Lola Shoneyin is the author of the acclaimed novel, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives, and other works of fiction and poetry. The writer, English teacher and deputy school principal talks here about the cantankerous second wife of Baba Segi, the awe of seeing her work published in Hebrew, and the conflict between interest and obligation in her literary decisions.
Which of your major characters would you like to be trapped on a desert island with?
Iya Femi from The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives would provide ample entertainment, I think. She vivacious, talks up a storm and is funny haha!
What is the first thing you remember writing?
I wrote poems at a very young age because we had to, at school.
Where/when or with whom have you been most impressed to see a copy of your work?
I am constantly humbled by the people who contact me on facebook or twitter to tell me that they enjoyed reading my novel. Recently, my publishers sent me the cover of the Hebrew edition. There’s something astonishing about seeing your book title/ name written in a language you don’t understand.
What one book by another author do you wish you’d written?
Sula by Toni Morrison.
Name one author that you consider overrated.
I’ll tell you next year.
Achebe or Soyinka?
You mean in a cookery contest, right?
Sell a million copies or win the Nobel Prize for literature?
I would like my work to be read. That’s my joy.
A sustained career of good writing. But it has to be funny too.
Best perk of being a writer?
Observing people read your book in cafes. It is almost surreal.
Worst thing about being a writer?
The pursuit of perfection when it can’t possibly exist in fiction.
Remember your best and worst reviews? Let’s hear them.
I don’t even have the patience to read the good ones, let alone the bad ones. It’s much too stressful. My agent and my publicist read and compile them for me. Maybe one day, when I’m ninety, I’ll read them.
One thing you wish you’d known starting out as an author?
Not to trust your judgement.
Rate yourself on a scale of one to five for spelling/punctuation.
My spelling is awful so I’m constantly using dictionary.com , so one. My punctuation is fantastic – five.
What book are you ashamed to admit that you haven’t read?
These days, lots of books over four hundred pages long. I’m either too busy or too lazy.
What is your guilty reading?
I rarely feel guilty about anything that I read. Not even Mad Magazine, which I consider essential reading for growing adults like me.
What’s the most challenging part of your creative process?
Deciding between the story I want to write and the story I ought to write.
And the most pleasurable?
Clicking on the send button when you’ve finished your final editing.
What are you likely to be most critical about in other authors’ work?
The first paragraph.
If you could bring something back from the past what would it be?
The Yam Pounder.
A good night’s sleep.