Lizzie Damilola Blackburn, YINKA, WHERE IS YOUR HUZBAND?

Lizzie Damilola Blackburn, YINKA, WHERE IS YOUR HUZBAND?

Zibby is joined by Lizzie Damilola Blackburn to discuss her debut novel, Yinka, Where Is Your Huzband?, which grew out of a short story she once posted on her blog. The two talk about how the pandemic helped Lizzie settle into a post-commuter lifestyle enough to write this story, the enviable relationship she has with her former editor, and what her mom thought of the finished book. Lizzie also shares how her own network of aunties differs from that in her novel as well as what she’s working on next.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Lizzie. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Yinka, Where Is Your Huzband?

Lizzie Damilola Blackburn: Thanks for having me.

Zibby: You probably say it better with your amazing accent.

Lizzie: Husband.

Zibby: You did such a great job of developing these characters and immediately getting us in the scene of the twerking pregnant woman and the praying moms and the aunties and the whole thing and nobody understanding that to work in an investment bank, you could do eight thousand different things. It could be IT support. It doesn’t matter. Tell listeners what your novel is about and how you ended up writing about this.

Lizzie: Yinka, Where Is Your Huzband? is a rom-com. It follows Yinka, who is a British Nigerian woman who lives in South London. Yinka, her love life is a hot mess right now because her very traditional Nigerian mom and her many, many aunties are pressuring her to settle down. Then her cousin had the audacity to get herself engaged. Yinka decides to take her love life into her own hands. She sets up this plan in a form of a spreadsheet to find a date in time for her cousin’s wedding. What starts off as a very simplistic goal turns into something way more drastic. Yinka feels as though she has to change herself in order to find love. In addition to this being a love story, it’s also a story of self-discovery which she goes on with the help of her amazing friends. Funny enough, Yinka’s story started off as a short story that I had on a blog that I ran back in 2014, 2015. This blog was called Christian Dating Dilemmas. At the time, I was looking for mainstream romance fiction with a Christian protagonist. I couldn’t find any, so I decided about it. On this blog, I had short stories with a Christian protagonist. It all had some sort of dilemma. Yinka was one of them. Her story was inspired by my experience because even though I was only in my early, mid-twenties, my mom, my dear mom was asking me, “When are you going to settle down? Where’s your husband? Where’s your boyfriend?” That was the inspiration behind it. The idea to turn it into a novel came later on. I went to this blogging workshop. I met this fantastic author. As all writers do, I wanted to get feedback on my writing, so I shared my blog with her. In addition to giving me really helpful feedback, she said, “Do you know what? I really love this Yinka character. I feel like you should turn it into a novel.” I guess the rest is history.

Zibby: Wow. I’m sorry to make you repeat that story. I know I’ve heard you say it on NPR and all these other places and on your website and everything.

Lizzie: No, it’s fine.

Zibby: For those who didn’t learn that until now, there you go. I love how you decided to share ten installments on The Bookseller about how this book got made with your experience and your editor’s experience. That was genius. Tell me about that. I loved that. It’s amazing. I love it. Tell me about that.

Lizzie: That was actually my former editor, Katie. She’s left Penguin now, but she was great. She felt like it would just be a good idea to give writers an insight into the publishing journey. Because I was so consumed with trying to write my manuscript, I never really thought about the publishing process and what that entails. For me, it was a chance to not just document my experience, but also, now it’s a chance for me to reflect back and to see how far I’ve come. Hopefully, it’ll be helpful to other writers out there who feel like the publishing industry is some kind of mystery.

Zibby: I love it. I love how your editor was trying to wear her nicest clothes to come meet you and was all nervous because she hadn’t met you in real life. It’s so cute. It’s awesome. That’s really great. I do feel sometimes it feels like this closed-box world where you don’t know what happens behind the curtain. I just thought it was a very unique way to share the journey. For people listening, go to The Bookseller, and search up Lizzie. Maybe just put in Yinka, Where is Your Huzband? You’ll find it. What part of that whole process — I know there was a part about the cover. Tell me about the cover journey. Looking at your two covers now, tell me about having these two very different covers for different markets.

Lizzie: First of all, I absolutely love them. People ask me, which is your favorite? Actually, I love them both. I think they’re great, bold and bright. The process was quite different. I was more included in the US process. I think it’s because they wanted to get my insight as a British Nigerian. I was able to give some feedback on a few iterations before we reached a final version. With the UK one, I didn’t know what was happening until months later. I think that’s kind of standard practice. The reason why is because we’re not the expert. Sometimes we might come with these ideas which might sound great, but they know the market. They know what sells well. I was told that they had up to one hundred iterations with the cover. They really wanted to get it right. When they showed me in the end, I was absolutely blown away and only had to offer a few tweaks, really. I absolutely love it.

Zibby: It’s so cool. Very cool. I didn’t notice at first it was a ring, but there it is, on the British cover. What was it like, the writing part, as you were trying to turn it from a short story to a novel? Did you have a day where you were like, now what do I do?

Lizzie: Oh, my gosh. The first year and a half, I was just winging it. I didn’t know what I was doing, to be honest with you. That meant that I kept on starting, stopping, starting again. It wasn’t until I read this book called Story Engineering by Larry Brooks — I recommend it to all authors. I think I mentioned it in one of my Bookseller columns. That was my light-bulb moment because that’s where I realized that storytelling is a craft. There needs to be certain elements in order for it to be engaging for the reader, so themes and structure and conflict and stakes. It sounds basic, but at the time, I didn’t know that. From that point forward, I started to invest in myself as a writer. I attended workshops. I did an online creative writing course. I read more. I connected with other writers as well. The process was quite long. It took me roughly five years to write Yinka. One thing that I really struggled with was finding the time. Also, when I got married, I moved from London to Milton Keynes. I was still working in London, so it was a two-hour commute each way. I struggled to write on a train. Lockdown, in the end, was a blessing in disguise because it gave me more time to write. That’s when I actually finished my manuscript.

Zibby: Was your mom really happy when she met your actual husband?

Lizzie: Oh, yeah, she loves my husband, and my dad as well.

Zibby: What did he think about this being the topic of your book?

Lizzie: He always knew that I was going to be a writer at some point. Well, now he says that.

Zibby: Let’s give him all the credit.

Lizzie: My mom as well. She read it within a week. She doesn’t really read fiction. She was so proud of me. She was like, “I can’t believe this came from your brain. I really respect you.” That was really nice to hear, to get that stamp of approval from my mom.

Zibby: It is amazing that sometimes it takes a novel for people to understand what you’re even thinking or who you are. Verbal communication can only go so far, but spending a year honing your interior monologue — that’s funny. What are you working on now?

Lizzie: I’m working on book two. I haven’t really told too many people, except for my editors and my agent, about it.

Zibby: Now you can tell me.

Lizzie: I would say it’s going to be another colorful, vibrant book with an ensemble of characters which are hopefully as memorable as the ones in Yinka.

Zibby: Amazing. Is this going to be a movie?

Lizzie: Yinka or the —

Zibby: — Yinka.

Lizzie: Yes. Again, I can’t say too much about it, but it has been snapped up for film rights. Yeah, .

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, so cool. It’s really exciting. Really cool. How has your life changed since having this book out?

Lizzie: Oh, wow. It’s meant that I can do it full time, which is amazing because that’s a dream come true. It feels so surreal. I just feel so grateful. Every single day, I wake up in awe. Wow, this is my life. When I was writing Yinka, many times, I thought, would I ever reach the end? I just felt like I would constantly be working on a draft of Yinka. Anytime I’m feeling doubtful or question myself, I just think back to how far I’ve come.

Zibby: That’s inspiring. I love it. What other advice would you have for aspiring authors?

Lizzie: I’ve got so many.

Zibby: Great, let’s hear it.

Lizzie: I would say invest in yourself. You’re worth investing in. The internet is your friend. There’s so much free resources, like on YouTube for example. Sign up to newsletters as well because sometimes you’ll get free advice from there and free worksheets as well. I would say call yourself a writer as well. Own it. Don’t feel afraid to tell people that you’re writing. I feel like sometimes as writers, we can kind of be shy about that. Sometimes we have to put our work out there and get feedback in order to improve. I would say don’t give up. You need to have a lot of self-belief as well because it is quite time-consuming. You will get rejected along the way, so you need to have that self-belief in yourself.

Zibby: Love it. What kind of books do you like to read?

Lizzie: I do love a good rom-com. I also love mystery books as well, literary books that touch on a range of issues. I love books that showcase black joy as well. I’m very happy to see that a lot of books are coming out that are promoting that. Those are my go-to.

Zibby: Amazing. Excellent. Do you have your whole crew of aunties? Do you have the same network of aunties? Are they also supportive of the work that you do?

Lizzie: Thankfully, my aunties are not like the aunties in Yinka. I never got pressured from my aunties when I was single to get married. My aunties now, yeah, they’re very, very supportive. When it came to both my US book launch, which was virtual, and my in-person one in the UK, they were there cheering and just being so super supportive. I’m very blessed to have a very supportive network of friends, former colleagues, family members. It really does help.

Zibby: I bet. I was surprised, actually, in the book that there was so much pressure on her so young. I was expecting Yinka to be thirty-eight, thirty-nine, but she was only thirty-one, thirty-two. I was like, what? In New York, people are like, whatever, settle in.

Lizzie: It’s funny because when I was writing Yinka, I was in my twenties. I was thinking to myself, how would a thirty-one-year-old person behave? I realized there’s not much difference being in your twenties.

Zibby: I just finished reading a memoir about someone who was like, okay, I’m thirty-eight, I guess I should think about having a baby on my own. That was the book I read before yours. I think after I got to yours, I was like, she’s got plenty of time. There’s no rush. What will be will be. You do a great job, though, of setting the scene, the contrast between the crazy, harried mom on the ground changing diapers and the career woman and this whole grass is always greener thing. You want what someone else has. You didn’t go to college, but look at you. You’ve got this amazing child. It’s like you can’t win with life, in a way.

Lizzie: You’re right. I feel like social media has kind of perpetuated or fueled this idea that you need to have it all, but only because of what people are portraying and what you see in the highlight reels. I just feel like it’s impossible. It’s not fair for us to put expectation on ourselves and on others as well. Hopefully, that can be something that people can relate to when they’re reading her.

Zibby: A hundred percent, yes. I really do think you have an amazing voice and pacing and all of the elements of the storytelling. It’s just so fun. It’s fun to read and makes you smile but also makes you think. I just love your voice. That’s really my favorite.

Lizzie: Thank you. That means a lot. Thank you.

Zibby: I’m excited for your next adventure and all of that. Thank you. Thanks for coming on.

Lizzie: Thanks so much for having me.

Zibby: My pleasure. Have a great day.

Lizzie: Take care. Same to you. Bye.

Zibby: Thanks. Buh-bye.

Lizzie Damilola Blackburn, YINKA, WHERE IS YOUR HUZBAND?

YINKA, WHERE IS YOUR HUZBAND? by Lizzie Damilola Blackburn

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