I am fascinated when I watch celebrity interviews and the person being interviewed starts name dropping other celebrities. Not many people I know can say that they personally know an award winning author. I am therefore opportune to have an award winning author not only as a friend but also as a mentor. So I believe that I now have someone whom I can start name dropping in conversations.
Ola Awonubi is an award winning author who has won awards with the National Words of Colour competition and another short story of hers, The Go- slow Journey, won the first prize in the fiction category for Wasafiri’s New writing prize 2009.
As well as being published in many journals such as Brittle Paper and Story Time,Ola has written two novels, Love Persuasion and Love Me Unconditionally. These books are published by Ankara Press and can be purchased through Amazon, Ankara Press or Okadabooks.
She has recently self published her collection of stories, Naija Love Stories. which can also be purchased through Amazon. The stories in this collection are written against the backdrop of a highly cultured Nigeria and depict the many facets of love.
Ola writes with such ease and clarity that it is difficult not to fall in love with any of her stories.
It is therefore an honour to interview Ola Awonubi.
So,who is Ola Awonubi?
Someone who loves writing! Growing up in England and Nigeria has provided me with the opportunity to write about the places, people and events which have shaped me. I currently work as a full time secretary and write evenings and weekends.
What or who inspired you to write?
I have always had a vivid imagination and used to make up stories in my head when I was a kid. About five years old I would take my Ladybird and Enid Blyton books and write short stories around them. I would change the characters to black characters just to see characters that looked like me having fun!
I have always loved writing. In secondary school English literature was my favourite subject and I would end up reading more of the African Writers Series or books from the ‘Pacesetters ‘series than my Biology or Physics books!
Do you have any strange writing habits?
Writing at midnight and the early hours .Writing whilst eating Haribos sweets!
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
• Engage the senses six senses when you write. Make the reader smell, taste and see as they read.
• A short story is a snapshot so you do not have the luxury to flesh out your characters or settings like a novel. Get to the point.
• Don’t add too many characters and the few you have – make memorable.
• Show and do not tell
• Make your beginning make me sit up and want to keep on reading.
• Make your ending make the story linger on in my head. Give it a punch. Think of one of the shortest stories ever told by Hemingway. Baby Shoes never worn. Wow. That tells such a story but it does have a beginning, a middle and an end.
• Use the internet. It is your friend – a great resource and you have the opportunity to showcase your work.
Love’s Persuasion is one of your first novels. You mainly write short stories for which you have won various awards. How would you say has been the transition from short stories to novels and how do you plan the writing of a novel?
I actually started with novels and failed dismally. One of my tutors said that mastering the techniques of writing a short story gives you the tools for writing a novel in terms of characterisation, voice, pace, place and dialogue.
How do I plan the writing of a novel? I start with an idea. A strong character, give them a dilemma and think of ways of dealing with it. Then the story starts to gain momentum, flesh and bone. I write the scene where there is a pivotal moment. I write the end and then I write the beginning and go back and flesh out the rest. It works for me. In my fourth book I am trying to write in a more linear fashion.
In your novel, Loves Persuasion, you imply that ladies are not given the opportunity to further their career after marriage. How far do you believe this to be true in present day Nigeria?
(Big sigh) I’m reading in newspapers and social media about young men stipulating that their brides stop working after marriage. This is not just a Nigerian thing and I am struggling to understand the rationale behind this. Why should a young lady who has gone through so many struggles to get an education and then a job (which is no mean feat in Nigeria) go ahead with the union and then complain afterwards when her husband puts his feet down.
This scenario is not a one size fits all thing. There are lots of men who celebrate their wives success and want them to maximise their potential. The way I see it –Michelle`s achievements do not threaten President Obama. In fact it adds to our admiration of the guy.
If you could have any author to mentor you, who would it be and why?
I would have suggested Buchi Emecheta but she has sadly passed away. So also has Chinua Achebe. I admire the way they elicit such strong feelings for their characters. Achebe- with Okonkwo who in Things Fall Apart, is strong in some areas. Weak in some. The characters are flawed and identifiable.
In terms of authors which are still living there are so many to choose from.
When you develop characters do you already know who they are before you begin writing- do you make out a character plan, or do you let them develop as the story progresses?
Memories of my Masters classes at universty return! Yep. We did the character plan in class however I’m more comfortable in letting them develop as the plot progresses. Sometimes I want them to go this way and then as the story goes on they go rogue on me and do their own thing!
You have now gone down the route of self- publishing with Naija Love Stories. How did you find this process and what would you say are the advantages over publishing with an agent?
It’s a collection of short stories – some new and others have won awards or been published in magazines. The main advantages are that you are in control,however its also a lot of work in terms of promoting your work and getting bookstores interested. As for publishing with an agent – I’m still looking for one!
So with two novels, and a collection of short stories under your belt, what is your next project?
I’m trying to finish an inspirational romance set in small town America. The main issue is getting to grips with the language. It’s English but it’s different! I am also working on something else but keeping that under wraps for now. I tend to work on a couple of projects at the same time so that when I’m getting bored of one project I can always opt for the other one.