writing a debut novel


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Part 2

Do you prefer the old conventional way of writing on paper or you’d rather type right into a computer?

I don’t have the time to write the same things twice. So I just make notes on my phone while I am out and about or on the train or bus and then later, I type straight to my computer. It saves time for me. I used to be a notebook queen but condition and crayfish, eh? No time means I have adapted to using my laptop more.

Are there particular creative tools a writer needs to start a novel?

Determination and discipline. You must show up and you must do the work. Get a group of like-minded friends who are serious about their work too, people to beta read your stuff and give you useful notes. “I like it!” or “I don’t like it” are not useful notes.

Do you set limits like number of chapters or words?

I have word count goals. It’s 1667 a day and that is a hold-over from when I did NaNoWriMo in 2012. 1667 words a day (even on Saturdays and Sundays) will give you 50, 000 in a month. This is only when I am working on a novel though and if I have a deadline in mind. I’m not so rigid anymore when it comes to short stories or by day-to-day working life.

How do you build your plot? Do you have it fully planned before you start writing? How much do you think a writer should know before starting?

I think one should have an idea of the plot but always leave room to be surprised. Sometimes, your subconscious knows more than your conscious mind about where you need to go. Be open to changing your mind. It really depends on the story, however. Some demand a mapped-out plot and others work with an idea.

For me, I had plotted the first few drafts of the novel and realized that it did not work. I hated it, those little pointers – Turn here! – Even when the characters wanted to keep going straight. We fought, the book and I, and it won. When I allowed myself to relax into the story – I knew the story backwards and forwards, the backstories, everything, by this point – then it flowed. I had to trust that it would be okay and it worked.

What should a writer worry about most importantly with the first draft? What can be ignored as well?

Why worry? The first draft is almost always shit anyway. Worrying is useless. Get the story out and once you have the words, fix it. You can’t edit an empty page.

Your writing almost always has humour infused whether subtle or overt. Do you consciously create it or its effortless?

I write what makes me laugh, things that I find funny. It doesn’t work for everyone. Humour is subjective. I remember writing this story about a guy, some suitor, who pronounced ‘’Versace’ as ‘’Versa-nchi’ and the girl he was wooing thinking, “I don’t know what bush meat has to do with it.” I thought it was hilarious. Nobody else did. Crickets.

It still gives me a chuckle.

writing a debut novel

Do you feel fear when you create horror? Can a writer separate personal emotions from his or her writing and still create something that would evoke the intended emotion in the reader? Does it translate to – if you don’t feel anything, then your reader wouldn’t? I hear that a lot.

Writers aren’t machines. You write from your experience. The things I fear are not necessarily the bump-in-the-night scenarios but fracturing of human relationships, betrayal, possessiveness, alienation, repression, loss of choices, lack of freedom and regret, a life lived poorly or in fear of societal consequences. These things are the core of my stories. Pick a story, any story. You mentioned ‘Story, Story’. My fear there was the loss of my identity through marriage and childbirth. ‘Candy Girl’ – My fear of being reduced to a possession, a mere trifling, a treat. Those are my fears.

This is not to invalidate the supernatural, the otherworldly. That’s a universal fear. It is primal. I tap into that because it is something that we all feel, that something is happening outside our control. It’s why people choose religion – an assurance that we are not alone, that we matter, that those things we cannot see, but feel, those hidden dangers are far away from us. That ill-luck will not befall us. That  the forces in the night will not harm us. That death will be kind. That we will go somewhere else when we die, as our ancestors did and not simply vanish into nothingness. These collective fears I use to wrap up my own.

How do you decide on a story title?

I try to pluck a theme from the story itself. It could be a really good sentence or a word that sums up the story itself. Sometimes, it’s a pun on something or words from music. It doesn’t always work but I find myself less interested in titles now as I did in the beginning. A lot of the time, my stories are now called ‘Untitled’ until they are done, whereas before, I’d spend ages agonizing over the perfect title.

How would you know your story is ready to be submitted for a publishing consideration?

I used to have a problem with letting my work go but you have to. You finish with it and let beta readers read. {Not too many, two or three who get what you are trying to do.} Then you submit and keep doing so until it finds a home. Some people have a number of times they will submit a piece before they put it to rest and then edit it again with fresh eyes. Sometimes you know when it’s ready and other times, you might need a push from beta readers. You do what feels right. When your work is sub-par you will know. I mean, if it is crap, don’t for heaven’s sake let it out into the world. But, nobody is ever really satisfied with their work when they come back to it, even if they were happy when it was published. That’s a sign of growth. It means you are better today than you were yesterday.

Must every writer use a literary agent? What are the advantages? How do you decide on the best one for you?

I don’t subscribe to anything that one ‘must’ do, neither in writing nor in life. For me however, having an agent would free me up to do what I love most – create. The best agents are advocates, getting you the best deals, making sure you get paid what you are worth, pushing you to push yourself and challenge yourself, and helping you reach markets that you might not otherwise. The best agents love and understand your work and what you are trying to do with your career. Fans, but savvy and business minded. Why wouldn’t you want an agent? I’m in the querying process myself and cannot wait to get matched to my ideal agent. It’s like dating – with cash-money perks!

I honestly can’t wait to read your novel because reading your stories have made me an Oliver Twist. Are you going to create another scary character or bring back another childhood ‘myth’? Let’s say Madam Koi Koi…

You’d like some more? I’m not going to do another scary character, no. I’m hoping to do LOTS of scary characters.

Any clue on when we should expect it?

As soon as I find my agent and it is sold, I will let you know via twitter.

Threads of the Igbo culture can be found in almost every one of your stories. It is really commendable because it helps keep the culture alive. What inspires you to always stay true to your heritage?

Well, I am Igbo and I enjoy being Igbo. It pays to have love and respect for a people and their history. Not everything we did as a people was perfect, but, in my opinion, we had a lot more thinkers, independent women, people that believed in their chi and their akalaka. I’ve always been that way, even back in Nigeria where people believe a woman should be X or Y. That doesn’t hold any appeal for me. Be you, I say. Everybody’s chi is different. When you try to be like someone else, your chi withers and dies and nothing goes right for you. Had I been born into another ethnic group, I am sure I would have enjoyed it too. There is a certain independence to Yoruba women that I love. Women in general, are fascinating to me; the various ways in which they survive oppression and thrive in difficult situations.

writing a debut novel

What book can you read over and over again and why?

Can’t say.

Which author would you really love to meet and why?

I don’t know. If you ask me what books I’d like to meet, if they were people, I would have an answer for you. I have recently finished The Days of Abandonment’ by Elena Ferrante. What a stunning, powerful book. I’d like to meet it if it were a person. Also, anything by the NZ writer OJ Cade. Lesley Nneka Arimah could spit in a book and sign it with her faeces and I’d take it out and buy it dinner. Damien Angelica Walters is amazing – she has a new book coming out called The Dead Girls Club – the cover alone, I want to marry. I read this book called ‘Little Eve by Catriona Ward. I’d call it on the phone on nights when I cannot sleep. Circe’ by Madeline Miller would make a good lunchtime companion. I’d also have an answer if you asked me what characters I would like to meet, but you didn’t ask me that so never mind!

Who or what has greatly influenced your writing?

Saying ‘Life’ sounds naff, but it’s really true. Living, experiencing, sharing, overhearing, suffering, enjoying. All these things and more.

What would you say to a budding writer who:

Is finding it difficult to string words together and get the first draft well underway?

Just do it.

Is in a hurry to get published?

Your hunger is admirable. Check your draft for errors. Edit it to the best it can be and let it go.

Is struggling with rejection and after rejection?

Cry if you must, then go out there and do it again.

Has finished writing the very first draft and is clueless about what next?

Hurrah! You have finished a novel. CELEBRATE! You will never finish the first draft of your first novel again. Take a moment to enjoy it. Yes? Good.

Now go find an agent!

Thank you Chikodili for doing this great interview with me!

If you’ve gotten to this point, I hope you enjoyed this goldmine of lessons. Please share to any aspiring writer who is finding it difficult to just start. And you guys need to check out the all the links to her stories. You’d become an Oliver Twist once you are done reading one. Stay connected with her on her blog.

Thanks for reading. I’ll see you at my next post!



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