Hey Sparkle Writers! Guess who we have on #WriterSpotlight today? It’s Atoke! If you have not heard about her before (where have you been really), be prepared to be blown away because this is by far one of the most refreshing interviews we have had in recent times. She talks about how she started her journey as a writer and hurdles she had while self publishing her book!
Hello Atoke. Please tell us about yourself.
I’m a Yoruba woman who thinks about everything that happens around her, and writes about those thoughts. I’m a TV dependent, and this is very important to the question of who I am; it’s crucial. I’m also a reader and a lover of words. I’m 4’11 and I say this everywhere, just in case if anyone erroneously thinks I’m 5ft tall.
Take us through your journey as a writer. How did you begin?
I started writing at my desk while I worked in a law firm in Lagos. Mostly, I complained about traffic (which is why I had the chance to write anyway). I wrote about how much I dreaded having to drive home from Lekki after a long ass day. So, the more I was frustrated by Lagos life (including okada riders who groped my ass) and my job at the time, the more I wrote. I blogged at the time at opal-topaz.blogspot.com and it was my safe space. “Here, There & Back” was my home to talk about what it meant to be a lawyer in Lagos, barely keeping it together mentally.
You had a weekly Column at BellaNaija for three years. Can you please tell us how that opportunity opened up for you and what impact it has had on your journey as a writer?
I work as Features Editor of BellaNaija and it is one of my core duties to create and curate content. So I had all sorts of things going on at the time: BN HotTopic, BN Our Stories Our Miracles, BN Making It, BN Prose… and I wrote all of these things hiding in the shadows – without my name on it. So, one day Uche Pedro called me into her office and she said, “When I hired you, you said you liked to write. You spoke so passionately about wanting to write using your voice.” I told her it was because I was terrified nobody would like what I had to say. I started, in spite of the fear and I made sure I remained consistent, even when it felt like I was running out of steam. It became a project I was determined to do…. Just to prove to myself that I could do it.
So to your question about whether it has impacted my journey as a writer, it’s a yes and a no. Yes, in terms of the fact that people know my writing because of the platform and I look at some old pieces and cringe at the framing of the narrative. Some of the writing is actually quite poor, if I look at it from my self-critiquing lens, today. No, because my journey as a writer has not really begun. So, we’ll see what the future holds.
Congratulations on your recently published book, ‘An Awkward Guide To Being Nigerian’. Where did the inspiration for the book come from?
I’d like to take credit for the inspiration for this book so badly, but once again this is Uche’s baby. She pushed and pushed and pushed. “Write it. Do it. Just do it.” So, eventually, I buckled and I did. Way to go, BossBae!
The book is a collection of essays that are quite profound. Which of the essays in the book resonates with you the most and why?
The Stare Factor – the one about disabilities in Nigeria because I talked to so many people about their thoughts on disability and the responses were quite heart-breaking. It’s not even something I really thought that deeply about until I got to Swansea and there was a paraplegic in my class and his stories were THE BOMB DIGGIDY! He had a helper who assisted him and that was his second Masters degree. I started thinking about the abled person’s privilege and how we don’t even public transportation to cater for people in wheel chairs, or people who are deaf/blind. Once I entered that rabbit hole, I absolutely had to write about it.
Why was it important for you to release this book at the point when you did?
Because it was on my to-do list for the whole of 2016 and adulting kept getting in the way. So , I was determined that 2017 must not end without that book coming out of my computer, and I achieved my goals.
For anyone who has never heard about the book, why should they get a copy and what pertinent questions does the book provide answers to?
They should get the book because I wrote it, dammit! Just kidding! Seriously though, you should buy AND read +234- An Awkward Guide to Being Nigerian because it’s the book that tries to encapsulate issues that plague us as Nigerians –both at home and abroad. Also, I don’t just continue to drone on about our problems, because we all know what they are. I attempt to provide functional and practical solutions.
Nigerian is a country with many tribes and cultures embedded within. How were you able to capture the diversity and uniqueness of being Nigerian in your book?
This was very difficult because I’m a number one ambassador of the fact that there’s no monolithic culture called “Nigerian.” There’s nothing like Nigerian language, or Nigerian culture stricto sensu; I think I addressed this in the chapter about identity, and how we identify. For instance, I identify primarily as Yoruba. It’s hard to capture the diversity and uniqueness at the same time. So how did I do it? Honestly, me sef I don’t know.
Since the book was released, what has the reception and the reviews been like?
So far so good. There’s been a lot of sentimental purchases, like “Oh Atoke wrote a book, I loved her column, let me buy her book.” Then they don’t read it immediately and I’m sitting here in my house like yepa, did they not give feedback because it sucked? So there’s that which I am grateful for because people are buying, but the real jig is I want people to read it, digest it, talk about it, and tell their circles to buy. Give it as gifts at parties, because hey, we love parties and if we want Nigeria to change for the better, we need our party goers to read my book.
Reviews so far have been good – again, I’m not sure if that’s because Atoke’s column was very successful or because they really liked the book. I’ll take the good notion; helps me sleep better at night. I have, however seen one negative review – and it’s been the only one. The person said they were tired of fake laughter and the book was over hyped. I didn’t even know the book was hyped, I was here thinking gosh, I want people to read my book and hype it. So that was kinda good(ish)?
Let’s talk about the process of writing the book and getting it published. What challenges did you face and how were you able to overcome them?
Plenty challenges oh! Do you have all day?
Okay, so I’m self published. Which is something I never ever wanted to be because I’m a snob and I always lowkey side eyed self-published writers. But when I spent the entire 2016 and 2017 writing to agents and publishers and collecting my Ls, I respected myself and entered on Google, “how to get your book published”
I had a LOT of help. Got my book designed by a sister-friend, Segun Akeredolu; got the book edited by Uche Okonkwo and Renette Igharo (because I wanted the best people who knew ME, understood my personality and my writing but also had the credentials under their belt).
Then, I went on fiverr.com to get a layout guy (Shout out to Abi Dare for telling me not to fret, the guys on Fiverr are good, just read the reviews). Then, when I didn’t understand the lingo for taxes and how to get it on Amazon, Yejide Kilanko (Amazing writer!!!!! Yes, include all those exclamation marks), she allayed my fears on the documentation I required to sort out Amazon. Then when I was worried about piracy and whether to print in Nigeria, she (Yejide) said,”Listen, you can’t avoid that if your book becomes wildly successful.” So, I calmed down and stopped being a diva, in that respect.
Finally, I printed in Nigeria because Arese Ugwu recommended Mr. Lekan in Somolu and the quality is great (even though I haven’t used my two eyes to see it)
It was very challenging but I’ve had a LOT of help and support. My family and friends, they’re the absolute best. Before I say “mo need…” they’ve actioned it.
Have you ever experienced writer’s block in your journey as a writer? If yes, please share some tips on how you were able to overcome it.
Writer’s block is standard. But if you have a deadline, I found that coffee and shutting out Twitter helps me push through. I’m a Twitter addict. God help me! So distracting but oh so sweet!
What’s the one thing you love most about being a writer?
Will it not sound one kain if I’m honest, bayi? The fact that when I say it at airports it gets people asking more questions. Always gets people asking more.
“Does it pay your rent?” is one of the most common ones, to which I respond, I strip to make up the balance. Since we all want to be asking about each other’s finances.
In your opinion, why is it important for people to write and share the message they have in their hearts?
Because shared experiences go a long way. It doesn’t even matter what form it takes, you just might stop someone who’s planning to go kill themselves. You can give someone hope. Optimism is such a big thing. It saves lives.
What tips do you have for someone out there who wants to become a published author but does not yet have the financial capacity to do so?
Write, continue to write and put the body of work together. Have it, and advertise snippets on your blog or Medium. Have a strong voice and actually have the skill to write. Writing is a skill, not a lot of people have it. There’s so many badly written/published books. I don’t think money or financial capacity is the thing. I didn’t spend a dime to have my book published on Amazon. Have a body of work, as long as you have the Internet, do your research. Hone your craft. Mix with other writers, have them read your work. Read theirs as well. (Because some people will send 12 articles for you to review for them – as if you don’t have work that you were doing) If you’re a writer, serious about writing, hone your skills. Learn about the nuances of writing. Write on Medium, write on your blog. Write well (by this I mean properly). Look at Elnathan John (my writing hero), he wrote consistently on his blog, was very noisy on Twitter, had his own unique style… I can go on and on about how ElJo is Bae but you will chase me away.
My point is so many people say things like “I want to write, how do I start” errrr, just write. There’s a lot of free materials on the internet. When I started getting serious about writing, I went on Twitter and searched for Nigerian writers and followed every single one of them. Then I attended a creative writing workshop organized by Red Media (it was 5k, but I didn’t pay because when I got there. They just said oya sit down let’s teach you). I also met so many fantastic writers on Twitter – again it was a symbiotic relationship. I read and reviewed their work, they read and reviewed mine.
So, yeah to answer your question… if you’re serious about writing – as a life skill and not just “I wanna be popular” (which doesn’t pay rent by the way… I know this) just write, and read and write some more.