Nigeria's Oyinkan Braithwaite was inspired by the black widow spider for her debut novel

Oyinkan Braithwaite first got the idea for her debut novel, My Sister, The Serial Killer, when she read about the black widow spider.
Oyinkan Braithwaite first got the idea for her debut novel, My Sister, The Serial Killer, when she read about the black widow spider.PHOTO: AMAAL SAID

SINGAPORE - When Oyinkan Braithwaite decided to write a novel about a serial killer, she did not expect it to turn out funny.

"I didn't want it to be a depressing sort of story," says the Nigerian novelist over the telephone from Lagos, where she lives. "I wanted to keep it light. In trying to achieve that, it seems to have become funny."

In her succinctly titled debut, My Sister, The Serial Killer, Lagos nurse Korede tries to stop her beautiful, psychopathic sister Ayoola from murdering her boyfriends and, failing that, helps her get rid of the bodies. But when Ayoola catches the eye of the handsome doctor Korede fancies, Korede is torn.

Braithwaite first got the idea for the book when she read about the black widow spider. The female of the species mates with the males and then, if she is hungry, eats them.

"I tend to prefer to write about strong women," she says. "They are fun to write. Even when they've done something they shouldn't, I like that they're not downtrodden."

Nigeria is still a very patriarchal society, she notes, but the same can be said of societies the world over. "I think women are often underestimated everywhere."

Braithwaite, who studied creative writing and law at Kingston University in London and worked as an assistant editor at Nigerian publishing house Kachifo, was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize in 2016, which brought her to the attention of literary agency Aitken Alexander Associates.

She wrote the novel in "panic mode" in less than a year to meet a deadline. She researched bleach and blood and observed the nurses at the hospital she visits. "I did not research how to get rid of bodies. It would have been interesting, but I am afraid that if I Google it, somewhere, someone will get an alert."

 

By the time she turned 30 in March last year, she had two publishing deals and a film option from British production house Working Title, which has been behind films such as Baby Driver (2017) and Bridget Jones's Baby (2016).

"It was crazy," she says. "I was a little bit scared, it was too much."

While she has not given much thought to what she hopes for in the film, she knows what she does not want to hear: weird Nigerian accents. "We cringe a lot when we see a Nigerian in a Hollywood movie. We don't talk like that. If they could avoid weird accents, I would be immensely grateful."

The novel is coming out in a Nigerian edition as she speaks and she is unsure how her countrymen will react to it. Nigerian crime fiction may be a growing genre, but hers is not the typical tale of criminals getting their comeuppance. "Nigerians can be really superstitious. Some people might just be offended that it's a serial killer."

She remembers being offended herself when she watched American television show Dexter (2006 to 2013), about a forensic technician who is secretly a vigilante serial killer. "I thought, they're normalising something quite horrific. Then I did basically the same thing in my book. I don't know what that says about my psyche."

Braithwaite, who is in a relationship, has two younger sisters and a brother. She feels she may have subconsciously drawn on her relationship with the sister closest to her in age - they are two years apart - for the sibling dynamics in the book.

"We clash a lot because we have extremely different personalities," she says of her sister, a loungewear designer. "It's like living with your closest friend but also wanting to kill her."

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