In Conversation With... Tola Okogwu.
Tola Okogwu is definitely part of the multi-hyphen career generation, she is a journalist, author, publisher, blogger and does all this whilst being a wife and mother to two small children. Tola's children inspired her to write books that demonstrate the beauty of Afro hair with Kechi's Hair Goes Every Which Way whilst broadening our ideas of gender roles in families in Daddy Do my Hair.
Tola uses her writing to hold a mirror up to society providing people with the opportunity to see themselves reflected in the books they read and images they see which is crucial for small children because representation really matters especially in our formative years. I was hugely inspired by Tola's decision to set up her own publishing company rather than be frustrated by publishers with myopic views in relation to black, actually non-white author's.
Please could you tell our readers a bit about yourself and what you do?
I’m so many things, that it’s hard to keep track of sometimes. Firstly I’m a wife and mother and both roles are very important to me and very much shape who I am and why I do things I do. Secondly I’m a writer, I blog about Afro hair care and I write children’s books. Whilst seemingly different, the two do often intersect, most noticeably in my children’s book series, ‘Daddy Do My Hair?’ Lastly, I’m a hair care coach; I help women improve the health of their hair through knowledge and practical tools and resources.
How do you manage journalism, being a hair care coach and blogger and being an author with motherhood?
Lots of planning and organisation really. I have an administration background so that helps. In all honesty, as a working mum, you can’t have it all. Something will suffer and balls will be dropped if you try and go full throttle with everything all the time. There are times that I have to pull back on work because my kids need me more and other times when work takes priority (probably not a popular view). I’m lucky that I have a very supportive husband who is able and willing to pick up the slack.
You are a busy woman, you are clearly conscious about the health of your family and our planet, but cloth nappies! TWICE! Please give us the real deal on what it was like using cloth nappies… in public toilets, parks etc…
Cloth nappies have been amazing. They really are not much harder than disposable yet much cheaper. They go on like disposables and the only difference is that when I change my child, instead of the bin, I pop the dirty nappy in the washing machine or a wet bag (if I’m on the go). I also believe that they made it much easier to potty train my daughter and I was able to do it fairly early.
What is the most important lesson motherhood has taught you so far?
The art of being flexible. Children are constantly changing and evolving and what was true yesterday will invariable change tomorrow. I like routines, plans and structure so this was and still is a struggle for me. Also, there is not such thing as a perfect parent. We will make mistakes, it’s part of the process.
What do you and your family do for fun?
Because time is a premium commodity for us, we don’t focus so much on activities. Even just watching a movie together, eating popcorn is amazingly fun because we are all together.
You talk about your journey as an author being complicated by your ethnicity, “My journey as a black author has not been an easy one, unfortunately, there is this very myopic and stereotypical view of BME authors and their work…”. How have you overcome this to create your own books AND a publishing company?
I think creating the company and self-publishing the books were the result of my overcoming those obstacles. I had two options, accept the status quo and let my dreams die, or get up and doing something about it. It’s still an uphill journey of course, marketing the books, finding the time, resources and finances to keep churning out books. But the point is that I’m on the road and I’m moving!
We hear a lot of talk about improvements in diversity and inclusion. In your opinion is it real or performative and why? Cc Children of Windrush.
I think that in some ways thing are better but in others they are exactly the same or even worse. Diversity and inclusion have become such buzz words that they have lost any meaning or impact. As minorities we are constantly fighting for a seat at the table but honestly, there is a mentality of entitlement there that we need to move away from. If we used more of that energy to create new tables and opportunities we’d get much further.
How did you feel the night before your first book, “Daddy Do My Hair” was published?
Very calm. As a self-publisher it’s a very different experience publishing a book compared to someone who has a traditional publishing deal. I did most of the work in the publishing process so I got to see behind the veil. In many ways it took away a lot of the excitement of being an author. However, I did feel a strong sense of accomplishment and pride.
Of the books you have written which is your favourite and why?
Beth’s Twists will always have a special place in my heart as it was my first book and the one that kicked things off. However I really enjoy Kechi’s Hair Goes Every Which Way. It’s so much fun and was directly inspired by Beth’s Twists.
Social media has become a vital tool for bloggers and people with something to sell. There are many positives to social media however there is research that shows the negative impact of social media, for example comparison and being impacted by values that oppose you own. How do you manage your social media use?
With social media I tend to use it more for business purposes as opposed to personal. I recognise the danger in how unrealistic and contrived much of what is presented on social media is. It’s easy to get sucked in and it can really effect you physiologically and emotionally. I try to keep it real with my followers and I find my family and friends keep me fairly grounded. That way my sense of worth or identity doesn’t become tied to my social media following. When it comes to negative comments and feedback, it comes with the territory and I’m learning not to take it personally and how to block people!!
What three pieces if advice would you give someone that wants to self-publish?
Do your research and learn how the publishing industry works.
Focus on quality. Self-publishing already has a bad reputation of poor quality output.
You will not get rich quick, you may not even get rich slowly so you have to be in it for the long haul.
What gives you joy?
Making a positive impact in the world and being part of the change I want to see.
Writing books or writing blogs? Writing books
Curl type or porosity? Porosity
Seaside or local park? Local park
Fried or boiled? Fried
Date night or family fun? Date night
Cardio babe or girls that lift? Girls that lift
Touch type or pen to paper? Touch type