A civil engineer and creative writer, Akin Akingbogun, speaks to OLADIMEJI RAMON about his craft
Tell us a bit about yourself.
Akin Akingbogun is a 42-year-old civil engineer, who has openly professed to be 13 years younger to fit the narrative for his online persona. I am an alumnus of Obafemi Awolowo University(Great Ife).I am a social entrepreneur, a strategy expert, a trainer, a life and performance coach, an ardent innovator, an author, an incurable optimist, and a fine gentleman.I run a blog akinakingbogun.com, where I share personal stories and other short fiction stories along with a few of my friends.I reside in Lagos and I am married with three lovely kids.
What’s the story behind the sobriquet, Duke of Small Talk, which you are otherwise called?
The Duke of Small talk is a personal brand that represents the online persona of Akin Akingbogun, which is markedly different from his professional identity. It was created in 2019, at the time I started writing creatively again after a 22-year hiatus.
The Duke of Small talk is the creative personality of Akin Akingbogun that seeks to leave digital footprints in the social media space by sharing personal motivational stories, life lessons, short fiction stories, share personal and professional knowledge and ultimately to lend a voice and platform to budding writers to explore their talents.
You said you started creative writing again after a 22-year hiatus. When did you start writing and what took you away for so long?
I had a casual phone conversation with an old school friend in the middle of 2019 and it left me with so many questions after he expressed surprise and maybe disappointment that I never explored my writing skills as he had known me for way back in secondary school. I assured him that I was writing world-class memos and reports at my current job, which was often flawless. Right after the phone call I realised that I could find fulfilment in a different way by putting my God-given talent to use. That was the journey that culminated into posting my first personal story – “The Interview Story” on my blog in November 2019.
The most plausible explanation for the long hiatus is that I got caught up in the exuberance of my youth and in the pursuit of success in my career.
How did your creative writing journey begin?
The earliest memorable event in my creative journey was an unpublished play titled “The Kidnap,” which I co-authored with a colleague at the age of 10. My dad was gracious enough to have the book typed and bound with my name emblazoned in gold to acknowledge my budding talent and to encourage my adventure into the literary world. He must have seen something at the time and he surely wasn’t wrong. It was a defining moment for me as I went on to write countless articles, essays, novellas and other short fiction stories throughout secondary school. These literary works were mostly hand-written and either competed for state honours at local contests with other schools or were shared casually with many of my friends who read one chapter at a time. I believe that this period of self-discovery set the stage for the books I have authored and published three decades later.
It is commonly said that writers are first readers. What were the earliest books you came in contact with that sparked your interest in creative writing?
Indeed many writers were first avid readers, and I am certainly not an exception. I did quite a lot of reading in my early years. I had a very inquisitive mind (I still do by the way) and at every opportunity I feasted on everything from books on astrology to books on metaphysics, like the ones written by Tuesday Lobsang Rampa. I basked in the cleverly-crafted stories of the hugely popular James Hardley Chase, to books written by Jackie Collins, Robert Ludlum, John Grisham, Jeffery Archer, Stephen King, Barbara Taylor Bradford, VC Andrews and even the pacesetters series.
Do you read Nigerian/African authors?
Yes, I do. I enjoy reading books written by quite a number of Nigerian authors. I have read books written by Chimamanda Adichie, Oyinkan Braithwaite, T.J. Benson, Akwaeke Emezi, Sylva Nze Ifedigbo, Lola Shoneyin, Lesley Nneka Arimah and a good many other authors. Many of these authors have distinguished themselves in the field and I look up to their efforts for inspiration.
What subject or aspect of life do you mostly love to write about?
I love to make my stories relatable and as long as it can be experienced by anyone, then it is worth writing about. I haven’t quite explored stories weaved around romance and love as I understand some fans have been yearning for this.
Does your experience growing up have any impact on the kind of stories you love to tell?
My experience growing up played a significant role in the stories I tell. I am a keen observer and I spent countless hours watching people behave and then retelling the stories in graphic details as though they were mine. I’ve got over two dozen personal stories of my exploits early in life on my blog page as they lend credence to the influence of the past on my works. I enjoy blending different features from people I have met into the characters I create in my stories so that they have highly relatable persona.
What inspired your book, Prisoner of Fate?
Prisoner of Fate was my first expression of creative writing after I rediscovered writing in 2019. I wanted to tell a story that would immerse the reader in the experience of the protagonist and to follow the thrill and suspense of the plot without giving a hint of how the story concludes until the very last chapter or page.
How smooth was the writing process for you? Was there any point you got stuck and contemplated quitting?
Oh yes! I got stuck. I lost the motivation to continue at some point and abandoned the manuscript for six months. It was a period during which I started and finished another story (now a book – Waste of Sin), yet I left Prisoner of Fate uncompleted. I believe that the COVID-19 pandemic fuelled my creative juices, enabling me to complete the manuscript after I continued writing.However, I never thought of quitting the writing process entirely. Sometimes I lose interest and move to other productive endeavours, but never quitting.
Is this an approach you will recommend to other writers facing the same situation?
Every writer would find the best approach to dealing with writers’ block. Some would choose to go for a vacation, others would channel their energy into other endeavours, some would take a break completely, whilst some would read other author’s works.
When was Prisoner of Fate published and how long did the publishing process take?
Prisoner of Fate was published in 2021 after I had engaged an editor to proofread and format the manuscript. The process ran a three-month course.
Do you have stories of rejections, like many creative writers?
I think rejection is part of every writer’s journey and sometimes we wear it as a badge of honour. It just shows that the competition is fierce and that there is more to learn.
Being your debut book, how exactly did you feel the first time you held the hard copy of Prisoner of Fate in your hands?
I am not sure there are enough words to describe the feeling. I remember picking up the box of printed copies to my home and then making a video recording of the unboxing. It felt unreal except for my name that was a constant reminder on the front page. Sometimes I must constantly remind myself that I authored the book. It’s just pure bliss.
What kind of feedbacks have you been getting?
I think it’s a good mix. I never realised the weight of expectations until friends from my early writing days wondered why it took me this long to publish a book. The reviews have been kind, to be honest, and critical only a few times. The crime-thriller genre isn’t quite popular in Africa and Prisoner of Fate is a welcome entrant into the space.
You are a dad of three children. Are they old enough to read, what do they say about your writing?
My youngest kid is just eight but she aspires to write her own novel. All my kids own a copy of Prisoner of Fate and have read every page of the book. We often talk about the story, and they sometimes suggest a twist in the plot. I believe there is a writer in each of them.
What about your dad who saw the writer in you way back and threw his weight behind you?
My parents are an inspiration, and I would love to replicate the opportunities they offered us while we were growing into our own with their guidance.
I sent a signed copy to my dad after the book was published and we spoke for almost one hour the moment he was done reading. He analysed almost every sentence and chapter to his delight. I could tell he was proud of the effort.
Despite your literary inclination, you went into the science; do you have any regrets or find your science background complementary?
No regrets whatsoever! I have practised engineering for 18 years and I have risen through the highs and lows of my career with amazing success. I believe I am a man of many parts.
As a creative writer, what is the big picture for you?
First, I would like to see copies of the book in as many African countries as possible. Copies of Prisoner of Fate is currently on the bookshelves in Ghana, Kenya and Uganda.
I want to see my stories transit into the screenplay in a couple of years. I also hope to put the work into literary contests at the national and international space in hope of a kind recognition. That’s the big picture for my works.
Is another book in the works after Prison of Fate?
My second book is a two-stories-in-one, titled “The Waste of Sin & Blood in the Water,” to be published in May 2022. I am confident that readers would find the stories worth their every minute. The book will be on the bookshelves starting from May 2022.
The second work is coming quite closely behind the first, which took about 22 years to arrive. Will you say subsequent books get easier once a first book is published?
I write every weekend since 2019 and it has become my second nature. I sometimes wonder how I managed to ignore such a glaring gift for such a long time. The COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown came in just timely as I churned out a blog post every other day during the period. I have honed the skill to my advantage and writing the next couple of books will only just become easier.
Authors complain that Nigerians are poor readers. What have you found out since the publication of your book?
Oh well, there is still a thriving community of readers in Nigeria. These communities may not be obvious, but you will find them in book clubs, on online blogs and other online communities. Mostly young adults who will revel in the power of their own imagination. What I think we will struggle to find are good writers and I have met only a few.
This interview was first published in Punch