- Author of Beyond My Dreams (BMYD)
Deciding the most striking aspect of Beyond My Dreams is one tough call because Mrs. Olajumoke Adenowo delivers on all fronts. Hailed by CNN as Africa’s 'starchitect,' her masterful touch as a polymath comes to bear in her first fictional work, Beyond My Dreams (2019).
From the compelling visual imagery to well-rounded character development in the novel, the reader is in for an exciting experience. Add a steady pacing of the story to the mix and a rich thematic preoccupation that touches on faith, family, love, betrayal, governance, and nation-building—and you have a masterpiece.
In this interview, Mrs. Adenowo opens up on the inspiration behind her debut novel, the journey to creating, and the message she hopes to amplify in the hearts of everyone who encounters BMYD.
By Adedayo Onabade
You're a widely acclaimed architect by profession, and you've written in other genres. When and how did the journey to creative writing begin?
I started writing at the age of 16. I was in Part 2 at the university during that time, and I enjoyed the creative process. It wasn’t about publishing the book. I was just telling a story. I started giving my older friend chapters to read as I wrote, and she loved it. I was so surprised! She would ask for the next instalments with genuine interest, and as I had more chapters, I gave another friend who also really loved the story. So, I thought, 'There must be something to the story.'
Then, things began to happen at the national level that I had already written about in the book. Uncanny events that had never happened before in the nation, as I had described them in BMYD. These were the days in which, when those sorts of things I described in the book happened, and you simply knew about the imminent events and didn’t report it, it was decreed a crime, and you could be executed or thrown in jail to rot away there (along with your family). So, I stopped writing the book.
Once in a while, I would tell the story, which changed a bit over the years, and the listener would always love it. So, I decided at the age of 49 that I would write the book by the time I turned 50, and I did. The story changed slightly but not in spirit, and even the names of some of the characters changed, but Rola’s name endured for 34 years, so did Olaotan’s and Isa’s.
Thirty-four years, that’s quite some time! Why did you write BMYD? What core message did you hope to pass across in doing so?
I wrote BMYD because of my passion for my country, the core message being leadership and governance. We have to take ownership of the country and for the change we want to see. The secondary message is that this country cannot change until we have leaders ready to die for it. Your country is worth dying for. That’s what patriotism means; that’s what soldiers sign up for. Your country is worth dying for. And the third message is that right now, there’s no real country. We have an extant geographical entity, but the level of vision casting and sacrifice that will bring us to nationhood is still lacking.
Are the events and characters of BMYD inspired by real people? Would you like to share more about this and how you turned this into creative material?
Actually, I made it clear in BMYD that there are no real characters in it beyond my dog Jay-z who I miss so badly. But there are elements of events from the lives of real people. For example, like Femi and Rola’s characters, I got validation that a young person could make money from selling an app from someone I met while serving with The Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards as a juror. One of the North American jurors was a young black woman, an African in California, who had sold an app for a hefty amount of money. So, I knew this was completely plausible. It’s a work of fiction with plausible scenarios.
In your book, there are elements of faith regarding your central characters, Kaniz and Morola. What prompted this?
I’m a person of faith. Africans, in general, are highly spiritual. We believe in the metaphysical. It is impossible to function at the level of dedication to a cause and sacrifice my protagonist's function without believing in a purpose greater than oneself. You have to be transcendental in your paradigm, and only people of faith can function at that level. I’m not saying people of a particular faith but people of faith who believe there’s more to life than the transient and tangible. Only such people can function at this level.
My protagonists were altruistic. They were disciplined, focused, and they believed there was more to life beyond the here and now. Therefore, they were willing to die for what they believed in. You need to believe that there’s more to life than this physical plane to endure martyrdom for your cause.
Those characters had to be transcendental in their belief system. They had to have very deep philosophies and ideologies, and genuine people of faith are the ones who approach the world from such a perspective.
When it comes to the issue of faith and religion, some young people today tend to be dismissive, agnostic, or atheistic. But, on the contrary, your characters navigate life and its attendant challenges based on their unwavering faith.
Can you share more on why you chose to address this?
Actually, I found out many young people are deeply involved in faith. Studies have been carried out, and faith and spirituality remain one of the main drivers of the Nigerian population, especially among young people. The drivers are football, fashion, music, relationships, money, and faith. There’s tension as they seek to resolve the conflict between navigating the cultures they operate in or their “wokeness” with the belief system their parents have handed over to them. My characters practice a faith that remains relevant in the marketplace, in everyday life.
I addressed this social phenomenon because I believe we are created in Christ Jesus as kings and priests. The whole essence of Awesome Treasures Foundation, which is a faith-based philanthropic body that I founded in 1999, is preparing people of faith for the marketplace—preparing people of faith for real challenges, hard real-life questions, and taking your faith out of the ivory tower of the church. That’s what I do every day. As an architect, my faith must be relevant daily. I have been involved in 155 projects as of the last count, and I’ve been published by some of the world’s most prestigious publishing houses by God’s grace. I also function in ministry, and the results are books like Acts of the Holy Spirit Vol. I (and the second volume is on the way) of verified signs and wonders.
The real challenge of faith in 2022 and the 21st century is how to make your faith relevant. So many people would make statements in decision-making processes like ‘Let's set Christianity aside.’ What does that even mean? Is there such a thing as setting your faith aside before addressing an issue? We put faith front and center. I addressed this in BMYD. We are in a country where it seems people don’t understand that their faith goes to work from Monday to Friday, so they go to church on Sunday, go to the mosque on Friday, then set all that aside, and then face their offices on Monday. As they manifest and express, there isn’t enough evidence to convict them of being people of faith from what they do from Monday to Friday. This is why we are so religious and spiritual as a country, yet we have leaders that can steal the country blind and still attend the mosques or churches. And this is what I’m trying to say, your faith must be real; your faith must affect your every decision.
The challenge for African Christians is knowing that their faith is relevant to the marketplace and understanding that there is no division between the sacred and secular. There’s no such thing as ‘the secular’ for a person of faith. Everything is sacred. Your work is sacred, your marriage is sacred, parenting is sacred, sport is sacred, education is sacred, everything is powered and driven by your faith. You cannot separate your faith from anything you do.
Let's talk about the name of your book. At first glance, BMYD would almost pass as a memoir or autobiography. What informed the title, Beyond My Dreams?
Yes, precisely. That’s why I changed the second edition's cover entirely so that it is clear it’s not a memoir. In my 16-year-old mind, the title was BMYD, so I just kept to it. Beyond that, the name alludes to the fact that I’m looking for a Nigeria that’s beyond my dreams, one that surpasses what I ever think it can be.
Would you say that 'Beyond My Dreams,' the concept of one surpassing even personal expectation applies specifically to a certain character, or is it a collective relevance even for the reader?
One of the characters does say, “This is beyond my dreams,” and it alludes to the fact that the love he has found is beyond his dreams. Meaning it is something he thought would never happen. I employed that dialogue to drive home the title. The very fact is, I believe we can achieve a nation that is beyond our dreams. This is even more pertinent now than ever before when I started writing BMYD; now, when people don’t even believe in the nation again.
It’s so interesting. I know of a young man in his thirties (because men love the book a lot) who read BMYD three times and then decided to buy Max Siollun’s three books on Nigeria. He said he had to find out about that era when people were ready to die for the country. So, if I could make 1 person, 3 or 4 people more interested in their country, I would say that is beyond my dreams.
What was the creative process like for you? Did you experience any eureka moments in the course of writing?
We thought we would use a ghostwriter, but we tried twice, and it didn’t work. They just never could pull off what I wanted. So, the first eureka moment was when I realized, ‘Wow! I can actually write this book myself.’
I was also quite shocked at how alive my characters were, how they had definite personalities. I am very connected to the characters; I know them well, their mannerisms, how they think, talk, and their backstories. I knew what Kaniz would say and how he would say it. I was shocked at how profoundly real the characters were, and the feedback has been that every character is so well developed.
The creative process was fun! I think I wrote 50,000 words in less than a month and my editor was shocked. I didn’t know you’re not supposed to write 50,000 words in the time in which I wrote. BMYD was meant to be a 100-page book; it ended at 440 pages! Thanks to the tight editing, we lost 60 pages.
It’s not unusual to hear writers say even they were taken aback by the outcome of the characters’ stories. Were you at any time surprised at the turn of events?
Yes, I was taken aback. Suffice to say that the extant end is the third alternate ending. The ending I had as a 16-year-old is not the ending today. So yes, I was really surprised at the turn of events.
Was there anything about the technical aspect of writing that has stuck with you, even after completing BMYD, which you will employ in future projects?
No, there was nothing about the technical practice of writing that I learned, and my punctuation remains terrible! (Laughter) My publisher seems to believe I am a natural since I never learned to write fiction. We had real tussles about how I employed POV, but she later agreed I was right in my handling of the POVs. She was also “editing” my dialogue, and this was such a huge issue that it was set to be a deal-breaker. I basically told her not to touch any word my characters uttered. Not one! In the end, the dialogue is one of the strong points of BMYD. I felt so validated that my “amateur author instinct” was spot on.
Authorship is a two-sided mirror, and writing is only one part. There's also the audience's reception, reading, and criticism of the work. Did you think about the reception of your work during the writing process, especially being your first attempt at fiction? And what was that like for you?
Over the years and at various times, I told a very skeletal version of the story about four times to a movie producer and my friends. They all loved the concept, so I thought it wouldn’t flop too badly. What I was not ready for was the 5-star reception of the book, men loving the book, or a 13-year-old boy reading the book twice. I was not ready for Generals, Bishops, 65-year-olds, 72-year-olds reading and loving the book. What I never imagined was a 13-year-old girl reading the book 11 times!
I was not ready for these at all. I didn’t know I would receive several messages from people crying, telling me how the book healed them, messages with people telling me they were dreaming about Kaniz. Not 1, not 2, not 3, not 4 people. Dreaming about Kaniz? I never thought that people could read the book, a 440-page book, in one day and just not be able to put it down. Never did I expect that kind of reception. I’m humbled, completely humbled, completely blown away.
Let’s talk about the two key characters. First off, Kaniz Ishaya - the quintessential gentleman. His character combines great strength, outstanding faith, and unashamed openness. What was it like creating such a complex, multi-layered and paradoxical character? How did you develop his character?
I would disagree that Kaniz is a quintessential gentleman because he may have grown up to be a decent person, but that’s not what he was from the beginning. Let’s not forget his process. I wouldn’t even say his character is one of outstanding faith. I would say his character is one of real faith, faith that does not fake it, and one that says, ‘I’m weak, help me to be strong.’
I realized very quickly, people like Kaniz are one in a million. Why? They’re forged by intense suffering. You have to have suffered, faced your mortality, and had an epiphany to be like Kaniz. I have met somebody like that who had a near-death experience, hours of facing death, which made him just decide, ' You know what? If I survive this, I will choose to live my life in a certain way.’ So, to create a realistic Kaniz, it was all about his process. He had to face his mortality to decide that all these petty things people worry about, such as the fear of being rejected in love, are not worth it. If I’m allowed to live, my life will be about one thing – purpose.
At 23, I had an epiphany, so I’ve lived my life since then from the paradigm of purpose. I basically just created a character who also makes decisions based on purpose.
Morolawe Bolade is a symbol of inspiration for a handful of women and an object of envy for many more. In her mother, Mrs. B's words, Rola is 'an indictment on those who don't see how they can ever be like [her].' A stirring conversation between both characters shows the struggle that strong, cerebral, and beautiful women face in a society like ours. What would you say is the origin of this problem, and how can it be tackled?
I would say insecurity is the origin of the problem. Not discovering purpose is the source of insecurity. Not knowing who one is, what one is here for. If you don’t know who you are what you are here for, you will envy others who are merely running their races. On the other hand, if you know who you are and what you’re here on earth for, the possibility of you envying others is rather slim because you know that your life is your unique journey, and all you have to do is run your race.
To tackle this problem, I’d say know your purpose, run your race. You are not the next woman, neither did she take her lot out of your portion; you can both be great. Blessings are infinite. Another origin of the problem is the society that sponsors the orientation that other women are your rivals. Society teaches women to be rivals and competitors for a man’s affection.
The paradigm is one of the finite and scarce resources. That could’ve been the paradigm of a hunter-gatherer society where one man was responsible for several women since many men were killed hunting mammoths and sabre-tooth tigers. Now, the population of women is 51.2% of the society; the myth of men not being enough to go around is not true. So, we have to stop seeing ourselves as rivals. Instead, we should see ourselves as sisters and compatriots. What unites us is much more than what divides us. I realized that women who have been through conflicts, severe deprivations, and struggles like war have seen artificial class division melt and are more supportive of each other.
Morola and Kaniz's love is not only a dreamy, mushy, and butterfly-in-the-stomach type of love as many people suppose love to be, albeit erroneously. But it's also vulnerable yet able to weather formidable obstacles. How did you create that relationship? Is that sort of aspirational love achievable today? And, how can one achieve it?
I don’t see Morola and Kaniz’s love as a dreamy, mushy, and butterfly-in-the-stomach type of love. I don’t think so. I believe these are real feelings people have when they are in love. I’ve helped Kaniz articulate the way a man feels. Men don’t say a lot, but men fall very deeply in love, more dangerously than women. When they feel, they do so more deeply than women, and they come out of failed relationships more slowly than women do.
It’s real; I only articulated how the men feel better than most men can articulate their feelings. I had to create a character who, because of his unique experience, is capable of saying what he really feels. I created a sense of urgency that makes him live daily in the reality of his mortality, so there’s no time to waste. People who are aware of their mortality, either because of terminal illness or because they’re living in times of danger, are very real with their emotions and very forthright with what they feel, and that’s what Kaniz is like. He’s not playing games. That kind of aspirational love is achievable today, but it requires very self-aware human beings.
Morola was actually following Kaniz’s lead in this book, so she’s learning how to love from him. He is actually leading her in love, so she’s not even at his level. He is the more developed character when it comes to love, and that’s because of the journey of his life and his determination not to botch things.
Family and relationships are also core ideas running through the book. Family plays an integral role in making wholesome individuals and societies. So, what lies at the root of dysfunctional families that one can expect to encounter in their life's journey, and how can they avoid them?
Broken people coming together without being self-aware. Can I repeat that? Two broken people coming together, each one dealing with baggage and not being self-aware and thinking that they are perfect. They don’t say they are perfect but think they are perfect, and they behave as if they were. Therefore, the other party must be the one who is always wrong.
We should possess the self-awareness to reflect, ‘I have this baggage, I don’t want it, and I will work towards dealing with it.’
Immaturity and insecurity are also reasons for dysfunctional families. People come to relationships broken and refuse to take ownership of their brokenness or take concrete steps to fix that brokenness, such as getting help.
Some authors talk about being attached to their characters. Did you at any point feel this way about any of your characters, and which of them?
Yes, I got attached to all my characters, from Kaniz to Aunty Wunmi. By the time I made Kaniz say some things, I empathized with him. As for Rola, I love Rola. Rola is a strong woman’s woman. Actually, I can psychoanalyze readers by the characters they like. You like Amaka; you’re probably insecure. You like the sidekick; she makes you feel better about yourself. So, a reader doesn’t resonate with Rola? She has so much going for her? I have been seen this way by many, so I empathize with her. Rola was not living a charmed life. She suffered terribly, but some still beef her. I even break the fourth wall to make the reader face their beef. Still, some are challenged by Rola. I now found out that many women just believe that once a man can love you, your life is made, and nothing else matters. So, in their view, Rola must be beefed because Kaniz loves her, and she has everything.
So, I was attached to the characters, all the way to Aunty Wunmi, Olaitan, and Isa; they were real and well developed. Each of them was broken; they had issues they were working out.
BMYD was written out of love for the country. You address politics, patriotism, and other civic engagement issues in the quest for a better society. Considering this and the nation's current state, what are your hopes and expectations for Nigeria? Is the idealistic Nigeria of our dreams still remotely possible?
I believe that the Nigeria of my dreams is possible in due course. Hope springs eternal in the human soul. How does one live without hope? We must hope that the Nigeria we want is possible, or we are lost. Without a vision, the people perish. I don’t think the Nigeria of our dreams is idealistic, and the very question is prejudiced. We just want a functional society and should work towards one. Perhaps we can't come up if we don’t hit rock bottom. If we look at the examples of the building of nations in history, they often hit rock bottom before they came up again.
You have no doubt made a remarkable debut in the world of literary fiction. Do you see yourself doing more of this in the future?
Thanks so much for your kind words. I would have said I wouldn’t write fiction again after submitting my manuscript for BMYD, but now, I believe I will. So, yes.
Now, I see the effect of fiction. There are themes I want to explore and taboos I want to examine, especially in relationships. Are there paradigms limiting our relationships? Where are we as a nation? Where are we going?
I was told during EndSARS that BMYD is so prophetic, “You said all these things were going to happen.” I said Yes, the events would unfold, but I also demonstrated clearly where it would lead. I need to write at least one more prescient book; perhaps the full lesson will be ingested this time.
Olajumoke Olufunmilola Adenowo (born 1968) is a prominent architect, entrepreneur, author, professor, broadcaster, minister, public speaker, and philanthropist.
She is Founder and Principal Partner at AD Consulting, a leading Architecture and Design Consultancy providing bespoke design and interior architecture solutions; and Visionary of Awesome Treasures Foundation, an intercontinental, faith-based philanthropic foundation recognised by the United Nations with a mission to raise 1000 leaders by 2030 working with women and youths.
She has served as a juror on the Cartier Women’s Initiative Award and is a member of the Edmond de Rothschild Foundation philanthropic network. Mrs. Adenowo is an alumnus of several prestigious institutions, including Harvard Business School, The Yale School of Management, The IESE Business School, the University of Navarra, Barcelona, and the Lagos Business School Chief Executive Programme. She is married to Olukorede Adenowo, and they have two sons.