Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Author Speaks with Chioma Iwunze-Ibiam

This is the fifth in a series of interviews with Ankara Press authors. You can read the first four herehere, here and here.
Chioma Iwunze-Ibiam
In 2010,Chioma Iwunze-Ibiam attended the Farafina Trust Creative Writing workshop. She has also attended the Nigerian Academy of Letters creative writing workshop(2011) and the Fidelity Bank International Workshop(2011). Chioma lives with her family in the old, quiet hilly town of Enugu.
More than ever, she has been considered a huge romantic since the publication of Finding Love Again, her first novel with Ankara Press. She loves philosophy and logic and critical reasoning—a love that might have arisen from having studied Mathematics and Computer Science for five years.

AA: Tell me about your journey to publication with Ankara Press.
CI-I: It has been a long journey. I use the word long advisedly because I believe this journey started years ago, when I started writing. But I’ll do my best to shorten the long story about how I came to publish my first romance novel.
Once I finished the novella, I sent one chapter each week to members of my online critique group (Internet Writing Workshop Lovestory list). Their critiques helped me rewrite the initial draft. Then I sent a query letter, a synopsis and the first three chapters of the novella to two of the most prominent Nigerian publishing houses. I knew they were searching for romance fiction. One of the Cassava republic editors contacted me and asked for the rest of the manuscript. A few weeks later, she emailed and suggested a rewrite which I completed in a month. I applaud her for her persistence and her encouraging emails. Without her support, I might have given up on this project. After some time, she sent me a contract agreement which I signed and voila! I had found a home for my baby book.

AA: I find it interesting that you describe the book as a baby. Was it like one to you?
CI-I: (Smiles) Very much like a baby.

AA: How long did it take to write this novel?
C I-I: The first draft took about a month. The second draft took another month and the rewrite took a third month.

AA: Was there a difference in the writing process for this novel and other fiction projects you worked on in the past?
C I-I: Yes. There was a big difference in the writing process. Different genres have different rules. Rules about points of view, style, voice etc. When writing romance, I had to consciously ensure that I was not employing flowery language in the storytelling.

AA: You also write short fiction, how do you decide if an idea becomes a short story or a novel?
CI-I: It depends. Sometimes, I allow the story tell itself. But other times, I consider what structure works best for the story I want to tell.That said, my novels are a series of stories. And these stories are there to make the characters well rounded.

AA: With Kambi and Beba, I got the feeling that love is not always about meeting  the right person for you, it is also about timing. Could you say a bit more about this?
CI-I: I am not an expert. But experience has taught me that love is quite complicated. It’s a layered thing, hardly in our power to control. And yes, it is mostly about timing. The ‘when factor’ plays a huge role in the success of a romance.

AA: Kambi often thinks of how to mine situations, even the most intimate ones for material to use for her poetry. Do you do this too?
CI-I: All the time. I am always looking for material, even in my dreams.

AA: What are you working on right now?
CI-I: Another romance. To be precise, book with a mix of romance and suspense.

Buy Finding Love Again here. Follow Chioma Iwunze-Ibiam on twitter via @ChiomaIwunze .

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Author Speaks with Sifa Asani Gowon

This is the fourth in a series of interviews with Ankara Press authors. You can read the first three here, here and here.
Sifa Asani Gowon
Sifa, a self-proclaimed sappy romantic soul, enjoys writing love stories almost as much as she enjoys reading them...and she adores baking! She lives with her family in the city of Jos, a land of spectacular beauty, pleasant weather and the best vegetables you can find in Nigeria. A Taste of Love is her second novel.

AA: How long did it take to write this novel?
SAG: It took me a little over a month to complete the first draft, which was actually quite different from the finished copy. Editing the novel took a few months to do, with all the back and forth between myself and the editor.
AA: Tell me about your favourite romance novels.
SAG: My favourite romance novel of all time is As Sure as the Dawn by Francine Rivers; a novel which includes action, history, geography and Christianity in one potent reading package. I also really like Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers, Pearl in the Sand by Tessa Afshar, Harvest of Rubies by Tessa Afshar and Bridge to Haven by Francine Rivers. As you can see, my favourite kinds of romance always include far more to the story than just ‘boy meets girl’. I like it when I see characters develop in maturity, faith and knowledge and yes, in love.
AA: Do you like all the books in the Mark of the Lion trilogy? How much has it influenced your own writing? Are you interested in writing historical romance at some point in the future?
SAG: I love all the books in the trilogy but I am especially drawn to As Sure as the Dawn. In a way I see some of my characters bearing similar traits to the characters in that book. I’d say it was when I read it the first time that I was inspired to write a romance novel myself- which I did…but it never got to the editing stage. It was my first foray into writing and was quite an immature piece of work- but I still love it as my ‘writing baby’. I think I learned how to create full characters with flaws but with a certain ‘thing’ that makes them appealing. I learned not to shy away from real issues affecting people, even if they deal with such issues through faith. And I also learned a lot about dialogue from Francine Rivers.

AA: What is the best advice you’ve ever heard/read about writing?
SAG: I remember Chimamanda Adichie saying (I paraphrase) that when you are writing you should always have objective eyes look over your work (that’s where editors come in) but that you should also be able to discern the ‘spirit’ behind the voices that speak about your work. Basically, she was telling us that when it comes to criticism of your work, you ought to be able to separate constructive criticism that comes from a good heart from a critique that is driven by pettiness.
AA: You write so vividly about The Bar-Rage. Is this a real place in Jos?
SAG: There was a similar place in Jos that I modelled Bar-Rage after. I thought about using the name but couldn’t get hold of the owner to ask permission so…well, I went ahead and used my artistic licence to add and subtract a few things.
AA: I found the Hannani/ Adoo dynamic interesting. Why did you create the two women as lookalikes?
SAG: I thought it would be interesting to do that in order to add a little spice to the story. I’ve met a few people who have such a close resemblance to another person except for some features such as skin tone, or perhaps nose, eyes and such. Also, I notice that we tend to have a ‘type’ we normally find ourselves attracted to, and in this case Adoo and Hannani were similar enough to be Toby’s ‘type’ so to speak.
AA: What are you working on right now?
SAG: I’m actually trying my hand out at script writing and hope to get better at that. I recently finished a sequel to my book Playing by Her Rules but  I have not edited it yet. I’m not exactly sure as to the direction I will choose to go with that. I have a story that has been in my head for almost 5 years and I am hoping this will be the year it ‘comes out’.
Buy A Taste of Love here. Follow Sifa Asani Gowon on twitter via @sifushka .

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Author Speaks with Amara Nicole Okolo

I'm celebrating St Valentine's day on this blog by interviewing Ankara Press authors(yes, even in March :) ). This is the third interview in the series. Enjoy!
Amara is a young lawyer. She lives in Abuja, loves cupcakes, green tea and her tabby kitten, Timber. One of her life-long dreams is to bungee-jump from the Victorian Falls, but for now she is settling for hiking up the hill near her house. Black Sparkle Romance is her first novel.
AA:  Tell me the story of your journey to publication with Ankara Press.
ANO: I found out about Ankara Press in 2010 via a blog. They were calling for submissions for Cassava Republic’s new imprint, exclusively dedicated to publishing African romance stories. I remember being excited because I had just started writing a romance novel as a bit of ‘experiment’. I wanted to test myself and see if I could write in all genres of fiction. So I decided to send in a few chapters. Mind you, this was my first attempt at writing romance, so I wasn't really optimistic about it making the cut. So you could imagine my surprise when I recieved an email a couple of weeks later, asking for the rest of the manuscript. Couple of months after that, I was sent a contract. That was when I began to take it seriously (laughs).
AA: I’m interested in the results of your experiment with writing in other genres. How has it worked out?
ANO: It's been exhilarating! I experienced some difficulties when I started off, most times I almost gave up, but I perserved and today I can say I have a fair understanding of how each genre works. So far, I have written children's books, chick lits, romance, horror, sci-fi, a mystery/thriller and contemporary fiction, so I guess I'm winning! Recently, I also wrote on illness and gender (I was told this a new genre). I have always known I do not want to be restricted to a particular genre of writing, so the experiment has really helped me to sharpen my skills.
AA: How long did it take to write this novel?
ANO: I wrote the first draft in two weeks. I had to start Law school the next year, so I knew I wouldn't have much time on my hands afterwards. When I signed the contract and was assigned an editor I rewrote a few parts a number of times. But in terms of the first draft, I’d say Black Sparkle Romance was finished in two weeks.
AA: You’ve said elsewhere that you draw your characters before you begin writing a book. How do you think this practice influences/shapes your creative process as writer? Do you do other forms of drawing unrelated to your writing?
ANO: It helps a great deal because I have the opportunity to visualize my characters; to put an individual face to them, to regard them as real people. With that, these characters are not just fictitious anymore, they now have names, voices, skin tones, feelings, so when I finally write about them it feels like they are standing in the room with me, telling me their stories, and all I just do is write them out for people to read. A couple of my friends who have seen my drawings always say they feel like the drawings are "alive", so I want to believe that these same feelings are aroused in the readers of my book, that they feel the characters come alive, the same way they do to me when I draw them out before writing my stories.
Yes, I do other forms of drawing unrelated to my writing...random sketches, pencil and charcoal art, a bit of painting, mosaics, abstract art. But I haven't drawn in a month or two, so I don't know how rustic my next art would be when I go back to it. I hope it won't be that bad (laughs).
AA: I was fascinated by Ajoke, she had me fooled about her intentions. What inspired her character?
ANO: The almighty friendzone! (laughs) And yes, contrary to belief it does happen to ladies too. Ajoke came to me as an afterthought--I tried to imagine that out there in the world, there existed a certain lady who was so much in love with a guy...but he only sees her as a friend. I tried to imagine how such a woman would feel when and if her friend finally falls in love with someone else, and how her reaction would be. Ajoke was not so evil as potrayed in the book, she was just hurt and irrational, and she let her feelings take over her actions. And that was the message I was trying to send out with the story: people of the opposite sex can be friends, but boundaries cannot be crossed and it is very important to watch out for signs that a friend wants more and the relationship isn't so platonic anymore. And logically when that happens, you would have to decide if you'd want that too, or if you'd have to end that friendship the best way you can.
AA: I found myself laughing at the interactions between Mira and her Rational Mind. Why did you decide to depict her thoughts this way?
ANO: I had fun with that too. Well, from the story we can tell that Mira is very logical and ambitious; if she is going for something she is focused on achieving that goal. But then she has the tendency to make mistakes, so then comes in her Rational Mind which acts like a balance to keep her on track. Balance matters a lot to Mira in her life and her career, so I decided to give her Rational Mind a voice, to create a personality for it so as to give the reader a hint of how Mira thinks and how she finally makes her decisions. But then, we all know you can't stay entirely rational with love, so when that came into play, Mira had to decide if she would follow her heart or her head. I'm guessing you know which one she picked (laughs).
AA:  Your top five all time favourite romance novels.
ANO: Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married, Love in the Time of Cholera.
AA: What are you working on at the moment?
ANO: I am working on a second romance novel and a short story that will eventually be part of a contemporary novel. The romance was inspired by a painting I did when I was thirteen, and the story is based on memories from my childhood. I must admit, it is tough, working on two manuscripts at the same time, but it is also thoroughly exciting!
Buy Black Sparkle Romance here. Follow Amara on twitter via @BlackBubberrian. She blogs here.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Dami Ajayi Reads in Ife

Servio Gbadamosi Reads in Markudi

The Author Speaks with Samsudeen Alabi

This is the sixth in a series of interviews featuring the seven OAU alumni who put together Sandstorms in June. You can download the anthology here.

Samsudeen Alabi is the convergence of a thousand selves. He writes and reads. He discusses literature, politics and history with anyone he can find whenever he's bored with studying the law, which is most of the time.

Samsudeen Alabi
AA: What does poetry mean to you?
SA: Poetry is an age-long communication between all that has been, all that is and all that will ever be. It is an interaction between souls expressed in words. But poetry is not only limited to words, everything is poetry waiting to be written. The fact that it has not been penned doesn't reduce its poetic significance. So I think everything is poetry.
AA: What does OAU mean to you?
SA:OAU signifies freedom to me. Liberty. A visa to be who or whatever you want to be in a community that is small enough to acknowledge you and large enough to show you that you are just one out of thousands. That school is a leveller. Be ye ever so high, Ife is above thee. Yet you feel free and welcome.
AA: Tell me about your favourite poets.
I think I have read almost all if not all the poems published by Dr Maya Angelou. Her work means so much to me. If I ever have the privilege of fathering a daughter, I will ensure she commits ‘Phenomenal Woman’ and ‘Still I Rise’ to memory before she is ten. Her poems have such sheer power behind them. Seamus Heaney always makes me feel. No matter how steely my resolve, he always reminds me of my humanness. Chinua Achebe is famed for his prose but his poetry is an expression of elderly traditional wisdom that I aspire to. Christopher Okigbo's Labyrinth is one collection for all times. His Thunder Poems always get me excited. But the list goes on and it is still open to addition.         
AA: Was Ile-ife a big part of your OAU experience?
SA: There is no way I can divorce the town from my own gown. Ile-ife is its own civilization. OAU is the proverbial icing. From School gate to Mayfair to Lagere to Opa and beyond. I used to go to Oja in the evening to buy ingredients for soup. Ife is a lot like where I am from, Offa. Needless to say I felt more at home in town than on campus. Campus had its own pretentions, but Ile-Ife was undiluted Yoruba life. 
AA: How did this inspire you to write ‘Ife’?
SA: I wanted to write two poems: one for OAU and another for the town but the separation kept failing. After about twenty minutes, I gave up and married the two. That poem is the wedlock between Iya-ila and Ongbona, the love between town and gown.
AA: What inspired you to write ‘Moremi and the Sojourn of Hands’?
SA: I think the question is not What but Who. I was having a hard time explaining myself to a darling of mine so I wrote what I was thinking in verse and sent each verse to her as soon as I finished. I really didn't have to imagine. I just wrote what I felt and things that happened. It was a poetic conversation with apostrophes and rhetorical questions. A late night confession from an ‘onitiju’. With her, I think the verses succeeded.
AA: What are you working on at the moment?
SA: I am part of a Group of Nine known as Kano Chroniclers. We are all students at the Kano Campus of the Nigerian Law School located in Bagauda. We have been writing and reading together. Law School is really monotonous and boring and writing has been our escape. We hold readings beside the Lake on Campus and critique each other's writing. Then we publish on our blog.

Samsudeen Alabi blogs here and tweets occasionally about anything via the handle @samolaalabi.