#WriterSpotlight – As a writer, Yosola stays true to herself

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We have another fantastic writer on #WriterSpotlight today. She is Yosola. Find out more about her as you read her interview.

Hello, please introduce yourself
My name is Yosola Olaleye, and I am a 22-year old, Nigerian-born scholar and writer. I currently reside in London, UK.

What do you do?
I am currently studying for a Master’s degree in Media and Communication Governance at the London School of Economics. Beyond that, I work as an English Language/Literature tutor for students aged 11-18. I also do media and editorial work for various organisations such as the LSE Africa Summit, Skin Deep Magazine, and Ain’t I A Woman Collective.

Why did you choose to write or what led you to writing?
This is a tough question, especially as I am sometimes tempted to say: “I have always written.” That is both true and untrue. I don’t know how, exactly, I was led to writing; but, I do know that I always felt deeply as a child and needed to express these emotional experiences – whether lived or unlived – somehow. I started ‘writing’ by printing song lyrics as love letters to imaginary boyfriends, when I was a child. And then I started writing my own love letters – again, to imaginary boyfriends. I just knew I had feelings, and somebody had to hear them. Poor paper. I remember a love letter my big cousin found hidden in my wardrobe when I was about 10 or 11 years old. I was in a lot of trouble that day, but I regard the memory with fondness. Sometimes, I feel I can’t wait to have kids so that I can tell them about it.

In any case, as I grew older and began to read more, I realised that writing was a means of interacting with the world, as well as documenting moments in time. I once referred to my writing of poetry as an attempt to immortalise otherwise fleeting moments. At that point in time, I was thinking of things like a kiss goodbye on the platform, as your train arrives; a blue feeling that magically goes away in the morning. I was thinking about how to make those things last forever, so that when we re-read the words, we might be able to relive the experience. I don’t know if that sounds weird. I’ve never really had to tell anybody this.

What is your most challenging moment as a writer?
Recently, I realised that I like to stick to my comfort zone – non-fiction writing based on personal stories. As a writer – and this is personal – I feel that it is important to take on projects that challenge my comfort. I am currently working on a play with a group of friends. I have never written a play, and I know I will struggle with it, but I’m trusting that the result will be wonderful in terms of personal and professional development. I want to be able to say that something doesn’t work for me, as a writer, after having tried it, and not because I simply fear that it doesn’t.

I still want to experiment with different styles before I make a decision about the ‘kind’ of writer that I am.

Can you share any lesson you have learnt from writing?
I don’t know. Have I learnt any lessons? If anything, I think it’s important to always tell the truth. What do I mean by this? Always present something as it is. Somebody out there is listening; they want to hear those particular words. Don’t write falsely to make something sound more ‘appropriate’. Who decides what is ‘appropriate’? I still struggle with this. I want to write pretty, evocative words, but I find that I spend a lot of time trying to make things sound like what I have read in a literary magazine, by other African writers who are famous or ‘certified’ by ‘Western’ readers. I think it’s important to write as authentically as it comes to me. You know what they say about finding your own voice? Yeah, that. That’s it, I guess. Write truthfully.

Can you tell us your most rewarding moment as a writer?
Self-publishing my first book and hearing people tell me their favourite poems and how the book moved them. I wrote a lot of poems because I was dealing with personal issues, and some of them were randomly put together in an attempt to be ‘poetic’ or ‘profound’. I wasn’t confident about my poems, and I didn’t think people would enjoy them. I mostly sold the book using the personal essay about my grandfather, because I thought people would connect to that more. But but the response blew my mind. It reaffirmed my belief that writing

If you didn’t become a writer what else would you have done?
Ha. Well, I don’t think I am a ‘writer’ in that it is my profession. I do other things beside writing. It doesn’t feed me or pay any bills. So, I can become anything I want to be. Sometimes I want to be a teacher, sometimes I want to be a consultant. I could be anything at all, as well as a ‘writer’.

Have you ever been rejected as a writer and how did you handle it?
Well, I have had some submissions rejected because they lacked ‘technical credibility’. I still don’t know what that means, but I shrugged it off because I didn’t believe in my ability as a writer at the time. I haven’t really submitted things to serious publications. I just publish things myself. The response of my audience is my affirmation.

Sometimes I wonder what this means about my ‘credibility’ as a writer. It makes me ask: what makes a writer? Is it being published by a big publisher? Am I any less of a writer because I self-published? Do I need to be like Chimamanda before I can claim to be a ‘real’ writer? I still struggle with these questions, but I don’t make them prevent me from doing anything. I just do my own thing. If someone picks up on it, great. If not, oh well. Try again later.

Will you ever retire from writing?
Haha. Read my answer to question 7. It is not a career or profession for me. So, no. I will always write, insofar as I am compelled to tell a story. This is partly why I want to control every process of my writing. I want to do it in my own time, I want to do it when it comes. I don’t want to answer to anybody, and I don’t want to make money from it. I’m getting degrees and doing a lot of other work for the money side of things. Writing will always be a thing that I do, even if I’m only writing a love poem to a boyfriend or a response article to something I’m passionate about.

What do you do in your leisure time?
Ha, do I have leisure time? I’m always doing something that is ‘work’ in some way. If I do anything at all for leisure, it’s probably tweeting. Sad, I know.

What would you pick?
Continental Food or African Delicacy? Does dodo count as African delicacy? If so, African delicacy.
• R&B or Hip/hop? Hmm. R&B I guess.
• Fiction or poetry? Poetry.
• Fashion or music? Music.

Do you have a writing mentor? If yes, why?
No. But I admire – somewhat obsessively, to be honest – Molara Wood, and I would give anything to spend an hour with her, over tea and biscuits, talking about the world, and nature, and the beauty of words.

Your best article or story so far?
I would change that to ‘favourite’. I cannot determine my best. In any case, it is difficult to pick between a 200-word story I wrote titled ‘The Cambridge Tryst’ and the love letter I wrote to my sisters at the end of 2015, titled ‘A Sonorous Love: On the bond sisters share’. I feel like I was very daring with The Cambridge Tryst, which deals with infidelity. I wanted to challenge the idea that ‘love’, pure and untainted, cannot thrive in such a dynamic. I don’t know if I succeeded. It’s much too short to tell.

Words for upcoming writers?
I don’t feel like I have any authority to give upcoming writers words of advice. What do I know? But I will say this: try not to wait for validation from the big names in the industry. I guess it’s nice and it helps in terms of getting into the industry and reaching a wide(r) audience. It also helps if you want to make money from writing. But I’m not really interested in that. Just write. Someone somewhere is listening, waiting to hear those words.

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