Abimbola Dare is a Faith-based writer who lives in the UK with her family. She has written four books, two of which have come up first spot on Amazon Kindle bestseller list for Christian fiction in the UK. Her short story, The No-Nonsense Wife, was published online by BellaNaija and adapted into a short film. In 2017, she was named one of the 100 most influential Writers Under 40 in Nigeria and, in 2018, won the Bath Novel Award. In this Interview with OLAMIDE BABATUNDE, she opens up about how she has succeeded as a Christian fiction author with over 10 years of experience.
You used to be a blogger far back in 2006, how well did that work out before you transitioned to writing?
It was fun. I had a lot of visits, and I think it was one of the most visited blogs in Nigeria back then. I stopped blogging, because I lacked a sense of purpose and direction from it, and I wanted more.
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I write full time but I have a 9-5 job in publishing, which allows me to be close to my passion. I would love an opportunity to be able to write novels without having to get up and go to the 9-5, but for now, I juggle both.
Blogging, writing, family life and regular job; how do you tie all ends together?
It’s by God’s grace. A supportive family system, and the determination to get things done keep me going.
Taking on a full volume novel isn’t a picnic, what have you discovered to be essential to becoming a published writer?
Hone your craft. Read widely. Attend a few courses on writing. Get to a desk and write. Hire a good editor. Get a critique partner. Get to a desk and write. Rinse and repeat.
What kinds of stories stuck with you and helped shaped your writing?
I love thrillers, books with a lot of suspense and twists, and, of course, faith-based fiction.
Is writing faith-based stories challenging, because we do not seem to have a lot in this category?
Faith is subjective. What I believe, regardless of what I profess as a Christian, might not sit well with someone else. I try to write to the leading of the Holy Spirit, and trust my readers see through my good intention in the message of my story. That said, when I started writing faith-based fiction, there was hardly anyone else writing it in Nigeria. But the reception has been overwhelming from Nigerians, and this is what keeps me going.
Accidental Wife is your latest and fourth fiction, can you tell us about it?
The novel tells the story of three major characters: Patricia Kuti – a woman who has never lost a battle. She is fiercely competitive and makes decisions that alter the course of her and her son, Benjamin’s destiny. Benjamin Kuti–Patricia’s son who is torn between three women. Titi Adamu – a woman with a deadline – and the devastating consequences that follow her desperate desire to meet the deadline. This is what the blurb says: Patricia Kuti has never lost a battle. When her late “husband” leaves behind a will that threatens to expose her past, Patricia has a tough decision to make. She must decide whether to lose all she’s held together with lies or to destroy yet another life to protect her secret. Her son, Benjamin Kuti is determined to marry Simi Taylor regardless of what his mother says.
That is until a chance meeting with Titi, Adamu throws his life into crisis. Titi Adamu is a woman with a deadline. And nothing is going to stop her plan to get married before her thirtieth birthday. When Benjamin and Titi’s lives become intertwined, Patricia is thrilled. Titi seems to be a simple solution to a complex problem. But, as guarded secrets and sins begin to unravel piece by piece, it becomes clear, that in life, there’s always a price to pay.
What sets you apart as a faith-based writer?
I like to have a drizzle of suspense and humour into my writing, regardless of genre. I also avoid being preachy. I try very hard to get my message across with as little need to sermonise as much as possible. Your beliefs will reflect in your writing and it is understandable to have themes relating to faith recur in your works.
How do you intend to subdue the tendency of a recurring theme?
My stories center around family relationships, which means the tendency to have a recurring theme is very high. I draw my fiction from reality (as most writers tend to do), and due to the varying nature of life, with its constant change, I find that I am getting better with each book at changing themes or putting a new spin on a well-worn theme.
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It seems characters in the novel fall on one of two lanes, some on the bad and a few on the good. How do we quantify Benjamin, as good or a bad person?
I try to have a balance of strengths and weaknesses of each character in my novels. I would say that Benjamin’s weaknesses include his inability to make a decision and stick to it. He is easily influenced by his mother (Patricia), which seems to be a common characteristic of men who have very powerful and domineering mothers, in the absence of a father or father figure.
A woman’s treachery to go any lengths to get what she wants is rife through the narrative. The desire to become what the society expects seems to be a compass that drives the lives of women. Patricia wanted to be as good as her sister; Titi also was desperate to conform to society’s need. Is this ever going to change, and where should the change begin before things get out of hand?
I think it reflects our society, and change is slow coming; but I don’t think it will ever go away. It is down to an individual to choose not to be influenced negatively by societal pressure. Change starts in the mind of each individual. You should be your greatest competition. It is great to have people we look up to, but when it becomes a toxic, unhealthy competition, then there is a problem.
If you could choose a book character you have read to be, who would it be and why?
My favourite book of all time is The Help. It is so well written, and I’d have to say that I would have loved to be Skeeter –she so daring and hilarious. I love books with strong female leads –The Colour Purple, I know why the Caged Bird Sings, and Their Eyes Were Watching God are some of my favorites that feature characters I love and resonate with.
You highlight shortcomings, but make the characters sometimes pretend everything is fine. This to me proves that the mind and heart work differently. This made it difficult for them to overcome temptations. Why did you choose to portray this kind of weakness and helplessness especially for Christians who should “flee iniquity”?
I try to write to reflect reality. Humans tend to issue silent or spoken judgments from the court of their hearts. My characters, like many of us, do not like to be judged or criticised. For many, it is easier to hide and pretend that all is well than to express a crippling weakness and the harsh judgment that might come from it. We forget that we are human, and that we have a loving faithful God who is quick to forgive if we confess and repent. We fear what people would say, and, because of that, we rather hide the “sin” rather than to expose and deal with it, and in the process, creating a destructive domino effect.
At book festivals, hardly does the subject of Christian literature come up for discussion. Is it that the literary space does not acknowledge your kind of writing or it feels awkward to come forth amidst other kinds of narratives?
I think that as well-written books in the genre continue to be produced the recognition it desires will grow. I always say that a good book is a good book, regardless of genre. We need more writers of the genre, and we need the support of the public to read, publicise and promote the books. With adequate backing and promotion, book festivals would begin to take notice. It will happen in due course.
What would it take for Nigerian Christian literature to come up on the forefront as other categories of writing?
If you look at the market as a whole, Christian literature sells in millions in Nigeria. As long as the book is written by a pastor of a church, the members are guaranteed to buy it. The Bible is the bestselling book of all time, and I am sure this is the case in Nigeria. The problem is fiction. We need institutions, bookstores, publishers, etc., to support the works of authors of Christian fiction and to promote it. We need bookstores to put such books at prime points in their stores. We need publishers to take the interest –but for that to happen, we need well-written Christian Fiction. A writer should always write good books. A good book, regardless of the genre, will be noticed and promoted at the right time.
I am thankful to Quaramo Publishing for their new imprint, Qlife, which is the first (as far as I am aware), independent publisher in Nigeria to publish faith-based fiction. They will be publishing my next book, The Last Wedding Anniversary under this imprint. This is a welcome development and a step in the right direction.