Emem Bassey loves romance in all its glory, be it books, movies or music, especially when blended with action, adventure and magic, definitely with a plus size heroine. Having always had an active imagination and believed she could do better than some of the books she’d read, she began writing at age 17, self-tutoring and hasn’t looked back since. All her books have plus-size heroines. She staunchly believes that the world is already filled with too much tragedy, so she writes to entertain, to give relief and lighten the heart. Her books are fifteen and counting, all published on www.okadabooks.com. She’s the author of the popular Duct series, Baby’s Angel and Unromantic series. She lives at Uyo, Akwa Ibom State and is basically a ghost to her neighbours. Lol.
So, we had an interview with Emem Bassey last week. It’s fun and engaging, and you’ll love it. Read it below.
Pelleura: It is nice to have this chat with you.
Emem: Thank you very much for having me.
Pelleura: Please can you share details of your background with us?
Emem: I am the first daughter of my parents, two more come after me. I attended Federal Government College, Ikot Ekpene, Akwa Ibom State and graduated with a BSc in Sociology and Anthropology from the University of Uyo, Akwa Ibom State; this is after spending a semester as a law student at the University of Calabar, Cross River State, where the admission runs had gone wrong (laughs). I’m an eighties baby; brought up in a pretty strict home with parents that emphasized pure academics and I’m plus size, have always been and will always be.
Pelleura: What were your dreams like when you were in school?
Emem: In nursery school, my dreams probably included ways to avoid taking my siesta, my dad, his lessons and compulsory checking of my notes. In secondary school, it was about having that fantasy boyfriend I knew would never happen because – my dad, and the hope of getting into the University soon, hopefully far away from my strict home…that didn’t happen. So, in University, I dreamt of graduating, bagging an awesome job and renting an apartment where I’d fill with lots and lots of beautiful clothes designed by me while having a couple of published books with my name on them. but here’s the thing with dreams, reality blows them away if they aren’t tangible enough. The only dream that survived was the writing and publishing.
Pelleura: Are you full time into business? Or do you have a daytime job? And how do you bring writing into your tight schedule?
Emem: Two years ago, I was full time into business because there wasn’t a day job. I co-managed a football viewing centre while selling drinks and accompaniments with it. A year later, I was full time into the business of writing where I contributed stories to Lagosconvo.com, an entertainment blog, you can guess there was no day job still. Presently, the viewing centre is struggling to break even, hopefully, this year, though I don’t really have much hand in it anymore, I have two-day jobs, all as a result of my writing, I’m hoping to start a clothing line for chubby ladies soon with my sister. I still get offers to write for blogs and I write my books too.
Pelleura, it’s as though you know what I’m going through. A few months back, the day jobs had taken most of my time and it dawned on me last month that I hadn’t written anything for myself. So, I decided that I’d write every chance I got. During break time at the office, I wrote, also mostly at night and early in the morning. It’s been challenging, I currently feel like I’ve not slept in a week, I’m always tired, it’s like 24hours isn’t enough but the fulfilment of creating something from nothing is still an awesomely indescribable feeling.
Pelleura: Please tell us about your writing. How did you start?
Emem: (chuckles) Let me start by blaming Mills and Boons. Before I got introduced to them, the only contact I’d had of romance was Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, cartoons, especially Beauty and the Beast, Swan Princess, movies, music videos with guys sacrificing much for their ladies and an active imagination. But it was painful to find that all these women getting showered with love, affection and romance by seriously hot and sexy men, were only and always slim women – no offence to them.
To put it mildly, at age fourteen/fifteen, I was appalled and felt affront for the lack of chubby girls material in the romance genre, be it cartoons, movies and mostly books. I graduated into James Hardley Chase and fell in love with detective books, then I read Heather Graham Possezzere, Nora Roberts, and greatly, Sidney Sheldon. I use to think he was a woman, his first name confused me, but he influenced my writing as he has a way of telling stories in small compartments that finally merge and causes a ‘Wow’ moment for his readers.
But before I found Sidney, I was stuck with pure romances. And as I was saying, at age fourteen/fifteen, I had started rolling my eyes in exasperation when a heroine is described with endless legs, the tiniest waist, perky breasts and a face that God’s angels are envious about. Some heroines were so ‘beautifully’ thin, one could feel their bones through the pages of the book. I felt bad. Me that is and always have been a romantic at heart, how the hell was I going to get a guy being chubby and a tomboy?
I started thinking…more like imagining the circumstances that would lead to a guy falling in love with a chubby babe. When I was seventeen, recently graduated from secondary school and raging with teen hormones, I had the courage to pick an old long note I’d used at school and penned my first novel called Lauretta. It was a TERRIBLE book! Like, it is still so terrible that it can’t be salvaged by editing. Each time I read it, I feel equal parts ashamed and proud, but mostly proud because I have come a long way in developing myself from mostly reading established authors in different genres.
Pelleura: What inspires you as a writer?
Emem: Everything! People, places, cultures, events, ordinary objects…anything inspires me, really. I mean, when Rochas Okorocha came into limelight as a great philanthropist early in the millennium, I’d listened to his bio on NTA network news and he’d inspired me to write Lethal Affair at age 20 0r 21. When at the University of Calabar for my one-semester stint, the lecturers’ quarters and the cleaners I passed every morning I hurried to lectures, had inspired me to write Baby’s Angels; you’ll find that scene begins the story. 00:00 AM (Dawn of Hope) was inspired by a, perhaps malaria-induced, dream (laughs); Duct 1 was inspired by a real story from a friend about a kidnapper lured to arrest by chatting with a woman.
Pelleura: How many titles have you written?
Emem: Fifteen published ones and six unpublished.
Pelleura: What kind of books do you enjoy reading?
Emem: I love reading romance especially when it comes with adventure, magic or crime. I don’t like reading motivational books or non-fiction, I always feel like tearing my hair out when I come across one. (laughs)
Pelleura: Have these books in any way influenced your writing.
Emem: Yes, greatly. There was a time I was addicted to Linda Kage’s Forbidden Series, her style of writing leaked into my work. These days, I read to unwind but while doing that, I’m learning. Even movies, I watch them as a writer, critically analyzing plots and dialogues and their mistakes, if any, help me better myself.
Pelleura: What are the obstacles you’ve faced as a writer and how were you able to overcome them?
Emem: As a budding writer, not owning a laptop was a problem, but I hustled a lot, in fact, I bought a laptop bag, years before I was finally able to buy a laptop. But before then, I wrote manually while I dreaded the price I’d pay for typing it. With a day job now, I’ve been saving and have started paying for my works to be typed.
There is the issue of electricity; though, if I have a deadline, I have to purchase fuel to run my generator.
The unbelief of some family and friends was a challenge, but then I’ve always been somebody that ignored negative comments and complaints when it concerns something I believe in, and I believe quite passionately in my writing.
The earnings as a writer are epileptic and sometimes frustratingly hopeless. But then nothing good comes easy. No career path is easy, so, I did and still do it for the love of the vocation. I have to declare here that my two day jobs, after God’s grace, were as a combination of my writing and experience.
Pelleura: In a country like ours, do you think the government has put in place structures that help freelance writers survive?
Emem: I don’t think they have. Writing, especially, if it isn’t journalism, is regarded as a hobby and sometimes, irresponsible. But just like musicians had been demeaned in times past but now are highly paid and sort after, the importance and relevance of writers is rapidly being known and sort after. Maybe, the government will do something soon.
Pelleura: So presently, what are those achievements you’ve made in your writing and what future goals are you aiming for?
Emem: My first achievement will always be my ability to settle down, think, create and write because I have met people who found it difficult to have the discipline to sit and write. So, actually writing is my first achievement and with that would be my discovery of Okadabooks; I have Aniekan Etetim, @anicollected, to thank for that.
Secondly, creating beautiful stories that portray plus size women in a light that is more than their weight is a great achievement for me, I am proud of it.
My third achievement is having sustained the passion, persevering hardships to this point of gain, which I know and believe, more gains will arrive soon. I am proud of the number of works in my name and how different my writing is to other authors. I am happy and proud to be recognized as an awesome writer of awesome stories. A movie maker has taken a look at Duct 1 and I was thrilled that she enjoyed the story tremendously and hopefully, there’s a movie in my future.
But on my part, I’ve been hustling a lot (laughs) and saving and I’ve reached out to a publisher and hopefully, before the middle of the year, I’ll have my first book in print. The book is called Apartment 4D is currently being edited, so, great things I hope. (I seriously wish Okadabooks had a print section)
Pelleura: How have you used social media to your advantage?
Emem: Social media is a marketplace and for me, it’s the best thing that happened to writers. When I started posting on Lagosconvo, the entertainment blog, I garnered followership I didn’t know I could get. I reached people, even out of the country all because social media provided a central place.
Pelleura: What’s the most important social media activity you engage in daily, to grow your writing business?
Emem: Posting on Instagram and Facebook are the most important.
Pelleura: Do you have your own online platform?
Emem: A month ago, I recently came up with fabfambiz.blogspot.com, a blog created to showcase the several hustles and businesses in my family, but then, why limit it? So, it also involves posts about food, movies, hustles from other people and business tips.
Pelleura: If you were to do it all over again, would you choose to start and grow a business, or would you rather stick to paid employment?
Emem: (laughs) Why choose? You see, looking back at the progression of my life, there had not been enough funds, so I can’t say I’d choose solely business. And knowing that some paid employments get boring and stagnant, of course, I wouldn’t choose that alone either. What I would do differently would be learning early what business really entails and not the fairy tale I had in my head when I started. It is not easy to start and grow a business, especially, from a really small scale; it involves serious hard work and sacrifices. People have this ideal imagination that all it takes is having a capital and starting a business and you’ve made it. No, having the capital is actually easy; it’s sustaining the business that’s the difficult part.
Pelleura: What advice do you have for upcoming writers?
Emem: I can only advice from my experiences; sometimes, I feel like my writing is useless, especially, when I come in contact with winners of prestigious writing competitions. I usually feel like I’m wasting my time when it pays in trickles, sometimes, the growth is never moving and well, I’m yet to win any writing competitions I’ve entered and there’s a wicked reiteration in my head that maybe I’m not good enough.
These thoughts come once in a while to writers. I even felt like my style of writing wasn’t addressing a serious component of the problems in Nigeria; people are writing about corruption, hunger, insurgency and I’m here writing about chubby women. But, I want budding writers to know that if they love what they write, then there are readers out there who will love reading it. The world is made up of a gazillion people, there will always be readers for your work. So, don’t give up, keep writing for the love of it and watch God reward your consistency.
Pelleura: Thanks so much for your time, Emem. It was nice having this chat with you.
Emem: It’s been enjoyable pouring out my heart this way. This chat helped remind me why I write and where I’m headed. Thank you, Pelleura, for having me. It’s been awesome.
You’ve read it all people. This is one of the most beautiful interviews I’ve had in a while. Believe me, Emem Bassey is one author you should keep your eyes on. You can connect with her via the links below: