For this week’s Monday Motivation, we sat down with Abiola Bello, Carnegie-nominated author of the Emily Knight series, co-founder of The Author School and co-director of indie publishing house Hashtag Press. We caught up with her to discuss what inspired her to become a YA novelist, how she gets in the creative zone and what tips she had for aspiring YA writers:

What inspired you to become a YA novelist?  

I started writing stories when I was eight years old, just for fun, but when I turned 12 I came up with a concept about a strong warrior teenage girl called Emily Knight. I grew up on wrestling, X-Men and Dragonball Z – I would read like a machine! I hardly read any books at the time with strong, lead, female characters so I wanted to write books that showcase them! An editor, who was one of my university lecturers, was very pro-diversity (before diversity was being spoken about as much as it is now) and my characters were very diverse, but she encouraged me to make my character black. I didn’t even realise the lack of representation until she said it. I just read books and didn’t really notice that there weren’t many characters who looked like me. Readers will be able to find themselves in my books.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer?  

Abiola Bello book signing

I didn’t! My English teacher in Year 7 read one of my creative writing stories for class and told me I should be one. I replied, “Is it a real job?” And when she said yes I was sold!

What is The Author School?  

The Author School is a series of workshops and events that Helen Lewis and I host for authors at all stages of their book journey. We run full days twice a year and invite best-selling authors, literary agents, publishers and lots of industry experts to come and speak to a class of 25 authors. We’ve heard from Patrice Lawrence, Catherine Johnson, Siobhan Curham, HarperCollins, Bloomsbury, Darley Anderson Literary Agency to name a few. Next year we turn five! So we have lots of amazing events in the planning for authors. Plus, we ensure we are always very affordable especially for an all-day event in London.

What is Hashtag Press?  

Hashtag Press is a female-led, small, indie, collaborative, publishing house. We collaborate with the authors to create a commercial book and we publish adult fiction, non-fiction, children’s and young adults. Of course, we love diverse and inclusive books. Our books have been best-sellers, Carnegie-nominated and have been placed for many other awards. We recently started up a traditional imprint called Hashtag BLAK to publish under-represented voices in adult and young adults fiction. Our first two books will be by Black British authors.

You have a lot of projects going on, do you have any time management tips for anyone juggling work life?  

The balance is always very tricky but I find writing things down really helps me. Just being able to see it on paper makes it easier for me to prioritise what to focus on. There will always be work that requires immediate attention but most things can wait a bit longer. Once you know what to focus on it becomes less overwhelming.

Have you got any writing projects in the pipeline? 

Abiola Bello

I run a book competition for young writers called The little BIG Book Comp as part of The Lil’ Author Skool and it’s open from ages 5-21 from all over the world. On November 20th, Hashtag Press published the second anthology from The Lil’ Author Skool called Gen Alpha-Z. The books are filled with the best stories from young writers who won or were featured in The little BIG Book Comp. I can’t wait for everyone to see how talented these young people are.

How do you get in the creative zone when writing?  

I feel like I’m always in a creative zone. I’ve always got ideas in my head, writing notes to myself on my phone of plot ideas or the ending to a chapter that I’m working on. I write best usually at night (2am times) and just being alone. Sometimes I play Hip-Hop music as I’m convinced it helps me write faster!

What book inspires you? 

I adore The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and our latest non-fiction book published by Hashtag Press called Ticking off Breast Cancer by Sara Liyanage is an amazing book.

Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to become a published YA author?  

Read as much YA as possible. Make sure you know the audience that you’re writing for and what makes your story different. Also, think about diversity when writing because it’s a massive issue in publishing, so more diverse books in the world can only be a great thing!


Gen Alpha-Z is a collection of stories by young people around the world which was published on 20th November 2019. The Lil’ Author Skool, created by co-founder of Hashtag Press and author Abiola Bello, runs competitions throughout the year on different themes. The first book of prize-winning stories, The Originals, was published 18 months ago. This second book is packed with stories from children in many countries including England, Ireland, Scotland, Nigeria, Canada, Sweden, and Dubai. Buy Gen Alpha-Z here.