Meet .... Tolulope Popoola

by - 13:30

The 'Meet' Series will be a chance for me to interview authors, publishers, book cover designers (really anyone I would love to meet) that is involved with African literature. I've been lucky enough this year to have 'met' Chibundu Onuzo and Sue Nyathi, and I am very fortunate to announce the third person in the 'Meet' Series is Tolulope Popoola. Her debut novel, Nothing Comes Close was a joy to read, and she was such a lovely person when we met at her book launch, so obviously I was really happy when she agreed to be interviewed. Enjoy!

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself (where you’re from, what you do, interests and hobbies, any fun details)

My name is Tolulope Popoola, I was born in the 80s, I grew up in Lagos, Nigeria in a family where reading and academic pursuits were positively encouraged. 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 UK in 2000 for my university education. I studied Accounting and Business Economics for my first degree, and after a year in the workplace, I went on to gain a Masters in Finance and Investment. In between all those trips to the library to study at university, I met my husband (smiles) and we got married in 2005. One day, a light bulb went off in my head and I realised I was in the wrong career. I left Accounting in 2008 to become a full-time writer.

What was the first piece you ever wrote?

I remember writing stories that I made up back in Primary 2. Does that count? The first proper story I wrote was a short story titled “Wrong Blogger Connection” which was part real and part fiction. I think it’s still on my blog.

What draws you to writing?

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.

What do you do when you are not writing?

Other things that are necessary like eating, sleeping, reading and maintaining my relationships.

On Nothing Comes Close

Romance as a genre in African fiction has been seen an increasing demand. What draws you to this genre and in turn to write a romance novel for your first novel?

I wanted to write a story that most people can identify with. Relationships are one area of life that every adult has to deal with - we’re either searching for the right person to be with, or trying to make the best of our current status. Love is a universal language, finding love is not always easy and overcoming challenges always makes a good story, so I put those situations together to weave the story.

Your characters were relatable and seemed to come to life off the page. Are they based on real people?

No, they are not exactly based on real people, but I know people who have similar characteristics to each of the main characters. I would love having a friend like Lola.

One thing I loved about the novel was its unpredictability. It wasn’t the typical ‘boy-meets-girl’ love story I was expecting. Was it your intention add these twists to your story?

Yes I wanted a story that was very realistic as well as unpredictable, so I didn’t try to stick with the “formula” for a typical romantic story.

What was your favourite chapter (or part) to write and why?

I enjoyed writing the last two chapters where a lot of the loose strands of the story came together, and some secrets were revealed.

On Publishing, Being an Author, and African Literature

You’re not only an author, but also a publisher, so can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published – both as an author and as a publisher?

I knew I wanted to become a publisher a while ago, because I felt that there were not enough mainstream publishers willing to take a chance on new writers like me. For my earlier project, I tried going through a self-publishing company, but I didn't like many aspects of that process - I felt it was too restrictive and limiting. So I did a lot of research and decided to become an independent publisher myself. That way, I could have more control over the process of bringing my stories to the public, as well as creating an avenue for other writers like me to get their work published. The main challenge was the huge learning curve, but I know that it will get easier as time goes on.

As an author, what’s the toughest criticism and best compliment you have received?

To be honest, I haven’t really had any unduly harsh criticism of my writing, or maybe I just don’t take them personally. I usually try to see the truth in any criticism I’m given. My best compliment is when a reader connects with something I’ve written.

bookshy is all about promoting and celebrating African fiction, what is your take on African fiction and where do you hope to see it go?

I think African fiction is beginning to enjoy a renaissance and I would like to see it continue. There are many stories we have to tell, and I hope that many more writers will start having the courage and opportunities to tell our stories and present our unique culture to the world.

On Being a Booklover (Questions I’ve always wanted to ask authors)

What are you reading right now?

I started reading “Midnight’s Children” by Salman Rushdie but I gave up thirty pages into it. I’m looking for something light at the moment.

Is there any particular author (living or dead) or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult - and why?

There are so many! I would say that almost every good book I’ve read has some influence on my writing. I remember reading “Little Women” over and over again when I was growing up. At some point, I could quote whole pages. J

For writers that continue to influence me, I would mention Abidemi Sanusi, Rose Tremain, Chika Unigwe, Lola Shoneyin, Buchi Emecheta, Chimamanda Adichie, just to name a few.

What are your favourite books (or book-related items) to give - and get - as gifts?

Gift vouchers will do just fine J. I can then choose the books I have on my wish-list.

Have you ever judged a book by its cover (i.e. bought a book based on its looks)? Which?

Not really. I usually choose a book first by its title, and then by reading the blurb. Most times, I don’t understand the cover until I’ve read the story J.

Hard copy or e-book?

e-books are great for convenience, but I still love my physical copies.

Physical or Virtual? Bookstore or Amazon?

Both! I still love visiting book stores to browse and lose myself in, but I love receiving a book in the post. Imagine the excitement of unwrapping a parcel and unearthing a much-awaited book…

Final Questions – I promise

How can people in Africa and the diaspora get access to your novel?

The book is now available in the US, UK, and Europe. I’m working on several ways to get it distributed in Nigeria and other places in Africa.

What’s next after Nothing Comes Close?

I plan to continue creating stories so I’ll always have a project I’m working on; whether it’s a short story, flash fiction or a novel. I also want to create more opportunities for other aspiring writers.

Thank you very much for taking the time to answer these questions. I really appreciate it.

Thank you for having me on bookshy!

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