Get To Know: Break The Habit Press
There are few books that I've found as affecting as 100 Women I Know. It's one facet of a project started by Phoebe Montague, the director of an award-winning film of the same name, and put out into the world by new publisher Break The Habit Press, and contains accounts from 100 women who have experienced sexual violence. It is, as you might imagine, a really difficult read, but I'm thankful for its existence; in reading so many other stories of sexual assault and rape, I began to recognise some experiences similar to my own and to my friends'. Yes, it's a confronting, often upsetting reminder that the conversation around sexual assault is far from resolved, but there's some comfort to be found in 100 Women I Know too; no one is ever completely alone in their experience, and there are people who will listen.
There need to be more books out there like this one and, thanks to Kezia Bayard-White and Becca Souster of Break The Habit Press, there soon will be. Together they're working to challenge the publishing status quo, giving a voice to the unheard and the under-represented. Having met on Twitter (as per - literally where would The Tung be without that website?), we organised to meet up to chat about the path to getting 100 Women I Know to print, their plans for the rest of the year, and the pressures of running a new business.
Hiya! Okay so, first things first - why did you set up Break The Habit Press?
Kezia: Basically, Becca has just gone freelance and I’d been in a job for two years at a publisher and was ready to move on. We both wanted to do some sort of online zine, something against the mainstream media, platforming underrepresented voices.
Becca: We found ourselves venting to each other about social issues we didn’t think were being covered in the correct way in mainstream media and eventually we thought, ‘actually, maybe we can do this ourselves!’
Kezia: The name came about because I was literally on my way home like ‘should I go to yoga or should I have Dominos? Should I go to yoga or should I have Dominos?’ I was thinking I really should break these habits, and it struck me in that moment that’s what our website should be called!
Becca: …and then we found out that it’s also the name for a campaign for quitting smoking. That’s when we had to add the ‘Press’!!
Where did the idea for the first publication come from?
Kez: A while back my friend from school Phoebe Montague founded a project called 100 Women I Know and made a documentary with the same name. I’d asked her ages ago whether she’d like to work together to make the research from the film into a book. Then once Becca and I had met, we started talking about doing it. I got off the tube one day and rang Becca and said ‘shall we just make this book?’
Why was it important to you guys and Phoebe to turn the research from the documentary version of 100 Women I Know into a book?
Kezia: Having all these stories in one book, laid out in a cohesive semi-narrative shows how huge and how common the problem of sexual violence is. The structure highlights the patterns of behaviours common in lots of the perpetrators, as well as patterns in the way women react to sexual violence. Having the accounts in one collection seemed like the most effective way of saying what needed to be said.
Becca: When you read these stories individually on Twitter and in newspaper articles it can be easy to disconnect from the reality of it. These snippets of information lend themselves to a culture of disposable information. We felt that, once they’re physically printed in a book, they’re no longer disposable.
Kezia: Well, we hope not!
The book makes you sit with it - you have to decide to take an hour or an evening out. It felt really immersive.
Kezia: That’s exactly what we wanted. With Phoebe we chose not to separate the stories up into chapters because we wanted each page to be connected, to show that this is an ongoing struggle from childhood to adulthood that women are continuously facing.
Moving forward, will the focus be on non-fiction?
Becca: For now, yes. We want each publication to have a strong social message, and to have more than one element to it. For example, 100 Women I Know has it’s documentary element, the book, and workshops that Phoebe’s rolling out in schools to accompany it funded by a percentage of the book sales. The workshops will be called ‘People We Know’ and will aim to prevent young people from becoming perpetrators or victims of sexual violence.
So it’s interdisciplinary publishing!
The event you ran at Rich Mix, The Art Of Consent, definitely reflected that. How did it feel to manage your first event?
Becca: Amazing. Lots of tears, lots of dancing.
Kezia: It was such a heavy evening. I bawled my eyes out at one point.
Becca: Between the film screening of 100 Women I Know, the book reading, the panel discussion, Nasty Women’s VR experience, spoken word performances and a DJ set from BBZ there really was something for everyone. The fact that we worked on it in collaboration with 100 Women I Know, Ash Magazine for the UN Women’s HeForShe campaign made it so much more than a book launch.
We were aware that the talks could have been potentially quite triggering for a lot of people. We wanted to create an event where if people needed to get away from the talking then they’d have somewhere to go.
Kezia: Some people asked us, ‘why would anyone want to buy this book?’ or ‘why would anyone want to come and listen to this kind of stuff. Wouldn’t that just be really upsetting?’ And for some people I think yes, it could be too much. But for most people it was an experience that made them feel like they’re not alone and that was our main reason for doing the book.
Do you have plans for more events moving forward?
Becca: We want to do some that will switch it up a bit. Phoebe will have some straight screenings, there will be some book readings. I was worried that the book reading at the event would be a bit cheesy, it was the one thing we were really nervous about, but it actually was great.
Kezia: We’re hoping to do some community events and a pay it forward scheme for events and to buy the book.
Becca: At the end of the day, a book is a luxury item. We’re keen to make sure that the book can go out to as many people as possible.
Amazing. And how about in terms of future publications?
Becca: We’re still in the commissioning process at the moment, but we’re working with some really strong ideas.
Kezia: We’ll be vague as it’s still early days, but we’ll be working with a great social enterprise. We’ll be repeating the interdisciplinary vibe of 100 Women I Know. We’re hoping to publish another two books this year. Three tops!
That’s a lot! With all this going on do you guys get much time to read for yourselves?
Becca: I’m reading Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race - which has made me cry a lot. It’s made me really sad, really uncomfortable. And it’s highlighted so many things I wasn’t aware of, which is horrifying in itself. Apart from that one, I’ve been finding it hard to read at the moment. It’s ironic - we’re a publisher, but we’re so absorbed in publishing this book that there’s barely been time to read a book, or the news. It’s so counterintuitive.
Kezia: So many books are going past me, I’ve got such a long list and I’m still making my way through a list of books that are years old.
I was reading something recently that I’d previously massively judged by its cover and I loved it - where do you stand on the 'never judge a book by its cover' message?
Kezia: There are so many preconceptions about books but we ended up using pink on our front cover! We’re going to start a hashtag #pinktomaketheboysthink…Not wink, cos that’s gross. A wink can be truly terrifying.
Extremely true. Do you guys have any plans to take the events outside of London?
Kezia: Yeah we were thinking of renting a car and hitting up the indie bookshops outside of London. The only thing that stops us from doing that is cash. It would be so great to take these stories outside of the bubble.
Becca: We’d have loved to start huge, but without any budget we’re basically winging it. We’re picking up on people we really love and respect, contacting independent bookshops and literary festivals…
Kezia: There’s so much pressure with starting a business isn’t there? Everyone’s asking what our “marketing strategy” is. It’s super scary! Fake it ‘till you make it hey.
Aren’t we all?! I really relate to that — there’s so much out there to make you feel like you’re not doing enough.
Kezia: Do you know what, I’m glad that more people are talking now about the fact that your twenties are tough. I think that’s why so many ‘millennials’ are so enterprising now - it’s a really valid and important option. I’ve applied for so many different jobs in publishing but I didn’t get any, so co-founding a company and publishing a book ourselves seemed like the best option.