She was just 4 years old, wrapped up in a unicorn onesie and doing her best to relax – maybe even fall asleep – by having books read to her about her favourite thing: dinosaurs (even though lots of people, some of them teachers, told her dinosaurs were a strange thing for a little girl to love).

Then came the revelation. Girls could be "dinosaur hunters", too, because there it was, in black and white on the printed page of a book, a story about an English woman called Mary Anning who was a pioneering palaeontologist.

"Phew," she said, "there's a girl! All the books and the films are all about boys, boys, boys looking for dinosaurs and I was beginning to think girls couldn't do that."

Talk about a "you've got to see it to be it" moment if ever there was one.


In the last few years, Brough Johnson has heard numerous stories like my youngest daughter's. Indeed, Johnson has lived similar experiences working as a film and television editor and realising what she was seeing – and reading about – didn't match with reality.

Women and non-binary characters, when they appeared at all, were stereotypes lacking in complexity and diversity; there wasn't the diversity of representation and experiences she wanted to see.

So, along with business partner Teresa Bass, Johnson took inspiration from dating websites and apps and created a matchmaking tool which might just change what books and movies – and, in future, television shows – we read and watch.

Launched in February, Narrative Muse is an online tool that matches users with "perfect-for-you" books and movies by and about women and non-binary people. Johnson and Bass have assembled an ever-growing team of reviewers around the world to add to a database of books and movies – 800 when we spoke but increasing daily – that we may never have heard of but could be the next thing we're looking for.

She describes the reviewers as people like her and Bass who have seen the lack of representation dilemma in their own lives and want to change the narrative.

"A number of them are booksellers or work in publishing or are film aficionados who see the dilemma with their co-workers and others that are working in that space," says Johnson. "Because they are so deeply embedded in both industries, they just have a real deep interest in it. They are also themselves really incredibly active readers and movie watchers who watch and consume a lot of content."

Narrative Muse differs from other sites in that it asks specific questions about your tastes, identity, how you want to feel and what you're feeling right then and there. It also asks what you want to avoid. Once it has your preferences, it'll start selecting content for you to read or watch. It's incredibly easy to use and the picks it selected for me were spot-on.

Users can say whether they like the suggestions, dive into more fulsome reviews and, through the app, buy what's recommended. It becomes like a personal go-to library to return to their perfect matches and access later.

By voting with their clicks and spending money, Narrative Musers show what they really want. That's something Johnson hopes will influence writers, publishers and movie-makers to create more nuanced and diverse material.

She says rather than accessing content for free – tempting as it may be – by using their buying power consumers send a clearer signal about what they really want.

"What I have discovered through this whole process is that there's this real perception that women have made it and the perception is, 'Oh, I see myself every now and again on screen so therefore we've made it.' But it's only a tiny droplet of representation.

"We know you don't choose content based on the gender of the people who wrote or made it but that's not the point. The point is that you're finally given an opportunity to really relate to stories and not only be reflective but to really see yourself and have those "a-ha moments" – like your daughter with Mary Anning – and have more of them than you thought was possible because you had no idea that there were so many "a-has" to have."

She hopes the more personalised recommendations - and Narrative Muse's mission - will make it a force to be reckoned with but points out that it is a start-up and growing the business will take money. Right now, they're looking for angel investors to write the next page in what she and Bass hope is an ongoing story.

"In December, we did a test and our goal was to have 1000 users in 30 days so we could come back, make changes and address any technical problems we had. In 10 days, we had 1100 so we closed the doors as fast as we were able and then we took on-board a whole bunch of feedback. One of the things that was super exciting was just the realisation of how quickly we might be able to grow."