Looking for Bono is the hilarious novel from author Abidemi Sanusi.
Looking For Bono was elected by independent publisher Jacaranda Books as part of their Twenty in 2020 initiative. It’s the first time a UK publisher will publish 20 Black British writers in one year.
Based on Sanusi’s experiences as a human rights worker, Looking for Bono tells the tale of a hapless Lagosian’s quest to meet the rock star in the hopes that he can pressure the Nigerian president to bring free water to his community.
Sanusi’s previous novel Eyo was shortlisted for the 2010 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. TBB sits down with the Nigerian-born author, to talk about the craft of writing and helping others to find their voice.
Please introduce yourself …
I’m Abidemi Sanusi. I’m of Nigerian heritage, an author, and service provider to writers.
Give us a word or sentence that best describes your life right now?
Where did the inspiration for Looking for Bono come from?
It came from my observations as a former human writer. Back then, I was working for a small UK-based African charity and funding was nigh on impossible for us. By the same token, I saw the big charities that had big-name celebrities positively reel in funds to support their projects, which, by the way, we could’ve done more cost-effectively and with bigger impact as we worked very closely with local communities. It was this observation and other frustration that inspired Looking for Bono.
Much of the charm of Looking for Bono comes from your exquisitely drawn characters. I loved the summation of Munira – “And now, she was 35, with a Nollywood age of 25.” When writing do you start with the characters and let them drive the narrative or begin with the premise first and then devise characters to fit?
It’s a bit of both. Looking for Bono started with a simple premise: an illiterate man who has never left his slum in Lagos, Nigeria, decides that he’s going to meet Bono the musician, to tell him to tell the Nigerian president to provide water in his slum. It’s a simple, ridiculous premise, and it has to be to make the novel work. Munira is his wife, a woman with dreams of being a Nollywood actress, who through no fault of her own found her choices taken away from her. These two and other motley characters drove the premise of the book.
Did you have a process or pattern that you follow to sit down and write, e.g. do you have a set place or time?
I’m very much a morning person, so that’s when I write. And it’s always at my desk which overlooks the street.
What did being selected for the Jacaranda Twenty in Twenty initiative mean to you and explain the importance of this program?
The program is important because it celebrates the best of Black British writing. For me as an author, the most important thing was the fact that it gave the authors a voice and a platform to tell stories that would never have seen the light of day, just because of the way the publishing industry is set up. It was also knowing that I wouldn’t have to fight for, or explain certain things in Looking for Bono, because the Jacaranda team is made up of people of colour who are committed to Black literary excellence, and not the glorification and commercialisation of Black trauma in the name of ‘literature‘. That mattered a lot to me.
You also manage a website for writers, tell us about its purpose and what your goals are for it?
The website is called Ready Writer www.readywriter.co.uk. Its purpose is to help writers write better and make more from their writing. So, if you go on the website, there are writing courses, templates, and basically everything you need to help writers thrive. I’ve also just launched writethemes.com, which is a website theme shop for writers. The first theme Authorpreneur (authorpreneur.writethemes.com) was launched a few months ago. It’s been a ride and I’m still learning.
Are there any new writers or books that you would recommend our followers to look out for?
Currently reading Angie Cruz’s Dominicana. Finished Kim JiYoung, Born 1982 by Cho Ham-Joo, which I’m still mulling over. Megha Majumdar’s A Burning is one that I’ll defo think about for a long time, probably because a lot of the themes and characters seem so familiar to me.
Which authors if any, do you feel have most influenced your work/style?
Probably none, as I devour all kinds of books, so I take from each what I can.
How did lockdown affect your writing?
I spent the time focusing on writethemes.com and Ready Writer. There is the craft of writing, which I love (that’s why I write books). And there is the business of writing, which I must say, I’m fascinated and love doing, hence writethemes.com and Ready Writer websites.
Did you take any writing/literature courses before beginning your first novel to help find your ‘voice’ or to structure your idea or did you simply begin by putting pen to paper?
No writing courses. I simply put finger to keyboard and started writing away. The one thing that helped – and I’ve spoken to many writers who say the exact same thing – was the fact that I had a blog. It really helped to improve my technique.
Do you have an idea for or are working on your next novel?
I started working on the follow-up to Looking for Bono but got sidetracked by writethemes.com. But I do hope to pick this back up later in the year.
Looking For Bono by Abidemi Sanusi is available at Jacaranda Books