Annabel Kantaria explores her dark side for debut novel

Coming Home follows the life of Evie, who leaves her Dubai home for England after her father passes away, only to stumble upon dark family secrets.

Author Annabel Kantaria. Courtesy Annabel Kantaria
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It only took a few minutes for Annabel Kantaria's bubble to burst.

Even as she was basking in the success of winning the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature’s inaugural Montegrappa First Fiction award in 2013, the competition judge and renowned book agent Luigi Bonomi wasted no time in delivering a hard truth.

“He told me to wait back until the room emptied and then said: ‘Congratulations, you write beautifully but I don’t think your plot was that good,’” she recalls.

“I was like, crikey. I told him that I only wrote 35,000 words (just over a third) and he said that’s a good thing because you need to replot it.”

The stern advice paid off, as the resulting work became Kantaria's debut novel Coming Home. The domestic thriller received its international launch as part of this year's ­literary festival.

It was also at the event, held at the InterContinental Dubai Festival City last month, where Kantaria saw her novel on sale at the festival bookshop for the first time.

“It was such a strange and surreal moment to go out there and see the book finally out,” she says.

“It was an amazing experience just to hold it in my hand.”

Coming Home follows the life of Evie, who leaves her Dubai home for England after her father passes away, only to stumble upon dark family secrets.

Kantaria said most of the rewriting focused on giving the plot extra twists.

“What I have learnt is that you have to throw a few obstacles in the way of characters,” she said.

“You have to twist things around so that just when the characters know what they think is happening, you then go and mix it all up.”

The novel’s surprises were not only limited to the characters; Kantaria says she was initially taken aback by the novel’s foreboding turn.

She credits Bonomi for unleashing Coming Home's "creepiness".

“He told me to keep focusing on that darkness,” she says.

“So I started reading darker books while I was writing because before I read happy-­clappy books and was in turn writing happy-clappy stories.”

Kantaria is now following her darker muse by working on her second novel – another mysterious tale about an old woman who goes missing on a family holiday.

While writing the second book is admittedly not as daunting, she says the hard work remains the same.

“You just have to take it step by step and write every day,” she says.

“By doing that I hope that my writing also improves because I learnt a lot from the process the first time around.”

Coming Home is due out in paperback in May

sasaeed@thenational.ae