It's always a special treat for me to host debut novelists like my She Writes pal Yejide Kilanko, whose evocatively-titled Daughters Who Walk This Path is just out from Penguin Canada. Yejide was born in Ibadan, Nigeria and majored in Political Science at the University of Ibadan before marrying and moving to Laurel, Maryland (not far from my old Greenspring Valley stomping grounds and those of my Gaithersburg Book Fest friends). She attended the University of Victoria, and is now a Child Protection Worker living in Chatham, Ontario. And a published novelist! Do enjoy her story of how she got there, and take a look at this debut novel that Chika Unigwe calls "a subtle yet complex exploration of what it means to be a young woman growing up in contemporary Nigeria ... a delightful, haunting book from a very talented writer." - Meg
My debut novel, Daughters Who Walk This Path, really began life as a short poem I wrote in June 2009. That poem was titled Silence Speaks. At the time, my day job was as a newly minted Social Worker in child protection services. The role guaranteed a constant exposure to heart-wrenching stories of child sexual abuse and I struggled to fall and stay asleep. Working on the novel every night, sometimes through the night, became my outlet. This is why I have often said that in the beginning, I really wrote the novel for me.
The truth was that prior to this time, writing a novel had not been on my list of things to do. I did love words since I became an avid reader at a young age and started writing mostly autobiographical poems when I was twelve. But as far as I was concerned, life had other plans for me.
Over the course of eight months, the novel grew from scribbles of random thoughts to a manuscript I shared with a few close friends. Their encouraging words spurred me on to work on it some more and a year later, I had a complete manuscript. I also had no idea about what to do with it.
By then, I had read on many writing sites that most, if not all writers, had those first, starter manuscripts tucked away somewhere, never to see the light of day. I decided that I too would put my starter novel away. At least, I had proved to myself that I could write a novel. Who was I, to think that my story was good enough to be published?
However, an inspiring conversation with an old friend during a July 2010 visit to Nigeria made me rethink my position about seeking publication. I thought to myself that there had to be a reason why I had gone down this writing path. I had to give myself a chance. I could not quit without even starting.
On August 16, 2010, with an equal mixture of dread and anticipation, I sent out queries to literary agents in the United States. That same day, I received a request for a full manuscript. Exactly one week later, I had an offer of representation from one of the agents I had queried. I was ecstatic and thus began the second part of this incredible journey.
In May 2011, Daughters Who Walk This Path was bought by Penguin Canada. The novel was published on April 10, 2012. Following the exciting news that the novel was Costco Canada’s buyer Catherine Bergeron’s pick for the month, on May 5, 2012, the novel debuted on the Globe and Mail Bestseller’s list.
As I write this, my head is still spinning from all the things that have happened in such a short time. One thought that often comes to my mind when I think of this unlikely journey, is what would have happened if I had kept that first manuscript tucked away in the bottom of my drawer.
I guess, we’ll never know. - Yejide
This post originally ran on 1st Books: Stories of How Writers Get Started, hosted by Meg Waite Clayton, author of The Wednesday Sisters, the forthcoming The Wednesday Daughters, and other novels. 1st Books features award-winning writers blogging about how they got started writing and publishing, as well as other readerly and writerly delights.