Can a banker be a funny writer? How do you transform a funny blog into a compelling “must read” comedy book of 148 pages?
UK-born Nigerian banker Anthony Tonwapiri has tried to do all that and has now published a funny little book titled The Crazy Nigerian.
33-year-old Anthony decides to poke fun at himself, beginning with that strange name of his – Tonwapiri. His parents gave him only that one name and he adopted “Anthony” to save explaining what “that” name meant and why he only had one name.
He also relives every moment of his “eccentric” life in the UK and Nigeria in a light-hearted manner, including a possibly abduction by two strange women when he was only five.
We also laugh with him as Anthony gets drunk for the first time, kisses his first “white chick;” how he deals with racism and going bald at a very young age.
Tonwa Anthony, author of the hugely funny The Crazy Nigerian, has been talking to Francis Ngwa Niba.
Q. You are a banker but recently decided to publish your first book, The Crazy Nigerian. How did that come about?
First of all, I was writing a few notes on Facebook and a lot of my fans recommended that I should start a blog because they thought my articles were really entertaining. So, I decided to start a blog about four years ago called “The Crazy Nigerian.” Shortly after that, I started keeping notes and planning to release a book because people were thinking that I needed to write a book. The reason was that I needed to get my message across to many more people. Before you know, I was also writing about experiences from my childhood, including all my misadventures. That is how I started. I then went to a publishing house and they were willing to publish the book. That is how The Crazy Nigerian came about.
Q. Was it difficult convincing a publisher to release the book as a hardback copy, considering that fewer people are now publishing hard back copies of their books?
It is difficult to publish hard back copies but in my case AuthorHouse (http://www.authorhouse.co.uk/) did what is known in the business as self-publishing. With self-publishing, I don’t have to actually go out looking for all the big publishers to ask them what they think about my book and they give you an advance on the grounds that they will publish the book when you finish and sell to recoup their money. After reviewing the material, AuthorHouse was willing to publish the book if I paid a small amount as advance for them to print. To me the amount they were asking for was quiet small. They will print some complementary copies of the book, I get some copies and what they do after that is print on demand so even when I die, if someone orders this book, they can still print it and they will keep printing for as long as people keep ordering it.
Q. What was the initial print run?
They printed 11 complimentary copies, the first one for the author (that’s me), the remaining 10 for my friends and family. I then ordered about a hundred just to test the market. The response has been great because I have almost exhausted the stock I had and I am now thinking of re-ordering another batch.
Q. How much did you have to pay upfront to get published?
It depends, so I can’t really say. It depends on the size of the book and I think it also depends on the genre of writing you do . Mine is comedy. They look at how easy it will be to sell the genre that you are writing in. They look at what is in demand, what will be the probable market. Who is my target market? Is it geared only to the Nigerian or also to an international market? All that is factored into how much you get to pay. The amount, therefore, varies but all I can say is that AuthorHouse proposed three different packages to me which are all available on their website if anyone cares to go and investigate. Their three packages included basic and premium packages. You can then pay whichever package you decide in three installments. It is very flexible since they need to provide you with a service that can be tailored to your budget.
Q How are the sales of the book now?
The sales are surprisingly very good. The book has sold out twice at Terra Kulture, one of the entertainment selling points here in Lagos. It is a really good sales point because they have a large book store and they also arrange big events. The book is also doing well at The Hub Media Store in Palms Lekki and has actually sold out there too. I have also made a lot of sales online on Amazon, and on smartphones and tablets.
Q. The Crazy Nigerian is essentially a very funny book. What is funny about it?
The fun there is in how I write about the events and misadventures in my life. Let’s start with the way I almost got kidnapped in pre-school. There I related how two ladies who were complete strangers just came to the school, pointed me out and the teacher stupidly allowed them to take me away, but luckily my mum came in time and stopped the kidnapping from happening. I got a spanking after that but basically that was a near miss because we don’t know what will have happened to me,.I could probably be in another part of Nigeria now speaking another language, exiled and possibly looking for my parents.
This happened when I was four or five and that was after my parents re-located to Nigeria from England. The two ladies were groundnut sellers, they did not speak any English, they just got into the school shortly before classes were about to end, spoke with the teacher who released me to them and I was wondering where these mysterious ladies were taking me to when my mum appeared and stopped that from happening. When my mum intervened, the two ladies just walked back into the school and most probably kidnapped another child. I have no idea what would have happened to me; I could have been killed, given out for a ritual or traded off; I will never know and I don’t want to know. The fact that I was easily given away by my teacher and how easily people can just get into a school and take away toddlers is what is shocking.
Q. How do you make that story funny in the book?
It is in the way I narrate the story. Basically, I just talk about how naive I was and I found the whole incident fascinating and I was thinking these women, who looked like gypsies, where were they taking me to? Let’s explore this; maybe I will discover something. That is how I recall the incident and present it in a light and comic manner . There is a shock value in the novel mixed with a lot of entertainment.
Q. You also mention some really funny things that happened to you in the UK and Nigeria as you were growing up. Can you mention some of them?
Sure. When I went to school in Nigeria, a lot of people had problems pronouncing my name. My name is Ayeba Tonwapiri which means “Gods plan for us.” When I told people my name was Anthony Tonwapiri, most people just ended up calling me Anthony because my second name is very difficult to pronounce. In primary school, I recounted one incident during which some of my mates started calling me “Two-One” because in their minds that sounds exactly like Tonwapiri. They, therefore, started picking on me, pointing at and jeering at me, you will not believe it but even teachers joined them in teasing me because of my name. This was quite traumatising to me as a primary school kid; they gave me all sorts of nicknames like Tomapep, tomato puree; all these nicknames gave me an insecure feeling but I present all this in the book in a light funny mood.
I also recount how I did stupid things at a young age in trying to impress girls. I recount an incident when I got on a swing to impress a young girl I liked and who was watching and I decided to do some crazy thing to impress her. I started swinging and took my hands off the ropes but ended up landing with a big bang on the floor and my top teeth cut through my flesh in my bottom lip. That was really painful and I was running around crying in pain while the girl I was trying to impress was having a field day laughing at my mishap.
I also recount an experience with some friends where we were taken for deliverance in a forest and the really funny things that happened there, the shouting, talking in tongues etc. I really write this with a lot of fun. Some people have even told me they read the book twice and that can be very flattering.
Q. Talking about the deliverance, what do you think about the hundreds of pentecostal churches in Nigeria, including preachers like TB Joshua?
As far as I am concerned, there are far too many sects in the Christian religion but as long as the focus is on Christ, then I am all in support. Personally, I am an Anglican worshiper because my parents are Anglicans. As an adult, I could have changed faiths but I didn’t because I think I am getting enough from Anglicanism. I have no problem with people joining any sect but as I said, if they preach about Christ, that is OK for me. I have watched a couple of shows by TB Joshua on TV and I think he is doing a really good job getting more followers and spreading the word.
Q. What about your UK experiences you narrate in the book since you eventually travelled there for your university education?
I talk about my first experience with alcohol. While in the university, I realised most students get a lot of fun in school mostly when they get drunk. So, I recount how when I first got drunk on Vodka, I stupidly told a girl I liked her moustache; to be fair, she did have a type of moustache but that is not the type of thing you tell a girl when you are sober so to this day I have no idea why she did not slap me . She was very very crossed with me for saying that and I remember she did not speak to me again for the rest of the semester. I think the worst part of the whole incident was that she was trying to impress a guy who was one of my housemates and I think after I mentioned the moustache, she never had a chance with that guy again.
Q. So, you killed a romance with your drunken talk?
Yes indeed, and destroyed the friendship I had with the girl. The second incident was when I went out with some friends. We had been drinking some cocktail shots. The guy I was drinking with was a veteran at drinking so I thought I could compete and drink as much as he was doing. I was completely drunk and when he suggested we go get some food from an Indian takeaway, I followed him but was not anxious to eat anything. When he ordered onion barges, something triggered in me and I threw up really badly; we were kicked out of the restaurant and I only remember getting up in a pool of my own vomit. Most embarrassing drunken incident in my life.
Q. And you also write a lot about girls?
Yes. Like all teenagers, I remember spending hours on end speaking on the phone with a girl and thinking that was a good investment only to realise later she was interested in someone else . When I realised she was in love with someone else, I thought how I had wasted my time, how I was an idiot and how I wasted money and she had been timing me all the time. As a black guy, I was also curious about white girls; it was just like a whole new experience to me. The first time I kissed a white girl, I said oh my God, white girls are so awesome, they have got real hair and not just attachments, it was really revealing. I had what I called encounters with about five white girls. Some were very brief and some were proper relationships. It was an experience I really liked.
Q. To write and maintain readership of a funny blog and publish a book from that blog must mean there is something really funny about you. So, what makes you funny?
My friends tell me I am funny. I say things that people will generally not want to say; I say things that will make me laugh and when I say it to friends, they tell me it is funny. I watch a lot of comedy, I like reading funny books or reading funny articles. If I see a funny article, I publish it on my blog and when I get the same response from friends, then I know what I am doing or posting is funny to most people too and I realise that is material I can use again later.
Q. You were born in the UK but have since re-located and now live in Nigeria. How crazy is life in Nigeria?
In my book, I publish at the end what I call the ten commandments for living in Nigeria. Hectic is the word I will use to describe life in Nigeria. The power supply situation has improved but is still not perfect, you still have to own a generator so you can turn on your own power whenever the power supply turns off. You have to worry about the numerous motorcycles or Okada on the roads and on the highway so each time you are driving you are not just looking out for pedestrian crossings and all that but you are also looking out for the swamps of motorcycles.
The traffic situation is crazy. As I am talking to you now, I am waiting for traffic to die down on the Lagos Island because between 5 and 8 pm is peak period and you can be in traffic from two to three hours. We just need a few more roads and I just wish most people lived close to where they worked because that will reduce the crazy traffic. People need to stock up on snacks, especially when they have a difficult and busy schedule because they will end up snacking a lot. I talk about not attending a party on an empty stomach because there is no guarantee you will get any food in a social occasion. These commandments are really to make people thinking of re-locating to Nigeria to know what they will face.
Q. Now you have experienced the UK and Nigeria, which do you prefer?
It is a close call but I will say Nigeria because it is home and it is where I feel very comfortable. I feel there is no point in time when my president will get up and say all Nigerians should leave immediately but that could happen in the UK. I am a citizen of the UK but I am still a Nigerian. My whole family is here, my friends are here. I love the weather, there is no snow. We also have the Boko Haram but that is only recent.
Q. What do you think about the two ‘Michaels’ who recently killed a British soldier considering that like you, they are basically the products of two cultures, Nigerian and British?
My personal opinion about what happened to the two ‘Michaels’ is that they were brainwashed. That can happen anywhere. It usually happens to children. They will repeat whatever they keep seeing. In the case of the ‘Michaels’, they probably took that too far. As adults, they were probably very lonely and wanted to feel as if they belonged, they thought the system was against them and they are easily brainwashed into thinking if they did something for the group they belong to, they will be rewarded for that. That probably led to what happened and it is sad it ended in a tragedy.
Q. Who are some writers who inspired you?
I love Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka particularly. I love their writing style, the way they use imagery. I have also seen play adaptations of some of their works which are really great. Non-Nigerian authors I admire include Stephen King who writes horror but he is an engaging writer.
Q. You are 33, what does your future writing career look like?
I feel if I discipline myself even more, I will not only write another book but will do book tours and organise workshops for others who have the talent and don’t know how to go about it. I will like to help people who need more confidence to write and also to publish their first book. I want to make an impact not only in Nigeria but on the international scene.
Q. What do you think about Chimamanda Adichie ?
I think she is a very gifted and talented writer, an extraordinary writer. She has done well with all her publications, including the recent book, Americanah. I haven’t read it yet but will get to it. Some of my readers have compared my writing to hers. I think they compare my writing to hers there because she basically records the experiences of a Nigerian abroad which is also what i do in The Crazy Nigerian. I think she has a really good story telling ability which I admire and hope I will be able to do justice in the books I will be writing in future.
Q. You are a top-level banking official in Nigeria now. Do bankers make good writers?
It all depends on what your passion is and what you studied in school. In my case, I have always had a passion for writing and a passion to work in the bank. In my own case, it worked because I am a banker which I wanted to be and a writer which I also wanted to be. There are people who have studied different degrees and work in the bank with me today; people who studied Economics, English Psychology, Sociology and work with me in the bank. There are people in the oil industry who are also writers. It all depends on whether you have a passion for writing and did some studies that can help you be a good writer.
Q. Bankers in the UK and in the developed world have been accused of being partly responsible for the economic situation we are in today. What is the situation of bankers in Nigeria? Are you just rich spoilt men with a lot of money in your pocket?
I will not say that. We are not exactly rich. We are all part of the working force. Talking about banker irresponsibility, I can say the Central Bank of Nigeria has done a good job in stabilising the economy and making sure that banks have tidied their books and they are all able to provide service to their customers. There are a few troubling banks that are being managed and the future is now moving into a cashless society, using electronic banking and reducing the amount of cash people need to carry. We are improving our services slowly and surely for the benefit of customers.
Q. Back to your book, why should anyone buy The Crazy Nigerian?
Anyone of any age can buy The Crazy Nigerian because it is an honest book. It is a book about myself and it is a book that anyone, not only Nigerians, can relate to. It is a book that will make you laugh and smile. It will make you think deeply about some key issues that are true in today’s world. I even talk about racism which I encountered in England but I talk about this in a nice and humorous way and you get to understand that whatever issues you are facing in life, you are not alone. I tell the stories where I have faced a lot of challenges but how I also learnt from those situations. I look for the funny side in anything and this is a book you can read over and over again and share with your friends and say I thought things were bad for me but check out this guy. I recount how I even went completely bald and had to deal with that.The book is about not losing hope, no matter what the situation is.
Q. How did you get bald so young?
I think it has to do with something about water in the UK. Some other guy who also went bald told me it must be the water and we needed to use bottled water for everything, including bathing, and I thought to myself, how expensive will that be? It happened after university in the UK. I did not lose my hair in Nigeria. I also think it could be from my maternal uncles’ side because they are all bald or are balding.
I worry about the way I look. If I lose my hair I thought, people will not be looking at my face but at my head. I realised later it was not the water.
Eventually, I matured and said, worry about what is in your head and not what is on your head. I just do what I need to do. I have got a girlfriend now; by God’s grace, we will marry soon, and I am getting more blog readers, so I really don’t worry my head off again.
Q. So, are you really a crazy Nigeria?
Crazy has so many meanings and the one I am referring to is the positive type of craziness as in eccentric and wild. I am a gentleman but I write crazy things; if you visit my blog, the crazynigerian.com (http://thecrazynigerian.com/a-good-read/) you will see the type of articles I write. You will see the way I think outside the box and write things you probably did not think about, crazy in the way I dress, I like living the moment and hope I can infect others positively with that crazy Nigerian fever.
The crazy Nigerian is a must read and a quick read. Some people read it in a couple of hours.
How to get the book and my contacts.
Terra Kulture bookshop Lagos
The Hub Media Store (Palms, Lekki),