Friday 18 September 2020

Stella Oni on writing Deadly Sacrifice

The writing bug caught me unexpectedly in my mid-20s. Before that, I was an avid reader. 

As a child in Nigeria, reading transported me to places that were beyond the experience of a child with great imagination and complicated childhood. I loved comics, fairy tales and read much of the English literary figures of the days – Enid Blyton, Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, Louisa May Alcott. I also read James Hardley Chase, Barbara Cartland, Denise Robins and all of Mills and Boons!

I was a precocious child with a mother that owned an eclectic library of books from romance, crime, horror and all in between. I also loved my Saturday visits to the Library. I went through all of the Asterix and Obelix and Tintin comics that they owned. 

I had never thought to write because, in Nigeria of my childhood, writers were the greats like Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka. The rest of us had to be Lawyers, Doctors, Engineers, Accountants. I knew I did not want to be a lawyer – too dry! And my maths was not up to scratch for the rest! What a conundrum. I studied Linguistics and African Languages and took the option in English Literature and History. My most memorable class was English Literature, and in retrospect, I should have studied that but it meant that in the Nigerian mind, I could end up as a teacher! 

So, a few years after I settled back in the UK, I decided that I would write a great literary novel. I gave myself 5 years and if not published, would go on to study IT. I did finish it and had a great friend and mentor, the late Buchi Emecheta, who encouraged me. But I could not find a publisher. I finally gave up and consigned the work to the drawers. I still believe in it and hope to go back and rework and publish it. It had elements of my current style of writing - multiple characters that carry the story along. 

Nigeria is a rich country with endless possibilities, and any conversation with the average Nigerian would inevitably lead to bitter observations on corrupt leadership and those in power. Britain is entrenched in the class system, and these differences are clear enough to make exciting fiction for an ‘outsider’ like me. I like to weave multifaceted characters and stories, I hope, about the powerful, class system, the super-wealthy and how the ordinary man journeys around life. The average man envies the wealthy, and the wealthy are grateful not to be poor!

The idea for Deadly Sacrifice started 15 years ago when I decided to change direction and focus on crime fiction.  The only issue was that I had never written one. I was an avid fan of Patricia Cornwell, Tess Gerritsen, Karen Slaughter, Kathryn Reichs, Nicci French, Andrea Camilleri, Boris Akunin, James Patterson, Susan Hill, Lee Childs, Michael Connelly, Jeffrey Deaver. The list is endless but never thought to write like them. I had no crime author mentor, no black female crime writer I could approach (I only discovered Dreda Say Mitchell in 2016)

I found that City University taught a short course in crime writing and jumped at it. The author, Lesley Grant-Adamson, was our tutor and committed and patient. It was in her class that Toks Ade was born. I had thought of creating a black African female police detective because I wanted an outsider within the system. Adam, the torso in the Thames, had happened a few years previously and someone in the class said he would like to create fiction around it and asked if I could be his African consult. I thought NO! I would write it! 

I did a lot of research and remembered showing the earliest work to Lesley but was not sure of myself or what I was doing. In the end, I finished it, and over the years it went back and forth to agents. I took in the constructive criticisms and continued to tweak. Deadly Sacrifice is a matured ‘wine’ that was shortlisted for the SI Leeds Literary Prize in 2016.

Who are my characters? 

Detective Toks Ade is a Nigerian British, a single parent of a 15-year-old boy. She loves food and struggles with weight and life. Toks is dogged, impulsive, loves God and is brave.

Detective Philip Dean is white British, male, haunted by the mental illness suffered by his twin sister, Emily, and the impact on his personal life. He is an outsider in the force, an atheist and respected for his brilliance as a detective. 

Coretta is biracial of mixed Nigerian and British heritage. She was an investigative journalist turned true-crime author. She is forceful and manages to get what she wants in her personal life and in the job.

Finally, I am working on the 2nd in the series and also created two other series which are different from the Detective Ade mystery. 

The start of my new cosy mystery series, The London House Mystery, appears in a holiday anthology by ten Crime Writers of Color titled FESTIVE MAYHEM coming out in October 2020. 

Deadly Sacrifice by Stella Oni (Published by Jacaranda Books) Out Now
When a child's severed hand is found, DC Toks Ade and DS Philip Dean are put on the case. Thrown into a world of Nigerian traditional customs, ritual sacrifice, and international trafficking, they must find the guilty parties before more children are lost and more limbs are found. A chilling new thriller introducing Detectives Toks Ade, Philip Dean, and investigative author Coretta Davis.

More information about the author can be found on her website. She can also be found on Facebook and you can follow her on Twitter @sonithewriter.

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