Author of My Sister the Serial Killer, Oyinkan Braithwaite, got the inspiration for her novel while reading about the black widow spider: ‘I learnt that the female spider is slightly larger than the male; and after mating, she will often eat him. It got me thinking about a woman who recklessly took the lives of men.’
First Draft is our interview column, featuring authors and other prominent figures on books, reading, and writing.
Our questions are italicized.
What were the scariest books you grew up reading?
I didn’t read scary books when I was young, and I hardly read them now. Though I suppose it depends on what one classes as ‘scary’; but if we are referring to the horror genre, I generally steer clear. As a young reader, I consumed a lot of the classics—Jane Eyre, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, Great Expectations. I also really enjoyed The Babysitters Club, The Indian in the Cupboard, and anything Malorie Blackman wrote.
And which authors have had the most influence on your writing?
I always admired the writing of Anne Rice. If I wanted to write like anyone, I wanted to write like her; and yet I don’t believe my writing style is anything like hers. Robin Hobb is another writer whose work I devoured. I admire the way Rice and Hobb exercise their imaginations; and that has always encouraged me to push myself further when thinking of story.
If you could rewrite a classic book/text, which would it be and why?
I wouldn’t. If I truly love a book or text, then I accept it as it is, flaws and all.
I didn’t read scary books when I was young, and I hardly read them now. Though I suppose it depends on what one classes as ‘scary’.
What’s your most irrational fear?
Ants. Or any really tiny insect. At any point, they could gather themselves in the hundreds of millions, crawl all over us; and devour us.
How has the pandemic affected your reading and writing?
The pandemic affected my reading a lot more than my writing. I couldn’t seem to focus on and finish a novel. So instead, I consumed a number of short stories and novellas. My favourites were Chickenfeed by Minette Walters, Hello Mum by Bernadine Evaristo and The Lottery by Shirley Jackson.
What’s the last book/text you disagreed with?
Mrs Rochester. It was a sequel to Jane Eyre, posthumously written by another author. Thinking back now, I shouldn’t have touched it; but I was so hungry for more Jane Eyre, that I leaped on the opportunity to re-enter her world. I immediately regretted it. It wasn’t her world. Ever since then, I somewhat obsessively try to preserve my memory of the books I love by staying away from interpretations, movies, series etc., unless the author is involved.
The pandemic affected my reading a lot more than my writing. I couldn’t seem to focus on and finish a novel.
What is a common misconception about [African] thrillers?
Is there a common misconception?
What is your writing process: edit as you write or draft first, then edit?
It really depends on the work. But I find that if I focus too much on editing in the beginning stages, I am more likely to come to the conclusion that the words I have strung together are the worst to have ever been spilt onto a blank page; and I will simply stop working on it.
What was your process for writing My Sister, The Serial Killer?
With My Sister, The Serial Killer, I committed to writing at least one chapter a day; which, as you may know, could sometimes mean two sentences. If I felt as though I had achieved what I wanted to with a particular chapter, I wouldn’t try to ‘stretch it’, simply for the purposes of increasing the word count. Other than that, I don’t think there was anything about my process that was particularly noteworthy.
What was your inspiration for its serial killer theme?
I was reading an article about the black widow spider in 2007. And there I learnt that the female spider is slightly larger than the male; and after mating, she will often eat him. I thought this was hilarious and it got me thinking about a woman who recklessly took the lives of men.
With ‘My Sister, The Serial Killer’, I committed to writing at least one chapter a day; which, as you may know, could sometimes mean two sentences.
What is the most meaningful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
I read creative writing as a degree, so we were given a lot of writing advice. I think one that proved quite useful, was the practice of keeping a writing journal. I do not always keep one, but I am the better for it, when I do.
And what’s one thing nobody tells you about writing a book?
How much you learn about yourself in the process.
Who are the authors you’re most excited about today?
Lesley Nneka Arimah—I love everything I have seen her write thus far, I love the way her imagination operates; and I know she will only get stronger.
I read creative writing as a degree, so we were given a lot of writing advice.
Is good writing a talent (something innate) or a skill (something we learn over time)?
You may have a natural affinity for writing, but like any other art form, you have to educate yourself and refine your skills. Read widely, try different styles of writing and explore various ways of telling a story. Also, the practice of writing is like a muscle that has to be trained regularly.
What is your favourite topic to write or read about these days?
I consume anything that has to do with real estate and property. It could be to do with prices of property in different locations, disputes between landlords and tenants, laws… anything. I also read a lot about writing, screenwriting, etc. I try to find ways to push myself and grow my art.
And what’s one thing [writing/reading-related] you want to do differently this year?
One of my resolutions for 2022 was to be more disciplined with my writing schedule.
You may have a natural affinity for writing, but like any other art form, you have to educate yourself and refine your skills.
What should we expect you to write about next?
Someday, I will write a novel in the fantasy genre.
Question from Ainehi Edoro-Glines: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
I would probably be an illustrator or animator. I have been drawing for about five years and I am becoming more confident in my abilities. I am also fairly passionate about interior design.
Bonus: Please suggest a question for a future author’s First Draft.
What book do you wish you had written?⎈
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