By E.A. Aymar
Leye Adenle kept coming across my radar. First, a friend who knew I was researching sex trafficking for an upcoming novel recommended I check out a Nigerian writer who had written ably about the subject, with the kind of empathy that often eludes writers. And then there was the review by the excellent (and must-read) crime fiction book blogger David Nemeth, who wrote glowingly about Adenle’s novel, EASY MOTION TOURIST, calling it “both a great read and a great story.”
I bought a copy of EASY MOTION TOURIST a couple of months ago, read it quickly and, like everyone else who’s read it, loved it. The novel is smart and immersive, complex without being needlessly complicated, and absolutely courageous in its unflinching views on corruption and Nigerian culture. And Adenle’s characters are so richly described that, while the book serves as an introduction to a country likely unfamiliar to audiences outside of Nigeria, the characters are profoundly recognizable, wonderfully human.
I kept thinking of David Simon’s The Wire as I read it, particularly in how deftly Adenle switches perspectives from a British journalist named Guy Collins who is new to the country, to several low-level gangsters, to a mysterious woman named Amaka who shares a connection to the dark depravity of sex trafficking.
So obviously, when we came up with the idea of a series of interviews with international writers, I immediately reached out to Leye Adenle, and he was gracious enough to take the time to answer my questions.
Leye Adelne: I feel they were all equally fun to write, and as such none was difficult. I basically got to know and admire each of the characters. Each time I wrote from their point of view, it was like taking a journey with them and being privy to everything they could see, feel, think, know, fear, want.
You’ve mentioned that Amaka will return in your future work. What about Guy Collins? Will he be back as well?
I think of the series as “the Amaka series.” Guy is currently part of Amaka’s world so I expect him to be in subsequent stories – unless they fall out or she finds another Guy. The second book, WHEN TROUBLE SLEEPS, is out next year and opens where EASY MOTION TOURIST ended, sort of. This means Guy has returned to London while Amaka is in Lagos dealing with the consequences of her one-woman crusade.
Did you interview Nigerian police officers in the course of your research? If so, what are their thoughts on the police force? And have any read your book and given you their feedback?
I did not interview any police officers because I already know quite a few. I’m not aware of any who have read EASY MOTION TOURIST, but I can only imagine that if there are, some of them might want to invite me for closed door ‘discussions.’
Have you received any criticism regarding your depiction of police in Nigeria?
It’s both a relief and a tragedy that not one Nigerian has objected to my depiction of the police force. What I described is the truth many Nigerians know.
What do you think will be the recurrent theme in your future work? Will prostitution, and the treatment of women, remain a significant factor? (Note to readers: this answer contains a spoiler to EASY MOTION TOURIST.)
Amaka manages a charity that works with sex workers and other vulnerable women. The plight of women is always going to be important to her. If you don’t want trouble from her, don’t harm any of her girls. There are so many other ways women experience violence. Dealing with each and every one of these is Amaka’s thing. If a girl dies in suspicious circumstances, say, in the President’s bed, Amaka will go after the President. That could be the third book 😉
Did you have any problems finding a publisher, given your unflinching take on prostitution? In the States, certain subjects (generally pedophilia, sex trafficking, animal abuse) are largely taboo. Have you found that to be the same in Nigeria and the U.K.?
I sent out a few queries and got a few rejections for early versions of the manuscript. Looking back, they were right to have rejected the book based on what I sent. I still cringe to think anyone read the earliest versions of the manuscript.
By the time the story was ready and I was confident with where it was, I got offers from the two publishers I sent it to: a U.K. publisher and a Nigerian publisher. I went with the Nigerian publisher, Cassava Republic Press, who then opened up shop in the U.K.
It sounds like you’re the type of writer to follow where a story takes you, regardless of genre (particularly with your short stories). For example, I imagine you’d have an idea for a story, and follow it to its place in crime fiction, or science fiction, or fantasy, or romance. Is that fair to say, or do you want your stories to stay in the crime fiction world?
I absolutely let the story go where it wants to go. With EASY MOTION TOURIST, I had to be told it was a crime novel. I thought I was simply writing about violence against women. I have a discomfort with genres. I feel that writing with a genre in mind might make for good, follows-the-rules writing, but genre-defying masterpieces like Yuri Herrera’s TRANSMIGRATION OF BODIES ignore, or are absolutely oblivious of, the rules.
And, thus, genius happens.
You’ve said that your writing heroes are Borges and Patterson. What about other mediums? Are there musicians, television shows, movies, etc., that you find particularly inspiring? Or that were inspiring for EASY MOTION TOURIST?
The music of Fatai Rolling Dollar, especially his version of the song, Easy Motion Tourist, played on loop when I was writing EASY MOTION TOURIST. Other musicians who provide the necessary soundtrack for my writing are Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Michael Franks, Bob Dylan, Asa.
I have watched every episode of Seinfeld over a hundred times each. I also find the artists who craft red wine to be very inspiring.
Is there an inherent difficulty in being an African novelist and having your books read internationally? It seems like your work has been well-received in France and the U.K., but are there any social/cultural complications? For example, it’s not uncommon for books to be divided by reading audiences in the United States – often sexually and racially.
When I’m with fellow authors at writing festivals, the magnitude and pureness of the acceptance I experience has been humbling. We are writers. Color, sex, age, first-time or veteran author, obscure or million-copy selling, those things don’t matter. I wish it were the same with the publishing industry.
What’s been the best part about being a published novelist? I like to end on a happy note.
Being able to tick ‘write a novel’ off my bucket list. 🙂
E.A. Aymar is the managing editor of The Thrill Begins. His newest novel is YOU’RE AS GOOD AS DEAD, and he writes a monthly column for the Washington Independent Review of Books. His short fiction and non-fiction have appeared in a number of top crime fiction publications. E.A. Aymar is also involved in a collaboration with DJ Alkimist, a NY and DC-based DJ, where his stories are set to her music. For more information about that project, visit www.eaalkimist.com.
To learn more about YOU’RE AS GOOD AS DEAD, click on the cover below:
Previously in Writers’ Passport: