An interview with Nikki May, author of Wahala
By Genevieve Bernard
What are you reading right now?
“The Herd by Emily Edwards, which comes out next February. It’s about two women who, for differing reasons, haven’t vaccinated their children. I don’t think I’ve ever read a more timely book, I’m loving it.”
Why did you choose the title Wahala?
“Wahala is one of those wonderful pidgin English words that you hear at least ten times a day in West Africa. It’s usually said with a sigh, a groan or a shake of the head. Wahala! It’s an exclamation of trouble and there’s quite a lot of it in my book.”
What's been your favourite read of 2021 so far?
“The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex is extraordinary and so gripping. Beautifully written, it’s part whodunnit, part love story and part ghost story.”
Your debut novel, Wahala, is being released next year. A crucial part of the story is the Nigerian heritage of each of the characters. How important was it to you to feature this as a key theme?
“Hugely important. I wanted to read a book that had people like me in it: I’m mixed-race and middle-class. I wanted lives that included jollof rice, ankara and blonde weaves in the same breath as ubers, Soho House and ski holidays. I also wanted to celebrate my two cultures. Being mixed-race is a mixed bag, but all in all, two homes is twice the joy.”
We’re so excited that Wahala is being made into a BBC television series. Is it a creative process you’ve enjoyed being part of?
“I’m beyond excited! Liz Kilgariff at Firebird Pictures has so much passion and ambition for my story (she did Bodyguard!) and the incredible (and BAFTA nominated) Theresa Ikoko is doing the screenplay, so Wahala is in brilliant hands. When I was writing, I imagined some of the scenes on screen. This is truly dream-come-true stuff.”
What do you want readers to take away from this book?
“I want them to enjoy it! My overarching aim was to write an entertaining book. Yes, it explores issues – it’s almost impossible to have three mixed-race characters and not touch on race, colourism or class, but I didn’t want to bang people on the head with it. I also hope all women find something to relate to. Being a woman is a complicated thing, the world pulls and pushes us with expectations of our hair, our bodies, our careers, relationship status and even our reproductive organs. These challenges are universal and colour blind.”
Can you share any exciting plans you have for the rest of the year and into 2022?
“I’m busy writing my second book, which is the story of two cousins and is loosely inspired by Mansfield Park and I’m trying to enjoy every minute of this amazing, but crazy, ride to publication.”
Wahala will be released on 6 January 2022.