[Interview] Ayodele Olofintuade

Ayodele Olofintuade lives in Ibadan, Nigeria where she works as a creative writing teacher.

She made her debut as an author with the publication of the children’s book, Eno's Story (Cassava Republic, 2010). The book has been shortlisted for the 2011 Nigeria Prize for Literature.

In this interview, Ayodele Olofintuade talks about her writing:

How many books have you written so far?

I’ve written several but have only one, Eno’s Story which has been published by Cassava Republic.

The story is about an eight year old girl who was accused of being a witch because of the fact that she’s an unusual child. It is the story of how the love of a parent can make the difference in a child’s life. It is about how Eno was able to hold her own in the face of great adversities. Eno is a child who does not have the victim mentality people are fond of giving to children of African descent... you know the usual story, a victimized and downtrodden child holding out a begging bowl and feeling sorry for him/herself.

How long did it take you to write Eno’s Story?

It took me about three months to write but the editing, illustrations and proofreading took longer.

How did you choose a publisher for the book?

I sent my manuscripts out to several publishers and got a "We love your book but we are not publishing anything along that line" story until I sent one of my stories to Bibi Bakare-Yusuf who loved it and gave me a contract for a series of books about a pair of twins Tounye and Kela who got into a lot of trouble and had many fun adventures.

When the ‘child witches’ issue started in Calabar, I sent in a story and Cassava Republic decided to publish that one first, because it is a one-off story.

Which were the most difficult aspects of the work you put into the book?

I have never been to Calabar before although I have been to several other cities in the South South so it was a bit difficult working on the locations. Luckily, one of my friends and co-workers, Esther is a Calabar woman she made a lot of contributions to the book in terms of research.

Every aspect of the work was enjoyable. Eno practically wrote about herself, the research was done with a friend and the subject matter was close to my heart, child rights.

What sets Eno's Story apart from other things you've written?

Each book is always unique. There can never be two that will be the same. Even with my series that is yet to be published, although each book in the series has the same main characters in common, each adventure is unique.

What will your next book be about?

In addition to my Terrible Twins series, I am also working on a sci-fi novel for teenagers.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

The fact that children read and enjoy my works.

I remember a story told to me by a friend about a boy who walked into a superstore with his mum and after their shopping he wanted my book but the mother was not interested in purchasing it for him, he started crying and my friend bought the book for him. The fact is, contrary to widespread rumours, Nigerians do read, especially the children.

Do you write everyday?

Not really.

It’s the Muses, they descend on me and I find myself bashing out a story.

In most cases I allow the story to write itself and afterwards I go back and look at it. Then the stories develop gradually.

And I got myself children who read and critique my stories because those are the people who understand me the most.

When did you start writing?

When I learnt that I can string words together to make stories, which I then wrote on pieces of paper sewn together with needle and thread.

I didn’t decide to become a writer. I discovered that the only thing I did really well was writing and reading and I kept writing and giving my manuscripts to the children of my friends to read and I kept sending my manuscripts out to publishers until Cassava Republic published me.

Who is your target audience?

I didn’t particularly set out to write for children, I just wrote and discovered that children understood and enjoyed my stories.

Which authors influenced you most?

I can say D. O. Fagunwa, Ajayi Crowder, Mabel Segun, Roald Dahl, Dr. Seuss and Enid Blyton.

I grew up on their books. My grandfather made me read all the D. O. Fagunwa books to him while I was young and they all stirred my imagination. It was as if I entered each of the books and participated in all their adventures.

I also love telling stories to children. I love the rapt expressions on their faces when these stories are being told and this greatly influenced me. It is a great experience that keeps me returning to the keyboard to bash out more books because the thrill of seeing a child read and enjoy good stories is one of the best feelings in the world.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

My greatest concern is that I will grow old, broke and busted because one cannot make money as a writer in this country.

How do you deal with these concerns?

I got myself a day job so as to make ends meet and still be able to follow my passion.

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