Have you read Abi Dare's debut novel, The Girl with the Louding Voice? If not, what are you waiting for?? Adunni is one of those characters whose persistance, positive attitude, intelligence, and determination will weave it's way into your heart. She is an endearing character that will stay with you long after you finish the book.
Set in modern day Nigeria, Adunni aspires to be a teacher. She is no longer in school and takes care of her household, consisting of her father and brothers, but dreams of having a classroom and students of her own. At the young age of 14, Adunni (pronounced "Ah-doo-nee") is married off to a man three times her age and already married to two wives. Thus begins Adunni's track of life, but her persistence to be more than a wife, maid, worker drives her.
I had the pleasure to host a Q&A with Abi Dare. She graciously accepted my invitation to answer questions about her debut novel with fellow book lovers and bookstagrammers. I made a rookie mistake and forgot to hit record for the first five minutes or so of our conversation, but summarized her answers for you all. The remaining questions are verbatim from the Q&A. If you want a copy of the audio or video recording, please send me an email at email@example.com.
Q: What inspired Adunni's story?
Abi: (not verbatim) Abi grew up in Nigeria and moved to the UK 20 years ago. Growing up in Nigeria, she had priviledge and her family, as well as her friend's families, had young girls that worked in their houses as housekeepers. Abi recalled reading an article about one of these girls who was injured with hot water. She stated the article treated the girl as an after thought and she wondered who this girl was, what her dreams and hopes were. This inspired Adunni's story and Abi focused on who these girls are and what they dream of becoming.
Q: What has been the reception of your book in Nigeria?
Abi: Abi stated that The Girl with the Louding Voice hit stands in Nigeria last week. She stated that many of her friends and family read the book and were very receptive to it. She stated that one of her friends told her, "you are sharing a story that needs to be heard" with regards to the ongoing problem of human trafficking, labor trafficking, slave labor, and underage arranged marriages.
Q: What was the writing process like?
Abi: It was a mixture of both. I think that a lot of my childhood memories really played a lot in the writing process. So things like, my mother traveled quite often for work, she had a very important job and so she would go through the States in Nigeria and this would be road trips, so I would go with on the journeys and drive through the villages. So driving through the villages and seeing how the villages behaved, well some of them behaved, I was taking in memories of the village life without really thinking about it, even though I lived in the city all my life. So that played in from memory. But writing about some of the abuse, I had to watch a lot of videos online, I had to read articles, and talk to people, talk to friends and try to pull that together. I think it was a fine mix of both research and memory.
Q: Did hearing these stories keep you up at night and was it hard to get on paper?
Abi: It was, especially writing and hearing the stories. I think after awhile, I wasn't as shocked. I was hurt and sad, but it wasn't as shocking as the process of actually sitting down to write it and trying to, because I am the kind of writer that, I like to immerse myself into the character. So I had to let Adunni take control. And so feeling her pain and writing that, I think was more, it was harder for me than actually just taking in the stories that I heard. Because like I said, there are so many articles online, so many things reported, so many human right's stories on, not only human trafficking, all sorts of things online. So sometimes you kind of get desensitized from these things that when you then get to re-write it from a character and inhibit that character's emotion, it is a different kind of pain that I wasn't ready for. So that was hard.
Q: Is Adunni inspired by anyone in your life? Or was she a character you birthed and created, similar to your own child?
Abi: Yes, she was more or less like a child of my own, but when I finished the book and I sat down to think about it, I realized that there was a maid that I knew, a young girl that was working, I think she was about two years older than I was, I must have been about 11 and she was working for the family who lived not too far from us. There was a summer that I stayed with this family and this young girl had the brightest eyes and beautiful smile and she was, nothing was ever too much for her and she talked a lot. We were friends that summer, then I went back to boarding school and I never saw her again. When I came back, she was gone. And while that did not register in my conscious mind while I was writing. When I finished the book, I realized I think some of her spirit was replicated in Adunni's spirit. That "go-getter," that "everything will be alright," the "I will keep smiling no matter what" spirit came from that young girl.
Q: The cover art for your book is stunning. Where did the idea come from?
Abi: Honestly, all credit to the publishers. The interesting thing was, as a debut author you hear stories and you hear that cover art can be a problem, your publishers might not get it right, but with this one, it was one take. I literally got an email from the publishers, they had read the book and come together to come up with this design. Emailed me and I could not believe just how, it felt like they had captured what I had in mind. The dream cover I had wanted and it translated into this beautiful thing. They did an amazing job. All credit to them. They did a great job doing that.
Q: The way your book is written is unique in the way that it is written the way Adunni speaks and then as she meets Ms. Tia and Ms. Tia becomes this pivotal character in her life that helps her and helps school her a bit and the way that she handles herself progresses and her English skills improve. Can you elaborate on why you chose to write the book this way?
Abi: I think it was because when I was growing up, many of the maids I knew that came to work for my family and families around me were not very educated. It was very rare. I mean, you would find some educated ones, but majority of those girls were not educated. Because Nigeria is an English speaking country, though we do speak a lot of other languages, English is our main form of communication, especially in the middle and upper class society. Many of these girls had to speak English in order to communicate with who hired them. So what I found quite interesting, and not just for myself while speaking to friends and family, was that those girls navigated the English language in their own way. They would make up words, but you would somehow understand them after living with them for awhile, you'd understand what they were saying. I wanted an authentic story. I wanted Adunni's story to be authentic and reflect what I saw growing up, what was quite common. So I kind of had to invent, I say kind of because I borrowed a few ways that people speak in Nigeria which is called "pigeon English," I borrowed some of that and I invented some words for Adunni and some was just plain English language. But I had to do that to reflect her background and reflect that fact that she wasn't very educated, but also to point out something that took me awhile to realize which is the fact that generally, we believe that your ability to speak the English language means that you are very intelligent. And I wanted to show that that's not true. That the language you speak does not reflect your level of intelligence. That it is just a way to communicate. It is just a language. So we shouldn't be judging people just because they can't speak English very well. And I faced that when I came to the UK. I had a lot of, "Oh my gosh, you speak so well" when I came and I have been speaking like this all my life. And I found it quite like, "why are you so surprised I speak so well?" So I wanted to reflect that a little bit because, obviously Adunni is very smart. She is very intelligent. She's naive in many ways, but she is smart. I wanted to show that you don't have to speak English to be smart.
Q: Where did the title of the book come from?
Abi: I think it was when she wrote that essay and she titled it, "The Girl with the Louding Voice." I didn't think it would be that. I had written the book, finished it when she finished her essay. I think I was playing with something like "The Nobody Girl," was what I was thinking of. Because she was seen as someone who was a nobody. Then, at the last minute, I said, "hang on, she is the girl with the louding voice." She literally is because she talks all the time, she doesn't shut up, but she also wants to have an education, she wants to have a dream. But I also knew, there weren't any books I was reading with that title because it was obviously a grammatical error. I thought people are going to raise some questions, what on earth does "louding" mean. You see when you are a debut author, there are no expectations, no one knows who you are and I thought, "I don't care, I'm just going to send this through." So I put it in for a competition and that was where all of this came from. I thought, "no one knows me, I'm just going to put the title there and let them deal with it." And obviously, what happened was that book won the competition and I got published and everything changed and it was too late to change the title. But everyone loved it. But it came from the essay she wrote that she titled with "The Girl with the Louding Voice."
Q: I think we are all curious, what will happen to Adunni next? Is there a sequel in the works?
Abi: It's funny you ask me that question because I wasn't even thinking about a sequel, but my mother who is a prolific author, she works in taxation. She's retired now, but she was a professor in taxation and she's done probably 100 publications on taxation, so hardly ever reads fiction. When lockdown happened, she read my book, and she was in Lagos and called me up and said, "Have you got a pen? I just finished your book and I have thoughts and ideas for the sequel of Adunni's life." So my mother gave me wonderful ideas of what the sequel would look like. So in answer to your question, maybe there will be one.
Q: What are you planning on writing next?
Abi: I am sort of flirting with ideas. Obviously the lock down has impacted a little bit of things, so I am sort of flirting with ideas. It will be a story about women and rights of women and the denial of those rights because those are things I really care about. It will be a story that is set in Nigeria, maybe somewhere else, we will see. It might be a love story, I am still thinking about that. It will be a huge departure from The Girl with the Louding Voice because I need to detach myself from that a little bit. Maybe if we do a sequel I will come back to it, but I broken it off with Adunni. It took awhile to do that and I went through a grieving process to do that, but I think now I am in a good place to explore something else, to see what else I can do.
Q: What are you currently reading?
Abi: Atonement by Ian McEwan. I tend to read books in a similar vain to what I am writing. So if I am writing a first person book, I read a first person book. If I'm writing a third person, I read a third person book. So this one was recommended as a fabulous example. So I got it and I haven't been able to drop that at the moment. I am also reading called One Day by David Nicholls. So I am reading both of them at the moment and I am loving them both. It is an interesting read.