Annabel Kantaria at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature 2019 |

Annabel Kantaria Talks Social Media and Her Latest Book, "I Know You"

The Dubai-based author shares insights into her latest novel, and her upcoming masterclass at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature

Posted on

17 February 2019

Last updated on 31 March 2019
by Rebecca Roberts
Interview with Annabel Kantaria ahead of Emirates Airline Festival of Literature 2019

Have you ever worried about who is looking at your social media accounts?

Or perhaps you're a parent concerned over the privacy - or lack of - your child has online. Whatever your circumstance, there's no denying that the rise of social media has made our lives so much more accessible to those we want to see it - and those who we don't.

These risks of social media and sharing too much online is the driving narrative in Annabel Kantaria's latest novel, "I Know You".

The Dubai-based author will be delving into her newest book and discussing the dangers of social media at this year's Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. Happening from March 1st to 9th, 2019 - the festival is back for this year, and bringing people of all ages and backgrounds together with authors from across the world.

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You can meet Annabel herself on Thursday 7th March during the "Is The Future Social?" event, alongside Ty Tashiro and Katherine Ormerod. Tickets can be bought here.

Ahead of her appearance at this year's festival, we had the chance to catch-up with the 2013 Montegrappa Writing Prize winner...

1. When did you first realise you wanted to be a writer?

"When I was six or seven years old, we were told to write a story at school. Most people wrote less than a page; I took mine home over the weekend and wrote eight pages. I got totally lost in my story and lived it as I wrote it – I still remember that feeling of escapism and how much I enjoyed the process of writing it.

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"I don’t want to paint myself as a child prodigy – my story may well have been rubbish and I’m quite sure a lot of it was stolen from a book I’d read – but the point is that it was from then on that I discovered that I loved writing, and that I have to write. It’s a need."

2. How long does it take you to write a book?

"Haha, as long as the publisher gives me to write it! I’m currently on a contract with Harper Collins, so it’s very much a job. I get given delivery deadlines and I have to stick to them.

"For my first four books, the deadline was always July 1, so I had a year to write each book. That includes coming up with the idea, doing preliminary research, fleshing out the concept and then writing and doing at least one or two edits myself before submitting.

"I have children so I’d always have a bit of a break in the summer after a delivering a manuscript on July 1, and a lot of the autumn was always spent doing publisher edits of the book I’d just handed in, so, realistically, I probably write a book from start to finish in six months, with weekends and school holidays off.

"However, with my fifth book, my editor wants me to try something a bit different, and she’s taken me off the yearly deadline, so I have a little more time to play with, which is nice."

3. What is your schedule like when you’re writing?

"My son leaves for school at 7.10am and I’m at my desk by 7.20am. I write until about 9.30am then I have a short break. I find that early session is really productive as the day hasn’t yet kicked in and there are no distractions, both mentally and physically. My mind is clearest at that time, too.

"I then write again till about 11.30am or 12pm when I’ll go to the gym. It’s really important to do that, or I’d just be welded to my seat. Writing is obviously both solitary and sedentary and I need to force myself to get out, interact with the world and get some exercise.

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"After that I’ll have lunch, then I pick up my son. If he doesn’t need me for anything in the afternoon, I might shift the laptop into the kitchen for a change of scene and write a bit more, but not always. If I have marketing things to do like preparing talks and classes, writing blogs, updating social media and my website or doing interviews, I might do that in the afternoon.

"I never work in the evening. I’m too tired! I aim for 2,000 words a day – sometimes it’s more, but I never let myself do less than 1,000 words in a day when I’m in the writing phase."

4. Please summarise your "How to Write a Novel" masterclass in 3 points.

  • How to get started: ideas, planning and creating the ‘hook’.
  • How to keep the momentum: structure, pace, rhythm, and delivering what you promise.
  • Troubleshooting: writers’ block, sticky plots, saggy middles, dodgy characters and unnecessary subplots.

5. Is there anything not included in your masterclass you think aspiring authors should know?

"Writing fiction is not an exact science. What works for one book might not work for the next. Stories change as they grow: even the best planning might fall by the wayside."

6. …and what do you advise new authors DON’T do?

"Unless you’re writing something very precise like historical fiction, don’t waste weeks researching a story – that’s procrastination.

"Don’t do comprehensive edits as you go along as the story may change as it progresses and then you’ll have wasted all that time perfecting something that doesn’t end up in the book.

"Don’t waste energy worrying about what people will think of your story – just write it."

7. What do you think makes a good story?

  • Universal themes that apply to everyone.
  • Subjects that pull at your heart strings.
  • A story that’s so relevant it makes you think: ‘what if that happened to me?’
Interview with Annabel Kantaria ahead of Emirates Airline Festival of Literature 2019

8. Your recent novel, I Know You, delves into the risks of social media and how what we post online can give people who intend to harm us an open window into our lives… Do you feel there’s truth to this in real life?

"Yes, totally. I did quite a bit of research when I was writing this book and it’s shocking how much we reveal about ourselves and our lives without intending to. For example, an innocent picture of a sunrise or a sunset, taken from your bedroom window, can – with a bit of digging – reveal exactly where you live. Throw in Google Maps Street View and someone with an ulterior motive, and it’s quite sinister.

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"There’s a video that schools show to kids aged about nine or ten that demonstrates this. You see a young girl posting pictures of herself online, and then you see her house with her front door open, and a big sign with her picture on it, inviting strangers up into her bedroom (where she’s taking the pictures) – you see a creepy middle-aged man walk into her house, messaging her, pretending to be a girl her age… every child should watch it. And some adults too!"

9. You have children - do they use social media, and if so, how do you protect them?

"My son is nine and I don’t let him use it at all. He’s desperate for Instagram and a YouTube account but I don’t want him valuing himself by how many ‘likes’ he has and I don’t think he has the maturity yet to understand the implications of posting personal things online.

"My daughter is nearly 14 and she has Instagram and SnapChat. I follow her myself so I can see what she’s doing although I realise that her generation is way more savvy than I am: if she wants to create secret accounts and use apps I’ve never heard of, I’m sure she will.

"So, the main thing I try to do is make sure she understands the dangers of posting too much detail online, teach her how to stay safe, and keep the dialogue open so that, if she gets into any trouble online, she feels she can talk to me about it without fear of being told off. But, as a parent, it’s terrifying."

10. A lot of teenagers and young adults are arguably ‘addicted’ on how they portray their lives online… What piece of advice would you share with them?

You’re worth so much more than the sum of your ‘likes’.

How to meet Annabel at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature

Annabel's "How to Write a Novel: a Masterclass in 30 Tips" is now sold out. But fans of Annabel and her work still have the chance to see and meet her during the "Is The Future Social?" session at this year's #DubaiLitfest alongside Katherine Ormerod and Ty Tashiro.

  • Date: Thursday 7th March, 2019
  • Time: 7.30pm - 8.30pm
  • Location: Al Ras 2, InterContinental, DFC
  • Price: AED 75 / AED 68 for Foundation Friends
  • Buy your tickets

Do we live in an age of distraction or greater connectedness, and what will our social lives look like in the future?

Weighing in on whether or not social media can be a force for good in mental health, personal safety and community are Annabel Kantaria, whose latest domestic thriller "I Know You" revolves around the dangers of social media; Katherine Ormerod, the author of "Why Social Media is Ruining Your Life"; and author, psychologist and relationship expert Ty Tashiro, who is known for his expertise on the science of relationships and online dating.

Emirates Airline Festival of Literature
Sponsored by
Emirates Airline Festival of Literature
The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature is the Arab World’s largest celebration of the written and spoken word. The 2021 festival will be held across three weekends at three fantastic venues: January 29 - 30 at the Jameel Arts Centre, February 4 - 6 at InterContinental Dubai, and from February 29 - 30 at Alserkal Avenue in Al Quoz.