Photo by Elisabeth Scheder-Bieschin
The hawker on the other hand is a quieter character who is forced to assert himself to survive as a hawker on the very aggressive Lagos streets. How much of the story is based on true life? In what ways do you draw on your own experiences and research? I wrote about parts of Lagos that I experienced whilst growing up. The Lagos I’ve portrayed is only a slice of my city. It would be impossible to contain Lagos in one novel. What are the central themes in the book? I tried to explore the dynamics of relationships, especially the power structure of a relationship: who is in control? Who only think they’re in control. I was also interested in how people from different classes related. And of course Lagos, the city and how it shapes its inhabitants is another central theme. Did you always know what the title would be? Yes, I had the title from the beginning.
Having written the novel at 18, she has signed a two-book deal with the prestigious publishing house, making literary history by becoming the youngest female author to do so. half of refining with my editor. What has been the most memorable moment in the journey of writing the book? I think it’s probably the whole journey, starting at 17 and now at 21 seeing it published. From start to finish it [took] four years.
How did the book get published? I read a newspaper article by a writer I admired. I then discovered from the Writers and Artist’s Yearbook (a handbook of UK publishers and agents) that this writer was represented by ‘Capel and Land’ literary agents. So I sent off my manuscript to Capel and Land. The women who read it at Capel and Land liked it and so I was taken on by the agency. After six months of editing the book, my agent felt it was ready for submission to editors at publishing houses. An editor at Faber liked the manuscript, and offered to buy it along with the second book I would write. The rest is history I suppose.
Do you think contemporary African fiction is being represented in the publishing industry? I think there are certainly a growing number of African writers represented on the international scene. There could always be more but generally, I think it’s a good time for the African writer.
How long did it take to write? It took ten months to write, six months of editing with my agent and a further year and
Which writers do you admire? There’s a Japanese author called Kazuo Ishiguro who pays a lot of attention to his
craft. You can see he spends time perfecting his work. I also like the usual African suspects: Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Helon Habila, Sefi Atta. And then the classics: Dickens, Austen, Bronte and so on. The book you are currently reading is? Olaudah Equiano’s biography. It’s a fascinating story about a slave who was captured in what is now Nigeria and eventually worked his way to freedom. You know I have to mention your father, Dr Okey Onuzo, beloved by all at Jesus House. What does he think of your writing? How have your parents encouraged you? In many ways. There were always books in our house when I was growing up and I was encouraged to read for pleasure. I was never forced to read though, so I’ve always associated reading with fun and leisure. Also, they taught me about God and I don’t think I could have finished this book if I hadn’t felt that God was behind me. Where do you see yourself in five years?