Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Me and writing

Someone asked me to write about me and writing sometime ago. I sent this to her. Think she wouldn't mind me sharing on my ill-used blog.
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.
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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Wikileaks and Treasonable Nigerian Politicians

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan recently described revelations contained in the Wikileaks cables as nothing short of “Beer parlour gossip”, missing the whole point when common sense indicates that he should have treated the cables with the sort of seriousness it deserves.

Just like many other Nigerian politicians, the president appear to see nothing wrong with the cables, other than mere reports of the statements of “gossips” out to rundown his name and that of other political office holders.

However, for Nigerians on the street, the real owners of the land if I may say, the revelations of Wikileaks confirmed old rumours and granted fuel to others that were just beginning to shimmer.   

No, it is not that the revelations were too surprising, because much of the stories contained therein, no matter how outlandish, have at one time or the other has filtered through the ears of the national consciousness.  That these issues, or gossips, are weighty is stating the obvious, but beyond the issues raised by the report and the condescending side comments of the then US ambassador, the attitude of the Nigerian political class –who the cable was all about in the first place – to national affairs, raises some serious stink.  
Of all the nations covered by the US diplomatic spying cables, Nigeria is probably the only country where those who deemed it wise to report the affairs of their country’s government to the US ambassador did it with a sense of righteous bravado, as if they, the snitches, have a higher moral ground than those they were snitching on.

Nigeria, also appear to be the only country where the snitching was done with a sense of duty – no, not to the Nigerian nation, but to the US authorities, on whom the snitches availed a reverence akin to worship.
This need to explain Nigerian affairs to the US is the most embarrassing aspect of the whole episode. By acting like kids elucidating to a domineering parent, how a school uniform was stained with palm oil, the Nigerian political class have sorely disgraced any form of pride Nigeria should have as a sovereign nation. They sold not just themselves cheap, but did too the integrity of Nigeria as a nation. Their actions, whether self-serving or done with intent for a greater good, is appalling and qualifies as reason enough for indictment for high treason anywhere else.

Every Nigerian old enough for constructive reasoning knows that corruption is the country’s bane, so people talking about it to anybody is not a big deal, but presuming that the United States, a foreign government, has a higher jurisdiction over Nigeria than the Nigerian government is taking an insult too far.

While many Nigerians would readily agree that those who bore tales to US diplomats erred in one way or the other, there are those who would never see anything wrong with that kind of attitude, and that, I dare say, is one of the fundamental things that is wrong with the largest black nation on earth; lack of moral ethics.
In the US of A, a country with very dubious “friendship” record anywhere in the world, acts such as those perpetuated by blabber-mouthed Nigerian government insiders would carry nothing less than a dismissal from government service and a blacklist from any sensitive position for life. Here, in a country where much of the graft that for years has kept the society effectively underdeveloped gets swept under the carpet, nothing much can be expected from the Wikileaks scandal; nobody will be out of a job, none will be indicted and one cannot readily expect the reporting to the US ambassador to cease.

That is the crux of the Nigerian problem. When those who have the constitutional authority to protect a country’s sovereignty, see nothing wrong with another country’s spying, who then will bail the cat? When the only comment a country’s president have for those who effectively revealed internal workings of a country to a foreign government is; “they are nothing more than beer parlour gossips”, then Nigerians had better begin looking for another way to salvation.

Wikileaks, by revealing these odious documents, have done more than enough to show how self-serving the foreign policy of the United States is, but beyond this, it has also shown citizens of the nations covered by the reports how their countries are perceived by the United States, through the eyes of their political class. As such, the ball has left the Wiki court and now resides with citizens of the affected nations and posterity demands that they re-evaluate relationships with the US accordingly.

One believes that the major reason Jullian Assange and his colleagues at Wikileaks released the US diplomatic cables is to serve mankind in general and the third world nations, who are continually being short-changed in the general scheme of things, in particular. By showing the conveniently blind citizens of these countries, what the US is up to, and disabusing the minds of those who think the US makes the world go round, Wikileaks granted the world a powerful tool. How well this tool is used is up to the people, though as a Nigerian I do not expect to be surprised much, not by this government anyway.

A version of this post was published @
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