Our featured writer this month, Da Writing Engineer, has been a member of Naija Stories since 2011 and his very first story on the site was selected for the first Naija Stories Anthology – Of Tears and Kisses, Heroes and Villians. His latest story, The Wages of Sin, got the highest views and comments from readers in August to clinch the top post. It was our pleasure to find out more about Da Writing Engineer in the following interview. Enjoy…
When and why did you begin writing?
Writing is one of few ‘tasks’ I enjoy. Others include sleeping (Yes, I know what you’re thinking, but, sorry, you’re wrong) and watching a good Manchester United performance. I think it is only logical to indulge in my passion. A questioning mind, a little talent and a dare from someone I respected so much all made me turn to the delightful vocation we call writing.
I have read about people who started writing immediately their spermatozoon berthed in their mum’s egg but, unfortunately, I was not that lucky. I started taking the ability to write seriously in SS2 when my English tutor at the famous Abeokuta Grammar School, Mr Babarinsa, saw the potential in me. That was some fourteen years ago. Most of the stuffs I wrote back then were not up to scratch but it started an adventure I am yet to tire of. Getting into The Future Nigeria Young Writers’ Network classes in 2010 however changed my writing –and life- forever. I owe a lot to that class.
It seems obvious what inspired you to write Wages of Sin? Can you tell us more about it?
The Wages of Sin is one story that has been in me for years. A lot of issues inspired the story but let me talk about two of them.
First, I happened to attend two state universities in the course of my Bachelor’s degree and I witnessed, from afar, the madness that campus gangsterism stood for. I saw young men and women mortgage their futures, waste their present and lose every iota of sanity needed to become somebody in life. The lucky ones die in the ‘struggle’ while the unlucky ones forever lead a haunted life, the heavy burden of their misdemeanours weighing heavily on their mind. Their madness posed an exciting story idea I simply could not resist.
Second, I am a firm believer in humanity vis-a-vis the sanctity of the human life. My belief is firmly rooted in the true dictates of the bible. I have come to realise that any man who sincerely lives by the dictates of the Holy Book would lead a very peaceful and purposeful life. In Sister Titilola, I tried to establish a uniquely gifted Christian whose love of her neighbour transcended the boundaries of fear and social standing. I also tried to use her to let those Christians who think the appellation is all they needed to be able to ‘arm-twist’ God into doing their bidding that indeed, God is God. He is not a lab specimen whose every property you could reel off a chart. I hope to develop the story into a novel, if and when time permits me to concentrate on it, that will aim to bring the evil of campus gangsterism to fore and to encourage Christians to endeavour to sincerely live up to the appellation. A lot of nonsense hides under the cloak of Christianity these days and it’s alarming. I don’t claim to be a good Christian too, I’m far from it, but I believe those who claim so should live so.
Do you have a specific writing style?
The truth is I am still developing. Some writers on this site and some very good friends seem to see a pattern –style- developing in my stories but still, I believe I am yet to achieve a consistent voice. In terms of theme(s), I have a strong urge towards stuffs that are Christianly and I must say that is quite shocking to even me. For someone who probably hasn’t been in church more than five times or so all year, it’s scary how every story idea that drops in my head gravitates towards a bible truth. I have this feeling there is a higher power working through me. I am even tired of trying to understand the feeling; I have decided to just let things sort themselves out.
What books have most influenced your life and or writing, the most?
The Bible is the greatest anthology ever. Yes, it is an anthology of diverse, yet, consistent themes. It’s so hard not to be influenced by such a great book.
Toni Kan’s Night of a creaking bed, though widely criticised for ‘promoting immorality’, that collection is just straight to the point. I love honest writing and that was what Toni Kan did with that book.
Sue Grafton’s alphabet series are wonderful. I have nine out of the twenty-something she’s written and I pray her muse keeps the series flowing. She said she’d get to Z by 2020, I can’t wait.
The Speeches and autobiography of the Late Obafemi Awolowo have blessed my life. Same with Zik’s autobiography. I believe those two would have made Nigeria a great nation (I am not one to fool myself that Nigeria is great as it is) if they’d just tried to coalesce their respective philosophies into one national blueprint. Nigeria is still paying for their inability to work together with a unity of purpose.
Richard Branson’s Losing my Virginity has etched a free-spirit mentality upon my mind.
What books are you reading now?
Barack Obama’s political memoir, The Audacity of Hope. The quality of writing has greatly impressed me. To borrow the words of the New York Times review of it, “Barack Obama is that rare politician who can actually write –and write movingly and genuinely about himself.” Americans are lucky; I doubt if 95% of our politicians could write a moving 750-word piece about themselves.
Sue Grafton’s L is for Lawless awaits my attention. Just finished Stephen Cannel’s King Con, a powerful mafia vs con story.
What are your current projects? Any goals for 2012?
I am currently working on a short story collection. Reasonable publishers have been hard to come by and I do not want to self-publish. This is one project that ranks high on my list. Goals? I have achieved almost all I set out for the year except one. And that too will be sorted by the end of the year, by His grace.
Do you see writing as a career?
I work fulltime as a Copywriter in an advertising agency. If that is not a writing-related career, I wonder what then is. I hope to one day retire from advertising and make a living as a fulltime novelist. We will have to wait and see how that pans out.
Can you share a little about your writing with us?
What is there to share o? Na secret? There is nothing to share biko. Writing comes to me naturally and when time permits, I write. And when I am done, my fiancée reads and gives her comments on it. I send to some of my writer friends and invite my colleagues at work to look through it. By the time the work gets back to me, i’d have had a few comments from them and I sieve through their thoughts, decide which is necessary and incorporate same into the story. It’s that simple.
There is a story in every one of us and in everything around us. Digging out those stories and putting them across in as lucid and entertaining way as possible is key.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Editing. I hate having to read and read and read all in a bid to make the story shine and gleam. I have realised though that editing is key to a brilliant story but then, i’ll rather pay someone to do that for me.
Who is your favorite author?
Sue Grafton tops the list. You cannot open a Sue Grafton novel and not get hooked on her similes and metaphors. She has such glowing class. I study her novels and try to learn from her style of writing. Nelson DeMille is another top-notch writer. His sense of humor is just good. Chuma Nwokolo is someone I look up to. Sarcasm, intellectualism and brilliant use of words are some of his abilities. I am subscribed to his blog so I have access to all the stuff he writes. The guy is too much. Toni Kan, again, is a very down-to-earth writer. I loved the guy so much I ‘strayed’ into advertising because of him! That’s a story for another day. Whenever my short stories threaten to frustrate me, I turn to Night of the creaking beds. Seeing Toni’s scribbling, ‘Things Kan only get better’, on my copy of the book is enough motivation to continue writing.
James Hadley Chase, James Patterson, Raymond Elenwoke here on NS and a host of others I cannot immediately recall complete my favourite authors’ list.
Do you have a writing mentor?
The inspirational words of Mukhtar Bakare at the Young Writers’ Network classes I mentioned earlier are enough to make him a passive mentor. I can still see the anger in his eyes as he challenged us to “tell our stories the way they are”. “Don’t try to write like Chimamanda, discover your own voice. Read, read and read!”
As a copywriter, I have had cause to learn the tricks of this peculiar kind of writing through a few people. My copycoach, Boye Adefila, stands out of the pack. He is simply a legend in the art and business of marketing messaging.
What do you think of the Nigerian publishing industry?
It can get better. I believe there is still a long way to go. But we can get better.
How do you see the role of online publishers including naijastories.com?
Online publishing is really starting to come to bloom. I feel we still need more of these platforms for better dissemination of creative ideas. Naijastories especially is one of a kind. I hope the Nigerian factor doesn’t overtake the platform. There have been issues on the site and one can only hope those days are over. Naijastories is our own and we would so love for it to grow to be the one-stop site for the best of Nigeria’s upcoming writers.
What comments do you have about the reading culture in the country?
Forget about everything you might have heard, Nigerians read. Ask those guys who sell books in various motor parks in Lagos and all over the country and you’ll get my drift. The challenge is that Nigerian fictions are not easily available. I sent a colleague of mine to one of the popular Lagos bookshops just last week to get me some popular Nigerian fiction but none of them –like five titles o- were in stock! The ones that are found in stock are annoyingly expensive. Maybe it’s the economy, maybe not, but methinks Nigeria fiction should be made more available and reasonably priced too! And yes, that reminds me, what happened to Naijastories anthology? I can’t find it in any Nigerian Bookstore!
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Thank you for reading my stuffs. Without the reader, the writer is nobody. He would be like a one-man choir singing to an empty auditorium.
I love NS, I sincerely do. The improvements that have strolled into my writing over the past one and a half years cannot be wished away. Shout out to all those whose words of encouragement, chastisement and condemnation (all join) have made this possible. Let me specially mention the musketeers: Raymond, Seun Odukoya and the crazy Kaycee. Shai, Xikay, my good friend Opeyemi Lawal, Sunshine, Afronuts, Chemokopi, remiroy, akals, abby, jay, queenzayta and a whole others who have put in good words at one time or the other on my posts. My NS sweetheart, Bubblinna, deserves an extra-special mention. Don’t ask me why. Special acknowledgements to TolaO who has been phenomenal with his criticisms and eye for detail; and myne for setting up this site.
There are enough non-NS people to acknowledge but let me not bore you with their names. They know themselves and they know how highly I think of them. May God bless us all.
Answer the following
Ice cream or chocolate?
Chocolate ni o! But Ice Cream isn’t bad behind closed doors sha.
Football or Basketball?
Football. Tried basketball in my final year at the university, I lasted all of fifteen minutes. My stomach was in an epileptic fit for another hour. I vowed never to return to the sport. I have kept my vow.
Ebook or paperbacks?
Call me old school, but paperbacks anytime.
Salty or sweet?
Salty ke? Sweet jare.
Beach or mountains?
Beach, if with a girl. Mountains, if with a book. Alone, maybe beach…for the sights, shapes and the sea.
Phone call or textmessage?
Anyone, it depends.
Early bird or night owl?
Early bird. I’m rarely awake beyond 10pm and you’ll hardly find me in bed beyond 3am.
Dog or cat?
Dog! Dog!! Dog!!!
Messy or neat?
A little of both.
Heroes or Villains?
Both. There is a hero in every villain and vice versa.