It’s no secret how much I adore Talia Hibbert’s work. She is one of my instabuy authors, as she writes characters I fall hard for and want to be friends with, pining that’s excruciatingly delicious, and books I cannot put down. I fell so hard for Hannah in Untouchable. Fell for her and felt for her, and loved watching this romance unfold. Untouchable is one of my most favorite books of Hibbert’s, and I was thrilled to get a chance to talk to her about it!
A Bit About
Talia Hibbert is a romance author who tells diverse, steamy stories of contemporary love. Her interests include beauty, junk food, and devouring all forms of media. She lives in a tiny English town that doesn’t even get Deliveroo, and kisses her high school sweetheart every day. Y’know; for luck.
An Interview with Talia
How would you describe yourself to a new reader just discovering your work?
There are some things that can always be found in my books: body positivity, diversity, kindness, family, and sexual tension. I’d say I write hot and human romance; every main character is sexy but considerate. Well, they try, anyway!
It’s also important to me that my books are respectful and inclusive of everyone. I hate when I’m enjoying a book, only to come across bad representation or a throwaway comment that reveals the book wasn’t intended for black/disabled/queer readers, or whatever. All of a sudden I’m yanked out of the story by the realisation that its author doesn’t care if they hurt me. That in their world, I’m an outsider, either disliked or simply not thought of. I don’t ever want someone to experience that reading my books. I hope no-one ever will.
What authors or books have you been reading lately that you would highly recommend?
Oooh, where to begin?! In fact, no, let me behave—you said lately, so I’ll stick to that. I’m currently fan-girling over the Psy-Changeling series by Nalini Singh, which I have been forcing into my eyeballs at an alarming rate. I’ve truly never read anything like it. And the ability to write a 15+ book series with such a vast, overarching arc… whew! That’s goals right there.
I also just discovered Jude Lucen’s debut, Behind These Doors, which I will happily call a masterpiece. It’s a polyamorous historical romance, and holy hell that book is gorgeous. I was highlighting practically every page on my Kindle. Plus, it’s so overflowing with LOVE? LOVE EVERYWHERE. It made me so happy.
If you have one, tell me about a book crush, book squish, or book friend?
My book friend is Rosa Spencer from Therese Beharrie’s Surprise Baby, Second Chance, because her anxiety is very relatable and because I want to be her We’ll Get Through This pal. You know, the friend who ties you to a chair and feeds you marshmallows and reminds you why everything will be fine. She needs one of those, and she deserves it, and we would be a great team!
I loved how important family is in Untouchable, both the blood family of both MCs and the way they create family together. What led you to write a romance that centers family in this way?
I think that centring family comes naturally to me because family is such a huge part of my life. My family, not just relatives but family, probably looks strange to outsiders; it’s kind of small and cobbled-together. But they are the heart of everything I do, and they are fierce and they make me powerful. So when I’m dreaming up characters, they usually have strong familial connections, or their lives are influenced by family in some way. With Untouchable, the Kabbah and Davis families echo my own: they’re tight, loving units, they’re matriarchal, and children are the priority.
Characters aren’t islands and most romances don’t happen in a vacuum; often, something else needs to be going on besides “I adore you!”. I enjoy writing love in all forms, so I try to build subplots around relationships—and since I’m not great at friendships, I express non-romantic love best through family connections. For me, it’s very real and satisfying, and it adds to the emotional stakes. An example is Patience Kabbah being worried about her daughter’s relationship with Nate because of her own past experiences. Patience is fine with her past; she’s rarely been troubled by it. But once she she sees something similar in her daughter’s life, she’s passionate in a way that surprises everyone. We all go harder for our loved ones than we do for ourselves, I think. That’s one of the things that makes family so beautiful.
So I know that Ruth is clearly marked as autistic in book one, but I actually headcanon all three women in the family as autistic. That may be my bias as an autistic reader, of course, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on that.
I absolutely love that you said that, because it’s my headcanon too. (Except I wrote it, so I suppose that’s just… canon? LOL.) Basically, black women are one of those groups for whom ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder) diagnosis is less likely. That’s due to a combination of medical bias, ableism, racism, cultural issues—even the pop culture stereotypes of autism as a white, male phenomenon with certain set ‘markers’. The fact that Ruth has been diagnosed at all is quite rare, but for those whose symptoms are easier to ignore, diagnosis isn’t gonna happen.
Patience and Hannah both display traits of ASD; for example, Patience’s thought process is extremely focused and straightforward, which people tend to interpret as simplicity. She doesn’t know how to talk to people, so she stays quiet or says whatever comes into her head. At the end of A Girl Like Her she really enjoys discussing hot crossed buns with the vicar, because it’s a topic she knows well and because the conversation has clear parameters. Her symptoms are also a large part of how Hannah and Ruth’s father manipulated her when she was young: she didn’t have many friends and wasn’t used to people treating her like something other than a weirdo, so she was super flattered by his attention. In Hannah’s case, her perfectionism and her unusual memory are symptoms of ASD, as is her need to control things around her. She’s easily overwhelmed, but she’s figured out how to avoid overload by running her life with an iron fist.
The thing is, Patience’s behaviour fits into the box of ‘simple servant girl’ in Sierra Leone, or ‘ignorant immigrant’ in England, and Hannah fits the ‘uptight bitch’ or ‘angry black woman’ box—so no-one in their lives has ever paused to consider that they might have ASD. Ruth’s symptoms, however, don’t fit easily into any prejudiced definition. That’s why she’s the one with the diagnosis. Writing it like that kind of came naturally to me, because it happens a lot. It’s a normal part of being black and autistic: being undiagnosed or ignored. Also because it’s quite normal to have multiple people with ASD in one family—anecdotally, anyway. So that part of the story is one of those things that just happened.
I really appreciated the depression representation, particularly the way it showed her anger; it resonated, and felt very real. Can you talk a bit about writing Hannah’s depression?
I’m so happy you feel that way! When I write representation, the stories are for everyone, but the people being represented are the ones in my heart the most. I want people to see something and think, Oh, it’s that thing. I know that thing!
Anger is one of those depression symptoms that lots of unaffected people don’t know about, or don’t understand, or don’t want to talk about. It’s kind of blanked out in popular culture, even as mental health rep becomes better and better. The fact is, depression is frustrating, so a lot of people deal with irritability or short-temperedness. On top of that, depression obviously causes negative feelings, and a lot of people naturally react to negative feelings with negative behaviour. My goal with including anger in this representation was to show anyone who experiences it that they’re not a bad person, that they’re not ‘fucked up’ or anything along those lines, and also that there are ways for them to cope.
Consent is such a big thing in this story, in a way I really appreciated. Can you tell me more about consent in your writing, and how you navigate the complexities of it?
Consent is so important to me, especially in contemporary romance. If a book is set in a different universe or an alternate reality, I can accept that the nuances of consent might be different, so I play that by ear. But in contemporary books, our society’s attitude to consent weighs heavy on me.
I think the best way to explain it is with the song Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke. That song ended up being heavily critiqued for its lyrics, but at first, a lot of people were just enjoying the music, not listening closely enough to realise the horrible themes—which is no-one’s fault. It’s normal. But I remember the first time I heard it on the radio. The DJ said, “This is Blurred Lines,” and the title alone made me feel sick because to me, those words were associated with sexual violence.
When I’m writing a sex scene, there can’t be any blurred lines. I think it’s easy in romance for us to assume the characters’ consent because 1. It’s a book, so we know what they’re thinking, and 2. It’s a romance, so we know they’re into everything, because romance! The thing is, I like to emphasise the fact that my characters want their partner’s consent, that they need it to continue.
I think a lot of people find power imbalances sexy—which is fine—but that can lead to finding dubious consent inherently sexy, too. And then, by default, actual consent becomes unsexy. We can use good, old-fashioned ‘bodice ripping’ as an example: some people get off on literal bodice ripping because it shows passion and dominance. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that asking before ripping a bodice would ruin the impact of ripping the bodice. In truth, I think that asking makes it even sexier. I think enthusiastic consent makes everything sexier and freer, because it builds trust and comfort. It shows the passion on both sides, which is vital.
In Untouchable, Nate has a lot of power over Hannah, so it’s really important to him that she be 100% comfortable with everything they do. For that reason he asks her a lot of questions and gives her a lot of options. At one point he tells her every way he’s fantasised about them having sex, and asks her to choose one of the fantasies he shares. It basically turns consent into dirty talk. All she has to do is choose a number—literally option 1, 2, 3 or 4—but that allowed me to show that they’re both in this together. They’re doing what she wants to do, even though she’s not sexually dominant. I think that’s powerful, I think that’s necessary, and I think that’s sexy.
I really appreciated the bi representation in the story. You have written a number of m/f romances with bi MCs. Can you talk a bit about why it’s important to you to write bi characters in m/f romance?
I have a lot of bi MCs and some pansexual MCs, because it’s the kind of rep I desperately want to normalise. The fact is, tons of people are queer, so tons of my characters are queer, because that’s just life. Society uses fiction as a vehicle for the kind of life that interests, excites, or pleases them, and they tend to erase the things that disrupt their normative ideals. I’m about redressing that balance and painting our world in all its natural colours
I’m pan, and I’ve always been very comfortable with myself. But as a kid, before learning more about sexuality, I thought of myself as a lesbian—probably because my aunts are lesbians. I couldn’t learn via the media I was exposed to, so I relied on my only real-life example of queerness to define myself. And I was lucky to even know a loved and accepted queer couple, to have them as a model. Otherwise, I’d probably have thought there was something wrong with me.
These days there are cartoons like Steven Universe, which provide kids with great models of queer love, and I believe that’s super important. But the need for representation never fades; adults need it too. I suppose as a pansexual person, representing multi-gender attracted people has become my personal goal. People like to ignore or undermine us because we’re considered inconvenient, BUT WE OUCHEA. And I’m not letting anyone forget. 😉
More About Untouchable
What happens when a bad boy becomes a man?
Nate Davis didn’t plan on returning to his hateful hometown. But then, he didn’t plan on being widowed in his twenties, or on his mother getting sick, either. Turns out, life doesn’t give a f$*k about plans.
Hannah Kabbah thought her career in childcare was over. After all, no-one wants a woman with a criminal damage conviction watching their kids. But when her high school crush returns to Ravenswood with two kids in tow, she gets the second chance she never dreamed of.
She also gets to know Nate – the real Nate. The one whose stony exterior hides aching vulnerability. Who makes her smile when she wants to fall apart. Who is way, way more than the bad boy persona he earned so long ago, and way too noble to ever sleep with the nanny.
So it’s a good thing she’s completely over that teenage crush, right?
Please note: this book contains discussion and depiction of depression and anxiety that may trigger certain audiences.
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