You may know Michael Obiora as camp receptionist Ben Trueman from Hotel Babylon, DI Billy Shipton from Dr Who, or as Detective Pete in Misfits or nurse Lloyd Asike in Casualty… But did you know he is also a writer?
To commemorate the launch we recently met up with Michael in London for a chat about his life and his book…
It’s about five characters that are connected by their therapist. Depression, mental health, and therapy are themes that interest me deeply, and I wanted to tell a story about people from completely different walks of life who have a huge thing in common. Mental health problems and depression always sounds dramatic, and there’s still a stigma about it. There’s a stigma attached to asking for help – especially amongst males, or anybody who appears to be strong, or to ‘have it all’ – and I think that’s dangerous. So in Vivian’s Couch we get to see the ramifications of not asking for help, and the positives that can come from therapy, amongst other things.
Is it part of a series? Are you planning any more?
Vivian was the therapist of the protagonist (Daniel Martins) in my first novel, Black Shoes. I quite liked her and always planned to have her as the main character of a story in the future. As I started to flesh out Vivian’s Couch she became more of the tie that binds the characters, rather than the absolute protagonist. But I definitely wanted to try my hand at writing through a main female character. Rupal also makes an appearance in my debut novel, and she ended up being one of Vivian’s patients in Vivian’s Couch. This story takes place before Black Shoes, and since there are crossover characters and certain references, it made sense that it was a prequel.
Are you planning any more?
I’m not sure if I’m planning any more stories with these characters. If so, it will be a little further along the line as I have some ideas involving completely different people.
What inspired you to write this book?
Some of my own life. I’m also a daydreamer so whenever I’m drifting and something pops into my head, if I think other people might find it interesting I’ll start brainstorming. I’ve been an avid reader since I was sixteen years old and it would frustrate me that it wasn’t that easy to find stories with diverse, non-stereotypical characters. It seemed like certain people just didn’t exist in the literary world. Of course if you do your research, especially now, you can find great storytellers from today or the past around the world. But I definitely knew that I wanted to write something with diverse characters at some point.
Who do you think will enjoy reading the book?
Hopefully everyone in the whole wide world! There’s no denying that as a writer my manuscript is my baby but how it’s received is completely out of my hands. I’m hoping women will be drawn to Vivian, and I hope that they think I’ve done a good job with the female characters. And like I said, the book has characters from different walks of life, so hopefully there is something for everybody. I don’t want to give too much away but there’s also a tabloid theme that runs across the story – so maybe I can convert some tabloid readers too!
Have you found it difficult to establish yourself as a writer, or has being a famous actor helped with this?
Being an actor has helped me as a writer when it comes to my grasp of dialogue. I’ve been a working actor since I was nine years old, so I’ve been reading scripts for nineteen years. Being an actor has also probably helped with my imagination. And it’s nice to get recognised and therefore have some sort of an audience – discoverability is the hardest thing for self-published authors. So in that sense being an actor is an advantage. But that’s where it stops. With my first book I was still in (hit BBC comedy) Hotel Babylon and this helped me get publishers and literary agents to open my letters and emails. But it was clear that when they read the story they were shocked. Almost all of them would ask me if I had something more ‘bubblegum’ more ‘friendly’ etc. Basically, they were expecting a book written by a camp hotel receptionist! This annoyed me a great deal – I’m an actor, what I portray onscreen may actually have nothing to with my real life. That was the case with Hotel Babylon – it’s still one of my most favourite roles but it was quite far away from who I actually am, and it definitely threw people off when I wrote the first book. I considered releasing it under a pseudonym but once I decided to self-publish I didn’t think it was good idea.
Do you enjoy acting or writing the most?
Definitely acting because I find writing lonely. But I like the fact that when it comes to writing you have control, certainly as a self-published author. You create the world your characters live in but as an actor you have almost no control at all. You can genuinely finish a big job and not know when you’re going to work again. I’m beyond used to it all, though and I really do love being an actor – if I didn’t I’d be a little bit lost because I’ve been doing it for two-thirds of my life!
Which authors, dead or alive, inspire your writing?
No author consciously inspires my writing but I’m sure I’ve been influenced by many of the books I’ve read. I read pretty much anything (apart from chick-lit!) and I like non-fiction as much as I like fiction. My favourite non-fiction writer is Malcolm Gladwell. My favourite non-fiction book is The Devil’s Double by Latif Yahia. And my favourite fiction (based on fact) novel is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of A Yellow Sun. Oh man, she tells that story of the devestating Biafran war beautifully. It struck a particular chord with me because my father (rest his soul) actually lived through that war.
When is your book available to purchase and from where?