Monday, August 30, 2010

Review of and Additions to the Top 100 List

I made a Top 100 books to be read in five years, alongside other books I would come across. However, the list was not up to 100 books and some books have proved to be almost inaccessible. There are some books that are accessible but I have refrained from reading them. All these have necessitated the need to revise and add unto the list. Besides, individuals I have met have also suggested other books that require my attention.

First, V.S. Naipaul's 'In a Free State', which was under the Booker Winners, has been replaced by
  1. Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre 
William Gaddis (this author was introduced to me by Kinna)
  1. Carpenter's Gothic
  2. A Frolic of His Own
Somerset Maughan (also introduced to me by Kinna)
  1. Of Human Bondage
  2. Theatre
Amis Martin: I have heard a lot about British authors, positively and negatively. Recently, I have read articles on the death of the novel and the bashing British and American authors have received from critics is enough for me to read some of them.
  1. Money
  2. London Fields
  3. The Information
Ian McEwan (same as above). All of the following books were shortlisted for the booker.
  1. Atonement
  2. On Chesil Beach
Nawal El Sadaawi (saw a review of this from Kinna's blog). I have one of her books listed already
  1. God Dies by the Nile
Salman Rushdie (same as Ian McEwan and Amis Martin)
  1. The God of Small Things
Manthia Diawara (Suggested by a friend)
  1. We Won't Budge
Ben Okri: I have his Famish on my list and since this book is a trilogy, I think it is only good and fitting that I include the other two books.
  1. Songs of Enchantment
  2. Infinite Riches
Kazuo Ishiguro:
  1. Never Let Me Go
These additions and revisions make the list four more than 100. Thus, books that become difficult to access would have replacements. Besides, I am still open to suggestions and interventions. Let me know what you think is best for a Top 100. I am far away from reading half of this list, yet I am not giving up.
Update: In a Free State is similar to A Bend in the River, which I didn't like. This has been replaced by Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre winner of the 2003 Man Booker Prize.
Update September 5, 2011: Removal of A House for Mr Biswas by V.S. Naipaul for repetition.
Update December 14, 2011: Removal of Shame by Salman Rushdie to reduce the number of author's books on the list.
Update December 14, 2011: Replacing The Moon and Six Pence by Somerset Maugham with Theatre, which I have.
Update December 14, 2011: Removal of This Child will be Great by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for no reason.
Update December 14, 2011: Removal of Black Dog, Amsterdam, and The Comfort of Strangers, both by Ian McEwan (and both shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize at one point in time), to reduce the number of books by the same author and introduce other authors.
Update December 14, 2011: Replacing Amis's The Razor Edge with The Information which together with the other two on the list is referred to as his London Trilogy.

Bryony's Book Award

I opened my blog to find good news. I serialised new books from new authors and that included Bryony Rheam's This September Sun. This morning I got to know that it has won the the 2010 Zimbabwe Book Publishers Award for First Book...
The book is available at the Books of Zimbabwe website. It is also available from independent bookstores within Zimbabwe and South Africa and would be available at amazon soon. However, if you cannot get a copy please direct your email to

Extracts from the book, This September Sun, and other amaBooks publications, could be read from their website here.

ImageNations contacted Bryony and she has accepted to be interviewed here... Look forward for this interview.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Interview with Myne Whitman, Author of A Heart to Mend

We continue the series we started. Today, I interview the author of A Heart to Mend, a romance novel, that has been published to much acclaim and this is a great achievement if one takes into consideration the dearth of that literary genre on the continent. Myne Whitman, the author of this fresh novel, managed to 'squeeze' some time out of her busy schedule, which included a recent 'showing' at the LA Book Fair, to answer certain questions for us. 

Can you tell us something about yourself (place of birth, school and anything in between)?
I am a Nigerian blogger, writer and poet. I am also the author of A Heart to Mend, my first novel. I live in Seattle with my husband and write full time. I write mostly romance and love poems though recently I have been trying my pen at literary short stories. I was born at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital Enugu, Nigeria and I grew up in that city till my middle secondary school. I attended Ekulu Primary School, Queens School Enugu, Special Science School Agulu and Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka. I remember as a child studying a lot, reading everything I could lay my hands on, and then trying to play the rest of the time. My mother was a school teacher and my father worked for the electoral commission, so the love of reading and education came from them and from the environment of Enugu, which is a part an academic and civil society city. I have been a teacher, NGO consultant, banker, skate-hire attendant, and researcher and have worked for the government both in Nigeria and Scotland. 

Why a Pseudonym?
I use Myne Whitman for several reasons including for privacy due to the romance which I write and because the use of pen names is very common in that genre. I also like the choice which the use of pen names confers on people in the arts (I could give you several writers, singers and painters who used and continue to use pseudonyms). Finally, I'll prefer to keep my real name for personal and future professional use only. So I make it clear that Myne is a pseudonym and what my real names are. After that however, I prefer the persona of Myne Whitman to remain in the author limelight while I take the back seat. I am not into writing for fame or to propagate my name, I just want  people to enjoy my writing and the stories I tell. I do not want them to be bothered by my own history, wondering if they know me or why I write what I do. Let's just say I'll like to keep that element of privacy around my real personality.

What particularly motivated you to write a romance novel? And what motivates you to write in general?
First and foremost I wanted to write a story of love and finding oneself. Again, I have always been intrigued by the principle of unconditional love. When I started reading the Mills and Boon Romance novels as a young adult, their stories had a big influence on me and my writing. My imagined and written stories changed from adventures to romance. So now that I decided on full time writing, I was moved to go back to that genre. I also felt that there were not enough romance novels set in contemporary Nigeria, and that I could do something to change that.

Generally, I write to tell the stories in my head. I don't talk much but my imagination is wild and feeds on the many things I observe. Therefore, a lot of these themes in my writings are motivated by events or stories I've heard or read about in real life. The characters and issues dealt with in my books will be relevant for contemporary life and relationships.

Which books did you find yourself reading whilst growing up and which are you currently reading?
I read very widely and will almost read any fiction that gets into my hands as far as I have enough time. I read all genres though romance and women's fiction will have a big place in my heart. Right now, I'm reading Keeper of Secrets by Anjuelle Floyd and Aireganian Dream by Dupe Olorunjo.

Which writers have influenced your writing?
I look up to almost all authors and writers because I know how much work goes into writing. I love various authors and cannot really narrow it down but the names that stick are; Mills and Boon novels, Barbara Cartland, Francine Rivers, Sidney Sheldon, Robert Ludlum, Leon Uris, John Grisham, and Michael Crichton. And in Africa; Pacesetters, African Writers Series, Flora Nwapa, Buchi Emecheta, Cyprian Ekwensi, Chinua Achebe and more recently Chimamanda Adichie and Jude Dibia.

Do you intend to keep writing into this niche market or you would diversify into other sub-genres?
My vision is to remain in this niche and become the foremost brand in it and if possible publish other people in the romance genre.

What do you intend to achieve with your writing?
I just want people to read my stories and enjoy them. Romance novels are all about love, in its various manifestations, between a man and a woman. As so many songs say, love is truly beautiful and it does make the world go around. When one strips basic human behavior to its barest form, you find that we're all looking for love in one way or another. So I want to bring some hope and light hearted pleasure to those who read my books.

Which writing style are you comfortable with and which do you find challenging?
I prefer writing novels, popular fiction, light and enjoyable. It is more challenging to write literary fiction. I would describe my style as direct and simple. I prefer using short sentences and lots of dialogue to tell a story. I like to think that this style is tailored to the situations I'm writing about and will carry my audience on the fluid journey of reading my books.

How easy or difficult was it for yo to self-publish and promote your novel?
Publishing A Heart to Mend was the easy part, promoting it on the other hand has been a lot of hardwork and time. The internet and the social media networking sites have made it less of an uphill climb. I have also met a lot of lovely people along the way.

Tell us something about your book, A Heart to Mend.
Set in Lagos, Nigeria, A Heart to Mend narrates a love story and a journey of self-discovery. Gladys Eborah moves to Lagos from a deprived single-parent home in Enugu, to seek a job. She lives with a formerly estranged aunt who wants to be forgiven and so has the uneasy role of the bridge between both families. A new job and good friends gradually transition Gladys into an independent young woman and then she meets and begins to fall for handsome Edward Bestman. Edward is very wealthy, and believes money can buy everything. Though physically attracted to Gladys, he is not ready to give his heart. To make matters worse, Gladys is implicated in a plot to take over his business empire. Readers have to find out who these people are that want to betray him and destroy their happiness. And will Edward trust Gladys enough to give love a chance?

You really are ubiquitous on the net, how did you do this?
Blame it on social networking and good friends. Once you know how to connect all these media together, your job is so much easier. You just leave the rest to word of mouth.

You keep blogs and a website for writers. How do you combine all these?
I think they are all complementary to each other. A writer has to polish their work first of all in order to make it readable to those that will work on the manuscript. So editing the stories we get on Naija Stories is like target practice for me as I work on my own writing. Writing on the blogs also expands my network and gets me good feedback as I write.

How did you feel when you saw your name on the cover of the book?
It was a very emotional period, lol. I just held the books and kept staring at it. Then I opened it to be sure it was my work inside. I couldn't believe it. And then of course I read it cover to cover.

Your novel has been well-received. Have people questioned your choice of sub-genre, romance, taking how most Africans tend to play ostriches?
Yes they have, some about the romance and others feel I might be restricting myself. But I have a vision I'm working with. Also, my books will not be the first romance novels, other authors like Helen Ovbiagele and others already blazed the trail.

Has being published changed your life?
Definitely. Myne Whitman has almost become a household name. I'm busier than when I worked in a bank or an office.

What do you do apart from writing?
I am also a wife, daughter and friend. I volunteer as an ESL tutor at the Bellevue Hoeplink charity twice a week.

Any work in progress?
I'm working on a romantic fiction manuscript titled Ghost of the Past. In it, Efe is a young girl who is separated from Kevwe, her former fiancé, by a series of traumatic events, and now wants the past resolved before she can accept his love again.

Thank you for your time 
Thanks for the opportunity 

You can meet the author here...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

34. You Must Set Forth at Dawn, A Memoir by Wole Soyinka

Title: You Must Set Forth at Dawn
Author: Wole Soyinka
Genre: Memoir
Publisher: Ayebia and Bookcraft
Pages: 578
Year of First Publication: 2006 (this edition 2009)

I have read Professor Ali Mazrui's article 'Dr Jekyll and Mr. Soyinka' when he addressed some concerns Wole Soyinka had raised about him and his own misgivings. (Thank God that when two academicians clash in opinions and misgivings only shrapnel of knowledge is emitted). I would use Professor Mazrui's title to refer to this man of multiple personalities. My reading of Wole Soyinka's You Must Set Forth at Dawn, written in the first person as most memoirs are, presented to me a man of multiple personalities and had he not penned these words, I would have added the 'disorder', yet there is no point of divergence between psychosis and genius.

Soyinka is political dramatist who does not dramatise his political involvement but politicise his dramas. His political life, as could be read from this memoir, cannot, in no way, be extricated from his literary life. To Wole the search for justice and democracy is not different from the search for meaning in plays and dramas. That 'the pen is mightier than the sword' cliché fits no one better than it fits WS.

Faced with difficult situations where the alternative is death, this politico-literary genius do not search for martyrdom, knowing that it would be nearly impossible to effect desire changes from the netherworld. Thus, a threat, a credible threat to his life from irrational despots with lizard brains, who would do everything in their means (or even outside of it) to cling to power, is answered by exilic sojourns, albeit involuntarily. And from those strangelands, far removed from his Abeokuta sanctum, he fights unabatedly for the course. 

As a memoir, You Must Set Forth at Dawn, covers more of Soyinka's political involvement and less of his personal life. (However, having not read Ake, The Years of Childhood, it seems to me that the beginning of this memoir is embedded in that piece and it would be a required reading if one is to fully understand this man of noble intent).

This memoir is highly revealing and educative. It tells of the trials of a man in search of democracy and justice. Imprisoned, declared wanted dead or alive, alienated at different points in his life, Soyinka never gave up his resolve to oust totalitarians, despots, fascists, autocrats, and anything in between that is far removed from democracy. He so was tough on insensitive and callous governments, mostly from developed countries,  who sought to protect their vested interest in Nigeria by lying with the dictator, such as the comments by former president Bill Clinton, that seemed to support the military regime of Sani Abacha.

The book is a mixture of Dan Brown cum Robert Ludlum in plot--where Soyinka went on a dangerous journey to retrieve Olokun, the bronze head of a Yoruba god, in far away Brazil and where he held a gun onto a broadcaster to report the actual results from an election--with tinges of humour in unlikely places. His ability to wring humour from tense situations, out of dire circumstances make him a master of the pen. For instance, concerning the operation of a radio station, Radio Freedom, Abacha had employed a certain German company to locate the source of its operation. WS upon hearing this met the German Foreign Minister Herr Kinkel:
...I assured him that I had not come to deprive the German company of legitimate business. However, forget that biblical promise--seek, and ye shall find-- I urged. This is a time to seek, but not find. Take Abacha's money and contribute a small percentage to our movement... (Page 434)
On his description of a young man who, after struggling for power within the UDFN, which was itself fighting the Abacha government, albeit from exile, WS writes:
A small, ambitious Walter Mitty character, emotionally unstable, Uzowanne would indeed have been a most unusual choice for a military assignment, being additionally short-sighted, virtually blind behind his inch thick lenses, and of such physical insubstantiality that the slightest wind from the heat of New York streets threatened to blow him off the sidewalk on to summary execution by the traffic. (Page 440)
The knowledge that this book purveys does not lie only in the new words--such as contumacy, putsch--one comes across, which in themselves were few and far between, but the new ways that old and familiar words have been used. And even in those scanty periods where one met such contumacious words, which seemed unyielding to contextual meaning, the import of those sentences were not affected. 

Can we say that Soyinka's quest is over? Can we say that he is done? What we can say or hope for is that bad democracy would correct itself, for there are still autocratic despots pretending to be democracies which require such Soyinka-ish actions to extricate them from power, to prise open their hold on power.

How does one judge a memoir? Is it in its veracity, its readability or what? For plot is not much a scoring point, neither is theme, in a memoir. Yet, Soyinka's memoir, whose detailed veracity I cannot vouch for, except to recount the numerous times I have watched his activism on my mother's black-and-white TV and to read of him in the papers, scores high on these points. My only problem is that some incidents were often repeated and for a book of over 550 pages, sometimes one feel like 'huh! I have read this before, should I jump?' Finally, this book is proof of the saying 'truth is stranger than fiction'. For the fantastic things Soyinka did could not easily be imagined by most minds in that sub-genre of fiction relating to espionage and setups. This could easily be a Hollywood movie. But it is Soyinka's life.

There is no better way to sum this up than to quote his student and friend, Henry Louis Gates, Jnr that If the spirit of African democracy has a voice and a face, they belong to Wole Soyinka.
Make a purchase from Ayebia PublishersOther Nobelists on this blog are Naipaul and Coetzee.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Interview with Osundolire Ifelanwa, author of On a Lot of Things

This is the third interview in a series of six (perhaps) interviews I have scheduled with different authors. Osundolire is an Architect by training, and finds time to write short stories and poems. I met him through Myne Whitman (author of A Heart to Mend, whom I would also be interviewing on this blog). Whilst reading this, please let ImageNations know what you want to know about your authors.

Can you tell us something about yourself?
Apart from my name? I am a man who seeks to find answers in the everyday things I observe around me. I am also a child at heart who plays with everything and finds joy in most things. An architect by profession, I love the creative arts and music, and also love intellectual discourses, particularly about issues that are dear to my heart and which I have a strong passion for.

What motivates you to write in general?
Everyday people and everyday events are my greatest motivators. Watching a father beat a child on my way to work while the latter is running 'for his dear life' could generate questions in me that will compel me to sit, watch the scenario and go back home to recreate it in the form of a story. I cherish everyday sights and sounds...nothing compares.

On a Lot of Things is an anthology of poems and short stories. How easy was it putting them together? Is there a common theme threading through it?

It was quite easy putting the stories together because I had written a whole pile of it simply out of habit until it occurred to me that I could make a book out of the collection. So I would not say it was difficult putting the stories together. The aptly coined title "On a Lot of Things" was chosen because of how divergent the themes of the stories are.

Which books did you find yourself reading whilst growing up and which are you currently reading?
I read a lot of Enid Blyton, Tinitin, Asterisks and Obeleix and at a later age I started to read James Hadley Chase novels, Sydney Sheldon and many of the African Writers' series mainly pacesetters. The book on my table now is title 'Before the Knife' by Carolyn Slaughter and one by Ngugi wa Thiong'o 'Wizard of the Crow'. I am an excruciatingly slow reader and thus find myself reading many half and half.

Which writers have influenced your writing?
All the writers whose work I have read till date will be a more appropriate answer albeit vague. But in giving a more definitive answer, I will say Sydney Sheldon had a huge impact on my thought process because of his simple delivery and unpredictable twists. Chimamanda Adichie is also a writer whom I respect given her age and the depth of her work.

Since when have you been writing? Which literary genre did you begin with?
I started writing five years ago and began with poetry--poems patterned after the European classics that I read about that time.

The literary landscape in Nigeria is tough, what makes your voice and work unique?
My stories go beyond the dimensions of fictional entertainment. They have an underlying current of the moral, social and cultural challenges that presents themselves to us as African and address the unique ways we deal with them daily.

How do you combine writing with your other work schedules?
I honestly don't. I am someone who can't chew gum and walk at the same time. For me to write effectively, I need to write 'exclusively'. Anytime I try to combine my business or something else with writing, I get half and half on both sides and for me, that is not good enough.

What do you intend to achieve with your writing?
A change in orientation. For Africans, I wish above all things that we connect with our individuality and our uniqueness as Africans and make the best out of it. For non-Africans, I desire that they better appreciate our uniqueness and give us respect for who we are.

Poetry or Short Stories, which one comes easier to you?
Short stories come to me easily. I 'think' in short stories.

Was it difficult finding a publisher for your work?
Yes it was. I ended up having to self-publish--not because I set out to initially but because at the time there are only a few publishing houses Nigeria that are constantly being inundated with thousands of manuscripts. A frontline publisher in Nigeria that responded to my submissions even though not promising much, requested I wait till the middle of next year before my submission will be received but I considered 'now' the time so I chose the less trodden path.

Tell us something about your book, On a Lot of Things?
On a Lot of Things is a magpie collection of 27 easy to read stories and 3 poems with a distinctly cultural flavor. There is no specific plot, theme or message that runs through it, hence the title. Majority of the stories allude to deeper meanings than the face value and is intended to give readers something new to find out each time they read them. The stories started as Facebook posts eliciting comments from online friends and later metamorphosed into the book.

How did you feel when you saw your name on the cover of the book?
I did not feel any different because as I mentioned it was self published and as such, I co-designed the covers with my editor. Consequently, there was no element of surprise for me at all. I was there at every point of its conception.

How is promotion of your book going?
With the help of friends and Facebook (where it all started from), the book is getting an unexpected level of publicity. The book is available for sale at 3 major book hub stores in Lagos; it is backed by a clockwork online delivery service at that delivers to anywhere in Nigeria; has over 400 people already on the Facebook group network; and both print and electronic media covered the book launch in Lagos and published reviews for On a Lot of Things. Considering that everything was publicized and funded by my friends, I will say the promotion is going well and I'd use this opportunity to say thank you to them all.

How has being published influenced your writing and/or your life?
Being published influenced my writing in that more than ever I appreciate the need to have an eye for detail and not neglect anything. My editor's influence in all of these cannot be overstated. She taught me not only to write but to stand outside myself and take the readers seat without taking them for granted. As regards how publishing OALOT affected my life, I will say it did in three ways. First, it taught me the power of a great team in achieving anything against all odds. Second, it taught me to learn to treat ANY product (work of art or otherwise) as a business once it has been created. On a Lot of Things certainly made me a more knowledgeable entrepreneur working in the entire gamut from publishing to image branding, marketing, selling, publicity and event planning.Third, it taught me that whatever it is one strongly desires will come to pass only if he tries.

Any work in progress?
If you'd call it work in progress, I have gone back to where I started from. Writing stories on Facebook for the enjoyment of family and friends.

Thank you for your time
Thank you too Nana.

Friday, August 20, 2010

An Interview with Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond, author of Powder Necklace

Following my interview with Tendai Huchu, I continue today with another interview from the author of Powder NecklaceNana Ekua Brew-Hammond.

Can you tell us something about yourself (place of birth, school and anything in between)?
I was the only black baby born in the small town of Plattsburgh, New York so I made the paper, my mother tells me. A few years later, my parents moved to New York City and I grew up in Queens for most of my childhood. At 12, my parents decided to send me and my siblings to secondary school in Ghana. It was a life-changing experience for me--even then I knew I would write about it. I even said as much to a classmate and she told me "Just don't go and exaggerate."

What particularly motivated you to write this novel? And what motivates you to write in general?
I needed to get this story for a number of reasons. 1: I wanted to expose the superiority complex people in the West have concerning Africa. 2: I wanted to make the connection that just because a person is born outside the continent, he/she is not "other" and 3: I wanted to make the point that God works things for good--even when events in life seem random and ridiculous.

In general, I am motivated to write because it's important to me not to be defined by someone else. If we leave the Storytelling to other people we can't get too mad if they get it wrong. I also love writing--from the inspiration involved in coming up up with a concept to the discipline of the process to stringing the actual words together. I'm so thankful for the gift of words.

Which books did you find yourself reading whilst growing up and which are you currently reading?
I read a ton of romance novels when I was much too young to! My mom had a library full of Harlequin and Silhouette romance novels as well as Sidney Sheldon books. I devoured them all! I was also into book series--Sweet Valley High, Nancy Drew, the Girls of Canby Hall... I recently read Harmattan Rain by Ayesha Harruna Attah which I loved, as well as Sharon M. Draper's Copper Sun.

Which writers have influenced your writing?
Buchi Emecheta's The Joys of Motherhood is one of my absolute favourite books. I aspire to be as an insightful, informative, and elegant with my words. I also love Janet Fitch's White Oleander, Chinua Achebe's Man of the People, Zadie Smith's White Teeth, Wally Lamb's She's Come Undone, Shauna Singh Bladwin's What the Body Remembers... Basically, any and every writer who is able to authentically and honestly convey resilience of the human condition in unusual and extraordinary circumstances.

Which literary genre are you comfortable with and which did you begin with?
As a kid I always wrote short stories so I guess that was the genre I started with. Poetry, essays, and scripts come naturally to me as well.

What do you intend to achieve with your writing?
I hope to add my voice to the African authors before me, beside me, and behind me committed to creating balanced, engaging, informative, and authentic portraits of the continent. I don't want to romanticize Africa, but I do want people to be aware that there is more to the continent than corruption, political unrest, war, disease, poverty, genocide and the rest.

Which writing style are you comfortable with and which do you find challenging?
I love to write poetry, dialogue, and description so I try to use these to shore up all my work. The biggest challenge for me when it comes to writing is time management. I work full time, try to stay social, and am easily distracted so it's hard to discipline myself to stay solitary for long stretches of time and just write.

How difficult was it for you to become published?
For me, the hard part was not getting published, but finding a literary agent. It took me four years to find an agent who "got" the story of Powder Necklace.

Tell us something about your book, Powder Necklace.
A fictionalized account of my own experience leaving the States at 12 to school in Ghana, Powder Necklace is a transcontinental coming of age story about a girl trying to find herself as she is shuttled between London, Kumasi, Cape Coast, and ultimately the States. Though events in my life may seem random, the story encourages readers to believe that God is working everything out for good.

Do you keep diary entries?
I do! I've been consistently keeping a journal since 1994 and it's been awesome to go back and read old diaries from time to time and see that the thing I was stressing at one point in my life turned out okay in the end or wasn't even that big of a deal.

How did you feel when you saw your name on the cover of the book?
I felt like "That day has met that day," I'd dreamt this and now I was holding the evidence in my hand. It was emotional and a little bit scary too. Now that I had the book out there, what next?

Has being published changed your life?
Being published has given me that extra shot of encouragement to keep on keeping on.

Reading around about you I see you do a lot of writing, are you into writing full time or is it a past time activity?
No, writing is not a past time activity for me. I write professionally as a Style Editor and Content Manager which is my full time gig. I also write freelance arts, entertainment and fashion articles for newspapers and magazines while pursuing longer format writing projects like novels and plays

What are your observations concerning the literary scene in Ghana?
I got the sense that it's a small community but thriving. And it's pure. The people who are in it aren't just participating because it's the cool thing to do--they really love words and appreciate their impact on culture as a whole.

What do you do apart from writing?
I'm a big fan of mindless television so when I'm not writing, I'm watching reality programs. In Ghana, I've become a fast fan of the soap opera Shades and Sin! Will Paco and Preda reunite? I also love to read and when it's hot enough I hit the beach.

Can you tell us your memorable time in Ghana?
This one's crazy. I was in full-on tourist mode, snapping photos of everything, particularly the different uniforms people wear in various government offices. I made the mistake of snapping a few men in uniform at Makola Market when all hell broke loose. The next thing I knew, I was being tugged by my arms in two directions by this group of men. They demanded my camera and asked that I follow them somewhere. I refused on both counts--all while shrieking like an animal--but I did have to take out the film in my camera. That was the day I woke up to the fact that Accra is a city and being New York-bred I needed to act like I knew how to comport myself in a metropolis.

Any work in progress?
Yes, I am working on a novel, that follows the evolution of a Ghanaian family from the mid-1960s to the present day.

Thank you for your time
Thank YOU!

Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond keeps an official website here. In Ghana, copies of Powder Necklace are available at the Silverbirds Lifestyle shop.

ImageNations would review Powder Necklace, so keep watching this space.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

An Interview with Tendai Huchu, Author of The Hairdresser of Harare

Tendai Huchu
Last week I serialised debut literary works from authors from different countries on the continent. Comments from readers were very positive. For most readers, my posts were the first time they had heard of these authors. Thus, it would be important that readers get to know these authors very closely.

If the access to the other authors prove positive and if they accept an interview from me, I would again serialised interviews from all the authors I have talked about. I begin today with Tendai Huchu, author of The Hairdresser of Harare. Please leave comments stating what you would want to know from these authors.

Can you tell us something about yourself (place of birth, school)?
I was born in 1982 in a sleepy mining town north of Harare called Bindura. It was the sort of place where everyone knew your name. I attended the local primary school and then went to boarding school in Harare up to my A Levels

Why did you decided to become a writer and how did you become one?
Writing is a form of escape for me. My head is a very crowded place but its only when I write that I find calm and solace. For a time I can ignore the reality of my circumstances. I only have to put pen to paper and I'm away.

How did your family take it when you took to writing (support, disappointment)?

I live 10,000 miles away from my family so writing was never something we discussed much. I get occasional encouragement and plenty of indifference. There are however friends who have become like family to me, Martin Gotora and Tafadzwa Gidi, who took keen interest in my work and gave me moral support when I faltered.

Which books did you find yourself reading while growing up and which are you currently reading?
I never really read literature outside of the texts proscribed in my education curriculum. Reading would have meant less time for playing sport, which I was awful at and chasing girls, another endeavour for which I was a complete failure. But from my youth I have vague memories of The Hardy Boys, A Kiss from Little Bear, Animal Farm.

At the moment I am reading Tsitsi Dangarembga's Nervous Conditions, Henry Olonga's brilliant biography Blood, Sweat and Treason and my landlord's rent arrears letter.

Do you have favourite writers whose writing influenced yours?
Sarah Ladipo-Manyika, Dostoevsky, Kafka, Dumas; the list is endless because every writer I read influences me in some way.

Which genre of literature are you comfortable with and which did you begin with?
Like everyone else where I am from, I began with a mix of western fairy tales and oral African folktales. I am comfortable with all genres, I will not confine my taste to one genre: If a book is good you will enjoy it regardless.

What motivates you to write?
For me writing is a form of exorcism. An idea will spin round and round in my head and unless I cast it out I will go insane.

Which writing style are you comfortable with and which do you find challenging?
I don't know what you mean but I write simple linear narratives. Because of this though, I find it difficult to allow my characters the freedom of expressing themselves outside of preconstructed plots.I like to play God but in the end the characters rebel and do their own thing anyway.

How difficult was it for you to become published, have you published anything before?
It was very difficult simply because like everything else writing is a craft that requires practice and patience in order to become good at it. The Hairdresser of Harare is my first published novel.

Tell us something about your book, The Hairdresser of Harare.
It is the story of Vimbai, an ambitious young single mother navigating her life through Zimbabwe's social, political and economic decay whilst trying to create a better future for herself and her daughter. Along the way she meets Dumisani, a dashing man from a wealthy family who, unknown to her, carries a dark secret that will shatter her view of the world. It is a story about love, hope, despair and challenging prejudices.

What is more important to you: Theme, Plot or Style?
You can't pick one over the other. For a book to work all these must come together to form a harmonious whole.

How did you feel when you saw your name on the cover of the book?
I threw up then went numb. You see, to me the story was nothing more the a concept in my head, a keystroke on a laptop, an email in cyberspace to my publisher, a microsoft word document but when I saw the book, The Word became Flesh. It was now real, its own independent entity, living, breathing, solid.

Has being published changed your life? Improved your writing skills?
My life hasn't changed one bit but my writing has improved because I worked with a fantastic editor, an old hand who opened my eyes and who, bit by bit, drove me to take my writing to a point far beyond what I thought were my natural limits.

Do you intend to be a full time writer or is writing going to be a part time activity?
It would be lovely to be in a position where I could devote my life to my craft but the reality is that I too have to earn my daily bread, Monday-Friday 9am to 5 pm, just like everyone else.

Any work in progress?
Someone told me it's bad luck to talk about work in progress.

Tendai's book could be purchased through weaverpress. The author also has an official website here.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Points of Convergence between No Longer At Ease and Fragments

Usually, I try to review novels and not to compare them. However, there comes a time when one cannot run away from a topic, a call, no matter how one tries. This topic had been in my head ever since I reviewed Chinua Achebe's No Longer at Ease (on September 30, 2009). I dreamt about it, talked about, did everything but obey this call. The only way to prevent an incubus from attacking you is to remain un-asleep, no? Well, that might not even suffice but I know that the only way to obey a call is to respond to it. Finito! So today, in this very post, I respond to this call.

No one can challenge the achievements of Ayi Kwei Armah and Chinua Achebe. Even though these two literary giants of African descent may disagree at the academic level, their literary works stated here tend to converge at several points, and diverge at some. This issue has bothered me for so long and I refrained from writing about it, mainly because as a untrained essayist and a first-ladder novice in academic-literature, I find it unfit to discuss similarities and differences among great works by such great novelist, who are themselves subjects of research. For instance, last week a friend of mine asked me where he could get the complete works of Ayi Kwei Armah for someone who was doing a PhD work on this author. So one could easily see that I, who haven't obtained any formal learning in literature, am not the right person to do this work. However, I would go on to provide my opinion, no matter how hollow it would be, still knowing that it wouldn't be taken so serious by the cognoscenti.

No Long at Ease tells the story of Obi Okonkwo after his academic sojourn in the UK. Arriving in his homeland Nigeria, his community, who had contributed to his education whilst in Europe, expected that he would do enough to pay back the money spent on his education and also to help the children of the people who financially helped him. However, wanting to distance himself from all corruptible tendencies, Obi Okonkwo found himself on the wrong side of his people who thought that the young man has become proud and so wasn't showing the necessary respect demanded by his elders. 

Fragments also talked about Baako after he arrived in Ghana after his academic sojourn in the UK. In Ghana, his parents wanted to see the characteristics of a 'been-to'--someone who had just arrived from abroad--in him. They wanted to see the big houses, the big cars, the big jobs and all. They wanted to be associated with the big money that would be flowing from him. Women just wanted to be close to him because of his 'been-to' status.

Points of Convergence
Societal Values: In both of these novels we find that the values of society are different from those of the new arrivals. Thus, whereas Baako and Obi came back with knowledge and enthusiasm to reform and transform their societies, with energy and zeal to improve the lot of the country in the development direction, the society they belonged to were more materialistic and egoistic. They wanted to reap the benefits on a more personal basis. These latter characteristics was to mark the gradual deterioration of societal values and norms from a non-materialistic, value-laden objectives to one that would eventually lead to corruption and corruptible behaviours. Thus, ones standing in society gradually evolved, or more correctly--if judgement is allowed--devolved from ones intelligence, wisdom and honesty to wealth--exhibiting the utility property of transitivity (the more the better). Judging from the periods that these books were written and published (1960 for No Longer at Ease and 1969 for Fragments), it is not far-fetched to state that they represented the point in time were looting and corruptible behaviours of the government became the symbol of African democracy and militancy. 

What then could have been the cause of this drastic change in societal values? Colonisation? Greed? If greed from where? One fact is that, even today those 'lucky few' who find themselves in government and remain clean from all corruption are looked down upon if they return from service without those 'big' cars, houses and constant travels. Ones own family is wont to desert you for not helping them out, for not being corrupt, though they wouldn't say it directly. On the other hand, this same society, which praised the wealthy, would condemn you if the laws catch up with you and justice is executed. In the end, it looks as if society is saying is that 'steal, but don't be caught'. 

Another question that begs to be answered is this: 'Is the individual's values greater that the collective value of society?'

Individual Choices: Whereas both Baako and Obi Okonkwo were faced with similar challenges, each took it differently. Obi Okonkwo, realising that being honest does not pay the bills, quickly gave in to the unbearable pressures of corruption. He fell, debase himself and became the man his people wanted to see, one who drove big cars and lived in big houses. However, steel-willed Baako fought society boot for boot, thought for thought and in the end lost. His loss ended him a bed in solitary confinement in a psychiatric ward as his singular mind could not match society's pressure. Though differently, in their end there is convergence. Both Obi Okonkwo and Baako lost the battle, both ended up in solitary confinement, one in a cell the other in a ward.

In conclusion, I would say that these aren't the only parallels between the two novels but are those I wanted to point out. 

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Two and One from Nigeria--Onaedo, Ifelanwa and Myne Whitman; Also, at the Reading

Nana Ekua's Reading
At 7:15 pm yesterday, 13th August 2010, which was a Friday and instead of it being a portentous evening filled with unearthly activities that would gradually converge in evil, we had literary blessings as Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond read from her novel Powder Necklace. The imagistic reading interspersed with humour got everybody laughing. It was a very successful evening in all aspects: the reading, the book purchasing and signing and the conversation that went on on the sidelines. Questions were asked of her and some also congratulated her of telling this story. All I would reveal for now is that it is a coming-of-age novel as I have purchased a copy for future read and review. Also, I met Kinna at Kinna Reads, a Ghanaian book blogger I had met virtually. It was fun talking about books, something I can spend the rest of my life doing. 

Righting a Wrong
For the past two postings I have been presenting new first novels. So far I have blogged on three of such books from two different countries in two different posts. Today, I present the final installment to the series I began on the 11th of August 2010. Originally, I should have talked about two Nigerians but in the course of the week I realised that there is a wrong I needed to correct. There is another author of Nigerian descent who has been commenting on my blog and who also had published her first novel to much acclaim. I have read a lot of her interviews too. My glossing over her has taught me that the people you tend to overlook most are those closest to you. Sorry Myne, today I correct the wrong.

On a Lot of Things by Ifelanwa Osundolire
About the Author: Ifelanwa Osundolire is an Architect by profession. He was raised in Ondo town and spent a huge chunk of his childhood there with his parents and two brothers 'Kanmi and Ayo. He had his secondary education at F.G.C. Idoani and trained as an Architect in Yabatech and Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. He is currently a recipient of the British Council Innovation 360 awards and looks forward to a successful year at Birmingham City University both as a real estate professional and a writer.

About the Book: This is a collection of short stories and poems. The themes for the stories range from allegorical stories with undertones of serious national and social issues--examples of which are 'National Greed' and 'Primal Instinct'; to stories that capture the everyday lives of urban dwellers and the challenges the face as experienced in 'Zone B'.

'The Season August Broke' and 'Midnight at Noon' are stories of natural occurrences and how it affects the lives of everyday people witin the confines of the different cultures--rural and urban. Other stories, like 'D and C', explore the world of feminine and the complex daily decisions they need to make in a seemingly gender-unbalanced world. Such are the diverse themes that can be found in this debut collection.

The first word is a poem titled 'Life' which captures the author's perception of life as it is, while the denouement come in 'Ariwa Oja', a poem that seeks to compare our existence to the workings of a traditional market; 'Alexis' is fictional story of Good and Evil. 

Meet the author here.

Onaedo--The Blacksmith's Daughter by Ngozi Achebe
About the Author: Ngozi Achebe was raised in Nigeria and also spent time in England, where she was born, Her interest in 15th and 16th century history was the catalyst for writing Onaedo--The Blacksmith's Daughter which is her debut novel. She currently lives in Olympia, Washington with her children Jennifer and Nnamdi and is a practising physician. She is the niece of Chinua Achebe.

About the Book: The Blacksmith's Daughter is a work of fiction and the tale of two women separated by four hundred years of history. Maxine, a modern American woman who is half-white adn half-African comes across a set of diaries written by a slave in the 16th century and tires to write a book about it. She uses elements of the discovered diaries in her book adn also information she has discovered herself based on ancient stories retold to her by a collaborator.

The main character in the book, Oneado, an Igbo girl, the daughther of a renowned blacksmith, starts her life in an idyllic town in the heart of West Africa, with her own trials and tribulations as a young independent minded girl growing up in a traditional society.

You can purchase the book at amazon. You can meet the author here.

A Heart to Mend by Myne Whitman
About the Author: First note that Myne Whitman is a pseudonym the author coined whilst in secondary school. Her actual name is Nkem Okotcha. She grew up during the 1980s in Enugu, Nigeria. MW has been a teacher, NGO consultant, banker, skate-hire attendant, researcher and Scottish government worker. She currently lives in the United States with her husband. Myne Whitman has enrolled up in several workshops and university(ies) to improve upon the talent she already has as a weaver of stories.

About the Book: Sheltered Gladys Eborah has spent most of her life in a suburb of Enugu brought up in a deprived single parent household after losing her father as a young girl. After finishing her education, she moves to Lagos to seek a job and moves in with an estranged aunt who now wants to be forgiven for all perceived wrongs. Gladys suspects Aunt Isioma abandoned them out of disdain for their poverty, and has the uneasy role of the bridge between both families.

Her new friendships and career achievements gradually transitions Gldays into an independent young woman. Soon, she begins to fall for a wealthy Edward Bestman who, though physically attracted to her, is emotionally unavailable. Edward is very wealthy, but he is haunted by the past of his illegitimate birth and other secrets he  will not share.

Praise for A Heart to Mend
Written by a Nigerian... with Nigerian characters and setting, "A heart to mend" is a fun and fast read.--Pamela Stitch, African Loft Magazine
...a powerful story of how love doesn't strut, nver gives up, never looks back and keeps going to the end.--Shola Adu-Okubote, Femme Lounge Online
...something different. Some may say it is ideal to think about love...but love (romance) still exists against all odds--Temitayo Olofinula, Bookaholic
Meet Myne Whitman here

Thursday, August 12, 2010

One from Ghana: Powder Necklace by Nana Ekua-Brew Hammond and a Reading at Nubuke

I continue what I started yesterday, to blog five new and first time books from five different authors from three countries. Yesterday I talked about the duo from Zimbabwe: Tendai and Bryony. Today, I come home, Ghana. It is unfortunate that the volume of book publication (literary, not nursery rhymes produced in a corner shop) in Ghana has taken a negative turn and I hope that by the institution of the Burt Awards, new writers would be challenged enough to pick up the pen and put something delectable on paper.

Powder Necklace by Ekua Brew-Hammond

About the Author: "As a kid, I lived in Ghana for three years where I attended boarding school and encountered a small group of kids whose parents had also sent them to Ghana from Europe and the States. I wanted to write a book about that unique hybrid experience of being from two places at the same time, crisscrossing the globe to visit family 'back home' and on other dots of the map, and figuring out how to answer when people ask you where you're from--all while meeting the challenge of growing up" Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond.

About the Story: To protect her daughter from the fast life and bad influences of London, her mother sent her to school in rural Ghana. The move was for the girl's own good, in her mother's mind, but for the daughter, the reality of being a new girl, the foreigner-among-your-own-people, was even worse than the idea. During her time at school, she would learn that Ghana was much more complicated than her fellow expats had ever told her, including how much a London-raised child takes something like water for granted. In Ghana, water "became a symbol of who had and who didn't, who believed in God and who didn't. If you didn't have water to bathe, your were poor because no one had sent you some." After six years in Ghana, her mother summons her home to London to meet the new man in her mother's life--and his daughter. The reunion is bittersweet and short-lived as her parents decide it's time that she get to know her father. So once again, she's sent off, this time to live with her father, his new wife, and their young children in New York--but not before a family trip to Disney world.

"Brew-Hammond's colourful descriptions of Ghana and emotionally honest style capture the reader's attention from the first page" J.L. King, New York Times bestselling author.

Book Reading at Nubuke: Courtesy of the Writers Project of Ghana, Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond would be reading her debut novel, Powder Necklace, at the Nubuke Foundation located behind the new Mensvic Hotel, tomorrow 13th August 2010. The books would be available for sale and yours would be autographed. Let's come together and help the authors. The time of the reading is 7 pm exactly.

A copy could also be obtained from Amazon.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Two From Zimbabwe: Tendai and Bryony

African literature has come a long way. It has moved from the periods where one could count the number of writers on ones fingers to today where quality works are produced almost everyday. Now, no one has the excuse of saying that he or she never had the opportunity of reading books by people of the continent. Before jumping fully into African literary works, I used to say that books written by Africans are too difficult to read and that they seemed to be meant for the big 'L' literature genre. Besides, having been born in a small town where there were no huts I was worried that almost every African book I picked had to deal with huts and fireside issues. The trend has changed and today we have writers writing on varied subjects and I don't mind reading about the 'Huts and Fireside' stories because I know there are others that write about other issues. Good.

Within the past week or two I have come across five new first novels by five different authors from three different countries. I would talk about them in series. Today I present the Zimbabwe duo of Tendai Huchu and Bryony Rheam. 

The Hairdresser of Harare by Tendai Huchu
About Tendai Huchu: Tendai Huchu was born in 1982 in Bindura, Zimbabwe, He attended Churchill High School in Harare and from there went to the University of Zimbabwe to study Mining Engineering. He, however, dropped out in the middle of the first semester, found work briefly in a casino and from there drifted from one job to the next. Four years later he returned to university and is now a Podiatrist living in Edinburgh, Scotland.

The Hairdresser of Harare is his first novel.

About The Hairdresser of Harare: Vimbai is a hairdresser, the best in Mrs Khumalo's salon, and she knows she is the queen on whom they all depend. Her situation is reversed when the good-looking, smooth-talking Dumisani joins them. However, his charm and desire to please slowly erode Vimbai's rancour and when he needs somewhere to live, Vimbai becomes his landlady.

So, when Dumisani needs someone to accompany him to his brother's wedding to help smooth over a family upset, Vimbai obliges. Startled to find that this smart hairdresser is the scion of one of the wealthiest families in Harare, she is equally surprised by the warmth of their welcome; and its is their subsequent generosity which appears to foster the relationship between the two young people.

The ambiguity of this deepening friendship--used or embraced by Dumisani and Vimbai with different futures in mind--collapses in unexpected brutality when secrets and jealousies are exposed.

Praises for The Hairdresser of Harare: 
"Like very good dark chocolate this is a delicious novel, with bitter-sweet flavour"
"A subtle and refreshing story of life in contemporary Harare ... a novel of morality, prejudice and ambition told with humour and tragedy" Brian Chikwava, award-winning author of Harare North
Tendai Huchu has accepted to be interviewed on this blog, so please just watch this space. However, until then you can visit his website. Visit weaver press for your copies.

This September Sun by Bryony Rheam
About Bryony Rheam: Bryony was born in Kadoma in 1974 and lived in Bulawayo from the age of eight until she left school. She studied for a BA and an MA in English Literature in the United Kingdom and then taught in Singapore for a year before returning to teach in Zimbabwe in 2001. She was part of the British Council sponsored Crossing Borders creative writing project and has had short stories published in several anthologies, including all three volumes in the Short Stories from Bulawayo series and in Long Time Coming: Short Writings from Zimbabwe. Bryony won the Intwasa Arts Festival koBulawayo Short Story Competition in 2006.

This September Sun is Bryony's first novel.

About This September Sun: According to The Zimbo Jam, the novel is a chronicle of the lives of two women, the romantic Evelyn and her granddaughter Ellie, from the time Evelyn arrives in the country in 1946 to the present day. 

Growing up in post-Independence Zimbabwe, Ellie yearns for a life beyond the confines of small town Bulawayo, a wish that eventually comes true when she moves to the United Kingdom. However, as with many Zimbabweans, life there is not all she dreamed it to be... read the rest at The Zimbo Jam.

Praise for This September Sun
A beautifully executed story about Ellie's painful journey of discovery through her family history. The writing in This September Sun, poetic at times, fires a clear warning shot across the bows of world literature to announce that Bryony Rheam has arrived to claim her rightful place--Christopher Mlalazi
An Impressive first novel by an accomplished writer that contains both romance and mystery--Brian Jones (one of the directors of amaBooks)
The novel is currently available in throughout Zimbabwe.

Get these books and enjoy the read.
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