Described as Sex and the City with a killer edge for fans of Queenie, Expectation and My Sister, The Serial Killer, Nikki May’s debut novel will resonate with many readers, whatever their background.
A fierce bidding war broke out between publishers after she had written it and it has now been snapped up for a major BBC adaptation.
Ronke, Simi, Boo are three mixed-race friends living in London. They have the gift of two cultures, Nigerian and English, though they don’t all choose to see it that way.
Everyday racism has never held them back, but now in their thirties, they question their future. Ronke wants a husband (he must be Nigerian), Boo endures stay-at-home motherhood while Simi, full of fashion career dreams, rolls her eyes as her boss refers to her ‘urban vibe’ yet again.
When Isobel, a lethally glamorous friend from their past arrives in town, she is determined to fix their futures for them.
Cracks in their friendship begin to appear, and it is soon obvious Isobel is not sorting but wrecking. When she is driven to a terrible act, the women are forced to reckon with a crime in their past that may just have repeated itself.
Born in Bristol and raised in Lagos, May is Nigerian-British. At twenty, she dropped out of medical school, moved to London, and began a career in advertising, going on to run a successful agency.
Now living in Dorset with her husband and two standard Schnauzers, she says she started ‘doodling’ out Wahala’s characters after a long lunch with friends at a Nigerian restaurant in London.
She recalls, in a recent media interview, that on the slow train home, she was ‘code switching out of Nigerian me into English me’ and coming up with the characters.
‘By the time I got to Crewkerne, which is two-and-a-half-hours away, I’d written the first scene – and remarkably, it has hardly changed from that sketchy draft I did nearly three years ago.’
In the interview with the i, May says it’s the book she’d always wanted to read: one with ‘people like me in it’.
‘I wanted to read about characters whose lives include Jollof rice and cornrows and carjacking in the same breath as focaccia and Soho House and ski holidays.’
Says Emily Watkins in the i: ‘Details of Nigerian food, clothes and language weave many of Wahala’s chapters and characters together, but its central themes – of friendship, revenge and inheritance – will resonate with readers no matter their own background. This was precisely May’s intention. “When we get out of having black books and white books, that would be a good place to get to – because it’s just a book,” says May. “I wanted it to be a celebration of my two cultures and I wanted it to be universal.”.’
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