Author Interview: Ayodeji Ajagbe

Are there any books or authors that inspired you to become a writer?

A year after I graduated high school, I discovered The Last Days at Forcados High School by A.H Mohammed and instantly fell in love. I was a voracious reader before then, but this was the first book where I felt deeply connected to the main character. Jimi Solade was cool, intelligent, funny, and complex. Reading about him made me want to write my own stories with my own characters (ones who looked more like me physically), who would have their own adventures.

At what point do you think someone should call themselves a writer?

It’s not only the published book that makes one a writer. You’re a writer because of the things you notice in the world, and the joy you feel putting the right words together so they sound like music. You’re a writer because you can imagine something in such detail that it comes to life. You’re a writer because you’re obsessed with making your ideas clearer and more interesting. You’re a writer because you have every reason to stop (writing consumes too much time, pays too little, and the rejection hurts too terribly), but you can’t seem to stop. It’s not that you love to write so much as you need to write.

Do you play music while you write — and, if so, what’s your favorite?

I listen to pop a lot while writing. Personally, I really like pop, afrobeats, country music etc. I’m a huge Ruth B. fan but I can’t listen to much of that while I’m writing. Why? Because if I listen to her songs alone, I get so engrossed in the music that I stop writing. Music is very important to me, and I think that the music that someone likes says a lot about their personality. When I create characters, I think about what kind of music they like. Helen Davies, the protagonist in my debut novel, loves pop, so I listened to pop music a lot while writing to get in the “Helen mood.” If I’m writing a scene with a character whose mind I really want to get in to, I’ll listen to music they like. So, for me it’s kind of an eclectic mix, depending on what I want to think about at the moment, and what music will help me think.

Have you ever killed off a character your readers loved?

Yes, I have indeed made the difficult decision to kill off a character that my readers loved. While it was undoubtedly a heartbreaking choice, it was essential for the story’s authenticity. Sometimes, in order to explore the full spectrum of emotions and challenges that characters face, it is important to confront the harsh realities of life, even if it means saying goodbye to a beloved character. This sacrifice i made allowed the narrative to explore more profound themes and create a more resonant and meaningful experience for my readers.

Have you ever traveled as research for your book?

Absolutely, I believe that intense research is important for creating an authentic and compelling story. In the pursuit of accuracy and genuine storytelling, I have embarked on journeys to different locations, embracing cultures, exploring landscapes, and experiences that my characters inhabit. This firsthand exploration has provided helpful knowledge, allowing me to vividly capture the essence of different places and include those experiences seamlessly into my writing. By traveling for research, I try as much as possible to ensure that every single details resonates with truth.

How did you come up with the title for your book, What Happened to Helen? 

In October 2020, I originally came up with ‘Finding Helen’ as the title for my debut novel but my editor, Ms. Mutiat Mustapha, wasn’t so impressed with the book title as it wasn’t captivating enough. I asked her for book title ideas and she came up with What Happened to Helen. I was clueless at first but she explained the meaning behind the title and I knew it was the perfect title for a captivating story like that. My editor, Ms. Mutiat Mustapha is the brain behind the book title. 

If you could be mentored by a famous author, who would it be?

I’d love to be mentored by A.H Mohammed. His book, more than any other, opened my eyes to what was possible as a youngster and inspired me to pick up the craft myself.

If your book were made into a movie, which actors would play your characters?

One of the techniques I use when I’m trying to bring characters to life in my head is to cast them.

By imagining a certain actor playing that character, I can see them walking and talking in my mind’s eye. I can imagine the tone of their voice, the way they would be around other people, the way they might look at me when I’ve landed them in a particularly tricky situation. My debut novel revolves around a strong, beautiful protagonist. And for Helen Davies’s role, I’ve imagined Doris Simeon to play it. I’ve also cast Bigvai Jokotoye to play Michael Davies, Damola Olatunji to cast uncle Marc. I’m still trying to cast Nonso, who seemed innocent at first but a green snake in reality.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

When I’m not reading or writing, I like to take evening walks while listening to music. I also like to spend time at home and enjoy my solitude.

What is the most valuable piece of advice you’ve been given about writing?

The most valuable piece of advice I’ve received about writing is to “write without fear.” This piece of advice has encouraged me to embrace vulnerability, explore new territories, and express my thoughts and emotions freely on the pages of my book. By setting aside self-doubt and allowing myself to take risks, I’ve been able to create more authentic and interesting narratives that resonate with readers on a deeper level. Writing without fear of what others might say has opened doors to creativity and growth, reminding me that the true magic of storytelling lies in being true to myself and the stories I wish to tell.