Hello and welcome to The Black Experience 2.0: Giving White Comfort The Backseat.
The Black Experience 2.0 is the second edition of The Black Experience which was held last year in February. The Black Experience is a month long blog series held in honour of Black History Month, which features Black authors and Black bookish content creators and aims at highlighting Black stories and experiences.
TBE 2.0 is especially about giving Black people the space to be fully them and share their stories while centring themselves and their experience of Blackness and without care for the white gaze.
Today on TBE 2.0, I chat with the author of the highly anticipated YA debut, Ace of Spades, Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé (she/her). We talk about her debut, conventions in the Thriller genre, and ways in which real life can be more terrifying than fiction, especially for Black people.
Q: Hello Faridah! Thank you so much for taking out some of the time to chat with me today. It’s really great to have you here. Before we fully start with the interview, could you briefly introduce yourself and tell us a little on what your debut, Ace of Spades, is all about?
A: Hello! Thank you for having me. My name is Faridah Abike-Iyimide and my debut novel Ace of Spades releases on June 1st 2021. Ace of Spades is best pitched as Gossip Girl meets Get Out and it is a YA Thriller that follows Devon and Chiamaka in their final year at Niveus Private Academy. Things are going well for the both of them, for one they have both been elected as senior prefects this year, and they both have plans to graduate and attend elite Universities. Things start to take a turn when an anonymous texter – Aces – starts leaking their secrets to the entire school. Despite being very different people, Devon and Chiamaka have to put aside their differences and team up before things get deadly.
Q: Before we get down to business, for research (for fun ahem) purposes I like to ask anyone I interview who their favourite Winne the Pooh character is, so who is yours?
A: I love this question so much because I was OBSESSED with Winnie the Pooh when I was a kid. My bedroom was Winnie the Pooh themed and I even still own a Winnie the Pooh book filled with all of Winnie’s wisdom and advice. But back to the question… I think my favourite character is… Winnie. Not sure if that is basic, but I really love Winnie.
Q: On your Twitter and Instagram, you talk a lot about your love for Gossip Girl and how it impacted your decision to write Ace of Spades. What other books or media, aside of Gossip Girl, inspired you to write Ace of Spades?
A: This might surprise some people but ‘Animal Farm’ by George Orwell was a huge inspiration for me when writing Ace of Spades. I really loved the allegorical nature of Animal Farm and the way Orwell told this story about the Russian revolution through these animals. Ace of Spades is very much an allegory. Aspects of it may seem far fetched, but it’s meant to mirror real life events and experiences.
Q: A lot of thrillers and even books in the horror genre rely on ableist tropes as major twists or themes in their plots. The reliance on misrepresentation of mentally ill characters is quite rampant in the genre and from the reviews I’ve seen so far, Ace of Spades deviates from this convention and rather uses real and truly insidious experiences of Black and queer people instead. This must have been a lot for you, so I want to ask how did you feel throughout the writing process or writing these themes?
A: I’ve noticed that too and I really hope it is something that happens less in the genre as it is very harmful. I definitely wanted to steer clear of that because not only is it problematic but I think it sends a very bad message to teenagers – many of whom are dealing with disabilities and mental health issues – that they are antagonists.
Writing Ace of Spades was definitely a long and gruelling self-therapy session. Writing the book was painful because I had to really uncover thoughts and feelings I hadn’t really felt in a while. Being a Black teenager in this very anti-black world is traumatic, and I think while reliving that trauma was hard, I ultimately felt like it was a healing process, as I was adamant on giving my main characters a happy ending. An ending Black people deserve.
Q: As I said before real life situations are more insidious than exaggerations, so I want to ask what are some of your favourite books or media that utilise these themes (real life scenarios)?
A: I reallyyy love Dear White People, I think it is smart and fun and also really important!
Q: I know you must love both of your main characters, but which of you MCs do you identify with the most?
A: This is so hard because there are aspects of both characters that I identify a lot with… but I think Devon. He grew up in very similar circumstances to me, some scenes/ aspects of his life and upbringing are heavily influenced by mine.
Q: Something a little fun before wrapping up, as a lover of Winnie the Pooh (yes, I’m mentioning this again), I’ll like to know Chiamaka and Devon’s verdict on the cartoons?
A: Winnie is something Devon is definitely a fan of. Devon is not so up to date with programmes that are aimed at his demographic as he mostly watches whatever his baby brothers watch. Chiamaka on the other hand was probably a huge Winnie fan as a kid but outgrew it quickly (sad)
Q: I’ve asked you to pitch your book in seven words before, so instead of asking that again, what seven words would immediately grab your attention in a pitch?
A: Queer, Black, Arthurian, Nigerian, Plantain, Monsters, Gothic
About Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé, 22, is a writer from South London who has dreamt of writing books about Black kids saving (or destroying) the world all her life. Her debut novel ACE OF SPADES is an unputdownable thriller that delves deep into the heart of institutionalized racism. Billed as ‘Get Out meets Gossip Girl with a shocking twist’, gal-dem has called it ‘one of 2021’s biggest books’.
Àbíké-Íyímídé describes the novel as “a love letter to queer Black teenagers who feel powerless and alone finally finding their voices. I hope readers see that Black people belong in stories like Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars, and that above everything else we deserve happy endings.”
The novel was acquired by Usborne Publishing in 2018 and then pre-empted by Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group US for a seven figure deal in early 2020. ACE OF SPADES will publish simultaneously in the UK and US in June 2021.
Àbíké-Íyímídé established and runs a mentorship scheme for unagented writers of colour, helping them on their journey to get published. She has also written for NME, The Bookseller, Readers Digest and gal-dem, and currently studies English Literature at a university in the Scottish Highlands.
You can find Faridah on Twitter and Instagram @faridahlikestea and on her website https://www.faridahabikeiyimide.com.
More on Ace of Spades
Expected publication date: 1 June (US); 10 June (UK)
An incendiary and utterly compelling thriller with a shocking twist that delves deep into the heart of institutionalized racism, from an exceptional new YA voice. Welcome to Niveus Private Academy, where money paves the hallways, and the students are never less than perfect. Until now. Because anonymous texter, Aces, is bringing two students’ dark secrets to light. Talented musician Devon buries himself in rehearsals, but he can’t escape the spotlight when his private photos go public. Head girl Chiamaka isn’t afraid to get what she wants, but soon everyone will know the price she has paid for power. Someone is out to get them both. Someone who holds all the aces. And they’re planning much more than a high-school game…