola.
No, that totally makes sense, absolutely.
She's not necessarily massively self aware. I think one word that probably will come up quite a lot with Ola as a character, potentially, is hypocrisy, and I feel like that hypocrisy is present because she hasn't necessarily reckoned with who she is and what actually matters to her. She goes around saying social media doesn't matter, but then when The List happens it affects how she is perceived and that bothers her hugely. She’s someone who’s written about men who have been accused of all kinds of nasty things, and she’s been the first person to retweet those allegations, but now Michael and by proxy Ola, is on the receiving end herself. And it exposes that she's only ever thought about her activism and feminism in theory, when it's something that doesn't affect her personally. Both the main characters have elements of myself in them. Weirdly, Michael, usually more so than Ola, because I think Michael is slightly more owning of his flaws. Ola is on a bit more of a high horse at times.
I'm writing from a place of nuance, but Ola doesn't necessarily have the most nuance, so I've written someone that is quite similar to me in terms of her politics and her job, but not personality wise. I'm a lot of things, but a hypocrite isn’t really one of them! Not because I'm perfect, but because I'm hyper aware that some things I do are contradictory, but I’m not in denial because I don't necessarily see that's a problem [laughs]. Ola meanwhile is struggling with who she is, and how these contradictions affect who she is as a person.
The novel almost feels designed to provoke and substantiate debate about a number of pressing topics at the moment, from the intricacies of #MeToo to the role social media plays in our conversations and relationships. Is the ability to provoke debate or discussion an important measure of a piece of writing’s success for you? If so, why? What kinds of debates would you like The List to encourage? Do you think fiction, as a platform in a sense, is maybe a healthier way to debate contemporary issues than somewhere like Twitter?
Oh absolutely, 100%. Everyone has different motivations but for me my best pieces are when I write it, press send, then I shut my laptop and I turn off my phone, because I'm like, ‘oh God, I'm gonna get dragged’. Even when I was writing primarily about race in the early days of my journalistic career, which was in the early 2010’s, it was - let's just say that it was a very different landscape. Nowadays, you’re almost provoked into writing about race by editors. But back then, you'd pitch a story about racism, about feminism, and they weren't fashionable topics, so you'd really be fighting your case to try to be heard on these issues. This was like pre Black Lives Matter, pre George Floyd, so people were still in a very different place with the conversation around race, and even feminism. So you'd write things and you'd know that you were gonna get backlash and you were gonna provoke debate. You were gonna be on the receiving end of some sort of conversation - sometimes good and sometimes not. But anytime I was scared, or had a twinge in my stomach about it, it was because I knew it was important and I knew that it was potentially something that I hadn't seen discussed. I'm not really trying to play it safe with my writing, to be honest. I'm certainly not trying to provoke, because I think sometimes that can err on writing things for shock factor, and that's not my bag. But I think often when there is conversation to be had on tricky topics, some people feel like they can't because it's not comfortable or easy.
I know that I'm a good faith actor in these debates. I'm someone who's been writing about feminism for 10 years on the Internet, and I'm also a journalist who's really concerned about the rise of the fake news crisis and jungle justice. But I'm simultaneously someone who is very fed up with the systemic failures of the law and the police - honestly, I'm constantly unsure of what I think on any one thing. So I don't really have an agenda beyond discussing this; I felt confident in writing The List , and know it will generate debate and discussion, but I do think that often the best things do, whether that's intentionally or not. I've tried to be very, very careful in terms of how I've written it and I've not wanted to just say things for the sake of it. I've written something that really looks at all sides of an issue, and tried not to preach. I’ve tried to write characters that are flawed and nuanced, and a book that is complex. Rather than saying, ‘these are the goodies, these are the baddies,’ I've said ‘This is a story. These are people and you guys can read it and decide what you think. This is just me presenting something,’ . That's what I would have done if it was non fiction. That’s my same approach to journalism.
Saying that though, the novel has already had a phenomenal reception even before it’s even been published - lauded by the likes of Bernadine Evaristo, Diana Evans and Charmaine Wilkerson - and we’re soon going to see it on screen as a television series produced by A24 and HBO. What are you able to tell us about this so far? I mean, if you’re prepared for debate now…
It’s very surreal. And I will say, as much as it's like, the most exciting thing that's ever happened to me in my life, it's also so intimidating. As I said, I went to this writing retreat in Devon, and I really tried to approach it in the most newbie way possible. Because I [didn’t] want to be one of those arrogant people that think because they can write non-fiction they can write fiction. The response has been so overwhelming, but personally I’m someone who actually avoids reading books when they're super hyped! I tend to wait for the hype to pass before I actually read something. I was saying to one of my friends, ‘Oh my God, if I hadn't written this, I don't know if I’d read it; I’d probably wait a bit.’ Because I know how I feel when there's all this talk around a thing, and you think, is it really gonna live up to the hype? So I think when I got the TV deal I [thought] this is incredible. But also, my God, pressure. Because so many people ask me, like, how come it was bought before it was published? I hadn't even finished it, it was 30,000 words - 
That’s so impressive?!
Thank you so much! My friends are like, that's testament to it being really good, and I'm like, God, I fucking hope so! I know that people are really expecting something special, so I hope that it lives up to the expectation! The TV thing has been so exciting. It's very cliche, like ‘a dream come true,’ but it was the BBC, A24 and HBO - I could not physically pick between them. I remember just writing ‘A24, BBC and HBO’ as my top three, but in no order, putting it in my notes app and saying to my editor and my agent, is there any possible way they could all do it? And then she came back; they said yes, they'll do it together. I was like, this can't be happening. It's just been so amazing. I mean, we're very, very early in the process, but essentially my title is executive producer and creator, and they want me to write it. They've been so collaborative, which has been incredible, because I've had experiences in TV before that definitely haven't been, so this has been so refreshing. There's so much stuff that went on unsaid in the book, that hopefully we'll get to look at now, which is really exciting. Now we've got hours of television to play with.
It is incredibly exciting, I absolutely cannot wait. Finally, where do you think your journey with fiction will take you next? Do you have any more ideas, characters or debates from The List that you want to pursue next, in a sequel perhaps? Or do you want to do another standalone novel?
I just can't bring myself to put Michael or Ola through anymore, they’ve paid their dues! But I'm writing my second book. It's funny, because I just don't know if I'm ever gonna get to a place where I give myself a break and write a rom-com or something light and comedic! Because the second book idea is, I think, more controversial than the first. It's definitely something that again will certainly cause debate, and it's a topic that I don't think is necessarily explored for the same reasons as The List. It's quite a touchy, difficult subject, but of course I’m trying to approach it with compassion and empathy and nuance. I think if The List doesn't end in my cancellation, it'd probably be the second book that does it, because that ones definitely something! My plan is to try and get that done in the next year or two. I’m excited about it.
Thank you so much, Yomi.
The List by Yomi Adegoke is published on the 20th July by 4th Estate. Yomi will discuss The List in conversation with Bernardine Evaristo at the Southbank Centre's Queen Elizabeth Hall on 20 July. SouthbankCentre.co.uk. Yomi will also appear at this year’s Edinburgh Book Festival alongside Sheena Patel on 27th August edbookfest.co.uk