It’s a Konnect Africa Interview! Meet Author and Entrepreneur Tolulope Popoola whose first full feature novel was published in 2012 by her very own publishing firm, Accomplish Press. ‘Nothing Comes Close’ was recommended by the Africa Book Club as one of the “Best Books of 2012” and has since received rave reviews with Author Yejide Kilanko describing it as a ‘fine debut’.
Tolulope reminisces about her journey into the world of words, her motivation for establishing her own publishing firm, and of course, some advice and tips for young, budding writers out there…you know we love our writers, right? Have a fantastic read and a great week too!
KA: Welcome to Konnect Africa! If Tolulope wasn’t a writer, what else would she be doing?
Tolulope: I would be an artist – drawing, painting, pottery, and things like that. I definitely would be doing something creative.
KA: Let’s get up, close and personal; Give us a bit of history.
Tolulope: I grew up in Lagos, Nigeria in a household where I was surrounded by books from an early age. As a child, I was a real bookworm; the introvert who preferred staying at home reading to going out and partying. I left Nigeria for the United Kingdom in 2000 for a university education. In 2008, I gave up Accountancy to become a writer.
KA: Education; Where and what did you study? Did you have to take any additional classes to hone your writing?
Tolulope: I studied Accounting and Business Economics for my first degree, and got a Masters in Finance and Investment. I was also working towards the CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants) qualification. I haven’t got any formal qualifications in Creative Writing, but I did take a few evening classes on writing short stories and crafting characters. The feedback from the group and tutors was invaluable.
KA: Did you or your folks ever imagine you would become a writer?
Tolulope: No I certainly didn’t. When I was growing up, reading and writing were my hobbies, but I never thought I could write for a living. I didn’t know anybody who was a fulltime writer and it wasn’t one of the options we were given in secondary school. I eventually studied commercial subjects and chose to study Economics and Accounting at the tertiary level.
KA: What are your influences as a writer? What influences your writing?
Tolulope: I am influenced by many things. For example, the books I read, movies I watch, conversations I hear, music I listen to, etc. Anything can give me an idea for a story or a character. I express my thoughts better when I write them down. Growing up I always kept a journal, and writing was my therapy when I was going through the angst-filled teenage years. Writing helps me to sort through my thoughts and emotions.
KA: Kindly give a sneak peek into your new book, ‘Nothing Comes Close’
Tolulope: Nothing Comes Close is the story of two characters, Lola and Wole, and how their relationship developed in spite of the challenges they had to face. It’s a story of love, friendship, betrayal, secrets, honesty, regrets and, hopefully, a happy ending. Lola is a confident career girl. She is feisty and intelligent; she has her flaws, but she knows what she wants and she stands for what she believes in. She often sees things in black and white, and she is not afraid to speak her mind. Wole is mysterious and unpredictable, but he’s also loyal and he’s got a sense of duty and justice. Together, they make for a very interesting couple.
KA: What were the challenges you encountered whilst writing and publishing the book?
Tolulope: Writing the novel was a huge learning experience. I’m a new writer so I still have a lot to learn. The main challenge was the process of going through several drafts and rewrites, but it was necessary to make the prose better. On the other hand, I knew that there were not many publishers willing to take a chance on new writers like me. I had met a few publishers who found my work interesting, but they always said that it wasn’t commercially viable because it was regarded as ‘ethnic fiction’. But, I believe that I have to tell my stories and there are readers who want to read about people like them in books. So, I did a lot of research and decided to take the chance and become a publisher myself. It seemed like a good idea to try and be proactive about getting my work out there, instead of waiting endlessly for whenever a publisher would notice me.
KA: Do you own Accomplish Press? How do you juggle publishing and writing?
Tolulope: Yes, I started it in 2012. I think one feeds into the other. I’m primarily a writer, so that’s the aspect of my work that I spend most of my time on. But for me, it was important to learn and understand the business side of things, so that when I’ve created something, I know how to get it across to the right audience.
KA: Is ‘Nothing Comes Close’ your first publication from Accomplish Press?
Tolulope: Yes it is. I previously published part of a series with seven other writers, but ‘Nothing Comes Close’ is my first full length novel.
KA: Do you see yourself as a ‘genre specific’ author?
Tolulope: No I don’t. I mostly write short stories and flash fiction that don’t fit into any genre. When we started writing the initial ‘In My Dreams It Was Simpler series’, we didn’t define it as romance or anything. It was just fiction.
KA: Who are your favourite authors and what books have made the most impact on you?
Tolulope: Different books have spoken to me at different times in my life, including: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, On Black Sister’s Street by Chika Unigwe, The Help by Kathryn Stockett, Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adichie, and The Life of Pi by Yann Martel.
KA: Have you ever received a negative review of your book? What did you do about it?
Tolulope: Yes. I read it three times, laughed about it and moved on.
KA: Is there something new cooking behind the scenes?
Tolulope: Oh yes! I’m working on my next book, and also a collection of flash fiction.
KA: How do you prod yourself to write on those awful days when it just seems so hard?
Tolulope: I push through the difficulty, until I’ve written something at least. I may come back and delete it later, but sometimes, just making the effort is worthwhile. At other times, I leave it to go and do something else, then come back with a clearer head.
KA: You are at a Writers Workshop; what do you tell the eager listeners who seek to better their skills?
Tolulope: I would tell them to read, read and read. Read many books in the genre you’re interested in so they can give you ideas of what to do and what to avoid. Also read outside of your chosen genres. Then start writing your story and don’t give up if it seems difficult. You can only get better by practicing often.
KA: What’s the best perk of being a writer?
Tolulope: Not having to commute to work.
KA: Do you believe that writers can change the world?
Tolulope: Of course. My own little world changes every time I read a powerful novel. Words can transform, and writers are people that use words to affect their readers.
KA: On Family: Is there a Mr Popoola on the scene? Children? What is family to you?
Tolulope: Yes, I’ve got a supportive husband and two wonderful children. Family to me are the people that I can be totally myself with, people that have my best interests at heart, and people I would gladly sacrifice for.
KA: Life for Tolulope is…
Tolulope: Love, challenges, sacrifices, learning, growing and appreciating the important things.
KA: Inspire a young African person in one sentence…
Tolulope: Let me share a quote that I recently came across: “Believe in yourself. Have faith in your abilities. Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy.” ~ Norman Vincent Peale