Birkbeck alumna Abi Dare’s (Creative Writing, 2018) debut novel, The Girl With the Louding Voice, has had huge success. It became a New York Times Bestseller, was shortlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize for first-time novelists, and won the Bath Novel Award in 2018. The Guardian listed Abi as one of 10 Best Debut Novelists of 2020.
The Girl With the Louding Voice follows the story of Adunni, a young Nigerian girl forced into an arranged marriage and servitude. Adunni dreams of going to school, reflecting Abi’s belief that education is vital; ‘It struck me how many girls, and children in general, but let’s focus on girls, are out of education in the world. As a mother of girls myself, it hits you hard. Girls are still often seen as a commodity and that education shouldn’t be wasted on them.’ In Adunni, Abi shows that education can represent freedom; ‘Thanks to education, Adunni will be wealthy, not necessarily in naira or dollars, but other things. It will help her to be equipped and make her own decisions. It is the foundation of life.’
When speaking of her own education, Abi reflects on her time studying Creative Writing at Birkbeck fondly. At the time, she was working full-time and looking after her two daughters, only able to see her husband at the weekend due to his work. Although it was hard, Abi felt supported; ‘The dedication of the lecturers was outstanding. They were invested in all of our success and recognised that we all tell our stories differently. Every single piece we wrote mattered and was listened to.’
Having submitted the first 3000 words of The Girl With the Louding Voice as part of her dissertation, Abi explains that what she learnt during her studies at Birkbeck played a significant role in the novel’s creation: ‘One piece of feedback that was consistent was that I needed to be stronger in my characterisation. As a result, I created a character that, I have been told, is very memorable. That is thanks to Birkbeck. In my novel, I acknowledge a group of us [at Birkbeck] that supported each other, the Supergroup we called ourselves. I couldn’t have done it without them! […] I have had friends read my work pre and post Birkbeck and there is a crystal clear difference – Birkbeck helped me to learn to read as a writer and analyse people’s work.’ This, in turn allowed Abi to see her own writing differently.
Abi says that her success ‘still feels surreal in many ways’. Recalling many exciting moments, she describes: ‘Some particular wow moments have been Dolly Parton saying that it was one of her favourite novels of the year, and it being a New York Times best seller. Appearing on the Today Show in the US was also great. Recently, I have been shortlisted for the British Book Awards and the Desmond Elliot Prize’.
However, the moments that have really mattered for Abi are those when the readers have been in touch: ‘There are those who have told me that it encouraged them to go back to school and pursue a dream. I have also had those who have asked how they can help people like Adunni and where they can support. It is nice to think that my writing goes beyond just entertainment’.
In offering advice to budding writers, Abi recommends: ‘It’s important to be consistent. Before Birkbeck, I had been writing for around ten years, and by the time I submitted a sample, it wasn’t perfect, but it was something that I hoped caught people’s attention. Keep writing and trying. Also, listen to advice and read a lot of books!’. Abi also emphasises, ‘It was worth getting my Master’s, and if you can get on a course like I did, pursue it. You will get something positive out of it.’