SIORR Episode 3: I want more fluff.
Hi folks! So I’m excited, can you tell? I am excited specifically about 2 things:
1. I tried a new cookie place, Kajal Cookie Jar, this week, they have this flavor called the double chocolate espresso cookie and by God, it’s so good. Listen, I can’t begin to tell you how good it is. I ordered my second box today, I have my sister coming over and I’m sure she’s going to love it as well. I’m just excited I’ve found one more vice to damage my teeth with. Shout out to my friend Phidelia for the plug.
2. The second thing I’m excited about is my favorite reality tv show, Love & Listings. It’s so bad but so good. It’s unnecessary drama, simulated fights, like at the end of my day I put together a bowl of blue bunny peanut butter ice cream, with my Kajal espresso cookie and chocolate cake from Jaya’s Cravings and I’m watching this girl carry another girls headache and get angry that her friend isn’t backing her up for picking a fight that wasn’t hers to pick in the first place? I’m like why would you do this? All this against a backdrop of interior design and real estate (two of my favorite things), pure beauty folks. I love it.
Now in case you haven’t noticed from these two things I’ve mentioned, I love junk (in food and in shows, lol!) that’s why I started reading romcoms in the first place, who cares if there’s no light if mr right is about to sweep this girl off her feet? What does it matter that Lagos traffic is of the devil if this girl is about to make that bold move to tell the love of her life that she’s the love of her life? Growing up, I was up till 12am, then 1am and 2am (that’s how I became a night owl by the way) reading these books to buy into a different reality, in those hours, I could just go somewhere else and if for 5 hours I successfully did that, why not. Romcoms sold an idealism that was so good at countering my reality and I loved it.
Imagine how I feel when I pick up a mainstream bestselling Nigerian novel and I see war and cutting off someone’s tongue and pain and just general dreariness and I am so sad, because Lagos is still hard, and life is still life and I just want fluff to escape into. Is that too much to ask? Anyway that’s what we’ll be talking about today. I want more Nigerian fluff.
Before I jump in, here are some disclaimers, so I’ll be speaking based on the books I’ve seen and read so far, so if that hasn’t been your experience, I’d like to hear what’s has been, so drop a voice note on the anchor app. Let’s get right in.
So let’s define fluff, it’s basically what I said in the trailer, person meets person 2, sparks fly and the book is solely about what they did with those sparks, period. Now if they happen to be supernatural characters, we are reading about the sparks in that context, the sparks take center stage. Not that the book has 500 pages and in some random scene they steal glances and we wait till page 495 before they even say I like you, and all this while, we’ve been reading about fights and war and bla bla bla, no. That is not the definition we are going for here. Now fluff is a very relative term, you can read a political thriller and that’s your fluff but that will require a lot of attention from me and a lot of time as well, hence not fluff. If I’m reading a book in my field with about 900 pages, it will take about 2 weeks because of the level of attention I have to give it, but if it’s a romcom, it will probably take 2 days, because it’s fluff. Do you understand? Cool.
Now romance set in Nigeria is very tricky, we are a very gritty country; resilience is a requirement for survival. To create that sort of idealism that a romcom requires, that you can escape into, you have to navigate traffic and lights and people screaming all before you get to work. Some people have figured out a way to create something and bless their heart when they do, it’s very moralistic, didactic, sometimes they try really hard to be overtly sexual and you know how old nollywood movies used to make the bad guy smoke and hang out in uncompleted buildings? They create the romcom version of that, like “yes we are going to have sex today beause we are hot”, it’s hilarious to read! Outside of this, most books are very hetereonomative, role driven (mother in the kitchen, dad in the palor, children playing ball, can you remember that nursery rhyme?), cis and sometimes very religious.
Now to counter this dreary, old, outdated type shit, other authors pick up arms in the form of books, so it’s very political, very heavy, commentary driven and you just know that this is an activists manifesto, not just a novel. So we don’t get a Nigerian version of a queer romcom hero like Mellissa Brayden (the author I mentioned in the last two episodes), instead we are going through politics and war and rites and passages and its always a great learning moment but where is the fluff?
Queer romcoms barely exist and when they are we see that love is very political and at what point do you get to be a man standing in front of another man, asking him to love you? To be honest just loving alone is a privilege. Do you get what I mean? This is why I was so excited to read “She called me Woman” and “Lives of Great Men”. She called me woman, just explored real people with real relationships, it didn’t beg to be epically political it was just about women that just were. Lives of great men was a memoir but it was also light and it felt like I was gisting with someone, and to be honest I wanted to know about behind the scenes on some of the characters he mentioned. Did they have political elements? Yes, but they got to be people first. These two books were published by Cassava Republic and Ouida Books respectively.
Now I recognise that the publishing industry in Nigeria is a weird place to navigate, from what I have heard. Most authors in the romcom space are independent publishers, so they have to write what will sell and make their money back. Growing up, we had pacesetters, as that place to get Nigerian fluff; can you remember them? I read a ton of their books as a kid (while writing this episode, I remembered back to school season, I was always so excited about new books, then my dad will write my full name “Aanuoluwapo” and house address on the first page, it was always so exciting; till today, I write my name and the date of the day I buy any book, it just occurred to me that I got that habit as a child, strange the things that stay with you), anyway weird segway over, back to pacesetters.
I think having that central system helped with distribution, editing and publishing and it took that burden away from the authors, if that existed now, there would be more creative room to actually write good fluff and explore. Do you get it? Right now we have just a handful of established publishing houses Cassava, Kachifo, Narrative Landscape and they are doing an amazing job of pushing out brilliant authors, just not my fluff, at least not yet and I wonder why, because the romcom industry is still the most widely read one, at least outside Nigeria and in 2015, it generated about 1.5 billion dollars.
So off the top my head, here are some reasons why these people aren’t writing my fluff:
- People will rather document pain than joy, because they are more focused on living the joy than writing about it. This also shows up in music and poetry and other forms of art as well and let’s face it, rom coms are very joyful. What do you think?
- The market isn’t ready to see a narrative beyond a traumatic Nigeria. I saw a post by Ozoz, popularly known as Kitchen Butterfly, she is a brilliant historian, researcher and collector of Nigerian stories through food. She talked about how she pitched a story and did the video and everything and they said it was too organised, it wasn’t Nigerian enough or African enough. Like it has to be rough around the edges to be believable, now I know that I said we are gritty people, but we are not JUST gritty people, we love love too.
Anyway, I’ve given this long ass speech about my need for fluff, here’s the summary of what I want; I want to see a nigerian Nora Roberts or Danielle Steele or Judith Mcnaught. I want to see more complex characters, more diverse characters and more robust Nigerian romantic stories set in Nigeria and I want to see more Nigerian authors thrive in this genre and win awards for this genre. Now fluff does not mean an easy story or a terrible plot, to pull off a rom com is no small task, from documenting the body language, to the quirks, to the backstory then actually building up the plot and the romance enough to make it believable? That’s a lot of work but I know someone is up to the task, I just wish they’d write faster and give me my fluff!!!
So if you’ve listened so far, thank you!!! I’m putting this together at 4:55am, that means I haven’t slept by the way, so thank you for listening. Please drop a voice note on the anchor app to tell me what you think, or recommend a book and if you’ve read any of the books I mentioned hit me up on social media @helloaanu to chat about it. Talk to you next week, byeeeeee!
Listen to the episode here: