Working as a writer, I am constantly finding myself in awe of others in the writing community. So many people I have connected with balance full time careers, families, illnesses and other pursuits with their writing. Some people have written all their lives whilst some have started later on in life. For some people, writing is a calling, but for others it is something that they fell into. Some people experience huge success, others are happy to have one person read their work. The writing community is a vast, diverse, supportive group and it is through this network that I came across Segilola Salami.
On paper, Segilola’s list of achievements are incredibly impressive – she is a children’s author, podcaster, blogger, writer and mother – but Segilola’s brilliance goes way beyond these things. She is passionate about ensuring stories from her Nigerian heritage are not forgotten, committed to using her success to lift up other writers and dedicated to helping those who are struggling with grief in the way that she was when she sadly lost her mother. At the core of everything Segilola does is the goal of making the world a better place for her daughter. She’s a woman worth celebrating, and I am so happy that this week she is who I am sharing an interview with.
How did you get into a career in writing?
I think of myself as an accidental author because I did not set out to become one. After my mother passed away, I was not in a good place mentally. As a first time parent, I couldn’t show my emotions on my face, so I turned to writing as my outlet. Before I knew what was going on, I had my first book published – Yetunde: The Life And Times Of A Yoruba Girl In London 1.
You pay homage to your Nigerian heritage by writing Nigerian folktales. Why do you think it is important to write these stories?
My first books were, firstly, my way of paying homage to my own mother. I wanted to immortalise my mother’s memory on paper using the stories she used to tell my sister and me as kids. Secondly, as a bicultural woman living in the multicultural city of London, it has always been important to me that my daughter did not forget her roots. One of my favourite sayings is: ‘if you don’t know where you are coming from, how do you know where you are going to?’ The world is now a global marketplace and if efforts are not made, it cannot be unexpected for children from diverse backgrounds to not even acknowledge their heritage.
I think through creating books like yours, you are helping to bridge the gap between heritage and modern day for many people. Storytelling is an oral tradition, so how would you say it is best to access your books – to read them alone or as a shared experience?
My mum was very hands on growing up as she was a stay at home mother. I only know my own parents style of parenting and that influences my style of parenting. So I would say that with children of all ages, my books should either be read together or discussed together. I cannot think of something better than parent and child bonding over a book.
Your daughter is a vital part of your writing journey and at the core of everything you do. In your opinion, how does reading and storytelling improve the relationship between a parent and their child?
My first book was published just before my daughter turned one, almost exactly 4 years ago (time sure flies) and she now has her own bookshelf that’s filled with a range of age appropriate books. By reading together, I find that it forms the basis of our everyday communication. For instance, my daughter has my love for monsters and we refer to germs as monsters. When it’s time to brush her teeth, she asks me: ‘mummy, what do the monsters say when they see my tooth brush?’ and I do this drawn out dramatisation of the monsters screaming, running away and begging her to not brush her teeth so that she doesn’t destroy their houses. She then screams at the monsters in return, saying how dare they want to stay in her mouth, that she’s going to break their houses straight away. The same thing happens when it’s bath time: ‘mummy, what would the monsters say when it’s time to have my bath?’
Thinking about it now, I should patent this strategy. It’s the easiest way to get a young child to happily brush their teeth and have a bath without any drama.
As a writer, you often receive knock backs and rejections. How do you overcome these moments?
My books are very cultural, so I know that it would not appeal to a lot of people and that’s fine. The few times someone gave my book a poor rating, I simply told myself that my book was not meant for that person. I understand that not everyone likes everything and my books are not exempt from that.
That said, I believe that constructive feedback is essential for development. If someone left a review that said “I simply do not like this book”, I would be ok with that. If someone said “I do not like this book because it was filled with typos”, I would re-read the whole book again and ask the book bloggers in my network to re-read it to see if they can find the typos. If there were typos, I would get them corrected. If there were no typos, I would ignore it and move on. I believe in asking myself “what can I do better?”
Another example of this is the time I received an email from someone telling me that they were not pleased with my podcast service. I asked for feedback on where I went wrong. The person said that they called and spoke with someone who was very rude to them. That was the most hilarious email to me because my number is not published on my website and all communications with me are restricted to online, so whoever this person called did not work with me or for me. I laughed it off and moved on.
Your attitude to rejection is one that I think many writers, myself included, can learn from so it is great to have your voice in the online support system of the writers community. How has finding this online network helped you with your career?
There’s this saying I once read – ‘blowing out someone else’s candle doesn’t make your own candle burn brighter. Rather, lighting up someone else’s candles makes the room brighter.’ I have received a lot of help from strangers I connected with online and it truly was humbling. Even though there is a lot of bad in the world, my experience reminds me that there are good things in the world too. That’s why I try to help others other wherever I can. For instance, I have a page on my blog where other authors can submit either a chapter of their book or an interview with a character from their book for me to publish on my blog. Even if only one new person finds out about that book, I see that as a plus.
You have done so much in your career so far, but what are your next steps?
I mentioned earlier that after my mother passed away, I struggled with her death. It took me a long time to get to a better place as I was struggling with unresolved grief. A number of guests on my podcast, The Segilola Salami Show, shared how they suffered with unresolved grief too. This got me thinking of ways that I could help more people. That’s how I created my soon to launch online course: COPING WITH UNRESOLVED GRIEF: USE WRITING AS A FORM OF THERAPY TO HELP YOU MOVE ON WITH YOUR LIFE AND CAREER AFTER AN EMOTIONAL LOSS WHEN YOU DON’T WANT TO OR ARE NOT READY TO TALK ABOUT HOW YOU FEEL!
On the course, I hope to help people who are struggling to move forward with their grief and this can be grief of any kind, not just grief from the death of a loved on. I’ll share Grief Resolution Formula I created which helped me move forward with my own grief, establish a new career path and be a happier me.
You see, at the height of my grief, I couldn’t function. I used to work as a pharmacist and whenever I thought about going to work I broke down. I remember being on my ward one day and seeing so many sick people physically crushed me. My mum’s heart just stopped working one day as it was already enlarged from Lupus, and the last x-ray she had said she was a heart attack waiting to happen. As a health care professional, I had the most crushing physical pain from the guilt I was feeling that I couldn’t break free of. I went through the whole cycle – from being a well paid pharmacist to being unable to get out of bed to becoming homeless to picking myself up and starting a new path.
The new me wants to help others. I think of my course as a revision class – I was once where you are and I want to share my notes so that you can graduate that class to be where I am today.
It sounds like the most incredible course – one that I am sure will help many, many people and bring with it a whole new wave of fulfilment and success for you. Speaking of success, what has been your biggest career highlight so far?
Everything I have done so far, considering where I have been, is been a highlight. Before my mother passed away, I did not imagine I would be doing the things I am doing now, but if I had to pick I would say my biggest achievement has been self teaching myself how to build a WordPress website from scratch.
What advice would you give to any aspiring writers out there?
Writing is the easy bit, the real hard work comes afterwards!
If you could sum up your outlook on life in one statement, what would it be?
When I look at my daughter, I know that failure is NOT an option.