The eighth edition of a Lagos monthly literary event, which featured Bobo Omotayo as guest writer, turned out to be fun-filled evening. Adewole Ajao reports
It was an evening of firsts, as the Debonair Bookshop in the Yaba neighbourhood of Lagos hosted the eighth edition of the monthly Book ‘n’ Gauge literary evening on January 28. First, this was the event’s first edition this year.
Then there was the fact that the writer of the day, Bobo Omotayo, was reading from his self-published first book London Life, Lagos Living. After writers like Jude Dibia, Lola Shoneyin, Sam Omatseye, Toni Kan and others had featured last year, it was Bobo Omotayo’s turn to delve into his initial publication which had been gathering some acclaim after its 2011 release.
The writer was entirely down to earth on a day that was far from normal, just like his book, which is a satire on the social classes and sustained facades of many Lagosians. He took the audience back to the period after he completed his manuscript. There were many challenges, but it did not change his views on a book he dubbed special.
“To be very honest with you, it was the best thing I did,” he said. “When the manuscript for the book was finished, I went shopping for a deal and most of the major publishers did not get it. I don’t blame them.
It is either you are writing a novel or you are not. I was told I could not put pictures and had to put just words, and I was not ready to do any of that. I thought it would lose the essence of the work.
The very first publisher I went to decided to do their own editing and it was terrible. It was disgusting because they were trying to take out my opinions which were the juice of the story. We couldn’t reach an agreement, so they said I could go ahead and do my thing.”
The writer introduced himself by reading his book’s prologue, titled “I Am”. He then proceeded to the book’s first chapter, reading a work entitled “Loovu Wan Tintin”, a critique on the speed at which the allure for marriage vanished for men.
It commenced the poignant and witty expressions that scored points with the audience. Omotayo was not alone. The spoken word artist, Ndukwe Onuoha, was on ground with his offering. Ndukwe, a regular at popular spoken word events like Chill and Relax and Taruwa, read “Puff Puff” amongst several other sobering poems.
A game was played on the audience when the microphone was passed round by event MC Derin Ajao. Each participant had to utter the words “London Life, Lagos Living” as many times as possible.
It was a hard task as many could not make it beyond the fourth try. The author of the book and Rasheed Adewusi surprised many as they went beyond the seven times required. But it was not all fun and games.
A member of the audience took umbrage at Omotayo’s alleged use of swear words. It sparked off a short argument on its suitability for kids, and a debate on censorship and hypocrisy, which Omotayo said his book was trying to erode.
Further readings from a chapter on Nigeria’s golden jubilee and another on professions shed light on Omotayo’s other role as a social commentator. And like most writers, his work mirrored his societal views. This was the same with a book cover symbolising the interplay between British and Nigerian life.
“The sunglasses are Rayban Wayfarers that represent the iconic British life and the cap is to represent Lagos, so it kind of worked,” Omotayo hinted.
While dwelling on the Jenifa movie inspiration for his book, there were also questions on whether his initial work could be called a compilation of short stories due to the style he employed.
“I am in branding and PR, so there is an element of creating an illusion around the product,” he volunteered. “So we used the tools to sell the book. First of all, these are observations and we do not follow the same kind of formula on short stories, and quite frankly I don’t believe in particular structures.
But in order to make it a viable product, we did spin it and made it a collection of short Lagos life observations turned stories.”
Views on the unconventional style also kindled a return to the issues he faced when sourcing for a publisher. Even though it appeared he had forgiven the publishing houses for giving him the cold shoulder, such events seemed unforgettable for the bespectacled writer with a foreign accent.
“It was becoming very evident that they were killing my spirit because when people say it’s nonsense, it dampens your mood. I will not comment about them since it seems they still live in the dark ages. What I am happy is that when the book came out in November, one of them called me and said only Bobo Omotayo can do this.”
Remarks about him pioneering a new genre were welcome. Ditto requests for a paperback edition of the book at a subsidised rate, and questions on the origins of his “Bobo” tag, which he had become accustomed to. Apparently, the sentimental attachment to a gift had inspired a name that was bent on sticking to him.
“When I was born, the midwife who delivered me bought a stuffed monkey for my mum and called it Bobo,” he recalled with a smile. “She called it Bobo and after many weeks on planet earth, I refused to go to bed without this monkey. Everyone was like, ‘He doesn’t go to bed without his Bobo,’ and that was how it started. When I was doing my A level maths exams, they call you into a room to take your seat and I remember my surname is Omotayo.
There were 120 kids seated and I went to meet the woman and told her that she did not call my name. So when she asked for my first name and I said Bobo, she said the name was not there but she had an Adeoye, which was my real name and the on all of my documents.”
As always, there was a musical interlude for upcoming singers. Ese Peters was the artiste for the day and he showed his dexterity on the guitar. This was while he crooned John Mayer-like tunes that were enjoyed by the audience.
The evening ended with a book auction and some lucky members of the audience got to leave with bestsellers at low rates. Ahead of this month’s edition, organiser Dotun Eyinade said more is in the cooler as the monthly gathering aims to become a melting-pot for A-list writers and musicians.
“We are poised to increase the entertainment value of our events by notching up the quality of discussions and featuring sought-after authors,” he said. “We also hope to commence our non-fiction discussion group, which will cater to the reading tastes of upwardly mobile young professionals, who are disposed to reading and discussing non-fiction.”