Monday, February 16, 2015

The Author Speaks with Amina Thula

I'm celebrating St Valentine's day on this blog by interviewing Ankara Press authors. This is the first interview in the series. Enjoy!

Amina's introduction to romance was the love triangle between comic book characters Archie Andrews, Betty and Veronica, before she graduated to the Sweet valley and Sweet Dreams series in her teens-the start of her love affair with tall and brooding hot, dark dark, handsome strangers. Her first novel with Ankara Press is Elevator Kiss.

AA: How long did it take to write The Elevator Kiss?
AT: In reality a few months but if I were to put together the fragmented hours I used to work on the manuscript (including research and planning) I would estimate 2-3 weeks for the first draft. To get to the final draft probably took 3 months because I would go for weeks without touching the manuscript.

AA: What do you look for in romance novels?
AT: The same thing I look for in real life. I like gentlemanly men with integrity and honour. He must be strong and in control of himself and his world. The main characters must have mutual respect, a strong sense of self and be comfortable and confident about their genders. Their lives must not be boxed in - they must interact with the world. Romance has to contain F&Gs (fun and games), I also like witty dialogue and of course there has to be that wistful fantasy.
AA: You’ve said elsewhere that your characters are inspired by actual people. I’m curious about how you turn these people into characters. Do you go out of your way to disguise them or would they recognise themselves if they read the novel?
AT: (This question made me chuckle) No, I don't disguise them because I don't need to. The characters and events are complete fiction. None of the characters represent or are meant to represent anyone I know.  I used the personalities of real people to help guide and create the characters' personalities, decisions and speeches. For example, Thuli was inspired by a soapie character of the same name that I was upset with at the time so I made her a dislikable character .Yes, I'm one of those. I become very emotionally involved with my soapies. Right now I'm boycotting that soapie because they keep upsetting me. I will only forgive them next month! (LOL).
Sasa was inspired by a South African TV personality who had a reality show. The character has been twisted to suit her role in the book - meaning the TV personality is not necessarily like Sasa. I don't know her personally, she could be the nicest person on the planet but there were certain impressions she gave me on that one, single episode of her show I saw. I took those impressions, darkened and magnified them to make Sasa an antagonist.

AA: What other things inspire your writing?
AT:  Everything. I'm inspired by anything that enters my world whether it is good or bad. I then take that thing and make it into what I want. For example, the elevator kiss between Edward and Sindi came to me one very ordinary day. I had done my laundry and was taking it downstairs. I live on the second floor but I decided to take the elevator. While I was waiting for it I was so deep in thought that when it arrived, I was surprised when I saw my neighbour inside as I was about to step in. For some reason my mind went blank. I just stood there staring at him, dumbfounded and trying to figure out what he was doing there. He smiled and greeted me and my senses came back. As I stepped into the elevator I thought to myself that what had just happened would be a great way for the main characters to meet in a romance and The Elevator Kiss was born.

AA: Sindi and Edward both have to battle the ghosts of past relationships. Do you feel that past relationships ever really go away even when one has moved on?
AT:  I think anything that shakes or touches you to your core can never completely go away. It can stop dominating you and you can reduce it to the point of insignificance but it will linger either as an unhealed scar or a lesson learned. It's like having a physical scar. When scars are fresh they itch and you notice them all the time and so do other people but over time the itching goes away (if you leave it alone and do not touch it - that is if you allow healing to take place) and you stop noticing the scar and so do other people.
Once in a blue moon someone may come along and notice it and ask you about it, reminding you of your injury (that is, someone will hit a soft spot or trigger an emotional response). Depending on how well you healed emotionally, when you recount the story it's told from a place of rationale and not a place of pain (this is true for both a physical injury and an emotional injury).
You know rationally that you felt excruciating pain but you don't really remember the pain and the event is no longer as big as it used to be. If you touch and pick the scar as it is healing (that is, you hold on to the pain, constantly relive the betrayal etc.) you end up delaying the healing and possibly causing more harm by creating an environment for an infection to grow thereby possibly resulting into lifelong damage to you (for example, be bitter for ever). It is up to you to decide whether what happened to you will build you or it will dominate and destroy you. For example, what Mandla has done to Sindi is horrible. It is up to her to decide whether to let it build her by say making her more vigilant and cautious when it comes to trusting people. On the other hand, she can allow the experience to cause to become bitter towards all men. It has happened, it is in the past, she can't change it, it will stay with her but she can make it a lesson that she applies not just to her romantic relationships but to other relationships as well.

AA: The arc of the novel is partially built around a charity event that is being organised for the ‘lost children of Sudan’. I found this sub-plot interesting. How did you manage to fit a dark thread into a romance, given that one usually expects romance to be light-hearted?
AT: There were a few key things I wanted to achieve with The Elevator Kiss one of which is that I did not want it to be a coloured in Mills & Boon novel. I wanted it to be an African romance in the true sense not just in the sense that the main characters are Black. I wanted it to reflect us and how we deal with the challenge of finding love and building relationships in the midst of our environment and against the background of our culture and society.  We cannot run away from Africa’s horrifying recent history as yesterday still affects us today. I do not want us to forget our history or to gloss over it. I strongly believe we can tell our history without it being a sob story and fitting it into a romance shows how resilient we are, how we do not allow our history to hold us back. There's currently a social movement amongst Africans to raise Africa and characters in The Elevator Kiss are part of that movement. They are not self-absorbed and all about the bling life. They care about what is going on around them. They care about their fellow men, see themselves as citizens of the world and practice ubuntu.   

AA: So, what things, if any, do you think make a romance novel distinctly African?
AT: Relationship dynamics and problems are the same regardless of one's race, nationality, ethnicity or religion. The issue may be packaged differently but the underlying factor is the same. The difference largely lies in how one views and deals with the problem because that is determined by one's principles which are influenced by one's society, customs and culture. For example, when an African gets married you are not just marrying the man or the woman you are marrying the family. Therefore it is not easy for an African couple to get rid of meddling family members who treat their home as if they own it. They would most likely suffer through it for thirty years whereas a Western couple would probably cut off the family and not speak to them for thirty years (Good luck pulling that off with an African family! Lol). So, I would say the distinction comes in how the characters view and deal with their relationships within the context of the external environment.

AA: Are you working on a novel right now? Do you write in other genres apart from romance?
AT: Yes, I am. I have about six at various stages with two near completion. I'm sticking to romance for now. This is all new to me and I'm still learning. Once I get comfortable and I’ve firmly established myself, I will want a new challenge and I’ll look for ways to expand myself as a writer but for now I'm happy writing romance.

Buy Amina Thula’s The Elevator Kiss here. Follow her on twitter-
@ MsAminaThula .

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