Our guest today is Abi Lawal, author of Toks and the Phoenix Project available for sale on Amazon here.
Stacie: Hi Abi—thank you for joining us today and welcome.
Abi: Thank you for having me. It is a pleasure!
Stacie: You’ve recently published Toks and the Phoenix Project. What you tell us about how you come to develop the story line.
Abi: I actually developed the story line many years ago, right after the release of the spider man movie in 2002, which I was so inspired by because it was one of the very few hero comic stories brought to life that truly resonated with me. And this was because it reminded me of my childhood days, when I had yearned for every day, ordinary female characters (in books and movies) who would suddenly be transformed into a super hero of sorts, and who would be central to such an action adventure story as the problem solvers.
The reason I had such a yearning for such characters was mainly due to some of stories I had come across in my readings as a kid. Growing up, I read quite a few books that were set in real life (not fantasy) and centered around a group of ordinary kids, who would suddenly be caught up in an adventure or mystery that they’d have to solve; such as in the books of the Famous Five by Enid Blyton. What appealed to me about those books was that since they weren’t set in fantasy but in real life, I found them quite relatable and rather inspiring. I felt that if the kid characters in those books could have such cool adventures, why couldn’t I also have the same things in my own real life? See, you have to remember that for me, back in those days as an eight year old, I felt my life was pretty boring (laughs), so those action-adventure books really caught my fancy then as they provided a way to escape the daily doldrums of my life, so to speak. However, even though those books provided me with a much needed, albeit temporary escape from my world, the one problem I had with them was that the boys were so often the leaders in those stories with the girls relegated to supporting roles as sidekicks. I didn’t like that because I wanted to visualize someone like myself (a girl), who also did cool things like the boys in those books did. So after watching the spider man movie many years later as a young adult, I was reminded of those thoughts from my youth, and I then decided to set about creating a story set in contemporary times, about an ordinary regular girl, who gets caught up in a mystery that she solves as the central character in the story. In essence, I was going to create my own, every day female action hero that I would have loved to read about as a kid.
However, although my first intention was to create the story as a comic book at first, my mother suggested that I should consider making it into a book. So I took her advice, and that is how the concept of a female super hero, Toks and the Phoenix Project became a book writing project.
Stacie: Your book is about a young woman coming into her own strengths. What life experiences did you draw from to develop this character?
Abi: I reflected back on my experiences growing up and the obstacles to self-confidence I had to overcome as a young girl and a young person on my journey to adulthood. It was hard to have a lot of confidence in those early years because I felt pressure to get ‘things right’ in almost every aspect of my life, coupled with a number of fears – get the right grades, speak the right way, dress the right way, hang with the right people, have the right job, know the right answers on the job, look a certain way to get the guy/job, be on point, don’t show weaknesses, be accepted, overcome the fear of speaking up only to be shot down and being afraid of looking stupid, and so on and so forth…so exhausting (I know –no deal breakers here – laughs). Such things aren’t a struggle for some, but for me, well, I was definitely on my sea legs back then, coupled with a few bouts of a lack of motivation, due to the seemingly overwhelming pressures.
Looking back on it now, I laugh at it all, but back then, the penalties seemed so severe if you got it wrong. For once you made a mistake or slipped up in any one of those categories, the perceived and sometimes real slights and consequences inflicted on your person could be quite crushing at times. It was really tough, and it’s rather hard to feel confident about yourself at times like that. I’m sure a lot of young people run into those situations as well, but the truth of the matter (as I realize now), is that everybody has their troubles, and it is all part of growing up. But you have to learn to deal with it and move on, and the sooner you learn how to handle those situations appropriately, the better off you are. And no one but yourself, can make that happen.
And that was the message I wanted to convey in this book – that you can succeed if you believe in yourself and work hard at it. And as a result, that is how the novel became a story about a young girl who initially, was not so confident in herself due to such pressures, but then as the story progresses, she realizes her own strength, gains more self-assurance and ends up standing up for herself and taking charge of her life and situation at hand. She no longer takes a back seat but she leads the charge.
Stacie: Many writers have a routine they go through to get in the writing mood. How would you describe your approach to writing Toks?
Abi: (Laughs). For this book, it was a haphazard process to put it mildly. Initially, it was actually easy for me to write every day when I first started, because I pretty much had the whole general story plotted out in my head. I generally can’t motivate myself to write unless the story or plot is fully formed in my head. So, until that is done, I don’t write at all and I can go for days without writing while I’m constantly thinking of the story line and fleshing it out in my head. However, once the story or plot holes are resolved in my mind, it’s very easy for me to jump into writing mode then.
So with this book, it wasn’t hard to get into the writing mood in the beginning as I had most of the plot laid out in my mind then. However, even though I was eager to write every day, later on, it became harder to focus on writing, because shortly after I started the novel, I was thrust into the professional world as a new graduate which took a lot of my time. So I had to write when I could which was mainly at night and weekends, but after a while, that schedule became physically and mentally exhausting and I couldn’t keep it up. So there would be periods of months to a few years, where I’d take time off from writing the book.
And so, because of my grueling schedule, it took a year and a half before my first draft was done, but unfortunately after the first draft, professional and outside commitments and pressures made it harder to continue and so I didn’t really get back to it until a few years later, though I wrote sporadically here and then during that time. But by the time I got back to it, I found out that I had changed and matured and so, some of the things I was writing about in the first draft no longer appealed to me, and so I had to change the story drastically. Needless to say, this new version wasn’t well received by my family, who completely loved the earlier story line, so I had to abandon what I’d recently worked on, and go back to my earlier draft from years ago and start over. But this time, with fresh eyes and a new level of maturity, I was able to flesh out plot gaps in the story and strengthen it into the version you see today fairly quickly.
Stacie: What has been the most rewarding part of publishing Toks and the Phoenix Project?
Abi: I have waited so long to get the story of Toks and her personal journey out there. And so, the fact that the book is finished and published means that I now get to share her story with others, and that, is truly the most rewarding part in this whole journey for me.
Stacie: What part of writing and publishing did you find the presented the greatest challenges?
Abi: Writing was very difficult, especially with the countless edits I did, which included going back over and over again to make sure the story was believable, fleshing out weak spots and fixing plot holes. That really was excruciating. But the publishing part has also been tough as well, in terms of getting the word out there to readers about the book. That’s been a bit of a struggle as well and one that I didn’t quite anticipate, I must admit.
Stacie: Which parts brought the greatest satisfaction?
Abi: I must say that I feel the writing process for me was a lot more arduous than the publishing process. Just because it took so long, as I had to take many breaks in between due to other commitments. With the many writing breaks in-between, and through what must be like, I feel, over a hundred edits, it became very frustrating and I thought many times, that I would never finish it. So just to see it completed is reward enough for me. So I’m thrilled to be finally done. Yay!! Of course getting it published is also fantastic, but the road to writing the book proved to be quite a challenging one for me.
Stacie: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Abi: Just that I hope readers will take away a positive message from the book. And the message that I hoped I conveyed in the book is to always believe in yourself despite all odds, and not to give up on your dreams.
Stacie: Where can we learn more about you and your book?
Abi: You can follow me on twitter at: @alawal07, or go to the publishing company’s Facebook page (OKIN Publishing) for more information and updates using the following link: https://www.facebook.com/pages/OKIN-Publishing/260625093967423?ref=aymt_homepage_panel
Stacie: Thank you for taking the time to talk with us today.