Firstly, a massive congratulations to you on the publication of Agent Zaiba Investigates: The Missing Diamonds! For those who haven’t yet read the brilliant Agent Zaiba Investigates, can you briefly sum up what it’s about?
Thank you! Agent Zaiba Investigates is about a young girl whose dream is to be a secret detective. Whilst she’s at her cousin’s Mehndi party, Zaiba starts snooping around the Royal Star hotel (as any good detective would) and discovers a VIP star is staying at the hotel too! Not only that, the star’s pet dog and its diamond collar have gone missing. So Zaiba takes this as her chance to prove her skills and solve the mystery.
What was the original inspiration behind Agent Zaiba Investigates and did you undergo much research during your writing process?
I worked with Karen Ball on the inspiration for the story. She proposed the idea of a young British-Pakistani lead and the mystery/hotel setting and we went from there. I think a lot of my inspiration comes from mystery TV shows and books I used to watch when I was younger, even things like Goosebumps.
I did a lot of research about Pakistani wedding celebrations, and had lots of conversations with my dad about certain traditions. I grew up in the UK so there were certain things I didn’t know that my dad, who grew up in Pakistan, filled me in on.
Zaiba is such a determined and intelligent character, where do you get your inspiration to write your characters?
All the characters I write are amalgamations of people I know and also certain qualities I’d like children to see in books. For young girls especially reading this book, I’d like them to see that they can be brave and assertive and funny without being branded ‘bossy’ or ‘annoying’. If Zaiba can have those qualities and be praised for it in the book, then they can too.
I also think I can’t help but put a bit of myself in Zaiba. I am such a snoop and have a strong sense of justice like Zaiba does. I didn’t realise that we were similar until someone pointed it out though!
What advice would Zaiba give to other young budding detectives?
Do the right thing and stand up for what you know is right. Ask for help when you need it and don’t give up!
As I’m sure you’re aware of the shocking statistic of BAME characters in children’s literature, was it important for you to feature a BAMB protagonist in your book?
It’s hugely important. I only write about BAME protagonists because I actively want to improve the statistic. It’s shocking to me that so few books have people of colour as main characters. I know from being young and not seeing myself reflected in any of the books I loved how lonely and confusing that can be for a child’s sense of self. I’m writing the books I wanted as a child - adventures, fun and intrigue with characters that also happen to be brown.
Agent Zaiba Investigates is your debut children’s book; do you have any tips or advice for someone writing their own debut?
Just try and put as much as your own unique voice in the book as you can. Don’t try and emulate another writer, or include things you think might sell/be popular. I think authentic writing is the best writing!
Where and what do you envision Zaiba doing in the future?
Zaiba has many adventures planned, including one coming out this summer involving a poisoning at the summer fete!
I definitely think she’ll be going abroad in the future at some point too….
What do you hope readers take away from reading Agent Zaiba Investigates?
I hope they feel empowered to take matters into their own hands (when appropriate) and know that they are important. I also just hope that they enjoy it, and that it makes them excited about reading.
What’s your favourite children’s detective inspired novel out there?
I don’t think I have just one… There are so many brilliant ones out right now.
Please tell us this won’t be the last we see of Zaiba, Ali and Poppy! Any hints on a sequel?
Agent Zaiba Investigates: The Poison Plot will be out 23rd July this year, so not long to wait at all!
What else is on the horizon for 2020 for you?
I have another middle grade book, Llama Out Loud, coming out in July as well, so look out for that. Otherwise I’m pottering about at various festivals and events across the UK. If you follow me on Twitter and Instagram then I keep those updated with where you can find me.
And finally, I have to ask, what are your favourite children’s books at the moment? A childhood favourite and a current one!
My childhood favourite book…. there are so many and I say something different each time I’m asked. This time I’m going to say Michael Rosen’s Quick Lets Get Out of Here.
A current YA book I read was A Good Girls Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson. My gosh, it is GOOD!
And, if you could invite any five people – past and present – to a dinner party, who would you invite and why?
I can only think of three:
I used their work a lot during my Masters and admire them all so much. But also, think about the amazing advice they could give!
Annabelle Sami is a London-based writer at the beginning of her career. In 2017, she was a Winchester Writer’s Festival scholar and she has an MA in English Literature from Queen Mary University.
Agent Zaiba Investigates: The Missing Diamonds is published by Stripes Publishing.