On Sunday, 3rd of October, Akintomiwa Akinnimi, a final year medical student of Obafemi Awolowo University, was announced the winner of the Quramo Writers’ Prize 2021. Together, we take a peek into his journey so far as a writer and the future ahead.
Can we meet you?
My name is Akintomiwa Akinnimi though you might find people referring to me as Louis Hendrixx because that’s the pseudonym under which I write and make music. I’m a final year student of Obafemi Awolowo University. I fancy myself a super chilled person and an expert at minding my business, lol.
What brought you to writing? And how long have you been a writer?
I’ve been writing since I was a kid; primary 6 is my earliest memory of writing. I write because I have a super busy mind. All sorts of thoughts, bizarre and brilliant, swirl in my head all the time, and I needed an outlet to get those thoughts out. So I took up writing; articles, stories, poems, rap verses, any medium that helped me express those thoughts in the best way possible.
Who were your earliest influences as a writer?
I read a lot of crime thrillers growing up. My favourite authors were Jonathan Kellerman and Mary Higgins Clark; I read anything of theirs I could find. Then also, I read a lot of awesome Nigerian books in primary school. I can’t remember any of the authors, just that they were all published by Lantern Books in Lagos.
How do you make time for writing? Especially with the hectic schedule that is medical school?
Because of the role writing plays in unburdening my mind, I always find time to do it. I’m not the best of listeners, so I actually spend a lot of the time writing one thing or the other during lectures. People think I’m jotting down stuff, but nah bro, my mind is somewhere else entirely, lol. So yeah, I always find time to do it because I have to, because it keeps me sane.
Is this your first novel?
Yes, Looking Glass Bullet is my very first. And I have the pandemic to thank for it. For years I’ve planned to settle down to write fiction, I have several great storylines in my head, but time was always my excuse. I know I said I always find time, but that’s mostly for nonfiction like think pieces, comic bits and poetry. Writing a full-length story is a different ball game entirely because it requires levels of focus and determination that I wasn’t quite ready for, especially since I’d never done it before. But with the time the pandemic permitted, I knew I had zero excuses, and I doubled down till I got the job done.
Tell us about Looking Glass Bullet.
Looking Glass Bullet follows the story of Samuel Adeniyi-Jones. He’s an extremely obnoxious narcissist, but that seems to be obvious to everybody except him up until the moment he narrowly survives an attempt on his life. So in the course of the book, he embarks on a double journey of sorts; one is an introspective journey to confront and undo the past trauma and mistakes that shaped his awful personality. The other is to unearth the identity and motivation of a determined and resourceful killer.
Where can readers access the book?
Those who want access to it will have to wait a little. That’s because part of the prize I won is a publishing deal which means Quramo has the rights to the story. I’ll have to work with their editors to change and improve parts of the manuscript I submitted. Then they work on marketing strategies and publicity plans. Once everything is set, we will put the book out. I’d be sure to announce it when that happens.
What are three things you learnt while writing Looking Glass Bullet?
One, that it’s okay to start a journey with no idea how it’ll end.
Two, understand that planning can be a subtle way of procrastinating, and it’s important to know where the line is.
Three, even the most perfect plans would meet unexpected hiccups on the way, so don’t be so rigid about things.
I started a novel with a plot that centred around unearthing the identity of an assassin, and even I didn’t know who the assassin was at the time I started and when I’d written 75% of the book. And that encapsulates my first two points; I could have wasted a lot of time trying to perfect the plot before starting, but I knew I had the basics sorted, so I just went with it. Also, the book turned out to be quite different from what I had in mind at the start; if I had been rigid about my approach, the end product would not have been as good.
What was the harshest critique you have ever received as a writer?
To be honest, I haven’t had much criticism towards my writing. People always seem to have positive things to say, and many are not even friends that may feel the need to cajole me with nice comments; I’m talking of absolute strangers on social media platforms that owe me nothing.
How did you hear about the Quramo Writers’ Prize?
That’s absolutely down to my dear friend and classmate, Peter Aladeyelu. The Quramo Writers’ Prize is a big deal in the literary world, but I’ve never really been in that world until recently. He shared a link to the competition details and stayed on my matter till I submitted it. I wasn’t going to submit. I really wasn’t. But he insisted I had nothing to lose by doing so, and I finally gave in. And thank God I did!
Can you tell us about Quramo Writer’s prize and your experience through it?
The calls for submission for the prize was way back in April. After submitting, I totally forgot about it and assumed I didn’t make the cut when I didn’t hear back from them for months. Then in late August, I got the mail that I made the top 10, and I was so stunned. Three weeks later, they cut it down to 5, and I was still there, crazy!
All the shortlisted writers were invited to attend QFest, the 3-day program culminating with the Writers’ Prize announcement. I got to interact and learn from a lot of accomplished authors, but it was also such a tense period for me because I was wondering if I was going to win. Sunday was by far the worst. Gosh, I couldn’t sit still or get anything done all through. Thank God it all worked out at the end!
How did you feel about winning the award? Where would the money go to?
It’s an indescribable feeling. It really is. Many people tell me I underestimate how good I am, and it’s true. Between setting lofty standards for myself and dealing with an Impostor syndrome of sorts, I wrongfully consider many of my works ordinary. So to win a prize that huge, to hear the judges who were all nationally and internationally accomplished writers speak so highly about my work, it was a breakthrough moment for me. I now realize just how much ability I have, and I’m eager to do so much more with it.
As for the money, I really don’t know yet. A million naira seems like a lot till you have it, and then you realize it’s really not so much. I know I’ll be doing a lot of investing, though, so right now, I want to do my research and know my options as regards that. I’ve always wanted to own and run a business, too, so I’ll consider that. I have to move smart with it, so I’m taking my sweet time on deciding how to make good use of it.
Are there other accolades you have received as a writer?
No, because I’ve never really put myself out there when it comes to writing competitions and contests. But of course, with this huge win, I’m very much encouraged to do more of that now. I want all the glory and accolades I can get.
Are you working on any new book?
Yes, I already have plans for a new book. I can’t put a time on when I’ll do it, though; it’s a very complex and intriguing story, so I cannot afford to rush it.
I’m seriously considering putting out a collection of short stories before this second novel. We’ll see how that plays out.
What advice would you give to young writers out there?
Lol, this makes it seem like I’m a guru. I’m still very much a beginner, please. But I’ll say some of the things I’ve learnt in my journey so far. Write fearlessly, stay true to your style. There are a lot of opportunities for writers out there, so constantly seek them out. Be addicted to improving on your craft.
And most importantly, learn to live in the moment; let your mind absorb every single sound, touch, sight as often as possible. Trust your mind to process all of it and be amazed at the ideas that come at the oddest moments. I literally got the idea for the Looking Glass Bullet by observing one man running and asking myself what he could possibly be running from or towards while I stared out the window of a BRT bus. As far as I’m concerned, living in the moment is where the most authentic inspiration comes from.
What else do you do besides writing?
A lot, actually. I have this media company I started with my friends back in 2019 called the 49th Street. We focus on promoting African creativity, especially music, and we’ve become pretty big on Twitter over time. I make music too, rap music specifically, but I’m still very low-key with it; I plan to start putting myself out there soon enough, so watch out for me. Then I watch football, work out, and follow any decent series I can find.
Any last words?
Yes, and that is to say a big thank you to the people who supported and encouraged me all through the process of writing this book. There are a number of them, but I’ll limit the names to the ones that are IFUMSA members: Peter Aladeyelu, Lolu Akinteye, Abdulkabir Adebayo, Sherif Adebiyi, Laolu Ajayi, Olamide Abiodun, Desmond Alonge, Tomi Boladale, Jibola Arowona. These wonderful people did a lot for me, and I love each and every one of them.
I hope to make them and other supporters of my craft proud in the coming years.