I saw a book review on Bella Naija recently and was intrigued by the book cover and the fact that it was written by the niece of Chinua Achebe. The book is the tale of two women; Maxine, a modern American woman who is half-white and half-Nigerian and Onaedo, a Nigerian girl of the 16th century who gets sold into slavery. Maxine uses elements of the discovered diaries of Onaedo in writing essentially the book. So this is fiction within fiction. I have read the book and melikey. See the review soon on Naija Stories.
Since reading the review and then the book, I have come to know the author, who lives just about an hour away from me, more. Ngozi Achebe is a lovely lady, a practicing physician who also enjoys the writing life. She was kind enough to answer some questions for me and I look forward to meeting her too. Enjoy the interview below.
- What inspires you to write?
The need to share a story, the need to tell it and the hope that somebody is interested enough to come along with you on the journey.
- Do you have a specific writing style?
Not really but if I was pushed to describe it I would say a narrative and expository style.
- What are your current projects?
I’m finishing the original book I was writing before I decided to write Onaedo. It is a coming of age story that is set during the Nigerian/Biafran Civil war, and since I was one of the so called “Biafran Children” ,the generation that experienced it first hand, I feel its time to put something down on paper.
- You're a practicing physician, do you see writing as an alternate career or will it remain part-time?
I hope my writing will run a parallel path with my medicine. Medicine for me is almost a way of life since I’ve been a doctor for all of my adult life and I do love doing it. I’m very fortunate to now have the opportunity to do the two things I love the most – writing and medicine. Not many people are this lucky.
- Can you share a little about your writing routine?
My best time to write is late at night on the days I’m not doing hospital call. I love the solitude that descends on my house at that time. My mind has the time and space to wander.
I love ancient history but I do also intend to write of things that are more recent and current. My next book as I said earlier is going to be set in more recent times - in the sixties, seventies and eighties. However to put things in context, one must remember though that today is tomorrow’s history.
- Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Being able to concentrate and getting it done. Life gets in the way sometimes.
- When and why did you begin writing? When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I have always written. I’ve always had a wild imagination which I think helps. My father, even though he was a scientist, an engineer, used to set writing competitions for my siblings and me and he would judge us and award prizes according to who told the most engaging story. I have stacks of manuscripts. Some I will hopefully work on and get published someday, others will not see the light of day. Am I a writer? I will leave that for others to judge.
- What books have most influenced your life most?
I can’t point to any particular book because I have read so many. I have talked before of how I grew up surrounded by books. Each one taught me a little something at each stage of my life.
- Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Aside from my uncle, Chinua Achebe whose powerful prose and humorous style still blows me away, I also like Flora Nwapa, John Munonye, Cyprain Ekwensi, Chukwuemeka Ike and some others from that era. A writer that I read more recently that I liked a lot is Khalid Husseini in The Kite Runner and A thousand Splendid Suns writing about Afghanistan; it made me sad. I also like The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. It was set 1950’s Congo. Of the more recent African writers, I like the young writers like Chimamanda Adichie, Sefi Atta, Adaobi Nwaubani and others – all super talented writers that are making us Nigerians all proud.
- If you had to choose, which writer would you say writes in about the same line or genre as your book?
I suppose somebody like James Michener for the way he goes back in time; Ken Follett, Margret Atwood and Phillipa Gregory. They all write historical fiction.
- Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? What books are you reading now?
There are always new authors and many that I like. I’m reading a rather funny book set in India called The Marriage Bureau for Rich People by Farahad Zama. I have a job that can be emotionally draining sometimes so I like books that make me laugh.
- Chinua Achebe of Things Fall Apart fame is your uncle, you also mention another uncle who encouraged your love of reading. Are there other people that have inspired or supported your writing?
Mostly family. I’m very close to my sisters Adeze, Ifi and Chiko and respect their opinions because they are very discerning and critical in a helpful way. They usually read my first drafts and give a lot of good advice.
What do you think of the Nigerian publishing industry?
I have heard a lot of positive things about it. It seems the Nigerian literary scene is undergoing a renaissance of sorts. The Nigerian edition of my book, Onaedo, is going to be published by an up and coming publisher, Chinelo Iwenofu of AfricAgenda. From what I’ve seen so far she is doing a great job with trying to make the book available to the reading public in Nigeria. The Nigerian publication date is in November.
- What comments do you have about the reading culture in the country?
The reading and writing culture had always been strong until books became so expensive that reading is now a luxury. Nigerians have always liked to read and debate so this is a particularly sad state of affairs. I hope this book, Onaedo The Blacksmith’s Daughter, will reach a wide audience and stimulate discussion because it discusses an era in our history that is not talked about a lot – that is the beginning of Portuguese incursion into our lands.
- Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I thank you all for your tremendous support. I hope you continue to support my efforts.