The Vote Chronicles – Tolu Ogunlesi comments

One of our judges, Tolu Ogunlesi, has returned his commentaries on the top 18 stories. The stories are listed below in no particular order, and with the comments following. We hope that both the writers of these posts and others reading will find this feedback useful.

What next? The review from the other judges will follow shortly. Afterwards, all the scores will be collated and the average will be used to select the stories going into the final round.

To read all the stories alongside the commentaries, please click on this link and download the word document.

OGUNLESI_The Vote Chronicles – Third Round Judges

Have a great week everyone.

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1. Civil Robbery

Not very convincing that a Governor would show up at a collation center with Ghana-must-go bags. Surely there must be more discreet ways of doing this. And then the jubilating party agents – where is the party agent for the cheated party?
The ending is also weak. But still this is a confident and nicely-controlled narration, told in an interesting voice. It is the believability that weighs it down.

2. Father of the Children.

Brilliant story, brilliant telling. No melodrama whatsoever (even though this is a story that could very easily have descended into melodrama). The opening line pulls the reader in instantly. The end as well is very successful. The emotional impact on the reader is direct and powerful. This is a successful exploration of guilt and rage.
My quibble: The young thugs who come and say: “we want your vote” – they come after the man and his wife have voted. So what vote do they want again? That bit confused me.
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3. My president has Stage Fright

I like the narrator’s quirky voice, and the narrative structure (the series of declarative sentences) but there is no ‘unity’ to the narration – it starts in a promising manner, and then turns into rambling in the latter part, failing to justify the initial promise
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4. Behind the Dark clouds

Moving story, but could have been better narrated. A bit on the predictable/cliched side, especially with that ending.

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5. The Gene of Greatness

I like this story. Author has a good command of language, and the narrator’s voice is compelling and unforgettable. I like the resigned and regretful tone of the narration, and the fact that an interesting generational history (which brilliantly links colonial-era Nigeria with the contemporary one) forms the backbone of the story.

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6. Addled for the last

The dilemma at the heart of this story is a powerful and gripping one. And I like the fact that the narrator’s action remains unknown to, and unappreciated by, the beneficiary (her ex-husband). Puzzling title though.

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7. For the Boy

Great story. Great opening and ending. Impressive use of physical detail. I found myself very moved by this, from the image of a lone old man in a boat, to the boy standing by the bamboo pier, to the desolation of the creeks.
As reader I found myself with the old man in that boat, feeling his nostalgia and regret and sadness, as well as the last burst of hope in him (that propels him to make the journey in a bid to ensure a better future for the boy).
The movement of the boat also somehow echoes the way the country is drifting along under bad leadership, away from good-old-days into the hopeless present, and perhaps – if things change – a better future.

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8. Ghost of Leaders Past.

I was initially thrown off by the sudden shift of tense in the opening lines, from ‘present continuous’ to ‘past’ tense. But I ended up enjoying the story: I thought the summoning of departed Nigerian leaders worked as an imaginative way of embedding crucial Nigerian history into contemporary times. The juxtaposition of the “blurry” faces of Zik and co with the stark reality of the cube of sugar (standing for the character’s crushing poverty) creates powerful imagery.
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9. The Drunken Prophet

This is both humorous and serious. I loved the character of the “Papa” – a drunk as prophet. However there were some problems with the prose that made me think it was hurriedly written with little or no re-reading. The author also assumes we know what the “one-week correction exercise” is all about. But it is an interesting story, with a powerful ending.
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10. For a Vote

This is a brilliant story. Poetic; with powerful detail, powerful description of night, powerful evocation of mood. And then there’s the ambiguity of the ending – delightfully teasing the reader with questions. Was the narrator shot? Who shot him? Did he die? Brilliant last line. I wondered though how the narrator could see the blood and ink on his fingers on a “dark” night with a “half-moon” and “no stars”. But that’s a minor quibble.
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11. We will live again

This story stands out for the way it leaves the reader with a strong sense of hope. I like the dialogue (including the use of pidgin) – very realistic. I also like how the story makes the reader, for a moment, an eavesdropper on the lives of two ordinary (young) Nigerian men.

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12. An August Visitor

Despite the clichéd romantic plot I still wanted to read all the way to the end. And it is very well told. We are plunged right into action (no boring prelude), and then yanked off in a zone of suspense. Nice. I liked the exploration of an infatuated mind. Great last line too.
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13. Neo-Juju

There is unnecessary detail piled in. I’m not very impressed by the writer tries to cram an entire life into 600 words. The story title is also puzzling. One of the story’s saving graces is the use of music as a device in the narration (Jeremiah Gyang, Kelly Clarkson, Sunny Nneji). I found that quite sophisticated. I also liked the use of groundnut-hawking (the child Zainab, and the little girl at the end) as a framing device for the narration.
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14. What Theophilus did

A bit predictable. I also found it difficult to ‘suspend my disbelief’ when it got to the bit of the girl stumbling into her father’s room to see him in the middle of a ritual. Seems too convenient. Would a man do that kind of thing and not remember to lock the door? Why in the first place would he do it at home? But I’m impressed by the writer’s descriptive skill. Nice title too.
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15. No Shortcut
This is just OK. I like the idea of Johnson leaving the Governor out in the cold. But I don’t know if a desperate Governor would content himself with delegating such an “important” task to an aide. He’d certainly also be pulling his own strings. Certainly wouldn’t go to sleep thinking all would be sorted just like that.
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16. The Heavens are Silent

I didn’t find this very satisfying. The opening dialogue is stilted. The depiction of “the heavens” is unconvincing. Who are those talking? Angels?

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17. In the Blink of an eye

Cliched plot and dialogue. Very little subtlety and nuance to the story.
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18. The Process

No subtlety to the telling – the dialogue is heavy-handed, the moralizing too obvious: Clinton preaching to John, John getting “converted”.
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