Author Q&A: Kiley Reid

Such a Fun Age
(Bloomsbury: £12.99 HB, £10.90 Ebook, £12.99 Audible) 

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Alix is a successful influencer and speaker, and a mum of two. Emira is her babysitter. When Emira is confronted by a man in a supermarket, accusing her of kidnapping her charge on account of her being a black woman, dressed a certain way, with a white toddler, Alix is outraged, but Emira hopes to forget it. US author Kiley Reid’s debut novel explores transactional relationships across race and class in a social media age. 

Alix makes her living writing letters in beautiful cursive handwriting. Do you do any of your writing by hand?
I do quite a bit of my writing by hand. I like to write out plot lines and character profiles and dialogue, especially in the first stages of crafting something new, and whatever stands out will later make it to a Word document.

In your book people spy on each other by checking text notifications and social media stalking. Are you making a point about privacy or is this just part of a modern narrative?
When it comes to fiction I’m not a fan of overly polemic writing, and I try to make what my characters say and do part of their natural – and in this case – modern narrative. Rather than making a point, I was much more interested in discovering why characters feel that they need to snoop in phones that aren’t theirs, and what they may be getting out of overstepping their bounds.

What does Such A Fun Age explore about transactional relationships?
The story explores the modern-day effects of a long history of black women caring for white children in this country, as slaves, domestic workers, and as babysitters and nannies. But the story also highlights transactions that aren’t monetary but still important. Emira’s friend Zara often spots her when she’s broke. Alix’s friends have the network and ability to connect her to new careers. In addition to the babysitter-mother relationship, each woman’s friendship circle shows the different type of transactions that happen within different types of class circles, and the wealth of these transactions often have nothing to do with income or meritocracy.

Many of Emira’s decisions are motivated by a need for job and health security. Is it possible to be politically empowered and poor?
So many of the wonderful political advancements we’ve seen are due to the organisation of the poor and marginalized. But it’s a lot easier to be politically empowered when you have a healthy body and mind, as well as a financial support system that allows focus on political change instead of paying your bills on time. I think Emira is an example of the worries and concerns that take precedence over everything – even political action that can better your situation – when a someone is not making a living wage.

The book also explores versions of truth. Is there a single truth you’d like readers to take away from it?
My favourite books always give me more questions than answers and I really hope to give that to readers as well. I love when a book helps me zoom out visually and look at the boundaries and challenges placed on every character, such as: why does Emira need to decide what her career will be at age 24? Or: why didn’t college set Emira up for success the way that it did for Alix? These questions don’t pose easy answers, but I love exploring how these boundaries came to be, what an environment without those challenges would look like, and what it would take to get there.

What advice would you give to your 25-year-old self?
I used to put a lot of stock into how I was writing rather than what I was writing. I would let the feeling of not appearing “professional” interfere with my process if my writing was ever a bit messy or was done in pyjamas. But I’ve learned that writing isn’t like sleeping: you can’t pretend to do it as a means of later doing it. You just have to do it. I would probably tell myself to spend less time worrying about how “writerly” I appeared to be, and focus on whatever brought me to the page.

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