I grew up reading a variety of books, but started thinking about writing seriously as a teenager when I read “Beautiful ones are not born” and “Fragments” by Ghanaian writer Ayi Kwei Amah. Drawing loads of analogy with what was happening in Nigeria at that time (the mid 90s); I wrote a review of both books and attempted to show how we could learn from the experiences of the characters and country depicted. I remember showing it to my dad’s journalist friend, who said he found it quite interesting, but returned it with more than a third crossed out with red ink.
I was not deterred by his editing and rewrote it following his grammar advise but keeping all my arguments and postulations intact. I sent it back to him, and he returned it with only a few red marks and an encouragement to write more.
I have been writing since then and have experimented with many literary genres, but find that I can only satisfy my urge for description and scenery with prose. Since I have strong attachment to my culture -- which by the way is steadily being eroded by a combination of western culture and Christianity, wonder if they are not one and same -- I see writing as a way to save it, at least that way, it can endure forever.
I have great respect for the achievements of writers like Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe and Cyprian Ekwensi – who I consider the greatest of these legends, on account of his body of work, which covered many genres. However, I would be very unfair to Chim Newton, Toni Kan, Helon Habila and a host of writers who inspired my generation while working for a teenage romance magazine that I have also had the privilege of briefly working with as a contributor. These writers, more than the old masters, helped propel my quest to be a writer. I wanted so much to write like these guys; to play with words like Toni Kan did and to convey with such few words, the seriousness of an event, like Chim Newton did. I was also influenced by western writers such as Anne Rice, Stephen King, Frank Herbert, Frederick Pohl, Philip Jose Farmer, J.R.R Tolkien, and a host of others.
From my list above, you would have, if you are familiar with the works of the writers mentioned, noticed that I have a thing for Science fiction, fantasy and horror. I fell in love with science fiction and fantasy in senior secondary school and have since never looked back. Science fiction and fantasy books currently make up about 70% of my extensive paperback collection. As for Anne Rice and Stephen King, let’s say my love for them transcends their genre as I consider them among the greatest writers alive.
It was very easy for me to decide I wanted to be a writer, but translating that into fact took years. Yes, I started writing in my late teens, but I only recently began having enough confidence in my work to put them out there, and say “I am a writer” without feeling like a fraud. I approach writing with a feeling of inadequacy, even when a story appears to be struggling within me to be written, I still struggle to find which voice or genre best suites it; would it be better told as piece of poetry, drama or prose. It is my belief that the strength of a story lies more on the choice of point of view than on how dramatic its telling is. I really don’t know how true this assumption of mine is, but in my writing I tend to experiment with point of view a lot, and rarely begin a story with particular a point of view in mind.
Unlike some writers who find it easy to write in all situations, I am one of those who must be inspired to write. I find I write very well under deadline, even then, I only write well at certain times of the day and must “feel” the story for it to be acceptable to me.
As for length, I only decide on a specific length when I am writing under restriction, like for a competition, and even in such situation I find it a struggle keeping to, let say, 600 word limits. This of course does not constitute much of a hindrance, as I easily edit the story to bring it down to the maximum, killing lots of “favoured” lines along the way.
I have never seen myself as much of a poet and started writing poetry in the university as a way to express my heart when my habitual shyness made it difficult to chat up the girls and it grew from there to encompass my frustrations with the economy, my dying culture and a nation ill at ease with itself.
I said before that I have read a lot of African writers, but some stayed in my mind more than others. I can still recall scenes from Peter Abrahams “Mine boy” as if I read it yesterday, just like I can still visualise the hills that were so central to Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s “The River Between”. These writers, through their use of imagery, left imprints of their lands in my heart and my greatest wish in life is to someday through my work, leave such imprints in people’s heart.
My writing is me, it is something I loath to give out or lose. I know I can do this and nothing else, and would die a happy man if I have books out there that people appreciate. For me heaven on earth is not too farfetched from a house with a window overlooking a lush green valley, a table, chair and lots or writing materials with which to paint pictures with words forever.