Today we welcome Robyn Oyeniyi, author of LOVE VERSUS GOLIATH, a nonfiction work chronicling Robyn’s personal struggle to keep her family intact and alive while obtaining permission for her husband and step-children to live with her in Australia.
Robyn Oyeniyi is an Australian IT professional and CPA who spent many Sunday mornings writing her memoir detailing a traumatic battle against the government to be reunited with her husband and four step-children.
Nearly forced to flee her homeland to be with the man she loves, Robyn Oyeniyi battled her government and won after committing the cardinal sin: falling in love with and marrying an asylum seeker. LOVE VERSUS GOLIATH chronicles the pain, anguish, and trauma government interference caused in the lives of Robyn and her family.
I met Robyn through the Pitch Wars competition. Her experiences are compelling and fascinating, and I’m delighted that she agreed to join me for an interview today.
And now, on with the questions:
1. Where did you grow up? Will you share a story from your childhood?
I grew up in Kopara Falls, a remote area of the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand. There were no schools close enough, so I studied by correspondence school until I went to boarding school at age 10.
We ran a sheep and cattle farm and I used to help my father deliver lambs. I once gave mouth-to-nose resuscitation to a calf after we had pulled the calf out of the mother using the tractor. The calf didn’t survive. Dad was breeding Charolais cattle. We were not allowed to import stock, just semen, so we had to breed out the local breed over generations. Charolais were a larger breed, so birthing problems were common.
2. What inspired you to write LOVE VERSUS GOLIATH?
The horror of what we went through was the primary inspiration. I want to show readers the truth of the system in the hope my doing so may lead to change. Not just in Australia, but globally. There are problems all over the world in the areas of treatment of refugees and, to a lesser degree, partner/spouse visas, yet when your own personal battle is over, it is so tempting to just be relieved and not fight for change. As a citizen of my country, I feel I was treated so badly by my country. The provisions of the ICCPR are not enshrined in our domestic legislation. There are limited avenues to seek compensation for the costs of fighting Goliath, who has endless financial resources. My husband was also treated badly, but as a non-citizen at the time, I can only look at his experience from a human rights perspective. While Australia certainly came good in the end, the process was devastating and I doubt I will ever fully recover my health.
3. If you could go back in time and share one writing lesson with “new writer you” before starting your manuscript … what would that be?
Start in the tense you mean to finish in! A lot of LOVE VERSUS GOLIATH was originally written in the present tense on my website. Editing from present to past is a very painful exercise, I discovered.
4. LOVE VERSUS GOLIATH is the true story of your family’s struggle to survive in the midst of assassination attempts, governmental red tape, and painful long-term separations. What did the process of writing the book teach you about yourself and your family?
The process of writing crystallized what we had been through. When you travel a journey such as ours, you tend to deal with each step as it happens, the overall picture gets lost. Writing LOVE VERSUS GOLIATH brought it all together and I realised my family and I did achieve pretty amazing things.
A reader’s comment probably sums it up.
“Just have to keep reminding myself that the tumble of emotions is the story of your and John’s horrible time with all of this and realising that THIS is what you actually went through and also to say to myself ‘these people are sharing incredibly intimate emotions of a horrifying time and it was REAL’ not something made up, this horror was real and that’s incredibly humbling.”
5. Do you have a favorite author or book? If so, who (or what) is it, and why?
I’m not sure I have a favourite author right now. As a reader, I have always been a sci-fi and history fan. I loved “The Dice Man” by Luke Rhinehart and “The Shore of Women” by Pamela Sargent, two very different books by very different writers. I remember loving Barack Obama’s “Dreams from My Father” and Sidney Poitier’s memoir “The Measure of a Man”.
I have three books on my “to read” list right now, all by Australian authors. “Am I Black Enough For You” by the wonderful Anita Heiss, “The Happiness Show” by the very “out there” Catherine Deveny and “Tomorrow Never Comes” by Vera Berry Burrows.
The answer, I suggest, is no favourites!
6. What did you find most challenging about telling your personal story in memoir form?
Very hard to go deep enough. I’m not sure I have really. It is hard to describe the trauma and my own reactions without sounding insane and none of us want to sound insane to our readers. How do you described being curled up in a ball in tears in a post office without sounding absolutely crazy? I don’t think I really solved that problem in the end.
7. Writing memoir is very different than writing pure fiction. How did you balance the obligation to tell the truth with the need to create compelling narrative sequences?
I think I was lucky. Because of the journey this memoir is relating, the truth lead to compelling narrative. I left out the hours and hours spent sitting at the computer or crying in bed alone – those are not very compelling events and were far too frequent!
8. What is the last book you read, and why did you read it?
Given the events of the last few years, I haven’t read much at all. There was no time. I believe the last book I read was Barack Obama’s “Dreams from My Father” and I read it because here was a man standing for election who, for America, was very different. I was intrigued. It was a great book and I highly recommend it!
9. What advice do you have for other authors considering writing a memoir?
I think the timing is critical. Leave it too long and details are forgotten. Write it too soon and it can be too painful. I wrote and then left it sit for months. Many months. I was terrified what I would think of it when I started editing again. Luckily, on the first fresh edit pass, I actually liked the manuscript. On subsequent edit passes, I discovered, the feelings varied. It is very hard to read your own life events over and over. Beta readers are a MUST! Absolute must. But don’t expect them all to agree. For example, in my case, two particular beta readers were totally opposed in their opinions. One loved the first half but wanted the second half condensed. The other loved the second half, but wanted the first half shortened. You can’t please all of the people all of the time!
I would advise one thing. In memoir it is what happened. Stay true to the journey.
And now, the speed round:
– Plotter or pantser?
As I have started a sci-fi, I’d have to say pantser. The characters make themselves in my head, I just write it down.
– Coffee, tea, or bourbon?
– Socks or no socks?
– Cats, dogs, or reptiles?
– For dinner: Italian, Mexican, Burgers or Thai?
Thank you so much, Robyn, for joining me today!
You can find out more about Robyn and her journey on her website. LOVE VERSUS GOLIATH is available at Amazon, Copia, eBookpie, on iBooks , and in the Kobo store, as well as on Sony readers. It’s getting great reviews, and I look forward to reading it too!