I met Samuel Kolawole at the Garden City Literary Festival in Port Harcourt last year. He was very articulate as he told me his plans of editing and publishing his collection of short stories. I got the chance to read some of them before the book went to press and I think he is one to watch. He is our Guest Author for the day. Enjoy the interview -
I like to keep it simple. I was born and raised in Ibadan, Southwest Nigeria, where I live, write and hope to change the world someday.
When and why did you begin writing?
I wish I could tell you that I had developed the desire to write since I was little, and that I pored over Famous Five, and Nancy Drew but there was nothing in my childhood that suggested I would be a writer. I started writing some years ago after I was faced with a major life crisis. I became despondent and decided to turn away from the world, so I found refuge in books. I read like a man from another world. Sometimes I would bury my head for days without coming out, people became concerned for me. They thought I was losing my mind. Then one day I picked up my pen and began to write… and so my writing journey began. Now I can look back and say it was God’s providence. God used the mess of my life to create something of beauty.
What inspires you to write?
Everything. What people say, what they don’t say but mean, true stories, (some of the stories in my book were inspired by real accounts) something happening somewhere in a bus or on the streets, funny occurrences…the unusual. I find myself being drawn to things people would usually take for granted.
What was your publishing journey like, from thinking of the book idea to holding it in your hands?
Writing is a solitary adventure and requires a lot of dedication. To prove your competence as a writer takes time. The entire process demanded a lot from me but it made me a better writer.
Why short stories? Do you plan to write a novel too?
I love writings short stories. It’s as simple as that. Short narratives are not what one writes in preparation for a novel but they are distinct art form on their own. Because of its brevity and concentration, the short story form is effectively emotional or rather has to be. In a short story you need to be precise. You don’t have the luxury of space so you need to make every word count. That’s what makes it so exciting to write. A novel can’t give you that pleasure at least not in the same measure. My next work is a novel though. It’s titled Olivia of Hustle House but I still look forward to writing more short stories in the future
Discuss one of the stories in your book.
“Mules of fortune” concerns three children forced to join a group smuggling food to the border in exchange for ammunition for rebels. Surviving a fatal accident they forge an unexpected bond.
Do you have a major theme that runs through all the stories?
My primary goal as a writer to invent good stories, create believable characters and evoke emotions within my reader. I am of the belief that writing is not an end in itself but a means to an end, it must be with a purpose. I started the book with a theme in mind- tyranny in the 90’s under military rule. I wanted to tell stories that had not been told before about that era. But then I discovered as I progressed that the subject of tyranny is not restricted to the military or a particular moment in history. So the scope simply expanded and the characters assumed their own lives, The Book of M is about oppression. It’s about greed, corruption and desire. It’s about the repercussions of the choices we either make for ourselves or others make for us. It pretty much reveals the dark and unfortunate side of human experience.
What books have influenced your life most?
The Holy Bible, Ben Okri’s Famished road, Dambudzo Marachera’s House of Hunger, J M Coetzee’s Disgrace, Helon Habila’s Waiting for an angel, E M foster Great Gatsby, The beautiful ones are not yet born,
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
Ben Okri, in my opinion he is the best fiction writer our country has produced so far.
I have a rather haphazard reading habit. I am currently reading Beauty, an anthology of essays by John Miller, Distant places a novel by Cuban writer Abilio Estevez, Tin Drum a novel by Nobel laurel Günter Grass. Possession by AS Byatt (I am going through it again to remind myself that I still have a long way to go). I can remove from or add to the list depending on my mood
Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
2009 Caine Prize winner E.C Osondu. He is a writer I always love to go back to time and again
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Nothing that can’t be solved
Who are your favorite authors and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
My literary influences are diverse but for the sake of my bias for African literature let me mention a few names, E C Osondu, Ben Okri, Helon Habila, Pettina Gappah, Uwem Akpan, Okey Ndibe, I like the way they tell their stories, the kind of stories they tell.
What do you think of the Nigerian publishing industry?
A lot is happening in the industry right now with potentials for much more. A few years ago independent publishers and organizations sprang up and literary changed the industry. They ignited the vanishing flames of creativity in our nation. But now they are getting weak and frustrated. They a struggling to stay in business because although more people now read, only a small percentage pay for what they read. The problem of the publishing industry in Nigeria is multifaceted. Government policies and involvement is one thing, the people’s reading culture is another. We need NGO’s and literary organizations; we need grants, fellowships, residencies and competitions. Cooperate organization should get more involved in the arts as a way of promoting youth development instead of funding meaningless parties and raves. I also believe that the way we present literature in our country must change as literary readings and events in Nigeria are often associated with eccentric individuals and boring activities. Let’s try making literature a bit glamorous and see what will happen. We don’t have to lose its seriousness, the craft must remain but the presentation can change
What comments do you have about the reading culture in the country?
People are too busy trying to make money in order to get out of the rut they are in to read. Those who read would rather borrow than buy. The reading culture is poor and this has affected every facet of our existence. The superficial is given first place. The unseen, yet valuable things of life are disregarded. We are a nation in need of help and the earlier we know it the better. We keep complaining about corruption but the real problem is with our value system and Literature plays an important role in shaping the philosophy of a society.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Buy my book, and immerse yourself in it!
Do you have an online presence, Facebook, Blog, Twitter or a website?
Email me on firstname.lastname@example.org, follow my blog on Samuelkolawole.blogspot.com(soon to be up) facebook me (Tosin Kolawole) or catch my tweets on twitter(alabarius)
Where can we buy the book, both in stores and online.
I will soon be on Create Space. More sales channels will open up soon. I’d also be delighted to explore opportunities for readings and interviews