We were really excited to catch up with Abiola Bello (A.Bello) to talk about her new YA novel, Emily Knight I Am…Becoming …
The long-awaited third book in the Emily Knight I Am series. The series has met with critical acclaim, the second book in the series, Emily Knight I Am…Awakened was nominated for the Carnegie Medal 2019 and won London’s BIG Read in 2019.
As well as an author, Abiola is also a publishing entrepreneur, co-running publishing companies, Hashtag Press, HashBLAK, and INK. She is also the founder of The Lil’ Author School and co-founder of The Author School and The Diverse Book Awards.
Congratulations on the publication of Emily Knight I Am…Becoming! Tell us what fans can expect in the third of the Emily Knight books.
Thank you. I’m so excited and relieved that it’s out. I haven’t had a book out since 2017 and totally forgot how much you have to do. Fans of the series can expect a lot of plot twists, more battles, more fireballs, more boy drama, and just the overall stakes being higher.
How did it compare writing this book with the previous two?
This is actually the first book I wrote as an adult. I wrote Emily Knight I am … when I was 12 and I Am … Awakened at 15. Because this was meant to be the last book I really went for it and then I got halfway and realised that it was too big. So the I am … Becoming ending is really the halfway point. This book has the Knight family in it so it was really fun writing their dynamics with each other. Also, I didn’t have to do as much back story with this one so I could just get straight into the story.
What are your favourite things about the Emily Knight series? And what are you most proud of?
I just love that I have created such a diverse, strong world, and that Emily is a rounded, complicated character. I’m currently on a blog tour for the book and have been getting such great reviews and lots of ‘Emily is inspirational‘ which I love. I’m so proud of how it’s done, especially I am… Awakened receiving awards and the Carnegie nomination.
You also run your own publishing company and imprint. Can you tell us a bit more about this?
I co-run Hashtag Press and imprint Hashtag BLAK. Our aim is to celebrate diversity and inclusivity and, of course, strong women. We are really drawn to debut authors and Hashtag Press has some bestselling, award-winning authors which makes me so proud. Hashtag BLAK is really focused on underrepresented authors especially Black British authors and we have three books out next year from two Black British women and one Asian woman. I can’t wait to see what people think. The three books are so different from each other but I am obsessed with all of them. We also started up a self-publishing company called INK! because we love self-published authors and we have everything in place so we can help them with their books.
After the BLM protests this summer, the publishing industry released statements about improving the diversity in publishing across the board. Do you think the statements/intended commitments go far enough?
I think this is the most effort I have seen from publishing regarding diversity, but it will never change unless everyone makes a lifelong commitment to making their workplaces and authors diverse — this includes agents and bookshops and to pay fairly. I just don’t want it to be a trend because we’re trending.
What would be your suggested solution to the problems Black writers face in the publishing industry?
I would just say write your truth because our voices matter. There are setbacks but publishing is the most open it has ever been so this is the chance to go for it. Enter competitions as there are loads aimed at unpublished and diverse writers.
What has been the most valuable lesson you have learned since setting up your own publishing company?
To trust my gut. I get pretty spot on instincts and sometimes I will ignore it which has always come back to get me. I know instantly if I love a book and I need to stop second-guessing books that don’t get me excited. I think I just don’t want to say no to people because as an author I know how it feels but I can’t publish everyone so I’m getting better!
What are you reading at the moment?
I started doing book reviews during lockdown so have been sent loads of books. Right now I’m reading Little Badman and the Time-travelling Teacher of Doom by Henry White and Humza Arshad, and it is so funny. I don’t read many books that make me laugh but that book did. It’s a really good children’s book.
Which books are on your TBR pile?
You won’t believe me but I have 30 books on my TBR. Some are for reviews and some are for pleasure. I’m a mess lol. It’s getting harder and harder to read because I’m just too busy and I got held back because I had to read all the entries for The Diverse Book Awards but I’m determined to get through them by the end of the year. I have no idea why I keep buying more books though.
What’s next for you?
I signed to The Bent Agency and have finished my first commercial YA fiction book. It’s weird not writing fantasy but I love this book. It’s all about dance so I got to relive my dance days and it’s a bit older than Emily Knight. I can’t wait till that gets published. I wrote half of another book which I need to finish and of course the last Emily Knight book.
Emily Knight I Am…Becoming is available to buy from Hashtag Press