Mari Vindis interviews Abi Dare winner of the Bath Novel Award 2018 and her upcoming novel The Girl With The Louding Voice
Abi Dare is one of my fellow MA creative writing students at Birkbeck (2016-18) and her novel has just won the 2018 Bath Novel Award with her story The Girl With The Louding Voice. It is the story of Adunni, a semi literate 14 year old girl, written in first person, who works as a housemaid for a wealthy family in Nigeria. Adunni manages to rise above a life of mistreatment, poverty and low status to make something more of her life. Abi wanted to show that, just because society expects a girl to behave in a certain way and accept her lot, Adunni manages to break away from cultural norms and societal expectations. She says, “It is really a story about hope.”
Abi is from Nigeria where it is quite normal for families to employ housemaids. Her family employed several of them during the time she grew up, and as they were similar in age, they became her friends. As Abi got older she saw that housemaids working in other families were sometimes treated very badly. Most of them were only children themselves, as young as nine. With the advent of social media, pictures of the rough treatment of Nigerian housemaids would be posted online. Now a mother of two young girls herself, Abi felt compelled to tell this story. Abi sometimes travels abroad with her work yet managed to find time to attend university and write a prize-winning novel. She had to negotiate this time with her husband and admits it was very hard trying to juggle so much over the year and a half it took her to write the novel
She work-shopped some chapters of the novel with “the best workshop group ever” during her time at Birkbeck. She says the feedback was crucial in terms of creating the structure and direction of her story, helping her craft her narrative in line with the comments and suggestions she received. She said that reading thematically also helped keep her in the zone, including The Help by Katherine Stockett and The Eyes Are Watching God by Zora Neale Huston.
To illustrate her self-motivation, Abi “knocked together a query letter” which she sent to a handful of publishers, together with the first four chapters. This lead to several requests for the full manuscript but nothing came of any of them. She tried a different approach by Googling literary agents, “I just decided to go for it.” She sent the first 10,000 words and this led to her being selected to attend a pitching contest. She pitched for three minutes alongside a bunch of other writers. At this stage Abi had written 40,000 words and when she pitched her “doom and gloom” ending, no one took it any further. Her workshop group had also urged her to change the ending to one of redemption. She then sent out a few more query letters and this time it got picked up Curtis Brown. Abi is now represented by Felicity Blunt of Curtis Brown.
Felicity was the judge of the Bath Novel Award. All submissions are anonymised, and she had no idea it was written by Abi and offered her representation after the winning announcement. Out of the five writers on the short-list, three of them were current or Birkbeck alumni. Several people emailed Abi to say that the Birkbeck Creative Writing MA seems to be “the go to place” for aspiring authors. Despite winning the prize, Abi cannot give up her day job yet as she has “a ton of rewriting to do” on her prize winning novel. Her next book is to be a romance set against the backdrop of Nigeria’s civil war in the 1960’s, which her father fought in. She is looking forward to conducting the research for it, as well as contemplating a possible Ph.D.
Watch this space for publication date for The Girl With The Louding Voice.