Hailing from Brixton, Akeem Balogun is a Sheffield based writer whose online exhibition of writing Written Gallery is a beautiful expression of creative reality, taking the reader into a realm of fictitious imagination.
The Storm, Akeem's latest piece of work, is a collection of thirteen short stories exploring human survival, launched on 19 October 2020 through Okapi Books, Akeem's independent publishing company. Having first met Akeem at an Our Mel writing workshop that I hosted in 2018, when I heard earlier this year that he and others had set up Okapi Books, it made my heart soar. I was intrigued to hear the story behind it.
I spoke to Akeem before his appearance at Off The Shelf Festival of Words in conversation with Yorkshire based award-winning writer Benjamin Webster on 18 October 2020, to find out more about his new book and the why behind Okapi Books.
It's something I've always had a knack for, or at least that's what I was told growing up. Whether this was true or not, it gave me the unbreakable confidence to pick up the pen and put more time into it when I decided I should make better use of something I'm 'good' at, after getting fed up with my PlayStation and struggling to find a good book to read. Writing's one of the best tools we have, and it's powerful. The realm of fiction, storytelling, and carving symbols that people can interpret and steer their imagination, is one of the most delicate expressions. The procedure of refining that process until one is better than the norm and becoming a writer is pretty cool. For me, it means that I can, hopefully, thoroughly entertain people in a lasting manner with minimal action required on the reader's part. Because of the above and me wanting to share what I think are good stories, writing is something I've done for a while and something I'll always do.
What motivated you to set up Okapi Books?
Several conversations between myself and Brett Hackett over the years about publishers and books, where we frequently spoke about what we would do differently with our books to reach friends of ours who didn't read at all. After completing The Storm a couple of years back and getting positive responses from it, we spoke about the things we would do with the book if we were the ones publishing it. Through that conversation, we decided to put all our talk into action and create the press, while receiving support from Nathan Stacey and Ray Robinson. More recently, Jade Yiu reinforced our confidence in setting up the press, as we wouldn't be alone in doing it. My book was a good starting point as it's the work of someone we know, meaning we had room for trial and error, so we'll be in a much better position when producing others' work in the future.
What's The Storm about?
The Storm is about extraordinary characters in extreme situations. The latter results from an endless physical storm that ravages the world that exists in the book and the turbulent lives of many of the characters that metaphorically reflect The Storm. The collection comprises thirteen stories that often lean into science fiction, told in a refreshing manner that I hope frequent and infrequent readers will find interesting and enjoyable.
What do you love about Sheffield?
If you search hard enough, you'll find whatever it is you're looking for – or at the very least, you'll find like-minded people who want to get involved in whatever it is you're doing. There's also the opportunity to do something new in the city, given that you have the right mindset, and by that, I mean that you believe in what you're doing. I feel that Sheffield is the kind of place where you can garner support for almost anything as long as people see that it's something you intend to take seriously. I don't think there's anything here that someone has to do entirely by themselves; there's always someone else who is doing the same or something similar. The city can be relatively cheap to live in, and it's full of good people.
What would you change about the city?
No city can have enough risk-takers, and I'd like to see more people banding together to create the things they say the city lacks. I'd also change the way many people within the city perceive it. I've heard many people in Sheffield compare it to the other places, whether for better or worse, without fully acknowledging that the most significant distinctions between cities are often the people's actions within it. Like I said in my first answer: if you search hard enough, you'll find whatever it is you're looking for. I know a lot of people don't believe this is the case, so I'd change this belief – it's easier to make things happen with support, and I feel a lot of changes people want to see in the city are a lot easier to put into motion than they realise, if they do a bit of digging.
- Words by
- Annalisa Toccara