Hi Lizzie, the book is so close to being released, how are you feeling?
It still feels surreal. I can’t believe I’m in this position. I can’t believe people that I don’t know are going to be reading Yinka. I think there’s a buzz happening a little bit on social media and it’s trickling down, which is good.
100%. One of the things which really jumped out to me about the book is that obviously there’s so much joy, it’s so fun. There are so many important topics throughout the book. You’ve got family relationships, faith, colourism… how important was it to infuse those ideas and have some important messages even while you’re having this joyful and fun book?
So, I definitely wanted to make it fun and relatable. I think my natural writing style is very witty anyway. At the same time, I wanted it to have depth and be relatable, especially for black women – there’s certain things that we go through with colourism and texture-ism and things like that. I just didn’t think it will be as three-dimensional if I didn’t include those important topics. When it comes to faith and when it comes to mainstream fiction, I really struggled to find a book with a Christian character, they were always in Christian visions. That was something I wanted to change, you know, you can be Christian and be relatable when it’s fun, and show that Christianity is not old-fashioned and is personal and intimate as well. I dabbled with both serious issues, but also the fun stuff as well.
I always look through books and faith is sidelined – either books are promoted as Christian books or sideline characters. I loved the way it was infused into the tapestry of normal life.
In terms of the creative process in creating the book, it obviously took a few years to make and has been a long time. Can you talk about the initial idea and how it came to the published copy?
I’d probably say in total, it’s been maybe five years, maybe even a bit more. I started back in my early to mid 20s and Yinka actually started off as a short story – I had a blog that I ran, and at the time, I was feeling the pressure from my mum to find a husband. I decided to use this experience as inspiration to write the Yinka story – about a British Nigerian woman whose in her thirties and feeling that pressure from her mom and aunties as well. I was feeling the pressure coming through, but the idea to turn it into a novel came later on. So, I attended this workshop, and I met this fantastic author called Jackie Lee. At some point, I wanted to get feedback on my writing, so I shared my blog with her. In addition to giving me really constructive and helpful feedback, she said, ‘You know what, I really like this character and I think you should turn her into a novel’. I took it on and I guess the rest is history, but it was a very long journey with lots of ups and downs. When I first started writing, I had no clue what I was doing, I just kind of jumped into it blindly. So, I think the first year and a half involved me just starting and restarting, I was just winging it, there was no plan, nothing.
Then, I read this really good book called ‘Story Engineering,’ which I recommend to all writers. That’s when I had my lightbulb moment, and I realised that my writing is a craft, and there needs to be structure and conflict and compelling characters, so I went back to it. I think from there, that’s when I started to invest in myself as a writer. I had to learn how to get better at storytelling and how to improve my writing, so I did things such as attend online, creative writing courses, workshops, reading more, networking. That really helped me get to the position to submit my early draft of Yinka to the TLC Pen Factor competition. I was reluctant at first because I felt like I don’t think I’m good enough. I was just praying to be long listed, and actually ended up winning the competition – that’s how I met my agent. To cut a long story short, she asked me for the pages and synopsis.
I really appreciate you talking about writing like that. I think it’s so easy for young writers who are coming up and thinking, I have to be perfect straight away. Even if you’re amazing at telling stories and writing, it’s a craft that you have to dedicate to and spend time with. I was reading through and thinking that there’s so many relationships in this book that you’ve really fleshed out, and it feels so real.
That again is not an immediate thing that happens, writing is rewriting as well. Some of the things that you’ve probably read probably came in the last edit of Yinka, but they made all the difference.
I mean, as I said, I found the relationships so interesting, particularly between the female characters, like with her sister Kemi. It’s such a transitional point in both their lives with Kemi having a child and sort of growing apart. What did that relationship mean to you, in terms of them growing apart, but then coming back together? I think every girl experiences that at some point in their life, when people are going through different life stages at different times?
It’d be interesting if Yinka was the older one. Kemi is younger, but she’s the one that’s kind of got her life together – according to society’s standards – she’s married, and now she’s expecting a child. I thought it’d be interesting to explore that dynamic and how it impacts the relationship. Yinka loves her sister, but she realises that her sister is walking on eggshells around her, she doesn’t want to share too much of our joy with them, because she’s cautious that Yinka’s not in that position, and she wants to be in that position and is older as well. It has affected their relationship because Yinka feels awkward around Kemi and withdraws from Kemi because now her mom is spending more time with Kemi because she’s pregnant. All that impacts the relationship and I’m sure there’s many people out there who are in the same boat as well.
I mean I reacted to every female in this book – it was just so fascinating to me their relationships, particularly with Nana, when obviously she’s pushing Yinka to go to therapy or counselling. Seeing that line of how far to push someone, I found that very interesting. Can you talk a bit about how you wanted Yinka’s journey to go, in terms of her realising her own self worth?
Yeah, so I really wanted to get Yinka to reach a breaking point, so that the choice comes from her. I think that’s really important to feel that she needs to see someone, as opposed to her being pushed into therapy and not getting the most out of it. She’s not going to open up and she’s doesn’t even want to be there in the first place. So yeah, I gave her quite a hard time, I put her through so many things.
It was a very important part of the story and it just felt so natural that that was the journey she went on. I think, sometimes in life you have seasons where everything just seems to go wrong.
I did think it was beautiful to see someone who was kind of resistant to it, and then showing them at the end, I just found it such a beautiful ending, that it wasn’t necessarily just falling into the straight romcom tropes of her ending up with the right person. How important was that as part of the story and rounding out in that way?
Yeah, that was very important to me, because before, I wanted her story to be relatable. In life, we all have goals and deadlines and sometimes you don’t meet them. I wanted to deal with hope. I think the end is a good balance of the two, I’ve got a mix of the two. I’m very happy that you said that about it ended because that was actually what I wanted to achieve. I think it is so easy to end films and books with that being the end and being happy. Actually, sometimes it’s almost more joyful – that she found the joy from within rather than it being from external stuff.
I love the fact that we’re viewing love as a more multifaceted thing nowadays than just necessarily romantic love, but almost having that love, which she has for her sister and being an aunt and her mom. It was just such a joyful note to end the book.
I’m so excited for people to get their hands on this book, because it’s just phenomenal, so congratulations.
Thank you so much.