Spotlight: Kia Abdullah, Author and Journalist

Kia is an author and journalist. She studied Computer Science at Queen Mary, University of London, and switched from a career in information technology to writing. At 24 years old she wrote her debut novel Life, Love and Assimilation, which caused controversy due to its representation of the Bangladeshi community, and at the age of 27 years old she has written her second novel Child’s Play, a psychological crime thriller, which is out now. She also regularly contributes to the Guardian.

What play have you seen recently that you would recommend?
I think Wicked is good for a wide age range. I wish I could name a grassroots production or something more esoteric, but I’m afraid I’m a bit of a bandwagon theatre-goer. The next show I plan to catch is Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which I think will be very good.

What early theatrical experience can you remember having an impact on you?
I went to see a ballet at Sadler’s Wells with my primary school when I was about eight or nine years old. It was like entering a completely different world. There we were, an unruly group of working class children, replete with mother tongues and hand-me-downs, suddenly transported to this magical, enchanting place. I remember being transfixed by the sheer beauty of the performers and the intensity of the atmosphere. It showed me that experiences and escapism matter so much more than tangible possessions. To this day, I spend nearly all my money on doing things rather than having things.

How can theatres attract a more young and diverse audience?
The most obvious is to extend bigger discounts to local schools in order to encourage more trips to the theatre. This will expose pupils to a form of entertainment they may not usually choose, be it for cultural or financial reasons. Secondly, we need to increase the visibility of black and Asian writers and actors that are doing something different. Young people from ethnic minorities will always be interested in seeing productions from people like them, but I think they’re tired of the tokenism ubiquitous in mainstream media. We want to see black and Asian characters with full-bodied storylines that have nothing to do with the colour of their skin. If that visibility increases in theatre, I think the interest will come naturally.

Your novel Life, Love and Assimilation caused controversy due to its representation of the Bangladeshi community that included sex scenes, drugs, and abuse. Why do you think black and ethnic minorities are sensitive about representation?

The more voices we hear, the more freedom we’ll have to say what we want with those voices; if there is one gay Muslim in Eastenders, it may be an issue, but if there were ten or twenty Muslim characters across popular programmes, there would be less pressure on the one in Eastenders to be representative of the community. That is not to say that the mainstream media is wholly to blame. Ethnic minority cultures generally put a lot of gravitas on pride and reputation. I think we need to learn how to lampoon ourselves. The day my community can accept an Islamic version of The Life of Brian is the day we can stop worrying about this whole tokenism and sensitivity thing.

Are there different obstacles facing black and ethnic minority writers?
How many successful Asian sci-fi or horror or crime writers do you know? Mainstream publishers seem to only be interested in Asian writers that write sweeping literary novels in the tradition of Salman Rushdie and Vikram Seth or gutting misery memoirs about cultural divisions and identity. If you don’t fall neatly into one of those categories, you will struggle. Luckily, I found an independent publisher that shared my mindset; that believed in subverting expectations and taking a risk. Change is slow but it’s on its way.

Child’s Play, on Revenge Ink, is out now.


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