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“We must tell our stories as Africans.”
–Jack Oswald, visual artist, painter, author of The Man Who Knew Too Much
“My advice to aspiring writers, authors.”
Your new book reads like a Ludlum thriller. What inspired the plot?
Thank you for that question. The West African sub-region is highly episodical. The sheer volume of conversations and actions, overt and covert, as well as the struggle between traditional, civilizations, corporate, government, the search to fill gaps and inequalities, serve as inspiration for my work. Natural resources are extracted and the wealth is unevenly distributed. Our traditions are on a head-on collision with imported preferences, technology has caused knowledge to abound and brought easy access to all kinds of vibes, positive or not. The conflict created by uninspiring governance across the Sahel provides a vacuum filled by known and unknown non-state actors, foreign governments and foreign actors. In that regard, there’s a lot of material and inspiration for so many stories… thrillers, blockbuster action content.
Are you writing for Nigerian readers or global readers?
Like Achebe said, until the lions have their writers or write their own stories, the literary status quo will only favour the hunter’s point of view. This is what Chimamanda Adichie has referred to as the danger of a one-sided story. I opt to write for a global audience as some of the nuances in our narrative may have a noveux appeal. I write for the Nigerian audience, for those that read and for those coming so they are not also weaned on the works of foreign- ers as we were. We may not be able to change our educational curricular, but it is important to begin to highlight the truth in the pages of our stories that Mungo Park did not discover the River Niger; that all Mission Impossible and James Bond stories do not provide the best aromatic selection of villains and heroes. It is also important that this task be done from a deeper conviction knowing that the history of a people is preserved in their art, literature and architecture. This is soft power. We must recall that while we were busy falling in love with Chinese literature, they were busy manufacturing our imports. While we were busy importing their goods, they were busy building an army. So I write to rouse the imagination of the young, to stir the challenge of nation-building for Nigerians, and drive soft power for Nigeria. What were the challenges you had to over- come from the idea stage to the publishing stage of this novel? Stories have a life of their own. It’s incredible. You get sucked in and would resist taking toilet breaks despite nature’s persistence. That intensity in the birthing of stories is in itself a challenge. We are only allocated 24 hours per day and two hands, but that pales when you recall that living and writing in Nigeria is an extreme sport. You have to do your day job, have a life, pick bills and nurture your sanity. The fire of creativity is hardy but it can be doused by long hours in Lagos traffic, waking up at ungodly hours and retiring to a few hours of sleep. That’s for the writing stage. At publishing, it’s a different kettle of fish. It is exasperating to discover that having finished the writing aspect, getting it into the hands of publishers is an even more extreme sport, and this is a global challenge. In western societies, new authors have to go through the process of querying different agents of publishing houses, searching them out by preference, availability and an infinite amount of time. On Twitter and Instagram, there is a very vibrant #WritingCommunity where kindred spirits provide support for one another. Here, we share challenges, provide resources and celebrate our success including the sale of a book! Here you hear when a writer lands a 6-figure writing contract in USD or GBP. I have been supported by strangers, who have become friends, and this has made the journey less excruciating, leading me to publish independently on Amazon.
The general belief in the public domain is that being a writer is a difficult profession.
Tell us your experience, why you prefer to be a writer and how you hope to make a difference.
It’s not a belief. It’s a very honest assessment of the situation. As I said earlier, I write to ensure and continue in the tradition of those who came before us in telling our own stories. To do this, I have to keep a regular job that pays my bills while I push on with my passion. It will be worthwhile someday. A line from UB40 would say, “And we fight for the right to be free; and we build our own society; and we sing, we will sing, we will sing our own song”. Our song is our story that tells in all the shades of melanin and the intensity of the sun of who we are. The American Hollywood squeezed every drop of story from their misadventure in Vietnam. They have done the same to their venture in Mosul, Helmand in Iraq and Afghanistan. While at it they have milked all themes in apocalyptic ends for humanity and explored ad-infinitum sleazy sides of human intercourse. They are out of stories. Voila, the next frontier is the African landscape…the continent of a million stories. That’s why I write, to be in on the biggest export about to come out of Africa: Content. Netflix is here already for the marathon. AFDB and AFREXIMBANK have rolled out a USD 500-million envelope for this venture. We have to be the ones telling our story, first to about a billion people on the African continent and the rest of the world. Share with us the other things you do with your life and how they enrich you as a writer In real life, I’m a brand expert and a tech and innovation buff. I have taught art in a school, worked in television broadcasting, advertising agencies, a financial institution and an e-commerce company. In these spaces, I have had many opportunities to meet people, develop campaigns to move the needle for business and solve real-life problems for real-life people. In all, I have heard stories. In truth, the reality is stranger than fiction. These experiences have added a depth of understanding and acute despair in the conclusion that there is a bottomlessness to what people go through, what people can think up and how humans can rise above the impossible. I have seen how deep, diverse and different human thought processes are despite what might be obvious. Of course, I have learnt that there’s always another side to every story.
After Man Who Knew Too Much, what should your readers expect next?
My readers should be expecting The Wrath of the Madam. It’s a story that borders on data management, elections and the conflict that sucks in a nurse – single mother to battle the deep state with a needle. The ladies will absolutely love this. What is a fan base of readership without our women? After all, Beyoncé had to make a whole song about it. ‘Who run the world…?’ In what way does your education in Catholic institutions influence your writing? That’s a story all by itself. In high school, we had an English teacher, Rev Fr. William Joseph Dowling, of blessed memory. He was Irish and had us write an essay every Wednesday night for 6 years. 500 words in one hour! On Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, he had us read novels and write out 22 words daily. We did this an hour, every four days of the week for six years. On Sundays, he had us do comprehension and summary. The old man marked these exercise books monthly. And boy, there were books in that library – Ina Fleming’s James Bonds, Robert Ludlum’s Mission Impossible, Owen Sela’s Kiriov Tapes and all the James Hadley Chases were looted – no thanks to the raunchy covers. He loved essays that had a crazy creative storyline running through. I guess I caught a bug there that never left. The Catholic School was very intentional in the formation of its students. Sports gear and books would arrive in a 20 feet container while we were at assembly! I also pored over the pages of Reader’s Digest, National Geographic, Robert Louis Stevenson’s poems, Sir H. Rider Haggard, J.H. Chase, Ian Flemings, J.T. Edson, Robert Ludlum’s, Jeffrey Archer, Cyprian Ekwensi, Chinua Achebe, Nolue Emenanjo, Tony Ubesie and Chimamanda Adichie. Nigeria seems to have a dearth of quality novelists.
What is your assessment of this situation and how do you think the situation can be improved?
We have great writers in the country. But all great talents need to be nurtured and maintained. Most of our best writers find their way abroad. I’ve seen stuff like the working drawings or 3-D models of a writing shed! Where a writer slinks out to, outside his or her house but on the grounds of his home just to write! That’s how you find an author dropping a trilogy in one year’s summer and signs a book deal for another… The educational curriculum needs a total to revamp. That too will take care of the literacy rates and reading culture. What advice can you offer students who are aspiring to become serious and bestselling authors? I’d like to share with them that it is a marathon and not a sprint. I’d like to reassure them that here, we are the blessed ones living in the Garden of Eden of content. There’ll never be a short supply of materials and inspiration.
What have been your best and worst experiences as a writer/author?
One stands out. I received a mail from Amazon the moment I published independently. It was stated there, that I would pay as much as $2,000 for the platform to put my book before the eyes of their global audience of book consumers. My heart sunk, as I weighed the option of marketing my book all by myself. That is, after all the research, writing, editing and hitting that publish button. My drive for the next book disappeared.
You also mentioned you are a painter/artist tell us about your foray there?
My first love has always been painting and drawing. My parents supported me so much. By Grade 5, I already had professional brushes and proper gouache. Through my high school, Fr W.J. Dowling nurtured this talent again. He’d cut me some slack and send me to the British Council when he was impressed with stuff I did. In the school library, we had reference materials on the works of Carravaggio, Titian, Paul Reubens, Gaugin, Leonardo Da Vinci, Michael Angelo, Claude Monet, Van Gogh. Some of them were in Italian. I went to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka to do a Painting Major, and those skills have seen me through marketing communication roles across the markets where I’ve worked.
Have you had any exhibitions or have your works been any part of an exhibition?
What has been the reception?
I have not done very much in that field, asides from the few that I participated in after university. I take private commissions and maintain stores on several global art stores, including https://fineartamerica.com/ profiles/1-jack-oswald. I think the time is right for me to participate in a group expo before going on to a solo. We must tell our stories as Africans e ne
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