May 26, 2010

11 Questions for Tolulope Popoola | Author Interview

In our dreams it’s much simpler getting our manuscripts published. In the real world however, it is less straightforward thus a growing crop of writers are turning to self-publishing to actualize their dreams of getting published. Tolulope Popoola, aka Favoured Girl , is the creator of the blog series “In My Dreams It Was Much Simpler” which she coauthors with seven other bloggers, all of them characters in the gradually evolving tale of six successful young women who juggle their careers, friendships and the ups and downs of life. That blog series is now a book and Tolulope discusses her journey and how it all began in this revealing interview with Incessant Scribble.

1. You quit Accounting and a paying job to become a full-time writer? A lot of people worry that writing alone cannot pay the bills. Parents nag and children discard their dreams and head into the sciences. Do you regret your decision? Has writing been financially rewarding for you?
I left my accounting job in 2008 because I realised that I would be miserable if I remained an accountant for the rest of my life. I started getting bored with my job, my long commute and the stress of the 9 to 5 routine in 2007, and I started thinking about what job I could do that will bring me fulfilment. Blogging had rekindled my love for writing and the more I thought about it, the more I realised that I will always be happy when I am writing. From then on, it was only a matter of time before I left accounting. I don’t regret my decision at all; because I am now doing something I’m excited and passionate about. In terms of surviving as a fulltime writer, it hasn’t been easy. I’ve had to make some financial sacrifices and let go of a regular income. I’m very blessed to have the support of my husband and my family; otherwise it would have been a much bigger risk.

2. Why did you begin blogging?
I started blogging to express myself and document my thoughts. I used to keep diaries when I was younger, so my first blog became my online diary. I enjoy blogging because it allows me freedom of expression, a place to share my ideas and experiences, and a place to interact with people I might never meet in other circumstances.

3. Don’t you ever worry that the poetry, short stories and other intellectual properties you share with the public on your blog site will be plagiarized? What steps have you taken to forestall that?
No I don’t worry at all. The benefits of having people read my works online far outweigh any risks.

4. When and why did you decide to use different people to write for the different characters in the series instead of just spinning the tales yourself?
I decided to collaborate with other writers because the story has different characters and I wanted each of the characters to have a different voice. I thought it would be more interesting if each character had a very different point of view, but their stories still fitted together. Each writer brings something different to the table, so the end result is better than what I could have done on my own.

5. Your coauthors: Latifat, Icepick, Ayodele, WriteFreak, Flourishing Florida, Diamond Hawk and Jaycee have undoubtedly lent the story an originality and slant that one person’s writing could not have done. How do you all decide where the story is heading, ensure uniformity and smooth out tensions that arise from working with that number of people? How many different countries are you all operating from? Have all of you ever met?
We work together to create the storylines. Each writer comes up with ideas for their character and we have online meetings where we discuss them. Sometimes we disagree, for example, if a writer has an idea that clashes with what another person has planned for their character. But we always come to a compromise and it works well for us. Three of us are based in the States, two are in Nigeria, one is in Ireland and two are in the UK. We haven’t all met, but I had met two members of the team before the series began.

6. Do you have any plans in the future to get boys into this project?
We already have a boy involved in the project! Icepick, who writes for Wole, is a guy and he joined us last Season.

7. How did you get it from blog to book?
We compiled all the posts we had written, edited them and formatted them into a book that we published ourselves. That’s it really.

8. Could you give in detail the roles did Amazon, Lulu, Freado and Bookbuzzr play in the entire process?
Lulu is a website that offers publishing services to writers to get their book. They can also help with distribution of your book on Amazon and other online retail book stores. All the information is available from the Lulu website. Amazon, as most people know, is an online retail site. Bookbuzzr is software on Freado’s website that allows you to upload your manuscript on to their site and displays it in page form – just like a real book, so you can show excerpts to the public. It is a promotional tool that you can put on your blog, or share with readers.

9. What advice do you have for anyone who wants to take your route?
If you are passionate about writing stories and getting yourself heard, then I certainly wouldn’t discourage you. Most writers I know do it because they enjoy it – in other words, they feel compelled to write. Writing requires practice, so make sure you work on it everyday, and read a lot of good books to keep improving.

10. What’s your most ambitious dream?
I’ll have to keep that a secret. I can say though, that I hope to be a best-selling, award-winning author of many books.

11. What’s your favourite non-reading mode of relaxation?
Since you said non-reading, my answer would be watching movies, listening to music and hanging out with my loved ones.

Tolulope Popoola also blogs here, here and here

May 23, 2010

13 Questions for A. Igoni Barrett | Author Interview

Igoni Barrett is the author of the short story collection, From Caves of Rotten Teeth and was previously the managing editor of Farafina, one of Nigeria’s most vibrant publishing houses. He is partnering with the Silverbird Lifestyle store to produce the BookJam series that brings together writers and their book reading audiences. The fourth edition of this event was held on the 22nd of May, 2010, had Chimamanda Adichie, Sade Adeniran, Chuma Nwokolo, and Binyavanga Wainaina in attendance as the events guest writers. Here he is in an interview with Incessant Scribble. Enjoy!
1. The BookJam events are becoming more popular among book readers. How did this series begin?
The idea for the BookJam came to me during the “9 Writers, 4 Cities” book tour that I organized in 2009. The success of the tour readings, the fact that the audience responded enthusiastically to the presence on the podium of several writers from different genres and “generations”—if I may use that word—was the germ of the idea. There was also the realization that if I wanted to continue with such programmes I would as a matter of necessity have to find a sponsor who had something to gain other than the goodwill of readers. From thereon in my task was straightforward. To my mind there were only three groups I could approach with this idea: writers, publishers and booksellers. So I approached the publishers and said, ‘Look, you have produced these books and I have an idea that will help you promote them”. And to the bookseller I said, “You have this beautiful store and all these books to sell—my idea will bring in the writers to promote the books and the people to buy them up”. After I received some supportive noises from both parties, I sat down and drew up a format that I felt was best suited to achieve the goals I’d set. And christened it the BookJam.
2. Are there any plans to expand the event to other cities?
Yes there are. One of the reasons I chose Silverbird to work with was because they are in the process of developing a chain of bookstores across Africa. There are ongoing plans to have BookJams in every one of the Silverbird stores. I also believe that any good idea will travel, will evolve. So it’s my hope that one day, sooner than later, universities, secondary and primary schools, libraries, book clubs, village bookshops even, across Africa, will organise their own BookJams. I also hope they will take the format and turn it into something I couldn’t have foreseen. When that happens, if it does, we can begin to talk of success.
3. With the BookJam @ Silverbird you bring writers to their readers. I find it very impressive that admission is free despite all the time and effort that must go into planning, organizing and hosting these events. Clearly Silverbird and your guest writers have been very supportive and generous. Is this trend sustainable? We would all hate to see this vehicle die out.
Admission to the BookJam is free only because it doesn’t make any economic sense to charge our audience. About 70 to 100 people attend each event. What fee can we charge that number of people that isn’t too high for the average Nigerian and yet generates real money for our budgetary needs? 100 naira, 500? The 50 thousand naira we might hope to raise from a gate fee is not worth the risk of having a poorly attended event. The day we have 500 people attend the BookJam, we will consider the possibility of ticket sales.
I should also mention here that though Silverbird and the publishers and authors have indeed been very supportive, we should bear in mind that everybody gets something from this. The BookJam is not a CSR venture; it was devised as a profit-making initiative. The booksellers get publicity and sell books. Ditto the publishers. The audience gets entertained. Even I get something. I like to think of it as enlightened self-interest. As far as I know, that is the only way this sort of programme can ever be sustained—at least without NGO money.
Speaking of support: the BookJam wouldn’t be where it is today without the input of people like Anwuli Ojogwu, who moderates the programme and manages the publicity for each event through Auggust Media, and Sola Kuti of, who’s the brilliant designer of the BookJam posters. And there’s QF Photos, which handles the photography for each event. Silverbird Lifestyle store is of course the Maecenas of this project: they provide the budget, the venue, the media firepower.
4. The “9 Writers 4 Cities: The Book Tour” was wonderful. Is that something we will see more of?
Not in the near future. Not except some major corporation or government body decides to sponsor it. To ensure the book tour was a success all the participating writers very kindly put in their time and money, but as the initiator I had to put in more money and time than most. I’m still recovering from that. That’s not to say I regret the experience—without the “9 Writers, 4 Cities” book tour, there wouldn’t be the BookJam today.
5. Recently your short story collection, From Caves of Rotten Teeth, was published. How did it feel to be on the other side of things: sending in your manuscript, waiting for feedback, and working with editors?
My book was published in 2005 and rereleased in 2008. My father, Lindsay Barrett, was the assessor, editor, and publisher. Since its publication I’ve set up an online magazine, I’ve worked as a magazine editor, as a book editor, as an organiser of literary events, as a workshop facilitator—I’ve dirtied my hands in the engine of publishing, so to speak. Whatever feelings I had at the time have been superseded by the realities of the publishing landscape in my beloved country.
6. No doubt you get the “How do I get published?” question a lot. What is your response now based on your personal and professional experiences? Should writers just mail in unsolicited manuscripts? What steps should unpublished writers take?
This advice won’t work for everyone, but it worked for me and many other writers I know. Prove yourself; send your work—short stories, novel excerpts, and poems— to literary magazines, online and print, renowned or obscure. When you get published it builds your confidence, and your résumé.
7. There are many Nigerian authors making their debut on the literary scene. Do you think a lot of these new titles will be read many years from now? Is the quality of work improving or do we still have a lot of work to do in the way we tell our stories?
A few of these books will become canonical, and many won’t. It’s the way of the world. The number of writers producing quality work as has undoubtedly increased, as has the number of writers producing forgettable material. There’s always more work to be done.
8. Self-publishing is a route a lot of people take for varied reasons in their bid to get their books out to an audience. What are your views on self-publishing?
It’s a problematic route. The majority of writers who choose that option are not quite ready to face the rigour of the intelligent reader, and even when a talented writer self-publishes, he or she is most times denied the processes that are required to produce a well-finished book.
9. Have we progressed to the point where writers can live off proceeds and royalty from their literary works?
We don’t need to “progress” to that point—it has always been there, even in the times of the griots and the renaissance poet-dramatists. But same as in any other worldly enterprise, the summit is only meant for a few. There are only a small number of writers who can live comfortably off the proceeds of their art. The rest of us can either look and envy, or strive and hope for a bit of luck.
10. What steps are being taken by the industry to combat piracy?
Wider distribution. Better promotion. Lower prices. It will be a long and dirty fight, and in this one the good guys, unfortunately, are not promised victory.
11. What do you think the Nigerian publishing industry and our indigenous writers need the most?
One area where I think the publishing industry needs support is in the provision of basic infrastructure. Better roads, better schools, constant power—the issues faced by every business in Nigeria. As a writer, I would be happy to have some local writers’ retreat where I could live and write for many months without worrying about where the next meal will come from. But that’s just me.
12. Most times readers complain about how hard it is to find Nigerian titles. A lot of the time these books are available only in the big book stores, which is not where the bulk of our audience is. Why don’t publishing houses have a larger network of stores they distribute to so that the common man on the street who can’t drive to the fancy stores in Lekki, Ikoyi and other affluent areas, will have access to these books?
The publisher’s primary task is to produce books. The bookseller’s job is to sell them. In the UK, Random House doesn’t sell books, WH Smith does. So the question shouldn’t be directed at Nigerian publishers, who’ve done their job. It should be directed at the bookshops in Ajegunle and Borokiri and Gusau, which have refused to seek out the books, to order and stock them. As a book buyer, I’ve asked. The answer I get most times is that there aren’t enough readers amongst “the common man on the street” to make it worthwhile for them to stock anything other than the fastest-selling educational and religious titles.
13. What’s your favorite way to unwind after a long hard day?

May 18, 2010

The BookJam @ Silverbird - Fourth Edition

"The BookJam @ Silverbird" is a monthly event that consists of book readings, discussions, musical performances, poetry recitals, book signings and a raffle draw. It is hosted by A. Igoni Barrett and the Silverbird Lifestyle store. The 4th edition of this event will hold 3 to 5 pm on Saturday 22 May 2010 at the Silverbird Lifestyle store, Silverbird Galleria, Victoria Island, Lagos.
The guest writers scheduled for this month's event are:

SADE ADENIRAN, author of Imagine This.
She is a graduate of the University of Plymouth and also spent time as an exchange student at the University of Massachusetts. She has written various pieces for theatre and her work has been performed at the Lyric, the Bush and the Riverside Studios. She won the “Best First Book Prize” (Africa Region) in the 2008 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for her debut novel Imagine This. She lives and works in London, and is working on her second novel.

CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE, author of Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun and The Thing Around Your Neck.
She won the 2005 Commonwealth Writers Prize (Overall Winner, BestBook) for her book Purple Hibiscus and the 2007 Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction, for Half of a Yellow Sun. Her latest book, The Thing Around Your Neck , was shortlisted for the 2009 John Llewellyn-Rhys Memorial Prize. She spends her time between Nigeria and the US.

CHUMA NWOKOLO, author of Diaries of a Dead African and publisher of African Writing
He has published a shortstory anthology, a collection of essays, a poetry collection, and four novels, the most recent being Diaries of a Dead African. He is an attorney based in the United Kingdom where he lives with his wife and children.

With a special guest appearance by BINYAVANGA WAINAINA
He is the founding editor of the literary magazine Kwani? and won the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2002. He is presently a Director at The Chinua Achebe Center for African Writers and Artists, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Guardian, Granta and National Geographic.

Admission to the BookJam is free. Members of the audience who purchase books during the event stand a chance to win a special prize in a raffle draw.
For more information send an email to 
[Images and post content provided by Auggust Media]