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In Conversation With Author Abi Daré

Proof that with enough drive and passion, we are capable of more than we realise, Abi Daré’s bestselling book The Girl with the Louding Voice was born out of a creative dissertation – which she simply couldn’t stop writing. Ahead of our online book club, we took time to catch up with the author on the inspiration for her story, what she’s learned about herself along the way and her advice for aspiring writers.

When did you fall in love with creative writing?

I fell in love with writing at the age of five and growing up, I used to write a lot of journals, experimenting with dialogues and bringing them to life. Even during weekends at boarding school, I loved writing plays and persuading my friends to act them out. We still talk about that all the time.

“Even during weekends at boarding school, I loved writing plays and persuading my friends to act them out.”

What inspired you to start writing The Girl with the Louding Voice?

I started to want validation for my writing so I applied for a master’s in creative writing. As part of my dissertation, I had to write 15,000 words of a novel. One evening, whilst trying to decide what to write about, I asked my daughter for help with the dishwasher and she made her usual protests. I explained to her that where I grew up (Lagos, Nigeria) some young girls work for families doing housework full-time, so she shouldn’t complain. She was shocked and it led to a wider conversation that got me thinking.

I started to research the abuse of young girls working in Nigerian households over the years. I did a lot of reading and soon realised this is what I wanted to write about. Yet instead of writing the 15,000 words needed, I went on to write a whole book. I was just so driven by the story.

Can you tell us why you decided to write the book in non-standard, broken English?

I didn’t want to just write about my own experiences. It was important for me to divorce myself as an author from the lead character, whilst challenging myself creatively. The only way to do that whilst writing in the first person was to have her speak in a way that reflected her background, whilst communicating her views on the world.

Getting the voice right required various sources from the people I knew growing up, who had a unique way of navigating English, as well as my two-year-old daughter who was first discovering the language. She had a way of describing things in English that I found fascinating. I mixed these, along with Pidgin English, to create Adunni’s voice.

How would you describe the protagonist Adunni in just a few words?

Vibrant, hopeful, enthusiastic, and just a total sweetheart.

The strong-willed nature and curious, intelligent mind of Adunni is unmistakable and we’re rooting for her from early on. How did you map out her character?

At first, Adunni cried a lot throughout the story. After receiving feedback that it’d be more captivating to focus on a personality that can withstand hardship, I went back to inject her character with hope and optimism, tweaking her responses to certain situations. At times it was emotionally intense to write this book, so adding that vibrancy made it more bearable and fun for me as an author.

“At times it was emotionally intense to write this book, so adding that vibrancy made it more bearable and fun for me as an author.”

Your book explores various themes from womanhood and female empowerment to class within Nigerian society. Did you decide on these themes early on?

Early on, I knew I wanted to tell the story of a young girl and make education a central theme. However, as I started to write I realised I couldn’t tell this story without giving Adunni a glimpse into what it might be like to be a woman within her society.

Through her interaction with the other female characters, I wanted her to discover that even if you get an education or finally become wealthy, there are still other battles to face.

“I wanted Adunni to discover that even if you get an education or become wealthy, there are still other battles to face.”

What is a ‘louding voice’ and why did Adunni want one?

At first, it was about Adunni being tired of being silenced and unable to follow her dreams. Beyond that, it relates to her desire to help girls in her village obtain an education, so those that follow after her can be free. I deliberately used the present tense to illustrate how Adunni wants her voice and learnings to carry on.

What’s your advice to writers who are beginning to create their lead character?

It’s not easy but you need to know your character inside and out. Try putting them in the most difficult circumstances and see how they come out of it. After all, not everyone would react to struggles the way Adunni does – she sings she laughs, she dances. Also, read books where characters have been anchored from page one and draw inspiration from other authors who do this well.

Which other character did you enjoy creating the most?

Big Madam. I found her fascinating and she made me laugh a lot, despite it being easy to resent her at times. I also enjoyed creating Khadija, even though her timeline was shorter. The way her story ended broke my heart and because it did, I knew I was doing something right.

Do you have any set routines when writing? Or playlists you turn to?

I used to love sitting in a cafe. I have always preferred the chatter of humans to music but sometimes I search for the sounds of rain to listen to. Although when it comes to editing, I need total silence. That’s when the magic happens – it’s my favourite part of writing.

What have you learned about yourself during the last year?

I used to think I could remain positive through almost anything but I’ve had moments of despair during lockdown, which has helped me understand the fragility of mental health. I am more settled now and I’m just trying to live gratefully, accepting each day as it comes. I’ve reached a grateful acceptance.

“I’m just trying to live gratefully, accepting each day as it comes.”

What have you been reading lately?

There’s a book coming out next year called The Music of Bees by Eileen Garvin, which I loved, as well as Kololo Hill, by Neema Shah. I recently read Atonement for the first time too and every single word captured me, it was beautiful.

What’s next for you?

I’m gathering thoughts on what the next book might look like but I’m not pressuring myself. When I get inspired I put something down on paper but otherwise, I’m just kicking back, reading, and watching TV for now.

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