I’ve never been very good at doing what I’m told. When I was told that writing novels should only ever be a hobby, that having children would make it impossible to find time to write, that writing a novel was something I should never aim for, not really, I simply didn’t listen. I crept out of bed at 5 am and wrote, every day, even if I’d been up all night nursing a sick child, so tired my eyes were only half open. On those days, in fact, my writing was the best. I thought of my characters all the time and even dreamed of them. After a few months I had something to look at, some writing, words that might just one day turn into a novel.

“You should write what you know,” said people, when they realized my dream was not going to disappear. “Write your life, stick to a simple story for your first book. Write an easy story.” Again, I didn’t listen. I fell in love with a man and his country: Nigeria. The story belonged in Nigeria, and to Blessing, a twelve-year-old Nigerian girl. I listened to the voice of my then thirteen-year-old, how she used language in nonsensical ways, how she saw the world around her. Blessing, my main character, began talking to me. I wrote about politics, gender, violence, religion, humanity. I asked questions and explored in my novel things that I didn’t understand and wanted answers to: race, culture, belonging, and identity, what it is to be human, how it feels to grow up too quickly. (more…)