Books

Oyinkan Braithwaite: the award-winning debut author you need to know

You’re about to hear much more from debut novelist Oyinkan Braithwaite, the newly-announced winner of Crime And Thriller Book of the Year at the British Book Awards 2020. Here, she talks to Stylist about success, sibling rivalry and female power. 

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the British Book Awards – aka The Nibbies – and excitingly, the Crime and Thriller Book of the Year category is this year supported by Stylist. Facing off tough competition from the queen of crime, Val McDermid; last year’s Author of the Year, Lee Child; and Lucy Foley’s first foray into crime, debut Nigerian novelist Oyinkan Braithwaite landed the top prize for her slashfest meets family saga, My Sister The Serial Killer. We caught up with Oyinkan moments after her win.

Congratulations. What does winning this award mean for you?

I couldn’t have imagined it in my wildest dreams but each and every time [I win an award] it feels like another pat on the back. I didn’t write the book to get published – it was an exercise for myself because I’m terrible when it comes to finishing stories, so I wasn’t thinking about what agents, or publishers or readers will think when I wrote it, so I had no expectations.

Is the pressure on now for the next book?

I mean, it is ridiculous how different it is, not only because of the success of this book but also because as a black writer in some ways the pressure is different. Expectations are placed on you that you’re not one hundred per cent ready for. I am asked questions that were so far from my mind when I was writing My Sister The Serial Killer and now I’m asking, what do I do with this platform I have? The pressure of recent times has made it catapult but even before the pandemic, before the protests - and not just Black Lives Matter, there have been a lot of protests about sexual assault and rape in Nigeria – even before then there was the pressure of being an African writer in an international world. You are often asked questions about Africa and I really have to point out that I haven’t even been to all the states in Nigeria. I can’t even speak for Nigeria as a whole, let alone Africa.

Was sisterhood an important theme for you?

Yes and no. I knew that they were going to be two women, initially I thought they were going to be friends so it was more about womanhood and the bond between two women. Then as I started to write I realised I wanted them to have a bond that went beyond friendship. I know some friends would kill for each other but you can’t escape your family, even if you stop speaking to them you are still related and connected in some way. I needed that for Korede, almost as though she was in this kind of prison where some things are genuinely out of her control and some things she just thinks are because of the way she’s been brought up.

Did you draw on your own experiences of growing up with siblings?

I have two sisters and a brother. I am the eldest so I can empathise with Korede because in Nigeria being the eldest is a massive responsibility. In some families you’re almost like a third parent so its not as drastic in my family but I think I drew a little bit from it. There was a time when my sister (the next youngest after me) and I, we would be walking together and I would attract a lot of male attention back in the day and then one day it just completely flipped over and guys would walk past me to talk to her, like I was completely invisible. I didn’t notice until my aunt pointed it out. It was the first time I’d looked at my sister like that and I started thinking, is she more attractive than me, does it matter, why?

What advice do you have for budding writers?

If you haven’t written or you’re in the process of writing I’d say write first, worry later. You can’t predict what publishers will be looking for or what works. Get your first draft out first and worry about how to make it work afterwards.

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (Atlantic Books, £12.99)

Images: British Book Awards