This is the first in a series of three posts in which debut authors Leye Adenle, Julie Iromuanya, and Jowhor Ile interview each other on their first books. Here Jowhor Ile and Leye Adenle discuss Leye’s first novel Easy Motion Tourist, a crime thriller set in contemporary Lagos.
Jowhor: The city of Lagos features strongly as a character in Easy Motion Tourist. The reader experiences Lagos from within mansions and out on the rowdy streets, from swanky to dingy bars. This allows multiple perspectives and a richer way of seeing the story and the world in which it is set. There is, alongside this everyday Lagos you portray, a different Lagos, dark and extreme, that one might not encounter on an ordinary day. Can you speak a little on how you came about this world?
Leye: I love Lagos. She’s up there with my top three greatest love affairs, and like every memorable lover, she has, on occasion, shown me her different sides. Along with the beautiful, I have seen the worst of her. I have inhaled her breath, I have felt the calluses on her palms, I have seen the places she hides her shame. I have seen how she treats her poor, her weak, her unfortunate, and her gullible. I have seen the ugly face she reserves for the many souls she consumes on a daily basis, but yet she fascinates me. She is a beautiful, dangerous, exciting character. She’s that friend you keep inviting to your parties even though you know they’ll likely end up causing a fight and pissing everybody off, but they still make the party awesome!
Jowhor: In the first chapter, Guy Collins who is a hack journalist from the UK arrives in Lagos on some assignment but then witnesses a horrific scene outside a bar where a young woman’s mutilated body is dumped on the roadside. His lack of expertise, experience, and outsider status in some way seduces the reader into the genuinely exotic, dark world where extreme things happen. He is also quick, impulsive sometimes, and self-doubting. I found his contradictions interesting. Why did you choose him as a narrator? What did you find most interesting about his point of view and his character? What challenges did you have writing him?
Leye: Many writers try to explain how they are not really the writers but mere recorders. The story often comes fully formed and you merely ‘retell’ it onto paper as you have received it. The story came fully formed. I was only being honest in my reporting of it. Guy was always going to be the narrator because that was how the story landed whole in my brain. That said, I think Lagos as a character comes out well when narrated from the point of view of an outsider. Was it challenging writing him? Not really. He’s a man, like me, he lives in London, like me, and in real life he’s my friend. Yes, there is a real life Guy Collins.
Jowhor: The plot of Easy Motion Tourist is fast paced; the story moves nimbly through really complex paths and we hear from a kaleidoscope of voices ranging from prostitutes to social worker to journalist, and the story never loses momentum. I am interested to know how close to the story you had to get? What preparations did you make to bring authenticity to the characters? And why do you think it is important for this story to be heard through multiple voices?
Leye: Erm, just for the record, I did not do any actual, physical research into some of the subject matters of my book. I relied fully on what turned out to be amazingly accurate imagination. I have never seen the insides of a brothel. Just thought I’d put that out there. —Wait o. How come I know my imagination was correct? —But seriously, I spent a lot of my early adult years in Lagos. In that time, I met a lot of interesting, fascinating people many of whom have turned up in my novel. Everybody has a story and everybody deserves the chance to tell their own story. This is the way I feel about characters in a book; they are real, at the very least in the mind of the author writing them, and as such they have a real story to tell, and who best to tell your story than you?
Jowhor: There is a cinematic quality to the novel, which I enjoyed. The scenes are imbued with drama, even when it’s just someone turning off a phone and putting it away to resume a conversation. It was easy to imagine it as a movie. Can I ask if there are any plans towards screen adaptation?
Leye: If you know Mr. Tarantino, please, please, please, let me know. I would love to see Easy Motion Tourist made into a movie one day. I would really love that. I imagine Genevieve playing the lead role, Amaka. If you know her, please beg her to read the book.
Jowhor: I was most fascinated by the character Amaka. She is strong willed, resourceful and quick, and there is a sense of mystery about her which I found compelling. I wanted to read more about her. Do you think, as it sometimes happens in thriller novels, that you might return to some of these characters in subsequent books?
Leye: As it happens, Amaka has been getting up to all sorts in the nearly completed sequel. It’s currently titled When Trouble Sleeps.
Jowhor: While reading your book, I recalled stories I read in my adolescence which were also set in Lagos. I am thinking of some titles by Cyprian Ekwensi. He wrote great stories set in Lagos, often highlighting the chaotic nature of city life and its bright and dark sides. I also thought of the Pacesetter series which were often in the thriller genre. Stories filled with suspense and intrigue, set in places I recognised. In the decades that followed, as the publishing industry in Nigeria went into decline, we stopped seeing these novels. Now, we are witnessing a slow but welcome increase in stories coming out of Nigeria—but not much in the thriller genre. I would like to hear your thoughts on that, and could you also share with us some of the authors you love reading and what you learn from them?
Leye: I’m a total fan of James Patterson’s writing. His books and the Pacesetter series have obviously seriously influenced my writing when I’m writing crime thriller fiction. I take from Mr. Patterson the true spirit of lean prose. The invaluable lesson that less is more. But I write other genres. My short stories, especially, tend to range from noir to fantasy to just outright strangeness. My biggest influence there is Jorge Luis Borges. I’m not sure who my influence was when I wrote Chronicles of a Runs Girl, a novel written from the point of view of a woman. I think genre fiction is the next big thing waiting to happen in Africa. Just like afrobeats has conquered the world, genre fiction from Africa is going to become big.
Jowhor: Thank you so much for your book and for taking the time to respond to my questions.
Leye Adenle is an actor and a writer. Easy Motion Tourist (published by Cassava Republic) is his first novel and won the 2016 Prix Marianne. He will read from and discuss his book at the 2016 Ake Arts & Book Festival on November 17. Follow him on Twitter @LeyeAdenle.
Jowhor Ile’s writing has been published in McSweeney’s Quarterly and Litro Magazine. His first novel And After Many Days was published in Nigeria by Farafina Books and in the United States by Tim Duggan Books. He will read from and discuss his book at the 2016 Ake Arts & Book Festival on November 17. Follow him on Twitter @JowhorIle.
- Read Leye Adenle’s interview with Julie Iromuanya on her debut novel Mr. and Mrs. Doctor
- Read Julie Iromuanya’s interview with Jowhor Ile on his debut novel And After Many Days