Lara Tommy Kareem is an author who is also a literary publicist, editor, enthusiast and blogger based in Lagos, Nigeria. When she’s not working, writing, reading or catching up on her favourite TV shows, she can be found talking and taking pictures of and blogging about all things literary. You can find her on the internet here Naija Book Bae
Knowing the writer
Have you always written, or did your love for reading wake the writer in you?
I started writing when I was twelve years old. I was in my first year of secondary school. I read a lot and when I finished reading all the books on my reading list which my parents ensured they got for me, I would listen to my friends narrate stories from books they read. That was when I took up writing my own stories as a hobby.
Describe your writing space
To be very honest I don’t have a writing space, once I’m in the zone I can write anywhere as long as I can note things down and I’m with my story outlines. Be it lying on a bed, at a desk or couch.
What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?
Good writing to me is when the story is able to keep the reader’s attention, doing what it claims it’s meant to do.
You’ve written fiction and non-fiction; do you have a preference? Why?
My preference is fiction. Writing non-fiction was more of a one-off thing because I was offering a service to the people who had come to ask me for self-publishing advice and also to the writers in Nigeria who may want to go down the path and not have a clue on the due diligence to properly publish a book.
What Nigerian books and authors have had a strong influence on your writing?
I started writing this book at the age twenty, before I started regularly reading books by Nigerian Authors, so none of them have influenced my style of writing. However, if I was to pick now I would say Oyinkan Braithwaite.
If you could choose a famous Nigerian writer as mentor; who would they be?
I’m a romance writer and to pick a mentor I haven’t read as much romance by Nigerians as I would like, however I would gladly pick Chimeka Garricks as a mentor.
Describe your perfect Nigerian book hero or heroine without mentioning the book.
I don’t have a perfect Nigerian book hero or heroine; however, my favourite Nigerian fictional person is that eccentric character that is an ogbanje.
How many bookshelves do you own?
I had a bookshelf that was stuff full with books and so my mum made a mini one to hang beside the entrance of my door. When I also filled that with books, I had to give out some books and my mum took away the first bookshelf (it’s in storage now) and had a carpenter build me a new one with more racks. I have two bookshelves, but a lot of shelves I can convert to bookshelves when the need arises.
If you could invite one writer to dinner, who would it be and what would you cook?
I would invite Suyi Davies Okungbowa, because he is an author whose works I love, the way he thinks is awesome and interacting with him has been a breeze, also he’s pretty smart when it comes to writing. I won’t cook I would order food that both of us are comfortable with.
The Creative process
What literary pilgrimages or trainings did you take before publishing your first book?
I haven't taken any literary pilgrimages or trainings, but trainings shall be in my nearest future.
How does your mood affect your writing?
I have to be in a positive/focused mind frame to write, anything negative will lead to zero productivity. I’ve lost my writing mojo for about two years now and I just got it back.
What are your ultimate goals as a writer?
To publish my own work of fiction, in a manner that covers all grounds and makes me extremely proud with my own publishing house.
How do you motivate yourself while writing?
I suck at motivating myself while writing, so I think that’s why I’ve been struggling to write. However, the words of readers of my works are my favourite motivation when I write, because they inspire me to do better.
What’s the least favourite review you have gotten so far?
This one is easy, it was a non-review, more like a knife to the neck criticism. The person didn’t like anything about the book and pointed out all the issues they had with it.
As an ardent bookstagrammer, what are some of its joys and frustrations?
The joy of being on Bookstagram, is it allows me to share my love for book photography, as well as my opinions on the books I read with people who love reading as well. I learn about various books from the people I follow and have wonderful conversations with them. It is an extension of my blog, which has given me so much visibility that I can comfortably ask for review copies from publishers worldwide and not expect a rejection.
Concerning frustrations, well I wish publishers and some authors really appreciate our passion and the work we put into Bookstagram, because sometimes the way we’re treated by them is bottom level.
Your first and second books differ in genre; tell us about the transition process.
I wrote my first book last, my first book was the only piece of writing I started and finished last year. It wasn’t hard to write the first book I published because it’s a topic I heavily researched on in order to publish it and also because I gained some insight from working in publishing for over a year.
the book: not just another interlude
Your book, Not Just Another Interlude favours strong female characters who support each other and stand up for themselves; why do you think your readers relate to them?
We’re in a time were many young Nigerian women are loudly advocating for one and another. Fighting to bring light on the way our society and patriarchy has set things as the norm or standard of things to oppress us, were previously we’ll hold our mouths and suffer in silence, as shame was majorly brought on the victims and not the perpetrators. We don’t want to live like that anymore, nobody likes to or should be oppressed.
What do you make of the notion that romance is traditionally, a female domain?
It’s quite sad and I can blame it on patriarchy, where they have set the genre romance in books as frivolous, as if there’s nothing you can learn from reading the books and something people should be ashamed off, which is quite funny as romance is a major aspect in almost all our lives today.
Can you share with us something about the book that isn’t in the blurb?
Yes, this story also focuses on a bit on the mother of the main character Sewa, as well as the relationship mother and daughter have with each other, which is one that is healthy.
What were the key challenges you faced when writing this book?
Writing this book was fun, I didn’t find it challenging. However, I wrote it on the fly, I didn’t plot it at all which meant I was writing aimlessly, which made it hard for me to include conflict and also write the ending.
How did you decide the title for this book?
It was the title of a favourite song, Just Another Interlude by Bryson Tiller, I saw it and it made sense, because the story showcases an important moment in Sewa’s life, which makes it not just another interlude.
What was your biggest challenge in writing romance?
I find it very challenging to write scenes that involves my characters partaking in sexual activates.
What do you think, is the single most important element in a romance story?
The romance? That is after all what puts it in the genre, the way the relationship between the characters are defined and their actions justified.
Walk us through the research you did for this story.
This story didn’t require me to do any research as it isn’t a technical story, and I already knew a bit about publishing by the time I wrote it.
Describe your book’s heroine, Sewa, in three words
Confident, Level-headed and Loyal
What is it like, writing and publishing romance in Nigeria?
I haven’t published a romance in Nigeria, my publisher is UK based. When it comes to publishing romance in Nigeria there’s a huge gap and a lot of work is still needed due to the negative perception romance has in general. But, I am in awe of the support I have gotten from the reading communities I am part of, they have supported me immensely and for that I am forever grateful.
Are you currently catching your breath or are there any WIP?
I’ve been catching my breath for a long time and now I’m working on several writing projects all fiction by the way, I’ll be done with one by the end of September and the other one I’ll see how long it takes me.
In the future, should we expect your works to be more fiction or non-fiction?
Fiction, I’m sticking to fiction.
With your experience in the Nigerian publishing space and authoring your first book, what important thing do you want Nigerian writers to know about traditional and self-publishing?
With my experience in the publishing space, I’m leaning heavily towards self-publishing for my next books, because I want to have more control over my work. However, traditional publishing in Nigeria itself can be amazing with reputable houses.
What are you currently reading?
I’m sure by the time this interview is out, I would have read several other books, but I am currently reading Once Upon Our Childhood by Lara Brown.