Take It Back by Kia Abdullah
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Take It Back by Kia Abdullah

20th March 2020

Presenting a bold new voice in fiction, the searing Take It Back by Kia Abdullah

Take It Back by Kia Abdullah

Take It Back is a gripping courtroom drama in which 16-year-old Jodie accuses four classmates of something unthinkable. Jodie is white and the four accused are Muslim, a fact that ignites a tinderbox of tension in the streets of East London. Powerful, moving and intelligent, Take It Back is a compulsive read.

Here, author Kia Abdullah tells us why she wrote the novel and how she feels ahead of its paperback release. Her account is followed by an extract from the novel.

Take It Back is not an angry novel, but it does come from a place of anger. It’s hard for me to admit this because anger is such a base emotion. It earns neither trust nor respect; it just spits and seethes instead. But I was angry, possibly for as long as an entire decade. I was raised in a conservative British-Bangladeshi family and felt stifled by the pressures it placed on me: to marry early, to be quiet, to be docile, to be good. I struggled with the cultural tribalism that said ‘if you’re one of us, you can’t be one of them’.

As the years marched on and the mood turned against British Muslims, I found myself in a place of limbo. My community had its flaws – some of which I suffered first-hand – but it was not the malevolent monolith portrayed in the media. My loyalty clashed with my latent anger to create my central character of Zara, an ex-lawyer turned rape counsellor.

Zara is similarly caught between two worlds and I was keen to test her loyalties. Enter Jodie, a 16-year-old girl that accuses four classmates of rape. Jodie is white and the four boys are Muslim – an inherently tense context that allowed me to explore the issues that mattered to me: mob mentality and how the media treat people based on their race or faith. A court case lent natural structure to the story and thus the basis of the novel was formed. I was aware, however, that I had no legal experience and therefore undertook intensive research.

I spent a week at London’s Old Bailey and enlisted the help of a barrister and a solicitor. The first invited me to chambers and the second read the novel to root out faux pas. Between the two, they answered a hundred questions. Other generous strangers also offered support: two rape counsellors, a survivor of assault and an ex-police officer.

I was incredibly grateful for their time. Equally, I was conscious of doing ‘too’ much research and weighing down the novel with technical detail. For me, the key was to research comprehensively, then pull it back to 70% for the sake of the story. The result is Take It Back, a gripping courtroom drama at heart that also says something important about the world, as I believe all good fiction should.

The feedback has been overwhelming. Take It Back was named one of the best new thrillers by The Guardian, The Telegraph and The Sunday Times, and readers have been incredibly supportive. Word-of-mouth is invaluable for lesser-known authors like me and I’m grateful to every single person who has told me that they have literally pushed the book into the hands of friends and colleagues.

I’m especially heartened by readers who note that Take It Back is more than a courtroom drama. Writers of crime fiction often worry that our books are not taken seriously as works of literature, but there is so much care and craft that goes into them. I’m thankful that readers have picked up on that.

As the paperback is released, my hope is of course to reach more readers. I would love to hit the bestseller list one day but I’m also aware that this doesn’t happen overnight (if ever) for most authors. The best we can do is to keep writing good books and hope that people will buy them, read them, love them and share them. The bestseller list would be nice but what I really want is to earn enough readers to be allowed to continue.


She watched her reflection in the empty glass bottle as the truth crept in with the wine in her veins. It curled around her stomach and squeezed tight, whispering words that paused before they stung, like a paper cut cutting deep: colourless at first and then vibrant with blood. You are such a fucking cliché, it whispered – an accusation, a statement, a fact. The words stung because Zara Kaleel’s self-image was built on the singular belief that she was different. She was different to the two tribes of women that haunted her youth. She was not a docile housewife, fingers yellowed by turmeric like the quiet heroines of the second-gen literature she hated so much. Nor was she a rebel, using her sexuality to subvert her culture. And yet here she was, lying in freshly stained sheets, skin gleaming with sweat and regret.

Luka’s post-coital pillow talk echoed in her ear: ‘it’s always the religious ones’. She smiled a mirthless smile. The alcohol, the pills, the unholy foreskin – it was all so fucking predictable. Was it even rebellious anymore? Isn’t this what middle-class Muslim kids did on weekends?

Luka’s footsteps in the hall jarred her thoughts. She shook out her long dark hair, parted her lips and threw aside the sheets, secure in the knowledge that it would drive him wild. Women like Zara were never meant to be virgins. It’s little wonder her youth was shrouded in hijab.

He walked in, a climber’s body naked from the waist up, his dirty blond hair lightly tracing a line down his chest. Zara blinked languidly, inviting his touch. He leaned forward and kissed the delicate hollow of her neck, his week-old stubble marking tiny white lines in her skin. A sense of happiness, svelte and ribbon-like, pattered against her chest, searching for a way inside. She fought the sensation as she lay in his arms, her legs wrapped with his like twine.

‘You are something else,’ he said, his light Colorado drawl softer than usual. ‘You’re going to get me into a lot of trouble.’

He was right. She’d probably break his heart, but what did he expect screwing a Muslim girl? She slipped from his embrace and wordlessly reached for her phone, the latest of small but frequent reminders that they could not be more than what they were. She swiped through her phone and read a new message: ‘Can you call when you get a sec?’ She re-read the message then deleted it. Her family, like most, was best loved from afar.

Luka’s hand was on her shoulder, tracing the outline of a light brown birthmark. ‘Shower?’ he asked, the word warm and hopeful between his lips and her skin.

She shook her head. ‘You go ahead. I’ll make coffee.’

He blinked and tried to pinpoint the exact moment he lost her, as if next time he could seize her before she fled too far, distract her perhaps with a stolen kiss or wicked smile. This time, it was already too late. He nodded softly, then stood and walked out.

Zara lay back on her pillow, a trace of victory dancing grimly on her lips. She wrapped her sheets around her, the expensive cream silk suddenly gaudy on her skin. She remembered buying an armful years ago in Selfridges; Black American Express in hand, new money and aspiration thrumming in her heart. Zara Kaleel had been a different person then: hopeful, ambitious, optimistic.

Zara Kaleel had been a planner. In youth, she had mapped her life with the foresight of a shaman. She had known which path to take at every fork in the road, singlemindedly intent on reaching her goals. She finished law school top of her class and secured a place on Bedford Row, the only brown face at her prestigious chambers. She earned six figures and bought a fast car. She dined at Le Gavroche and shopped at Lanvin and bought everything she ever wanted – but was it enough? All her life she was told that if she worked hard and treated people well, she’d get there. No one told her that when she got there, there’d be no there there.

When she lost her father six months after their estrangement, something inside her slid apart. She told herself that it happened all the time: people lost the ones they loved, people were lost and lonely but they battled on. They kept on living and breathing and trying but trite sentiments failed to sooth her anger. She let no one see the way she crumbled inside. She woke the next day and the day after that and every day until, a year later, she was on the cusp of a landmark case. And then, she quit. She recalled the memory through a haze: walking out of chambers, manic smile on her face, feeling like Michael Douglas in Falling Down. She planned to change her life. She planned to change the world. She planned to be extraordinary.

Now, she didn’t plan so much.


Kia Abdullah


Kia Abdullah is an author and travel writer. She has contributed to The Guardian, BBC, and Channel 4 News, and most recently The New York Times commenting on a variety of issues affecting the Muslim community. Kia currently travels the world as one half of the travel blog Atlas & Boots, which receives over 200,000 views per month. kiaabdullah.com



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