What inspires you to write?
First, there’s the curse of writer/storyteller which is almost like an addiction – it’s that insatiable craving to tell a story or else I’d go crazy. Then, there’s the frustration and impotent anger at the various elements of society’s madness – writing is a way of making sense of it all, a lot like therapy.
Do you have a specific writing style?
Personally, I prefer stories that are easy to read but are still incredibly profound. I would like to think that my writing style is like that. Books with over-elaborate word garnishing bore me. Besides, writing is a gift that should be shared with as many people as possible. I believe in writing for everybody, and not just for the literary circle. I think this quote by Mark Twain explains it best, “My books are water; those of the great geniuses is wine. Everybody drinks water.” I prefer my stories to be water.
What are your current projects?
Presently, I’m studying for a LL.M. It’s been intense and time consuming so writing has been on the back burner. Before then, I had started work on my second novel.
Do you see writing as an alternate career or will it remain part-time?
I believe I can do as many things as possible. Practicing law and writing stories are not incompatible. God willing, I’ll always be able to do both, and a lot of other things, successfully.
Can you share a little about your writing routine? How does your career impact in your writing?
I usually write at night or the early hours of the morning because I have to work during the day. Apart from that, I write in spurts – flowing for weeks, all dried up for months (to the frustration of my publisher). Those writers who are disciplined enough to put in at least a set number of hours every day have my respect. After writing, my wife would critique it and point out the weaknesses and big holes. She’s right 99.9% of the time, but I always have to argue and do small gra-gra anyway.
Thinking about it now, I’m grateful for the subtle influence law has had on my writing. Most of my legal work has been in litigation where the characters are more colourful and where having to appreciate and argue the other side’s position is fundamental. I‘m hoping that this has helped me write more rounded characters without airbrushing flaws or overemphasising virtues, and to be sympathetic even to the most despicable of them.
This is your first novel. Tell us what inspired it, and details about how you got published.
It was inspired by the era, some years ago, when ‘militancy’ and kidnapping for ransom were rife in the Niger Delta. For those who couldn’t move away, it was a crazy time to live through: truth was turned on its head and it was distressing to witness the gradual unravelling of so many basic values that we ought to have held sacred. One day, I got tired of shouting when listening to the news. So, I started writing a story. When I finished 3-4 years later, miraculously, I was calm again.
I guess I was blessed to have a publisher who strongly believed in the story after reading only the first two or three chapters. For that, I remain grateful. I have heard some sad stories about how hard it is to get published in Nigeria.
You were published by Paperworth Books, one of the few publishers in Nigeria. What do you think of the Nigerian publishing industry?
I’m fascinated by the Nigerian publishing industry especially when compared to the successes of our music industry and Nollywood. To say the odds are stacked against the Nigerian publisher is perhaps the mother of all understatements. (S)he has to face high production costs, poorly developed distribution channels, sell books within an affordable price range, pay staff, and still make a profit. Quality control is also another factor. For many, publishing books in Nigeria is more of a labour of love than a business. Our low national literacy rate and the rot in government-funded education over the years have also cost us dear. With a population of 170 million, it is a sad joke that a book that sells 100,000 copies is considered a roaring success in Nigeria. Apart from WAEC endorsement, what are the other creative ways to sell a respectable number of books? Do publishers need more corporate involvement to promote books and balance the books? Is internet publishing the next frontier? I don’t have the answers but surely there needs to be a re-think of the business models in the Nigerian publishing industry.
But that said, more Nigerians are writing and this can only be a good thing for readers and publishers. Will we get to a time when most of what we read will be written by us? I suspect so.
Your book has been out for a year or more now, how well is it doing financially, and what are the ways the book is being promoted?
I’m still waiting for Oprah to endorse it in her book club so I fit hammer! Seriously, I have made some money, and more money is always nice. But if I don’t get it, I’m content with my lot. I never did it for the money in the first place. I write because it’s part of who I am. Put it this way – will I write if I know I will never make a single kobo from it? Hell yeah! That said, if you can send my book to Oprah…
Regarding its promotion, it has been at the discretions of my publisher. I had book readings and signings in Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt; given out a few interviews and the book is sold in major bookshops in Nigeria as well as an e-book on kindle, ibooks, kobo and nook. About three people have written dissertations on it with some universities adapting it as a recommended text.
What comments do you have about the reading culture in Nigeria?
There are no straightforward answers because the data simply is not there, and the little information that exists can be interpreted in almost any way. Nigerians may not be reading as many books as writers and publishers would like, but they read online blogs, stories and articles everyday. The internet is stealing more of our time and attention (and like I said before, publishers should consider how to fully exploit this market). I’m a lawyer so I can argue why this is both good and bad. One thing is certain though – in terms of population numbers, not enough Nigerians are reading.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Descriptions kill me every time. Writing a description of a room or scene of 7 lines feels like a writing a dissertation of 20,000 words (I prefer writing dialogue). Apart from that, it’s just the usual challenges – making out time, being disciplined enough to stick to a routine.
When and why did you begin writing? When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I started with poetry (and I mean shockingly bad poetry,) in my university days. In Law School, in 2000, some of my more decent poems were published in an anthology with poems from other student-poets. I lost interest in writing poetry after that time.
In 2003, I wrote my first novel in about 2-3 months. It was not published, and probably never will be (without a major re-write). Now anytime I read it, I cringe.
What books have most influenced your life most?
The Bible and ‘The Godfather’. As a storyteller, both books are filled incredibly rich characters.
Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Right now, Mark Twain. The humour and the genius disguised in simplicity – beautiful.
If you had to choose, which writer would you say writes in about the same line or genre as your book? You know, like if people like the author’s book, then they’ll also like yours?
That’s a tough one. I’m always stumped when asked what genre my book falls under. The truth is, I don’t know. Because I have some courtroom scenes in my book, a reviewer likened it to Grisham. But it’s not a legal thriller. The problem is, I don’t know what it is.
For this question, I can only speak about some authors I like and hope that maybe there’s an answer somewhere in there. I like books that are funny even when discussing tragic themes (life is too short and cruel to read anything else). Mark Twain, Ahmadou Kourouma, Jane Austen, Ben Elton, Chuma Nwokolo may write in different genres, but they all share the same bond – the ability to see the hilarious side in even the most mundane, the ability to make you laugh at surprisingly inappropriate parts. I’m not comparing my book to theirs: I’m just saying what I like, and what I hoped my book was like. So, for everyone who read my book and laughed – thanks, that was part of the plan. After all, reading for pleasure is meant to be entertainment, abi?
Are there any new authors who have grasped your interest? What books are you reading now?
Watch out for Reward Nsirim. I’m reading his manuscript of short stories. Very impressive.
When are we expecting your next book?
God willing, I hope to finish writing this year (I don’t know when). After that, it’s out of my hands.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Read widely. Buy our books and support good Nigerian writers and publishers. And if you can, I take God beg you, get me a WAEC endorsement, or better yet, a gig with Oprah.
Check out the book page for Tomorrow died Yesterday
Read a review HERE