I am delighted to introduce our interview with Rowan Ellis at The Fantasy Review! She creates video essays about LGBTQ+ pop culture, representation, and history on YouTube, and recently released her first book, Here and Queer: A Queer Girl’s Guide to Life.
Your video essays are often very long! Where do you get the ideas for the videos and what does your preparation process involve?
I have a running list of ideas, which I add to as they come to me. Some will be from current events or conversations, others will be topics I’ve been thinking about for a long time – but all of them have to be things I already have an interest in, and that I am passionate about exploring (and that I think has enough interesting aspects to be worth a 30+ minute video essay!).
My scripting process is always the same… I “brain dump” all my existing ideas for points to cover/quesrtions I have about the topic into a google doc. From there I search online and in books/films etc for information I don’t already have , and other people’s writings on the topic to potentially cite during the video. Once I’ve added all the info and quotes I can find into the document, I’ll try and wrangle it into a structure by shifting around the text on the page – and once that is set I’ll start actually writing. Sometimes I’ll get half way through writing and realise the central thesis doesn’t make sense any more, or the order isn’t quite right, and so then I’ll go back to the previous step. I try not to come in with a set opinion at the start, so as not to overly bias the research stage, so I’m happy to have my mind changed.
What are some of your favourite queer TV shows and films?
I’m glad you said “some of your favourite” because I find it impossible to choose just one or two!.
I love the movie Pride – about the real life story of a group of queer activists who raised money for striking miners and their families in the 1980s. To me it has this perfect mix of drama, comedy, and community to make it a really special film. I also adore The Handmaiden – one of the only sapphic period pieces that doesn’t bore me to tears (I know, take my lesbian license away from me!). There’s also Moonlight, a film which consistently tops “best LGBTQ+ movies” lists online – but for a damn good reason! Every time I re-watch it I almost manage to make myself believe it can’t be as good as I remember, but then, of course, it is. I think for a story that is at its heart so simple, there is so much to discover about it every time.
In terms of TV, I have a massive soft spot for a short-lived British zombie show In The Flesh, which does so much with its 9 episodes. And, of course, Black Sails is my favourite show – I ended up making my longest video essay to date about just the ending of it – so that probably says it all!
I think we are of a similar age, and queer representation wasn’t great in films, TV shows or books growing up. With shows like Heartstopper and the popularity of YA books, a lot has changed! How do you think this progress can continue to improve?
I think the obvious space still to improve on is simply in the diversity and variety of queer stories (for all ages). No two queer people will have the same lives, experiences, identities etc – and the more representation we have, the more seen members of our community who haven’t had their space in the spotlight will feel.
Movies, TV, and books have long been a source of empathising information for wider society – seeing people who are different in a complex and humanising light can go a long way to change social attitudes. We need to see more trans and non-binary characters in young people’s media, to reflect the reality of those kids’ existence in real life. We need to see the asexual Black doctors and the disabled trans poets just as much as the cis white gay men (and we need to see more of them too, particularly in young people’s media).
Talking of queer books, your book Here and Queer: A Queer Girl’s Guide to Life was published last year! Do you have any memorable responses to your work?
I was lucky enough to be invited to speak and do a signing at the American Library Association Conference in Washington DC – and the most wonderful thing was seeing the split of who people wanted their books signed for. One third was for themselves, as queer teachers and librarians who were excited for a book they wished they’d had growing up to be published; one third was to whole classes or schools where they worked and wanted to place the book for hundreds of students to benefit from; and the final third asked for the book to be signed for specific people in their lives – daughters and nieces and particular students they taught that they could see struggling – who would benefit from the book now, or very soon. It was so emotional to see the potential impact the book might have in so many places – that was something special.
What was your writing process like for the book?
I essentially had the starting brief of “growing up guide for queer girls” – and grew out from there. I figured out the topics that would be of interest or important, always balancing the need to be honest and authentic about potential difficulties, with the desire to also highlight the joyful elements of being queer. I’ve been speaking about queer issues in a professional capacity for around 10 years now, so I already had most of the knowledge in the book – so it was more about how to get it across in a way that was conversational but not patronising. It was a lot of fun to write, and people seem to be liking it, so I guess the work paid off!
Do you have any plans for future books or projects?
I don’t know how much I can say officially, but yes, I have a couple of fiction projects in the works at the moment – all very queer, of course! Hopefully I’ll be able to talk about those soon…
What are your favourite parts about being a content creator online?
The freedom to speak about the things that I care about, and that interest me, at a deeper level. Few other jobs would let you write tens of thousands of words about a TV show you like, or a piece of queer history, or a social issue!
If you could be any fictional character, who would it be and why?
That is a hard question – fictional characters by their nature go through some rough stuff during their stories… I love fantasy, science fiction, and speculative media in particular – and those characters have it even worse! Like, sure, Lyra Silvertongue is a badass, and Sansa Stark is fascinating – but I don’t want to be living their lives! Maybe just a background character living her life in a peaceful time in one of these fantastical worlds – just chilling in a field that isn’t being set on fire by dragons!
Who are some of your favourite content creators?
Again, glad you asked for “some” because I could keep listing them for hours! I’m going to go with the first 5 that pop into my head to keep the list reasonable!
What are some books you have enjoyed recently?
I am in the middle of This is How You Lose The Time War, and it is just as good as everyone says it is. I always worry about reading books that have a lot of hype around them because I don’t want to expect too much, but it is stunningly written!
I also re-read Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell recently, my favourite book from 2021, and my new comfort read I think – lots of sci-fi worldbuilding, political intrigue, and queer romance. I can’t wait to read Everina’s new book this year!