Kia Abdullah on writing Child’s Play

Kia Abdullah, author of Child's Play
Kia Abdullah, author of Child's Play

1) What three words describe you best? What defines your writing style?

I’m very independent and determined, but unfortunately also very stubborn. I am possibly the most pig-headed person you will ever meet – I know I should try and change, but the very nature of my stubbornness means I never will.

As for my writing style, I wish I could say it was disciplined, but it varies. Some weeks I’ll feel really unmotivated and waste hours on the net, but other days, I’ll write whole chapters with ease. In general, I prefer writing articles as it requires a lot less discipline and the reward comes faster, but nothing compares to holding a finished novel in your hands.

2) Can you tell our readers in no more than 50 words, what is Child’s Play about?

Child’s Play is a dark psychological thriller that follows Allegra Ashe, a young woman who is manipulated into joining a secret government unit that targets paedophiles. It’s disturbing in parts, touching in others, but also surprisingly sexy. In short – it’s not for the faint-hearted.

3) I loved the premise of Child’s Play. Where did the idea come from?

Thank you! It’s great to hear that, especially since the premise is so ‘out there’. The idea came from a debate I had with friends about national identity cards. I started thinking about how far we were willing to let things go in the name of law enforcement. At what point is it okay to encroach on a person’s right to privacy? What if that person is a paedophile? Would it be okay to entice them into committing a crime? And if so, where does it stop? Who’s next on the list? I didn’t want to write a book as a crusade so I took that concept and used it to write a bonafide thriller.

4) I loathed Michael Stallone. Have you ever met a man like him in the real world?

I have certainly met men who have the same type of charm. It’s a quality that allows them to manipulate people and situations to suit themselves. Michael uses his charm to manipulate Allegra in a very dark way. I think many women in real life are drawn to that dark, sometimes dangerous quality. An extreme example would be women who stay with abusive husbands because “deep down, he really loves me”. So while I haven’t met anyone quite like him, I’m sure they exist.

5) I didn’t warm to your main character, Allegra. I found her disturbing, emotionally insecure and the epitome of a woman who isn’t ever happy. What were your hopes for Allegra when you were penning her and how do you think your readers will feel about her?

I have a tendency to create flawed heroines. Some readers will find it hard to understand Allegra’s motivations, but I think many will be able to relate to her less-than-charming traits. I think many modern women suffer from what I call ‘The Superwoman Complex’; the unrelenting need to prove one’s independence, which, on the surface, looks like a sign of strength, but is actually a sign of emotional insecurity.

7) What do you think your writing says about you as a person and what do you hope by writing ‘out of the box’?

My writing subverts expectations and can be quite irreverent – a little bit like me! I don’t shy away from writing about sex or violence – things good little Muslims girls shouldn’t know or think about. I’ve been criticised for that, but I don’t take it to heart.

As for my hopes, I want to show that Asian writers can write commercial fiction; that it doesn’t always have to be sweeping literary novels or misery memoirs full of identity politics and arranged marriages. We have been put in a box labelled “ethnic writing” and it’s time we broke out of it.

8 ) Tell us a bit more about your writing journey. How did you get involved in writing?

As a young pupil, I was often told I would become a writer. At 14, I did my work experience at the Sunday Times, but when it came to choosing a degree, I opted for Computer Science for its job prospects. After graduating, I wrote my first novel, Life, Love & Assimilation, more as a personal form of catharsis than an attempt at getting published, but get published I did. I then left IT to become a full-time writer. I worked at Asian Woman Magazine for a year before going freelance to give myself time to finish the book. I started writing comment for the Guardian newspaper and copy-editing for various magazines, all the while working on the book. A year later, here it is!

9) You signed up with a relatively small publisher – what made you do that? What did the process involve? And would you encourage more new authors to sign up with independent publishers?

Big publishers are risk-averse at the best of times. Mid-recession, they are opting for sure bets, which means writers who have bestsellers or celebrity tags to their name. An Asian writer who isn’t doing ‘Asian writing’ is far from a sure bet so I knew all along that I was going to publish with a small press. I was working at Asiana Magazine when the press release about Revenge Ink found its way to my desk. It said the company focused on writing that was subversive, unique, sexy and rebellious. Straight away, I emailed their PR agent and said I had a book I wanted them to read. Within a week, they told me they wanted it.

Regarding advice to new writers, big publishers naturally find it easier to get publicity for their writers so if you have your heart set on being the next J K Rowling, a big publisher is the way to go. If, however, you’re happy for your book to do relatively well and are prepared to work hard for it, then an independent is an easier option. Just remember that it’s word of mouth – not expensive advertisements or reviews – that really drives a book’s success.

10) What have you learnt about yourself during the writing/publishing process?

As I was growing up, I was very ambitious and also money-driven. I grew up in a conservative family and had very little freedom and, to me, money equalled freedom and I thought the more I had of it, the freer I’d be. By giving up my well-paid job in IT to take up writing, I learnt that what you need is all you need – the rest is superfluous. I learnt that if you make enough money to pay for your rent, bills and your small pleasures, that’s enough.

11) Finally, what advice would you give to an aspiring novelist?

My advice is threefold:

1. Find out if you are actually good. Writing isn’t like maths; there is no quantifiable way to measure talent (hence the inevitable insecurity that affects most writers) but get honest feedback from friends and hone your skills.

2. Don’t give up: If you know you have what it takes, persevere. Network and make connections. Comment on literary agents’ and writers’ blogs, follow them on Twitter, join writing communities. You never know who is going to get you your big break.

3. Finally, don’t give up your day job. This may sound negative but it’s likely that you enjoy writing because it’s pleasure, not work. Once it becomes work and there is pressure to produce words on a daily basis, the love affair may turn sour. The writing life may sound romantic but read this article – and you will see that the reality can be different.

Above all, have fun. Getting published is a difficult process and rejections are hard to take, but try to enjoy the writing process. I loathe to use a cliché, but remember: it’s about the journey, not the destination.