Brittle Paper’s Writer of the Month for August is Tomilola Coco Adeyemo!
Born in the small town of Okemesi Ekiti in the late 80s, Tomilola grew up in the ancient city of Ibadan, Nigeria. She graduated from the Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife where she studied Dramatic Arts and majored in playwriting. The following year, she obtained a diploma in screenwriting from the Royal Art Academy in Lagos.
As a storyteller, Tomilola has published a few bestselling e-book romances on platforms like Bambooks and Okadabooks, and worked in Nollywood as a researcher, writer and story editor. Her screen credits include Hush, Shuga Naija Season 3, Man Pikin, and Lady Buckitt & the Motley Mopsters.
Tomilola is an avid fan of romance and believes there is a need for more works spotlighting the female gaze in and out of the genre. Her major influences include Sefi Atta, Pam Godwin, the late Amaka Igwe, and Chris Ihidero. She continues to draw inspiration from classic African literature and media, the sounds of Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Nina Simone, and the pains and struggles highlighted in their music and lives as social commentators and activists. Tomilola currently serves as the head of content production on the Netflix Naija social marketing team. In 2019, Tomilola was acknowledged by Connect Nigeria for her wonderful contribution to the Nigerian literary space.
As the brilliant writer who has given us the short story series, Efun’s Jazz, here is Tomilola herself!
Tomilola, congratulations on being August Writer of the Month! July was a remarkable month because of the Efun’s Jazz series. How do you feel about the great reception the series has gotten since day 1?
Thanks, Tahzeeb! Let me first say that when I got your email about being August Writer of the month, I screamed, fell to the floor, kicked my legs in the air, and screamed some more. I eventually told my mom (who was super excited and snuck in a ‘may God give you a husband who will support you in all ways’ prayer), my brothers, my mentor, and my friends. I have demanded that my friends shower me with money. After all, I am not out there disgracing them, and I don’t see why I shouldn’t be rewarded. But really this is kinda huge for me.
That said, I’ve been writing romance and putting it out there in e-book format for some years now. I officially focused on writing romance stories in late 2019, starting with a book series called The Rich Kids of Lagos. I have always gotten support from my community of readers but with Efun’s Jazz that’s especially on a platform like Brittle Paper widely acknowledged for its critical acclaim and where it stands in literary conversations in Africa, it’s been surreal. I celebrate every win no matter how little some believe me, when I say every time I see comments and receive DMs, it feels so unreal. I could never get used to it.
I can wholeheartedly say, this is the best response I’ve received from the opening question [laughs]. You have brought so much joy to Brittle Paper last month and you answer reflects that so clearly.
Usually, the Writer of the Month is selected because of a single publication published on Brittle Paper. You were selected because your story series stood out among July’s publications and captured our readers’ attention. How has it been reading all the comments and seeing people on tenterhooks for the next installment?
So, I like reading comments and getting feedback. I encourage my readers to comment, DM, etc. whenever I put something out. Usually when they do, I take it seriously. That’s love you know? Genuine feedback. And in this case, there have been funny comments, seeing people on social media saying ‘release everything at once’ and all that. It made me smile. I mean there was one comment about getting my laptop password and reading everything at once that made me laugh out loud. I loved them. And I will confess, I liked that the wait was torturous for the readers. Because usually I’m going crazy when I watch something from my favorite series, and I have to wait for the next season. So, I understand the emotions they’re going through. But that emotion is gold for me. I love putting them through it. I hope they don’t find me when they read this, but I’m never going to not put people in suspense or whatnot. I pledge to the gods of storytelling to always do that [laughs].
As someone who is also on the edge of my seat every time I await a new season of a show I like, I loved being in on it this time. I read comments about people talking about how good a part of the series was, and then I would think “if you think this is great, you’re going to absolutely love the next part.”
Working on this series with you has been such a great journey and every time we would work on a part of it, your enthusiasm and passion for creating this never seemed to falter. What has been the best and worst parts of writing this short story series?
I’d like to say it was a good experience working with you too, Tahzeeb. I’m always open to another pair of eyes seeing my work. Nervous, yes. But also always excited when it’s someone who knows what they’re doing. A tiny confession before I continue. I googled you after the first mail. I was curious [laughs]. That made me a bit more excited to hear your thoughts and believe me, not everyone knows how to edit romance. People generally look down on it in this space. I appreciate your sensitivity and feedback.
That said, I don’t have a personal life [laughs]. More than a huge chunk of my time and my life are dedicated to my work, so it’s not like I am putting all that enthusiasm and passion into anything else. Also, I genuinely love what I do. And it’s almost impossible to not be enthusiastic and passionate about it regardless of what I am handling at the moment. I always wanted to be here. Of course, with Efun’s Jazz, there were moments. I won’t say they were good or bad, I’d say more like challenging and interesting.
First, the series was originally written as a short story for an anthology that was supposed to feature a group of female romance authors of Nigerian descent. The hardest bit for me initially was how to tell a good story in the shortest time possible. Now I have a background in Nollywood as a screenwriter, and I have written features/short films, telenovela episodes for Mnet/Africa Magic, and many TV shows. And one thing you quickly learn as a working screenwriter/storyteller is that talent is great, but no one who knows what they’re doing places it above skills and discipline. No one cares if you’re Wole Soyinka or the second coming of Amaka Igwe when it comes to talent. they want to know what you can achieve with it, and in Nollywood where resources are sometimes limited, what you can bring to the table with limited time and resources is very important. So I had to figure out how to do what was required of me in prose fiction. The skill to tell an addictive story in a limited time and the discipline to not think my work is so great that some things can’t be chopped off.
I read a few romance anthologies, did hours of research and that was it. Also, I am a very spiritual person and I grew up in a family that has conventional moral and religious values. I mean I’ve been fasting, going to vigils, and singing in the choir since before I was 10. My Dad is a pastor and my mom is a Deaconess. So for the first time as a romance writer I wanted to infuse spirituality into something. That was hard. I didn’t want to preach. I wanted anyone to pick up the story and deduce whatever they wanted. But at the same time, I wanted people to relate. It was hard doing that but that’s what brings me to my favorite parts.
My mentor and one of the closest humans to me, Chris Ihidero, said to me sometime last year, “You’re still creating from a shallow place. You need to write from a place of pain, go into your life. Stop being afraid of the darkness you’d find. Your work will get better then. It’ll be brilliant you’d see.” And at the time I thought I was doing my best. The Rich Kids series wasn’t bad. But I quickly realized what was missing in my work was my unwillingness to scratch the surface of my experiences because of the fear of what I would find. So I rerouted. For the first time with a story, I tried to draw situations from real-life experiences regardless of how uncomfortable drawing on some of these memories was. Some were stuff women in my family had endured. Things I’d seen. I poured it all without holding back. It felt more authentic then. And oh so freeing. Efun’s Jazz is me in my Yoruba woman element. It’s me writing what I am so freaking knowledgeable about and painting the places in my childhood with words. It’s not limited to that, but I knew what I was talking about with that series.
That’s a really beautiful way to describing it all. As you mentioned, you are involved in a variety of creative spaces, which we will get into later, but how does the writing process differ across the different spaces?
I’d speak for myself and say that first, while the medium sometimes differs and the content format changes, one thing that always applies is this rule of storytelling I hold dear to my heart – making somebody feel something. Feelings aren’t limited to romantic emotions or love. It’s sadness. Anger. Compassion, etc. So, whether it’s through text or slow-paced TV drama or an ad or short-form content for socials I am in the business of emotions and my plan is to always deliver.
The tricky bit for me is always having to remember “Oh yeah, Tomilola you’re a content producer here. Leave some types of drama for Nollywood.” Or, “you’re overseeing short-form content to market films/shows on social media. Now you just gotta have fun because if you don’t your audience won’t.” Or “This is romance. These people need to believe that these two people in the story can’t live without each other, do you understand?” And then I take it from there. If we want to get more technical, I’d say for prose it’s a LOT of narration and description. For screenplays for film and TV, it’s a ‘less is more’ world. For docs, you write your script after you’ve shot hours and hours of rushes/footage. For fun short-form content, it’s an insane battle with the average human being’s attention span. You either get to the point with engaging storytelling and fun visuals in like 3 minutes or less or they’ll scroll to Mr. Macaroni’s most recent skit in a sec. And those never fail to grab attention.
Well, I speak for all of our readers when I say you triumphed at capturing every single person’s attention with the series. I’m expecting complaints on Friday when readers finish it and realize there are no more Nicole and Laja Fridays. So,without giving too much away, what can you tell our readers about the last part? Will it help us say farewell to the story or will we be teased with a follow-up series?
I think if I had to tell the lovely readers anything about the last part it would be that these two people, the ones whose lives we’ve become invested in the past 6 weeks, are going to make the decision that’s best for themselves and the other person. And it won’t be at the expense of their own happiness. That said, you know, I won’t mind doing a follow-up series. I mean I loved this experience with Brittle Paper so much that I’d be tempted into another journey with you guys. But I guess we’d see. Brittle Paper call me!!! [laughs]
We’ll chat soon [laughs] But for now, let’s talk about your other projects. You are involved in literature, screenwriting, and have worked in both Nollywood and Netflix Naija. You have an incredible career in the creative world, and I would love to hear about which projects have been the most enjoyable.
Everything, Tahzeeb! The thing about doing what you love is that even when things get a bit knotty you don’t mind it. You still love it. But I’d confess, I’ve also had a few moments that stood out for me so far. In no particular order, I’d say when I was an associate producer and writer on Big Brother Naija’s first official documentary. Oh, I had so much fun working on that even though I’d work with the editor, my friend Wole, till late at night at the studio. I once got home at midnight because we’d been doing post-production together and then the next morning, I was on the way to the Island for one of my favorite projects ever – overseeing the behind-the-scenes content production for our Netflix Naija series King of Boys: The Return of the King. One second, I was telling Wole where to cut and add in a doc, the next, I was working my butt off to ensure superstar actors RMD and Sola Sobowale (amazing talents to work with by the way) understood our brief. It was a crazy week, and I had a horrible migraine in between all of that. But it was so much fun!
At the time I was also writing my romance e-book, The Heiress’ Plaything. Nah, those were crazy times, but I loved them. Also working with my team at Netflix Naija for the glocalization of Bridgerton is another enjoyable moment. We flew to SA for this in the middle of so much going on. But I loved that trip so much because our boss at Netflix HQ ensured that in the middle of our insane schedule we got to experience really cool places in Joburg. Also, we went clubbing at Konka in Soweto. And I loved Sandton, and I loved visiting the Nelson Mandela sanctuary too. There was this amazing jazz band performing on the Sunday we lunched at the Nelson Mandela sanctuary. It was around the time I was preparing for the trip that I also got a yes to my submission of Efun’s Jazz from Brittle Paper. So, that was definitely such a memorable period for me.
And if I may add, all of these are also because I have very supportive bosses and absolutely brilliant teammates on all the things I work on. Success usually isn’t something you single-handedly achieve. If you’re such a badass at something it’s because there are people around you who contribute one way or the other to it.
You are contributing to so many creative spaces in such a remarkable way, and I’m thankful that in the midst of your crazy schedule, you created and shared Efun’s Jazz with us. Especially because, as you well know, the romance genre is not ever given its props in entertainment, especially literature. As a contributor to the romance genre, how do you find its acceptance and reputation in the creative world?
I think it’s an interesting position to be in when you are a romance author in a space that’s not necessarily welcoming to pure romance. If you google African romance authors or works you’d find out that none of these works are romance. One of the rules guiding the genre is that it ends with a happily ever after or happy for now and some of these works are at best “fiction that explores love themes.”
I belong to a part of writers who took their writing fates into their hands and started publishing in ebook formats on platforms like OkadaBooks and Bambooks when the validation wasn’t coming. The audience support is amazing, but no one takes you seriously in mainstream literary conversations until you are acknowledged by certain literary platforms or publishing houses.
And the acknowledgment I’ve gotten from Brittle Paper is important because I’m not from the crop of “serious literary writing” community. I’m from a crop of writers that “serious writing communities” typically shun. I’m quite hopeful that there are more yeses as I proceed on this journey, but this has been one surreal and important moment in my romance writing journey. Thank you!
We are so thrilled to have gone on this journey with you, thank you.
You’ve shared so much with this but before we go, apart from your writing, Tomilola, what is one thing about yourself that you want to share with our readers?
I love money [laughs]
But really, I’d think it would be that I’m quite unpredictable and that is something that is sometimes reflected in my art. Also, I got diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome in 2020, and that comes with some mental health issues which force me into a mode where I pour all the pain and frustration into my work. And sometimes I do it a little bit obsessively. The good thing is it also helped to color my story worlds. I’m a firm believer in art reflecting a little bit of the darkness in the world at least. It’s never all roses and sunshine. Nigeria isn’t, you know? And that’s got to show in my work somehow. Also, I consume a variety of art. I don’t discriminate. I love and watch critically acclaimed films, I watch cheesy things, I love Yoruba Nollywood and I love me some romance K-drama. I call dibs on Lee Min-ho, Lee Dong-Wook, and Kim Bum if they’re into black women. Also, I listen to all types of music although 90s R&B and Hip-Hop is my favorite. But I’m also a huge Fela head (I’ve read a few books on him, watched some documentaries and I know almost all the Fela songs there ever was) and I’m a huge fan, reader, and researcher of Yoruba history and spirituality.
Finally, I’m incredibly funny. Good lord, if this interview hasn’t proven that already, it means that our readers don’t have a sense of humor!
Tomilola, this has been a wonderful interview, and I’m sure our readers will agree, especially since they are counting the days until the next Efun’s Jazz instalment. Thank you for taking the time to chat with us!
For more of Tomilola’s work, be sure to check out Friday’s installment of Efun’s Jazz, and for more interviews with our writers, check out our last month’s with Ibrahim Babátúndé Ibrahim here.