A student from Croydon has been signed up by publishers for her debut novel in a two-book deal that could be worth more than £1million.
Faridah Abike-Iyimide’s Ace of Spades will be on sale in June 2021, published in this country by Usborne Publishing and in the United States by Macmillan. Now 21, she has been working on the book since she was 19, while studying English, Chinese and anthropology at Aberdeen University.
When she was told the size of her publishing deal, “I started panicking because I come from a very working-class background and I have never had even close to that amount of money,” she said.
Her young adult novel follows two black students trying to find out who is spreading damaging rumours about them at their elite private school.
“I was in my first year at university and I didn’t have many friends because I don’t drink as I’m Muslim, so I’d be in my room trying to figure out what to do. I was watching a lot of TV shows and I binged Gossip Girl in a few days,” she said.
“I loved it so much but I was really sad that there weren’t many people who looked like me in it. I thought it’d be so cool if the shows I grew up with, like Pretty Little Liars and Gossip Girl, had more black people in them, so I started planning a story. I’d usually do uni during the day, then come home and write until 4am.”
Abike-Iyimide grew up in Croydon in a Nigerian Muslim family and attended an all-girls Catholic school which, she says, “was eventful”.
She said that in writing her book, “I really want to emphasise just how much I would love black kids to see they deserve a happy ending.
“With all the protests happening and black people being institutionally harmed and all these systems working against them constantly, it can be so easy for them to feel they don’t have a place or any bright future.
“I want them to know that the book was written so they can see there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
Abike-Iyimide said she had accepted Macmillan’s offer in America because the publisher had a Nigerian editor who understood both her characters and story.
Throughout the process, the writer remained wary of publishers who would make major changes to the book’s message. “I have seen other authors who have struggled even when they have had a lot of money given to them by their publisher, especially authors of colour. I wanted to make sure that above any amount of money that I had the best team.
“I chose my team based on who I thought really understood the book and were going to make sure that black teens got to see themselves represented in the way that I had intended them to be.
“My upbringing was working class so I was very used to that environment,” she said. “Then I went to Scotland for university where it was very white and for the first time I felt I was struggling to find people I could relate to. I could go days without seeing another person of colour, which is not something I was used to.
“That definitely influenced my writing because my book is about two black kids in a school that is overwhelmingly white.
“Just the experience of microaggressions and feeling you are being watched and feeling you are out of place.”
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