The Girl With the Louding Voice by Abi Daré is a Book of the Month pick for February. To celebrate, we're publishing an unabridged version of Abi Daré's interview that originally ran in the Breaking In column of the January/February 2020 issue of Writer's Digest.
I read The Girl With the Louding Voice quickly over a few days because I couldn't rest until I heard the story of Adunni, the novel's 14-year-old protagonist with a huge heart. Published in February by Dutton in the U.S. and forthcoming in March by Sceptre in the U.K., The Girl With the Louding Voice follows Adunni as she is sold to be the third wife of a local man who is eager to have a son. When Adunni runs away to Lagos, dangers await her as she works as a maid for a wealthy family. But Adunni dreams of getting an education and finding a voice to stand up for herself and girls like her.
Abi Daré, the London-based author, talked to WD about the challenges of writing her debut novel, winning the UK Bath Novel Awards, and getting the book published.
Briefly, what led up to this book? What were you writing and getting published before breaking out with this book?
I had been writing for over a decade before I decided to pursue an MA in Creative Writing for two reasons: to validate my writing existence, and to have a community of like minds I could work (and vent!) with. I was also determined to finish a “publishable” book during the two-year course. The book was born as a result of my growing up in Lagos and living with housemaids and seeing how many of them were treated, how these girls had to give up dreams and aspirations to work for families. The book is my way of telling their story, of giving a voice to these girls.
What was the time frame for writing this book?
I started the first draft about a week before I was due to submit about 3,000 words to my dissertation supervisor. I wrote the first sentence in my character’s voice and did not stop writing until I had the required 3,000 words. When I went to see him a week later for his review and assessment, I was pleasantly surprised when he told me that he loved it! He asked if I could sustain the voice for an entire novel, and I said no-way! But I did it in the end. I wrote the first draft in about eight months just in time to enter for the UK Bath Novel Awards for unpublished manuscripts. I won the competition and secured an agent shortly after. With pre- and post-acquisition revisions, the book took about three years.
How did you find your agent?
Following the shortlist announcement for the Bath Novel Awards, I had multiple requests for the full manuscript and a number of agent offers, but I waited until the winning announcement to decide who to work with. I am so glad I did, because my agent is the amazing Felicity Blunt of Curtis Brown. She was a judge for the Bath Novel Awards in 2018 and we met shortly after I was announced as winner.
What were your biggest learning experiences or surprises throughout the publishing process?
I learned that nothing can be rushed. That a book can and should continue to be revised until it is ready to be submitted. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed having a great team working with me to get the book out to readers. I was initially nervous, being a debut author, but everyone involved has been amazing.
Looking back, what did you do right that helped you break in?
Starting my MA in Creative Writing, working hard at writing (and finishing) the book during the course, and entering for the Bath Novel Awards I think were crucial to my timing for breaking in.
What would you have done differently if you could do it again?
During the decade or so I spent honing on my craft, I had moments where I felt like giving up and drove myself so hard. And at a point, I did give up writing and thought I could sell shoes instead! Now I realize that every single word I wrote and re-wrote as I waited for an opportunity to break in only contributed to making me a better writer. I should have been more patient and kinder to myself in the process.
Did you have a platform in place? What are you doing the build a platform and gain readership?
I was moderately active on Twitter and Instagram and had a blog (now defunct). I am on Instagram and Twitter as @abidare_author and working building my website.
What is the best piece of writing advice that we haven't discussed yet?
It is great to revise the work until it is as good as it can be, but sometimes, it might be better to let go of that project and start something new. Knowing when to let go and trusting your instinct on what works and doesn’t work in a project/ story.
Working on my next book.
Order your copy of The Girl With the Louding Voice by Abi Daré.