Monthly Archives: January 2013

Author Q&A – Tolulope Popoola

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Tolulope4Tolulope 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.

tolulope1What do you think your writing owes your readers?

To entertain, inform and make them pause for thought.

What word or phrase, if any, do you overuse in your writing?

“Actually”

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?

My husband

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.

What’s next?

I’m working on my next book and a collection of flash fiction.

Read more about Tolu’s life and writing on her blog

Read others in the Author Q&A Series

Author Q&A – Victor Ehikhamenor

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Victor Ehikhamenor is a Nigerian writer, journalist, poet and visual artist. His poetry collection, Sordid Rituals, was published in 2002, while his latest effort, Excuse Me, was released in December 2012. Excuse Me is a collection of satirical non-fiction pieces that began as a weekly column of the same title, while he was Creative Director at Nigerian daily newspaper, Next. Victor also tries his hand at fiction and has published several short stories; his art has also been exhibited in major exhibitions across the world. Victor welcomes us to the new year with views and anecdotes about misquoting the Bible, steering clear of Islam, and the art of letter writing.

Tell us a bit about your background and how it has informed your writing.

I grew up in a city-like village, where we had pretty much everything, including no-nonsense uncles and aunties, and prayerful grandmothers and grandfathers. At age ten, I started writing letters for old village folks who didn’t have Western education – which meant I had to translate Esan to English. I guess that can be said to be the beginning of my writing life. 

Why satirical nonfiction?

Villagers are very satirical and cynical, I probably picked it from there. It’s also a style I feel comfortable using; it is my anaesthesia for telling painful truths.

Where, when or with whom have you been most impressed to see your work?

Honestly, anywhere I see my work, anytime I see my work and anybody I see my work with, I am grateful.

Best perk of being a writer?

When a total stranger bursts out laughing before going, “You are that guy…”

Worst thing about being a writer?

When people think you have the solution to every single problem that is wrong with your country or continent.

One thing you wish you’d known starting out as an author?

None.

Besides good writing what other skill do you think is essential to a successful career in writing?

If reading is considered a skill, it is a number one essential. Then, a writer must learn to observe things and situations from a weird angle and file them away as material.

What do you think your writing owes your readers?

Clarity of message and a pinch of humour, life is too serious to be taken seriously all the time.

What is your favourite quote from literature?

One of them is by Pablo Neruda – “While I’m writing, I’m far away; and when I come back, I’ve gone.”

What personal experience of yours has turned up the most in your writing?

Village life: like from a river, I draw a lot from my childhood memories there even when I am painting. Those memories and invaluable and inexhaustible, I keep going back for more.

Which one writer has had the most influence on your writing?

E.C Osondu. Not just through his writings, but his constant nuggets of advise, they are like a carpenter’s varnish. And he knows my work more than anybody, and I respect his views because he doesn’t mince his spare words.

If you were to award a prize for a Nigerian literary work published within the last ten years which book would it go to?

Too many to name, and a prize is not for more than one writing/writer at a time.

victorYou are an artist as well as a writer of both fiction and nonfiction. If you could keep only one of these creative forms, what would it be?

Visual art. The time I use in writing and editing before publishing one short story is enough for me to paint works for  two major exhibitions. But then again, I would probably keep all like I have done over the years.

What’s the most memorable casual reader feedback you’ve received on your writing?

It was from my elder brother who reads everything I write. In one of my columns, I quoted a popular saying and credited it to the Bible. “Where is that in the Bible?”, he queried in a phone conversation.

What is your guilty reading?

Hmmm…for a writer every reading is necessary o. But I read fashion and business magazines a lot.

What’s the most challenging part of your writing process?

Entering a story. It is so important that I can actually abandon a great idea without an interesting entry point.  That first paragraph is what I call the PIN or Password of a story or article. If you enter the right story wrongly, it clams up.

And the most pleasurable?

When I find an interesting narrative structure to tell a story.

What are you likely to be most critical about in other writers’ work?

When a character can not be properly accounted for in the end. It’s like a warden counting his prisoners in the evening and totally ignoring the fact that one is missing.

What is your ultimate motivation for writing?

It is an enjoyable exercise whenever I have something to say, and also the hope that it might effect a small change somewhere, somehow.

Many of your essays in Excuse Me are criticisms – of governments, society, and even modern life – is there any subject you would be reluctant to satirise?

Islam. The result is usually devastating and those that criticise it know their actions would cause unavoidable mayhem but still go ahead and poke the bees’ nest.

Foreign literary prizes: have they done more good or harm for African writing?

I can point to so much good they have done and not one harm. Prizes are good for the winners, those who think otherwise have their reasons too.  But remember that if a dog jumps up to pluck a bone from the hands of a hunter and was unsuccessful, be sure that dog is going to say “I wasn’t hungry anyway!”

Do you think Africa is being fairly depicted by contemporary African writers? And is this portrayal something that should necessarily preoccupy writers?

This can also be said of America, Asia or any other continent for that matter. I believe most writers write mainly from their experiences, so the issue of fairness in depicting  Africa in that sense becomes relative. To prescribe to a writer is to sensor a writer.

What other nonfiction books would you recommend to the Nigerian reader? And why?

One Day I Will Write About This Place by Binyavanga Wainana – because it is one well written creative non-fiction which is different from ordinary non-fiction. There is a difference.

If you could bring something back from past traditional life, which is so idealised in your writing, what would it be?

My father and the art of physical letter writing.

What’s next?

A novel.

Listen to Victor’s interview and reading on BBC

Read others in the Author Q&A Series