Tomilola Coco Adeyemo was born in the small town of Okemesi Ekiti in the late 80s and 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 obtained a diploma in screenwriting from the Royal Art Academy in Lagos.
As a storyteller, Tomilola has published a few bestselling romances in E-book format on platforms like Bambooks and Okadabooks and has credited works as a Researcher, Writer & Story editor in Nollywood. Her screen credits include the hit MNET telenovela, Hush, MTV Shuga Naija Season 3, PinPoint Media’s hit sitcom Man Pikin and Nollywood’s first feature-length animation, Lady Buckitt & the Motley Mopsters.
Tomilola is an avid fan of romance and believes there is a need for more work 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. In addition, she continues to draw inspiration from classic African literature and media, the sounds of Fela Anikulapo – Kuti and Nina Simone, and the pains and struggles highlighted in their music and lives as social commentators and activists. In 2019 Tomilola was acknowledged by Connect Nigeria for her contribution to the Nigerian literary space. And in August 2022, she was named Brittle Paper author of the month after a successful run of her romance submission Efun’s Jazz on the Pan-African literary website.
By Adedayo Onabade
Q: Kudos to you for being Brittle Paper’s Writer of the Month for August and your most recent work, 'Efun's Jazz,' which explored the intersection of love and spirituality. What influences gave birth to the story of Nicole and Laja?
A: Thank you! Honestly, I’d say my whole life. I was raised in a very conventional Christian home, and although Efun’s Jazz explores Yoruba spirituality and that was something we were never exposed to, my family is VERY Yoruba, and as kids, my siblings and I (raised in Ibadan) visited Yoruba towns like Abeokuta, Emure Ekiti, Efon Alaaye, etc. and my parents raised us with the Yoruba language while exposing us to the Yoruba way of life.
My Dad, for instance, speaks the Oyo dialect and my mom and her siblings speak fluent Ekiti (Efon Alaaye) dialect. As an adult, however, I became more interested in Yoruba spirituality, history, and myths of creation. In the past year alone, I have digested more knowledge on Yoruba spirituality, history, culture, and the myth of origin than I ever have. And believe me, I had a very Yoruba childhood, lol. So, the thing about digesting things as a creative is that you always find an outlet. That outlet birthed Efun’s Jazz and eventually the Fated duet.
Q: Writers everywhere are known to have a thing for words. At what point in your life did writing begin to seem like a path of interest for you?
A: I hate to sound cliché, but I can’t remember. I honestly just always liked to write. I have been doing it since before I was 10. Then in secondary school at the International School University of Ibadan, I’d write in those Oyo state free education exercise books that my mom, who’s a teacher, would give me, and my friends would read the hell out of them. Those girls were easily my first ‘fans.’
So, S/O to Yeside Akinlabi, Funlola Osinowo, Lamide Bakare, Lara Okunade, and the late Adeola Adeniji, wherever they are today. By the time I graduated from Obafemi Awolowo University in 2010 as a playwright major, I knew I was headed for Nollywood as a Writer and that I’d also most definitely explore my literary side.
Q: Romance has a special place in your writing. Why is it something that forms a huge, recurring part of your predominant subject matter? Would you describe yourself by the famous phrase, 'a hopeless romantic'?
A: Haha. I am NOT hopeless, nor am I a romantic. Okay, that was a joke. But really, though, I’d hardly describe myself as “a hopeless romantic.” I don’t even know that I am a romantic, but one thing for sure is that I know how to make women feel good, I know how to make them feel loved, and I know what they want. I’ve had women tell me I write like a man, which is a testament to the fact that I am in tune with my male side, and I channel that energy into my work. I love Love and romance as subject matters. Although I think the romance genre is largely discarded as ‘unserious’ and ‘stuff that only women love,’ love is beautiful, and I think expressing/conveying that in art is freeing and amazing. I enjoy peering at my worlds through the lens of love and sensuality. I think that black love is dope. It’s really just that, to be honest.
Q: You have worked on many Nigerian television shows as a Researcher/Story Editor, such as MTV Shuga Naija, Hush, etc., and recently, you were a Story Editor for Nigeria’s first animated feature-length film, “Lady Buckit & The Motley Mopsters,” Congratulations on this massive feat! What does it feel like being an integral part of the writing and production process of Nigeria’s first animated feature film?
A: Thank you! I should clarify, though, that I wasn’t part of the production process for Lady Buckitt & the Motley Mopsters. I also wasn’t a writer on the project. I was part of the team that rejigged the story for the animation. My mentor Chris Ihidero had brought me and another writer Chiemeka Osuagwu on board to look at the story and contribute to it back in 2019. It was amazing because although I had been in a room of writers that worked on an animation five or so years prior, it was different. The budget was bigger, and the vision was on a much larger scale. Of course, storytelling for kids can take a different approach, but it was lovely working with the team I worked with.
Q: What is the most important aspect of your creative process?
A: I think it’s the process of doing an insane amount of work on backstory, research, and visually piecing together what my subjects will look like in the world I am creating or working on. This also goes beyond writing prose fiction. I do the same thing for scripts and other forms of content production. I spend some time thinking, visualizing, researching, and piecing together what I want my content or stories to say. Sometimes this can mean visiting a gallery or creating Pinterest boards, or watching clips where there’s drama, angst, violence, or whatever’s needed at the time. It sets a mood and a tone that I eventually project into what I need to do.
Q: Are there any 'writing hacks' you have learned and found valuable in this adventure of being a storyteller?
A: So, I saw this tweet recently from the Advice to Writers handle that said something along the lines of ‘you shouldn’t just read literature. You should read life, read art and build your method from that.’ It’s said to be a quote from Anthony Vaesna So. I agree that it is a great writing hack. I’d say literally pay attention to music, art, the sound of Lagos traffic, fashion, religion, anything, and everything. As a creative, when your soul eventually breaks down the food of your consumed art, it'll filter it and channel it into the parts of your artistic consciousness where it’s needed. It’s the same hack for every form of storytelling.
Q: It is no gainsaying that writing can sometimes take you on the most difficult journeys. So, what is the most challenging part of your artistic process as you try to tell your stories in the best possible way?
A: These days, I’d be raw and honest and say mental health, which is a direct complication from Polycystic ovary syndrome. And I’ll say this because in 2018, two years before I was medically diagnosed, I was doing hours I struggle with these days. Of course, I am on medication for PCOS, and I see my Gynecologist (who considers me a rebel patient) as often as I can. But it’s my biggest challenge because it can affect concentration and overall output during my artistic process. Outside that, I don’t really consider anything else a ‘challenge’ if we’re keeping it 100. As you said, writing can take one on the most difficult journeys. Some processes will be trickier than others, and that’s how I see it. So, I enjoy whatever the process is and take a break when mental health issues kick in.
Q: Writer's block remains an enduring topic among writers. With the rich and growing bodies of work you have to your credit, is this something you have ever experienced? If yes, how were you able to deal with it?
A: I think leaving your work for some time and returning to it is a great hack. If you can afford to, that is. Leaving, doing fun things, or just maybe sleeping and then returning to take another look at it. But in a space like ours, where deadlines are crazier than we’ve heard it is in the west, I’d say try taking walks, switching to a different type of music or media, or watching or reading something along the lines of what you’re trying to create. It’ll probably trigger something and help you get back into work. Although the times I have been asked this, I have said half-seriously, “my bills always remind me that writer’s block is a myth.”
Q: What do you think about adaptations? Do they often, in your opinion, adequately capture the message within a book? Also, what adaptations have you enjoyed so far?
A: I would say that I am still largely indifferent about this topic. However, because I work as a screenwriter in Nollywood, I’d also add that sometimes what seems like an ‘inadequate capturing’ of some of many audiences/fans’ favorite books is because sometimes the fans essentially want it captured on screen the way it is in the source material or maybe even 80 percent of it. And that’s impossible. These media thrive on different styles of execution. And adequately capturing anything whatsoever is entirely subjective. I prefer to watch films/series without checking out the original works; for some, I just don’t bother returning to the source materials.
However, I recently purchased Six of Crows, a book in the series the Netflix hit show ‘Shadow & Bone’ is based on, and I’m excited to see if any part of the first book made it on screen and how. I also hope to one day read Gone Girl, a song of ice and fire series, and the Bridgerton source materials because I enjoyed watching those.
Q: In furtherance of the previous question, are there any of your works you would like to see adapted to film or other literary expressions?
A: Yes, absolutely. However, I am a huge fan of letting works/forms of art exist as what they are first before trying to adapt them into other forms of art. Exciting as it might be, for instance, I’d love for the world to appreciate/enjoy my literary works ‘properly’ for what they are before hurrying them into film or shows. This can be in a year; who knows what God has in store?
Q: Food, culture, and iconic music from the 80s and 90s play a massive role in your storytelling. What spurs your love for music as a recurring element of your work? Why do you consider these as a vital inclusion to your stories?
A: As I said earlier, you draw art from what you consume. I consume a lot of the aforementioned things. Yoruba people say, “it is what a bird eats that it flies with.” I eat food, culture, and iconic music from times gone by. So, I fly with those.
Q: You have successfully carved a niche for yourself as a romance fiction writer through the self-publishing route. What factors influenced your choice? Would you be open to experimenting with other forms of sharing your works with the reading public, e.g., journal submissions, etc.? Also, what are your future publishing plans?
A: I wanted to be taken seriously as a writer in early 2011 when I came to Lagos and started squatting with a friend/former classmate in Ogudu. So, I took a course in screenwriting at Emem Isong’s Royal Art Academy, where I got a diploma and wrote prose fiction consistently enough to be contacted by the CEO of Okadabooks, who reached out to me and asked for me to put those works in an E-book format and put a price on it. The feedback was shockingly good. I still want to be taken seriously, so yes, I am very open to sharing my works with the reading public in every form. As for my future publishing plans, let me say, ‘keep your fingers crossed.’
Q: Your long-term fans are still waiting on the promised sequel for ‘Squadi: The Originals.’ So is there something in the offing in that regard?
A: Oh, my goodness! I’m laughing hard right now because I’m not going to lie, but I completely moved on from that. For years I was going to return because,… wait, Squadi is six years old now! Whoa! But honestly, I was at an experimental stage in my writing career. I was writing anything and everything because I wanted to become badass at writing so badly! At the time I didn’t even think I was going to completely focus on romance the way I have now, although there were two characters in that story that had so much chemistry, and that eventually contributed to me doing romance on a larger scale. I don’t know, but I’ll say we never know what the future holds.
Q: If your teenage self could make certain decisions again that would help you become a better writer, what would it be?
A: Go and steal the James Hadley Chase novels that my dad didn’t let me read as a teenager, return to secondary school and have the actual balls to join literary clubs/societies that were open to students interested in writing and that I thought I didn’t have the brains for, and include my name in my first ever short story that was published in a student magazine during my OAU pre-degree program at Ipetu Modu when I was 17. All these things would help me become a better writer because it would mean that I believed in myself, which was a key ingredient missing in my life and eventually my work for many years until 2014.
Q: What is the most priceless thing that being a writer has done for you?
A: A fierce and loyal community of supporters who don’t know who the heck I am and send me heartfelt messages, get invested in my creations, root for me, and never ever get tired of telling me how much they enjoy the stories I create.
Adedayo Onabade is a Nigerian essayist, fiction, and poetry writer. She holds a B.A. from Olabisi Onabanjo University and an M.A. from the University of Lagos, both in English Literature. Her works have been shortlisted for SynCity's 'Poetry in times of Corona' and #TwitterWritingContest.
Adedayo volunteers with STER (Stand to End Rape Initiative), a social justice organization that works to combat sexual and gender-based violence against women, girls, and vulnerable people. Outside writing, she is fascinated by NatGeoWild, art galleries, reading, and documentaries.