Interview with Ola Awonubi

Written by on June 13, 2012—No Comments

Ola Awonubi with Wasafiri prize judge Mimi Khalvati in 2009

Since winning Words of Colour Production’s first short story writing competition in 2008 Ola Awonubi has gone from strength to strength. A year later she won the prestigious Wasafiri New Writing Prize in the fiction category with The Go-Slow Journey, a short story set in Nigeria. Her most recent short, Illusions of Hope, features in the Best of Naija Stories Volume 1.

Despite working full time, she has written 25 short stories, and is now working on her first novel. But it isn’t all plain sailing. Awonubi shares her challenges in trying to secure an agent with Joy Francis, and explains why budding writers should not give up the day job – just yet.

In 2008 you won the first Words of Colour Productions short story competition with The Pink House. On reflection, what impact did that have? It was the beginning of me starting to take myself more seriously as a writer. After winning the competition I decided to study an MA and that opened other doors. It gave me a chance to be with other writers, receive feedback which is critical for a writer who wants to grow and improve their craft. While there I decided to send in a short story to the Wasafiri Journal and the International Journal of Literature, established by the Open University.

You went on to win the Wasafiri fiction category with The Go-Slow Journey, an unconventional romance set on a bus stuck in traffic in Nigeria. What were your professional expectations after having two wins in 12 months? To get an agent. That is something I have been trying to do. I was writing more short stories and working on putting a collection together. I now have 25 short stories about different things, not just Africa, including a period romance set in WWII with an English couple. I am still looking for an agent. No matter how many rejections you get, you have to make sure you send your stuff to competitions. From writing short stories I am now writing a novel about the boarding school experience in Nigeria.

You work full time as a PA. How do you discipline yourself to write? When you have a passion to write you find the time to do it. I made sure I wrote when I was doing the MA as I couldn’t afford to take one year off to write. I went to Waterstones and looked the titles on the shelves and imagined my name up there. When I get home from work I eat, watch a bit of telly and then aim to write 1000 words. I’m a creative person. I could be reading a newspaper, get an idea then write down a few words. The passion drives you and helps you to create the discipline to say, every day, I must write down a few words or a paragraph so that in a month or two you have a short story or the beginnings of a novel.

Which writers inspire you? One writer is Alexander McCall Smith, author of The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Another is Charles Dickens. Dickens has this way of exploring different personalities. His characterisation makes his books come alive leading to character-led plots like Fagin in Oliver Twist. You could put Fagin into any race, any person. I’ve just got a new book Open City by Teju Cole, a new writer with a new voice. I’m also reading Anne Tyler, an American who writes about small town America and dysfunctional families. I’m interested in what makes people tick.

Please go to the Words of Colour website for the whole interview-

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