Olayemi Olusoga: From banking hall to bookshelf
Olayemi Olusoga is a banker, writer and advocate for gender parity. She holds a BA in Mass Communication from Babcock University and a Masters in Media and Communications from the Pan-Atlantic University. She is a member of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations and has attended courses in Marketing and Sustainability at Pan-Atlantic University’s School of Media and Communication and Lagos Business School.
With almost a decade of banking experience, Olayemi has worked in various divisions of Diamond Bank including Consumer Banking as part of the DiamondXclusive team and also as the Segment Manager of the Diamond Woman initiative. She is currently the Team Lead, Corporate Sustainability at Diamond Bank.
Olayemi is the author of the recently published fictional novel, Women of the Ayo-Kessington Dynasty: Anjola’s Diary. She is also a Guardian Woman columnist.
In this interview, she talks about her new book and how, as a banker, she has been able to successfully transit from the banking hall to the bookshelf.
How did a professional banker with a busy schedule become a columnist and a published author?
My banking career has actually played a significant part in my journey as a writer. I have always enjoyed writing so I was thrilled to have the opportunity, at Diamond Bank, to work on an online platform dedicated to empowering women. The role required a lot of writing and the more writing I did, the more I realised how much I loved it.
The bank encourages and supports creativity and my managers have actually provided a lot of guidance and support. I consider myself very fortunate to work in such an enabling environment.
How do you combine all these roles? Does being all these get so difficult that you want to just concentrate on being a banker?
Writing is almost therapeutic for me so I make time to write as part of my regular routine, typically writing at night or in the early hours of the morning. If I get sudden flash of inspiration for a story or an article whilst on the road or at lunch, I quickly record a short voice note on my phone so I don’t lose it. This helps me balance work and writing.
What interesting stories about your background led you to become a writer?
My dad would often say I talked a lot as a child and I was notorious for telling long stories to guests who visited our home – whether or not they wanted to hear them.
When I turned seven, I remember he bought me a pair of shoes with Chatterbox written on them apparently because a few weeks earlier, I had talked all the way through a car ride from Lagos to Ijebu-Ode and everyone in the car had fallen asleep but he had to listen to all my stories because he was driving. I guess I have always been a storyteller.
My first novel was handwritten when I was 10 years old during my summer vacation. It was not published but I was very happy I had actually written a book.
My dad enjoyed literature and the arts and because of his influence, I started reading for leisure at a very young age. He also loved the opera and me, along with my siblings, would watch three hour long performances with him.
The plots and storylines were so engaging and moving that I knew one day I wanted to tell stories that could evoke those sorts of emotions. My mum and siblings were also very helpful because they endured my endless chatter and always allowed me express myself which gave me the courage to keep telling my stories – even though this earned me a few nicknames here and there!
As a banker, is there an experience from your career that stands out as one that helped you develop your literary side?
In my view, every single day I have worked as a banker has helped to develop my literary skills. Being a good banker requires and helps you develop certain skills that are also essential in writing. These include attention to detail, consistency, sourcing and analysing facts, and the ability to convey information in a way that your audience can relate to. This overlap is very helpful and allows me to, almost effortlessly, be both banker and writer.
Your new book, Women of Ayo-Kessington Dynasty, was recently listed among Channels Book Club’s Top 20 Nigerian Books of 2017. Did you envisage that would happen?
To be honest, it came as quite a surprise. The book has had a lot of positive reviews but I could not have imagined it would be ranked among the top 20 books for 2017 considering it is a self-published book, which was only released in August 2017. I was very excited when I saw the other books on the list. I am extremely grateful to God for this.
Was self-publishing deliberate or forced by circumstances?
Self-publishing was a conscious decision. It was quite tasking and I learnt some lessons the hard way, which I wouldn’t have had to learn if I had a publisher taking care of certain aspects of things. However, I am glad I embarked on the journey. It made me discover certain aspects of myself and reinforced my belief in the notion that a determined mind has no boundaries.
The lead character in the novel, Anjola, is a colourful personality. Are there personal experiences that aided its creation?
I get asked this question a lot. People always ask if some of my personal experiences were portrayed in the book. I guess it is because a lot of people find the book very relatable and so they assume it is a true- life story. The answer to the question is no. Anjola and I have very different personalities.
To be honest, we had some disagreements while I was writing the book. I think she is a very courageous young woman but there were certain times I almost lost my patience with her!
How did you reconcile your differences with Anjola?
To be honest, I think most young women can identify with at least one of Anjola’s personal struggles. Even though she made some poor choices, she owned up to them and made deliberate efforts to make peace with everyone around her, particularly those who had hurt her. Her forgiving nature is her most redeeming quality and one I find to be worthy of emulation.
In creating your characters, what are the specifics that you look for?
There are a couple of things I am mindful of when creating characters. First, the character must be relatable. The character must be someone that could be your next-door neighbour or colleague at work. Secondly, the character must have a good side. No human being is perfect but I strongly believe – certainly want to believe – that no matter the flaws, everyone has redeeming qualities.
So even the perceived villain in the story has a good side. Finally, the character’s story must teach a moral. Whether it be a moral on the reward of good behaviour or the consequences of bad behaviour, every character must teach a lesson. I mostly write fiction which is often seen as entertainment, but I want my work to convey constructive and beneficial values.
How have you been managing expectations at workplace since you became a published author?
I have been able to effectively balance my work life and my writing life. Like I mentioned earlier, I schedule my writing and my writing schedule incorporates everything to do with my being a published author including activities such as reviewing manuscripts or approving creative designs. I have a working rhythm that I stick to and this helps me deliver on my goals and expectations of me as a banker and a writer.
What advice do you have for young female professionals who are looking to develop their writing skills?
My advice for young female professionals is to keep writing. Even when people criticize your work or you don’t get as much traction as you hoped, just keep writing. Even when you send your manuscripts and they get rejected again and again, keep writing. Keep writing but seek and take feedback.
There is a lesson to learn in every disappointment and maybe even an opportunity. Don’t get emotional or discouraged, just get better. When you consistently work on getting better, you develop a confidence and expertise that makes it very hard for anyone to say no to you.
Is there a planned follow-up to Women of the Ayo-Kessington Dynasty in the pipeline?
Yes, the book is a trilogy. Anjola’s Diary was the first one and so there are two more books in the pipeline. I know a lot of the people who have read volume one are eager for the sequel to come out and it is planned for release in 2018.
Who is Olayemi Olusoga?
I am a gender parity advocate. I love encouraging and supporting other women in their journey to greatness. I am a fun-loving person, who enjoys interesting conversations, reading, writing and movies. I am basically your girl next door with dreams so big, I know only God can make them happen!
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