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interview with local writer abiola regan
march love letter to storytellers
love letters to storytellers is a monthly newsletter about reminding each other about the power of story through honest reflections on the writer life and interviews with indie and local authors.
featured storyteller: abiola regan
Behind everything I do, there is intention. The instagram posts I share, the authors I interview for these newsletters, which writing communities I entangle myself with, everything is done for a reason and with specific values in mind. I shared some of these in an intro post for Instagram and wanted to share them here. These are a few things that inform what I want to write about, how I interact with others in my writing communities online and in-person, and how I treat myself.
I want to recognize the ways that systems and structures, in publishing and beyond, privilege certain people, and be aware of the ways in which I am privileged (definitely a work-in-progress).
I want to lift up “small” voices, which for me means local or indie authors, those that fly under bestseller lists or that aren’t splashed across bookstagram but are still important stories to so many people.
I want to care for myself and others. This means prioritizing rest (or trying to), and being vulnerable and honest about my struggles, within certain boundaries.
I want to make meaningful connections with others.
I think meaningful connections especially is at the core of my writing life. What is writing without readers to read it? What is writing alone in your bedroom when it’s so much easier with other writers in the trenches with you?
I love making connections and introducing writers to new readers, especially ones that I find have similar interests or experiences to me. I loved talking this month to my featured storyteller Abiola Regan about what is at the core of her storytelling.
Abiola is a Nigerian-Canadian storyteller extraordinaire, and is based in my home city of Winnipeg, Manitoba! She wears many storytelling hats, as podcast co-host, self-published author, children’s book author, poet, and article writer. I am so comforted when writers create their career so diversely, but all connected by a few threads. In the interview below, Abiola talks about how she ended up prioritizing writing in her life, why she writes in so many forms and formats, and how empathy is at the core of her writing. I am so inspired by her, and so excited to see what she does next!
Tell me briefly about your writing journey. How did you start writing, and how did you end up where you are today?
As a child, I was a voracious reader. There were books like The Baby-Sitters Club series and Just as Long as We’re Together by Judy Blume that I would read over and over again. As I grew older, I continued to read a lot, but the things that held my attention changed. I started noticing turns of phrase that piqued my interest. I began paying attention to how characters behaved and why, and thinking about settings in ways that I never had before. I didn’t realize it then, but I was conducting my own research and collecting kernels of wisdom for when I decided to step out of the shadows and write.
Yes, I’ve always kept journals, written lines of poetry and the beginnings of stories, but that’s usually as far as I would take things. It wasn’t for a lack of desire to spread my writerly wings, but more out of a lack of prioritizing it and if I’m being honest, fear. Then about six years ago, I became a parent. It made me braver, more determined, and more willing to follow my creative and professional dreams. I wanted my child to see me doing something that I love and that I’m good at. I wanted to see myself doing that too. It’s a constant work in progress but I strive to be comfortable being uncomfortable. For me, that looks like gaining comfort in sharing my vulnerability, because sharing my words can feel very exposing and raw. So now I write as much as I can, in as many forms as I can because I don’t want to place a ceiling on my creativity.
“It’s a constant work in progress but I strive to be comfortable being uncomfortable. For me, that looks like gaining comfort in sharing my vulnerability, because sharing my words can feel very exposing and raw. So now I write as much as I can, in as many forms as I can because I don’t want to place a ceiling on my creativity.”
I love that you are so determined to be brave and vulnerable in your storytelling. What themes are you drawn to in your writing and why?
I am a pop culture enthusiast. Well, that’s probably putting it mildly. I have some friends who refer to me as IMDb, to give you an idea of how my brain works. The thing that appeals to me about pop culture that also applies to my writing is my fascination with relationships. I have an insatiable curiosity in exploring relationships in all of their complicated, messy, hurtful, and joyful forms. My academic background is in psychology so I think I've always been drawn to examining interpersonal relationships, as well as the relationships we have with ourselves, so I guess it makes sense that this is a major theme of my writing. I like to tease apart my own thoughts and feelings, process conversations with friends and family, and take on different personas, characters, and perspectives to explore a variety of relationship dynamics, often through a lens of gender, sexuality, mental health, and/or race.
You have so many projects on the go! You've published a children's book, a poetry collection, you've hosted multiple podcasts, and you've written non-fiction articles. Why do you work in so many different storytelling mediums? What do you enjoy about each of your projects?
I don't want what I have to say to be limited by form. Some ideas are better suited to different styles or configurations so I let my words come out in whatever way feels most appropriate for whatever it is I'm trying to express. When I’m curious about how something works or want to learn more about a topic, I’ll pitch an article. When I want to go deep on a character and discover their arc, I’ll write a short story or, as I’m doing now, a novel. I find examining emotions and relationships often first comes out for me in poetry. A piece might not end its journey as a poem, but that’s usually where it starts when I’m writing. Then I do a lot of playing on the page and see what transpires. I’m not too concerned about whether the final form ends up being a poem or a story. I’m more concerned with making sure I am being true to my intentionality with a piece and leaving space to follow its natural evolution.
“I’m not too concerned about whether the final form ends up being a poem or a story. I’m more concerned with making sure I am being true to my intentionality with a piece and leaving space to follow its natural evolution.”
I’m someone who likes to have a lot of things on the go. It helps me to focus better if I can move from project to project and back again so I enjoy the freedom of writing across forms. That’s what I loved about creating my interactive digital chapbook, Gaining Mom-entum: Poems, Parenting, and a Podcast. It was a huge undertaking but so rewarding because it allowed me to curate a multimedia experience with poems, readings, and music. And, as you may have guessed from its title, that project started from a podcast!
With my children’s book, Mobo Saves the Day, it began as a bit of a pandemic lark. I needed something light and fun that would also be a creative challenge, and we were running out of space from all of the baking that I’d been doing to scratch my creative itch. So, I studied the books that I enjoyed reading with my child and pulled from a picnic that my family went on with family friends to see if I could write a children’s book that wouldn’t make me lose my mind after reading it a hundred times. It was pretty daunting but with the help of my illustrator Catherine Cachia, my idea became a reality that is now sitting on my child’s bookshelf and on the bookshelf of hundreds of other people. That still amazes me. It absolutely makes my day when I get messages and pictures from people reading my book with their kids.
With podcasting, I grew up playing team sports and I love a collaborative environment. Both of my podcasts were made with co-hosts who are also close friends of mine so they’ve been such a joy to be a part of. On our parenting podcast, Gaining Mom-entum, I was a sponge soaking up life lessons and parenting gems from the conversations that my friend and co-host Meghan and I had with each other and with our amazing guests.
Now in my current podcast, Scars and Lemonade, my friend and co-host Patrick and I talk to people about their stories of resilience and optimism. I love the grace and generosity of our guests in sharing their deeply personal stories with the hope of connecting with someone to help make their roads a little smoother. Patrick and I come at it from a place of wanting to have fun, even when the conversations we’re having might be intense or tough. So we laugh a lot and play games with our guests while adding skills to our own resilience and optimism toolkits. As has been said many times, writing can be a bit of a solitary pursuit, so podcasting gives me that consistent community vibe that fills my well-being cup.
What do you hope people take away from the stories you tell?
Whew, that’s a big question! I hope that with my writing, I am exploring the full spectrum of human emotion. When I look back on my work, I want to know that I was able to make myself vulnerable enough to share both positive and negative emotions and even neutral ones, whether they be my own or ones that I’ve observed in people close to me, or, for that matter, in total strangers.
I hope that people feel when they read my stories and poems. I hope they see themselves in my writing or gain a peek into an experience different from their own that makes them feel empathy. I hope my writing gives voice to thoughts that readers have tucked away but did not know how to give words to.
“I hope that people feel when they read my stories and poems. I hope they see themselves in my writing or gain a peek into an experience different from their own that makes them feel empathy. I hope my writing gives voice to thoughts that readers have tucked away but did not know how to give words to.”
Abiola Regan (she/her) is a Nigerian-Canadian writer, poet, and podcaster with an MA in psychology and a passion for pop culture, both of which inform how she writes about relationships. In 2022, Abiola self-published her first interactive digital poetry chapbook, Gaining Mom-entum: Poems, Parenting, and a Podcast, and her first children’s picture book, Mobo Saves the Day. Her writing has also appeared in Herizons Magazine, Dreamers Creative Writing, CBC Life, Minerva Rising, Haunted Waters Press, The Capilano Review, and more. She is currently writing her debut novel so stay tuned.
I am on the tail end of working on this is a love story: poems and essays on friendship, love, and mental health. For me, I kind of feel like it’s the end of the university semester, and I’m just tired and I want to be done with it and move on to the next thing. But I’m also aware that while it’s the “end” (kind of not really) for me, it’s just the beginning for you, who have yet to read it, and that’s exciting. I’m ready to let this book baby out in the world to stand on its own, to be taken and molded into the lives of you and many others, in so many different ways.
Last time I was asking for ARC readers and I got many people who signed up for advance review copies! It made my day/week/month to see the enthusiasm for my work and the kind comments along the way.
Proofreading for this is a love story is almost done. This is when me and many other detail-oriented people go through the book and check for weird design things, typos, wrong titles, etc., all the nitty gritty stuff. In my last read-through I took a step back and thought you know, this book is pretty good! (Just wait for next week, when I think it’s horrible again).
Next step is applying all of those edits, working on the e-book and then preparing for distribution.
I’ll leave you with this advance review from local author Ariel Gordon, author of Treed: Walking in Canada's Urban Forests:
“What does it mean to be human, in our late-capitalism, post-pandemic world? How do you make meaning? Alyssa Sherlock has what amounts to a graduate degree in relationships. Loving your friends and family is easy: learning how to love yourself, to take care of your mental health, is much harder. But Sherlock shows her work in poetry and prose. What's more, she brings her friends and family into the conversation.”
As always, thank you for your support and following along. Please share if you enjoyed this letter.