Ben HaywardSeptember 8th

A 21-year-old university student has landed herself a million-dollar book deal for her first novel - a high-school thriller tackling institutionalised racism.

Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé, from London, was just 19 years old, studying English, Chinese and anthropology at Aberdeen when she began writing Ace of Spades, reports the Guardian

“I was in my first year at university and I didn’t have many friends because I don’t drink as I’m Muslim, so I’d be in my room trying to figure out what to do.

“I was watching a lot of TV shows and I binged Gossip Girl in a few days,” said Faridah.

“I loved it so much but I was really sad that there weren’t many people who looked like me in it. I thought it’d be so cool if the shows I grew up with, like Pretty Little Liars and Gossip Girl, had more black people in them, so I started planning a story. I’d usually do uni during the day, then come home and write until 4am.”

And it seems her dedication paid off as Ace of Spades - along with a second novel - has now been snapped up US publisher Macmillan for a seven-figure sum and is due to be published next June.

The story follows musician Devon and head girl Chiamaka - the only two black students at the overwhelmingly white Niveus Private Academy - and explores the fallout when rumours about the students leave them fighting for their reputations and eventually their lives.

Faridah said: “I went to a really working-class school in south London – we all had the same socio-economic background, most of us were black or Asian. So writing was kind of like fantasy, I was trying to imagine what extreme wealth would look like.

She says the novel also delves into themes she is very passionate about, including homophobia in the black community, institutional racism and the diversity of thought among black people. 

She managed to take on an agent, landing a UK book deal with Usborne in 2018 before spending two years working with her editor before the novel it was sent out on submission to the US.

“I am so grateful for this opportunity to share this story and have others see themselves for the first time in these characters,” said Faridah.

“Macmillan put their money where their mouth is. Often in publishing, a lot of black authors don’t get the support so it was just so lovely to see them not lowball me. They wanted to show they were invested and I really appreciated that. 

“I was just a broke student writing to make myself some fictional friends. I’d always wanted to be a writer and I thought university was the best time to try new things because after that you have to get a proper job.”

Usborne described Ace of Spades as Gossip Girl meets Get Out, and ‘a blistering exploration of the barriers that black students face when they aspire to things that come easily to their white classmates’ with editor Becky Walker describing Faridah as ‘nothing short of searingly exceptional’.

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