Tolulope Popoola is a Nigerian writer and blogger living in the UK. A few years ago, she decided to re-explore her love for literature by launching an online fiction series with a few other writers. The series, In My Dreams It Was Simpler, took off and became hugely popular among Nigeria’s online readers. In 2008, Tolu decided to quit her accounting job and focus on her literary career. She has since written short stories, flash fiction, and articles for several print and online magazines. Nothing Comes Close, her debut novel – and a spin-off of her online fiction series – was released in November 2012. Tolu talks here about losing her way in the number crunch, the epiphany that changed her life, and years spent conquering her fear of the blank page.
Tell us a bit about your background and how it has informed your writing.
I was born in Lagos, Nigeria into a family where reading and academic pursuits were positively encouraged. As a child, I was a real bookworm; the introvert who preferred burying my head in books to going out and partying. After secondary school, I went to university to study Accounting and Finance courses, where I lost my way. Five years and a light bulb moment later, I realised that my true love was for reading and writing.
Which of your major characters would you like to be trapped on a desert island with?
I would love having Lola, my novel’s heroine, with me; she and I would get along great.
What’s the first thing you remember writing?
I remember writing a story that I made up back in Primary 2, complete with little illustrations of the characters.
Where, when or with whom have you been most impressed to see a copy of your work?
I had a “wow” moment when an elderly English lady told me she wanted to meet the characters in my book.
Best perk of being a writer?
Not having to commute to work.
Worst thing about being a writer?
Feeling guilty if I haven’t written something for a while.
Remember your best and worst reviews? Let’s hear them.
Not technically a review, but my best compliment came when my dad called me to tell me that he absolutely enjoyed reading my book. I try not to take notice of bad reviews.
One thing you wish you’d known starting out as an author?
That I’d need bucket loads of patience. Writing and publishing a good book takes time.
Besides good writing what other skill do you think is essential to a successful career in writing?
Listening and observing. Having an active imagination also helps.
To entertain, inform and make them pause for thought.
What word or phrase, if any, do you overuse in your writing?
What is your favourite quote from literature?
“Don’t you think it’s better to be extremely happy for a short while, even if you lose it, than to be just okay for your whole life?”― Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler’s Wife
What personal experience of yours has turned up the most in your writing?
The places I’ve lived: mostly Lagos and London
What would your twenty year old self say if she were to meet the writer you’ve become?
“Oh good! You finally discovered what you should have been doing all along.”
What one person was most supportive of your writing ambition?
What’s the most memorable casual reader feedback you’ve received on your writing?
A comment on my blog. The reader said: “I so enjoyed it, and sort of lost myself in it. Had to wake up when it was finished.”
What is your guilty reading?
BellaNaija, especially the wedding section.
What’s the most challenging part of your creative process?
Conquering the fear of the blank page. And then finishing what I started.
And the most pleasurable?
Having a lightbulb moment and the frenzied rush to get it written there and then.
What are you likely to be most critical about in other authors’ work?
Terrible spelling and bad grammar
What is your ultimate motivation for writing?
I write to challenge and entertain myself, to produce something that no other person can.
Do you think Africa is being fairly depicted by contemporary African writers? And is this portrayal something that should necessarily preoccupy writers?
I think every writer tries to portray their own reality, whether they write about historical or modern Africa. I don’t think it’s fair to place the burden of depicting a whole continent on one person’s shoulders.
What one book would you advise everyone to read before they die, and why?
I don’t know if I can recommend just one book to everyone, people have such different tastes. But one book that touched me was The Help by Kathryn Stockett. It reminded me of how far we’ve come as human beings, and how far we still need to go.
If you could bring something back from the past what would it be?
Nothing really comes to my mind at the moment.
I’m working on my next book and a collection of flash fiction.