Oct. 29, 2020
Kia Abdullah’s Take It Back was named one of the best thrillers of the year by The Guardian and Telegraph and was selected for an industry-first audio serialisation by HarperCollins and The Pigeonhole. Her latest, Truth Be Told, came out September 2020.
Q. You’re a world traveler and founder of the travel blog Atlas & Boots. How has travel inserted itself into your writing?
Kia: In terms of the finished story, my novels are very different from my travel writing. The novels are set in East London, so there aren’t any grand Agatha Christie-esque journeys. That said, I think it’s really important for novelists to be out in the world and to interact with new places and people.
I’m sure that travel has coloured my fiction whether I realise it or not. I might be out on a swim and notice how seaweed looks like a woman’s hair floating in the bath and use that description in fiction, or watch a stranger flick a cigarette and note how the embers skitter across the stone.
I could have written my novels if I’d just stayed at home, but I suspect that they’d be flatter.
Q. In 2020, HQ/HarperCollins published two of your (now very successful) books, Take It Back and Truth Be Told. What has this year meant for you? What pace do you think your readers can expect going forward?
Kia: I’ve been astonished by the feedback. Luckily, Take It Back was published in hardback last year so it had some room to breathe before the paperback release (which was four days before the lockdown in March!). All the wonderful reader feedback meant it got shelf space in the supermarkets, which was really key when bookshops shut down.
The follow-up, Truth Be Told, came out in September and has benefited from the momentum built by Take It Back. Without word of mouth, reader reviews and support from bloggers, it would have been a different story, so I feel very thankful. All going well, there will be a book next year and the year after that!
Q. Your thrillers cover topics that aren’t always talked about in the open: assault, shame, lies, and the grey areas of the legal system. What do you think is the role of the thriller genre and maybe fiction in general in discussing difficult issues?
Kia: The literary establishment is often dismissive of genre fiction, but I think it’s an extremely powerful way to tackle society’s ills. Whether it’s assault and misogyny in Winnie M Li’s Dark Chapter, the legacy of Empire in Abir Mukherjee’s Wyndham series, or racial and gender divisions in my novels, crime fiction can tackle weighty issues but do so in the guise of gripping, highly readable, highly accessible thrillers.
Q. A sort-of moniker/tagline you’ve adopted is “Author, travel writer, seven of nine.” The last, in reference to your siblings, one of whom died. How has personal tragedy informed your writing?
Kia: In this specific case, my sibling died before I was born so I didn’t experience the loss first hand though it certainly resounded in my family. I think it’s important for writers to feel a great range of emotions, be it loss, love, joy, heartbreak. This will sound a little lofty, but part of the role of the novelist is to distil the human condition and you can’t do that unless you’ve experienced a gamut of emotion.
The adversity I’ve faced in life has certainly informed my fiction. As a young woman, I experienced period poverty, I grew up with an addict brother which was extremely difficult, I had an arranged marriage and faced much opprobrium when I left it. I’ve lived, which is why I’m equipped to write about life.
Q. What are you working on next?
Kia: I’m working on my next novel (tentative title: Next of Kin). It focuses on two sisters and explores the pressure placed on women who have children and the unkindness shown to those who do not. This is close to my heart as I don’t have children myself. So much of the language around ‘hardworking families’ excludes women like me and I wanted to explore that in fiction. That will be out next August.