Dr Modupe Oyetade is a dental surgeon, who combines her medical practice with creative writing. In this interview with OLADIMEJI RAMON, the prolific author of many children’s books and three novels speaks about her drive and ultimate goal
You said you started writing at the age of nine. What kind of stories did you write in those days?
Yes, I started writing at the age of nine and I loved to write poems and stories about animals, such as birds, dogs and lions. At that time, I just loved to write and I kept my manuscripts. None of them got published back then. But some of those stories have later been published in my children’s book series titled “Lion and the Duck.”
What kind of books did you read as a child that sparked your interest in writing?
I loved to read a lot of books while growing up. I remember the Janet and John series, the Ladybird series, Famous Five and also Nigerian books by Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Kola Onadipe, Agbo Areo, the Pacesetter series and so on.
Who gave you the idea that your books could get published and at what point did you begin publishing?
My late dad, Mr Aderemi Adeyemo, believed in my ability to write. Unfortunately, he passed away before I could make up my mind to publish any of my books. However, my sister, Miss Olatundun, a lawyer who used to write for Tell Magazine, introduced me to Evans publishers. When they saw my works, they published six children’s books under the “Ivana” series.
Many authors have stories of rejections and doubts by editors and publishers at some point in their career. Do you have any?
I have actually sent my works to other publishers and I have been rejected several times. I have, however, refused to give up because the passion to write children’s books is alive in me.
Do your childhood and the things you saw and experienced growing up shape the kind of stories you write as an adult?
My childhood and upbringing had a lot to do with my writing. Back then, there wasn’t much of distraction, as we have in these days of the Internet, and schools closed by 1pm, so when we got back from school we ran around the house and played a lot. We had a lot of uncles and aunties who told us stories every night. It could be about the tortoise or the old man with a crooked stick.
Since you discovered your passion for writing or storytelling quite early, why didn’t you pursue a course in literature or creative writing instead of Dentistry?
To be honest, making that choice was hard for me. I loved to write, however, I had inclination for the sciences as well. My father didn’t influence my decision; I made the choice to study Dentistry and I have no regrets.
Is there a meeting point for you between writing and dentistry?
It has been a challenging affair, being a dentist and a writer at the same time. I love both passionately. I always joke that one is my wife and the other is my concubine. They can exchange places at times when there is a demand to be met. The meeting point between dentistry and literature is that in the field of medicine, I learnt discipline and that there was no excuse that was good enough to fail or quit. In medicine, you are taught to be systematic and in writing I am creative, so everything works hand-in-hand. I then apply these to my writings and to my profession as a specialist in my field.
Why did you major in children’s literature?
I love writing children’s books because I enjoyed my childhood. My sisters and I literally explored nature as we discovered worms and ants and beetles and, more importantly, I am doing this because there is a need for more children’s books to be written in Nigeria. I am also doing this to encourage the reading culture among the children. These days, it is common for children to want to play with their parents’ phones or play games on the Internet than read.
Is it true that your books have been approved by the Oyo State Government as teaching materials for elementary schools in the state?
What kind of feedbacks have you been getting?
I always get positive feedbacks from people who read my books and this is encouraging. I have never heard anyone made any negative remark. I am very happy about this and it motivates me to write more.
Piracy is a big problem for authors. Now that your books are educational materials for schools, is piracy an issue you worry about?
Piracy is a challenge for every author in Nigeria. I refuse to worry about it. There are many ways to avoid books being pirated. However, it’s a secret, which I can’t share so I won’t fall victim.
What strategy do you think should be adopted to root out piracy in the country?
The strategy to root out piracy in Nigeria is for the Federal Government to ensure that there is employment. People who steal other people’s works do it because they need to provide for their families. This doesn’t justify what they do but it is what it is. Bodies such as the Association of Nigerian Authors, the Nigerian Publishers Association, should also help in naming and shaming the culprits behind piracy.
Having written so many storybooks, are you making any serious efforts to promote your works and what has been your experience in this area?
It’s one thing to write, it’s another thing to sell the books. The business aspect of writing is challenging. It’s a ‘man-know-man’ game. I have not been able to sell so much of my books though and I know it’s because I need to do more on publicity.
My marketing strategy has basically been creating awareness through the social media. I have also had the privilege of being interviewed by Noisy Naija Pediatrician, Dr Renner, a consultant pediatrician, who uses humour and comedy to teach mothers about their babies. The Abuja Literary Society and Akada Book Festival hosted me last year in their yearly conferences and book festivals. I was delighted to read my book “Lion and the Duck,” at the festival. I have been contacted a few times on my Instagram handle, drmodupe author, and my Facebook page.
Some of your children’s books have been translated into Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa languages. Do you think that is worthwhile, in this age when indigenous languages are unconsciously being pushed to the background?
It’s worthwhile for me because I see the need for our children to embrace their mother tongue. I have met parents who asked me for copies of my Yoruba and Igbo books for their children. This is because there is a dire need to preserve our mother tongue by passing it onto the next generation. Our language must not be relegated to the background. Instead, our children should see the need to celebrate their mother tongue with pride and in style.
Will you write a book in your late father’s memory, given his role in how you became a writer?
I hope to write a book in his memory in the future. He taught me the basic principles of life. My mother also has been a great mentor, encouraging and teaching me.
What do you hope to ultimately achieve as a writer?
I will be fulfilled to see my books get to every child in Nigeria and beyond. There are so many slangs and so many wrong usage of the English language and this is not right. Children that read end up being great leaders. Hence, I desire that each child reads a book.
But your body of works include three novels, Fresyne; Horse in the Storm; and Flawed. Are they also targeted at children?
My romance novels were written to add to the flavour of teenagers’ imaginative capacity and to also try to hit a realisation in the chords of their minds that not all that glitter is gold.
In F’resyne, I explored the traditional African setting of what happens in the rich dark mangrove forest of West Africa, when young and tender lovers break the taboo of illicit sex and what happens to them and their next generation. In ‘The Horse in the Storm,’ I explored three different women of different characteristics and ages all having a man in common who was to each a son, a lover and a horse rider. How will each character be able to blend into what awaits them in the future? And my latest novel, Flawed, talks about a woman whose fate was determined by her background which included child sexual abuse. The work is to draw attention to the scourge of sexual abuse of children in Nigeria and I believe these books will do well as movie materials.
I have written more romance novels awaiting editing etc. I hope to print them soon.
Why did you choose dentistry rather than any other area of medicine?
I chose dentistry because I saw that it was going to be a family-friendly profession; I would be able to attend to my family and career without neglecting either of the two.
Compared to other areas of medicine, how vibrant is dental practice in Nigeria?
Interestingly, dentistry is very vibrant where it is practised in Nigeria. There are many specialties and sub-specialties which include oral surgery, oral prosthetics, oral pathology, oral medicine, and so on.
How will you rate the attitude of Nigerians to the care of their teeth and patronage of dental clinic?
The attitude of many enlightened Nigerians to the care of their teeth is brilliant especially when they have been exposed to oral health awareness and know that they have to visit their dentists twice a year for regular check-up. However, not many Nigerians, especially from the rural and underserved areas, visit dental clinics because of myths and beliefs that nothing is wrong with their teeth; so they don’t see the need for dental care.
Will you say the rich form the majority of your patients, or that economic factor is part of the reasons many don’t visit the dentist?
To say the rich form the majority of the patients attending the public dental clinic is relative and might not be altogether true. There are other factors to consider, such as level of education, motivation and awareness about oral health. The rich that attend dental clinic in a public teaching hospital where I work are the people that are aware they need to visit the dentist and are motivated and educated. This may not be the case in a private practice. You have to have good money.
What are the commonest dental cases that people present in your clinic?
The commonest dental symptom that people present is toothache, followed by bleeding while brushing. Pain is a great factor and motivation for patients to visit the dental clinic and this is after all other treatments, local or otherwise, have failed.
Are there hazards that come with your job?
Yes, there are hazards that come with my job. Dentists have close contacts with their patients and this makes us to be at high risk. Examples of infections that can be transmitted include the COVID-19 virus, HIV virus, aided by needle stick injuries. Other serious health concerns include musculoskeletal challenges that occur due to poor working conditions of the dentists that lead to backache, neck pain, etc.
How have you been able to effectively combine your roles as a medical practitioner, a writer and a homemaker?
I learnt very early in my career to compartmentalise. By this I mean that I don’t take my work home and vice versa. I don’t carry the load of stress of what goes on at work to my home. So, my mind is free from stressful events and so I am able to write my stories easily.
As a writer, you are passionate about improved reading culture among Nigerian children, what are you passionate about in dentistry?
I love the gums (gingiva) and that is my area of specialty, periodontology. I am a periodontist. I am passionate about the oral hygiene and keeping the teeth healthy. I am also passionate about the management of the various diseases associated with the gums.
What has been the high point of your career in dental practice and what milestones do you look forward to?
The high point in my career was when I completed my residency training in Periodontology, making me a periodontist. The milestones I look forward to are groundbreaking researches which involve regeneration of tissues that prevent the tooth from becoming mobile and falling off.
If you are in a policymaking position, what will you change about dental practice in Nigeria?
If I am in a policymaking position, I will change a lot about dental practice. I will introduce policies to improve dental health care financing. Ways by which this can be achieved include creating a conducive environment for public-private partnership. Secondly, I will introduce policies that will prevent the associated brain drain in Nigeria by better remuneration of the dentists. Thirdly, to improve on job satisfaction, by providing state-of-the-art equipment such as cone beam computed tomography in dental clinics to improve the quality of service.
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