Born in London in 1962, Florence Olajide spent her early childhood in a white foster family. At age six, she moved with her birth family to Lagos, Nigeria, where she grew up.
Florence returned to the U.K. in 1989 with her family. She worked as a teacher before her appointment as headteacher of a large London Primary school. In 2003 she was appointed as one of Her Majesty’s Inspector of Schools in England.
Florence holds an honors degree in Education from the University of Lagos, Nigeria, and an MA in Further and Higher Education from the Institute of Education, University of London. Find her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
In this post, Florence discusses how the persistence from others led her to writing her new memoir, Coconut, what she hopes readers get from the experience, and more!
Name: Florence Olajide
Book title: Coconut
Publisher: Thread Books (U.K.); Grand Central Publishing (U.S.A.)
Release dates: July 2021 (U.K.); April 19, 2022 (U.S.A.)
Elevator pitch for the book: Born in 1960s England, and privately fostered by a white family, a little Black girl finds herself transported to Nigeria with her birth family. Among virtual strangers and driven by an intense desire to return to England, she battles poverty, abuse, and different cultural expectations.
What prompted you to write this book?
I had grown up under such unusual circumstances that every time I shared my story with someone, they inevitably suggested I write a book about it. I guess I heard it so often that eventually, the idea took hold.
How long did it take to go from idea to publication? And did the idea change during the process?
It took 15 years! I first started writing when I was the principal of an English primary school (elementary school). I found I couldn’t do my job and write at the same time. So, writing was consigned mostly to the summer holidays. Fifteen years later, the pandemic-induced lockdown finally gave me the opportunity to finish it.
Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?
I don’t particularly like surprises, and I like to plan for all eventualities. But as someone new to the publishing process, everything was a surprise. In the end, I learned to sit back and enjoy the ride, both the highs and lows. The fact that I had a great publishing team around me certainly helped.
Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?
I like to think I know myself, but the writing process taught me more about how I manage my emotions. Mostly, I refuse to dwell on them. During the editing process, the first time I read my completed manuscript from cover to cover, I dissolved into uncontrollable sobs. And it happened twice more! That definitely caught me by surprise.
What do you hope readers will get out of your book?
I hope readers get an insight into the challenges that immigrants, especially children trying to fit into a new culture, face all over the world. I hope they are stirred to compassion, to reach out and help those in their orbit. With global war and pestilence making refugees of millions daily, I can only hope that a little kindness, will go some way towards alleviating people’s suffering.
If you could share one piece of advice with other writers, what would it be?
Consider all the writing advice that comes your way, but trust your own instincts.