The Son of your Father's Concubine - Seun Salami

One sweet morning, I opened my email to check for new messages and the first had the same subject as the title of this post. I must confess, my heart sped up. I blinked and opened the email. It began...

Hello Myne, Okay...just to be clear, the subject is actually the title of my new book and nothing else. It is a collection of eight short stories dealing with subjects like rape, faith, the search for identity/adventure, etc but they are all tragedies. Many people have said it's a very lovely title...

I stopped there and had a nice laugh. Lovely title ko, sweet title ni, lol. It is definitely a catchy title though. I was intrigued enough to reply the email and want to know the young man who sent it better. I'll let him take it away now...

My name is ‘Seun Salami, I was born in Ogun State, Nigeria. I have a BSc in Journalism from the Lagos State University and I just concluded an MSc in Mass Communication at the University of Lagos. I’m first a writer and then I also work as an editor at a publishing firm. I read a lot and my job also means that I get to read a lot of books before they are published. My debut collection of short stories has just been published; it’s called The Son of your Father’s Concubine.

When and why did you begin writing?

I would have loved to tell you that I started writing from my mother’s womb or at a very tender age and all those nice things but unfortunately, I am not one of such people. Although I read a lot when I was younger, my early medium of expression was drawing which a lot of people said I did very well. I remember on one family occasion, I sat in a corner and drew one of the guests and then presented the picture at the end of the event. So, naturally, I did well in technical drawing and my dream was to become an architect. I even had building plans I drew before I got into secondary school. But then it wasn’t until third term of SS2 that I discovered what my real gifting was. I was having difficulties with Physics and here I was preparing for my ‘Senior WAEC’ as it was called, so I knew I needed help.

I visited my guidance counsellor (at Kings College in Lagos) and after series of questions about my abilities, the man (Mr. Olabode) told me clearly that I was better of as an Arts student. It was like a bombshell. Cut the long story short, I made the switch at the 99th. Interestingly, before then, I was already a member of the Drama Club, Press Club, Debating Society and everything else but the Science Club. In the Drama club where I often played the female roles, we acted out most of the plays like The gods are not to blame, Marriage of Anansewa and poems like Nightfall in Soweto which the Literature students were reading as part of school work; so I already knew most of them very well. After my first exam as a Literature student, I had the highest score and the rest as they say is history.

What inspires you to write? 
I think reading inspires my writing. I think so. I read a lot, it’s scary because I can stay up all night reading a book but I can’t do that for a movie because I don’t have the patience to see out movies that’s why I don’t do cinemas. I usually get inspired to write after I have read something. I might feel something was not written the best way it could have been done or I come across a character that says something that gives me an idea of something entirely different. But beyond all of that, I think the source of all of the ideas is the spirit of God who gives the ultimate inspiration. Some people have read my book and said to me that they do not believe I came up with some of those things and that it had to either have been something I experienced or the inspiration of God. I think the latter is true.

What was your publishing journey like, from thinking of the book idea to holding it in your hands?
Again, I do not fall into the category of authors that spent years looking for an agent before getting a publisher. I work at a publishing firm called Bookvine (an imprint of Vine Media) and I have edited books that the organisation has published. So, that made things a bit easy in terms of getting it published. Most of the stories in my book were written in 2009 while I was undergoing the compulsory National Youth Service in Nigeria. I had some time on my hands and since all I did was read, it naturally produced my writings; all sorts of things but I didn’t plan that I was going to publish a collection of short stories.

One of the stories was actually supposed to be a full length novel but I found that short stories just kept coming. I also completed a non-fiction book for students in that one year. However, it was when I returned to Lagos and picked up my copy of Chimamanda’s The thing around your neck, to re-read, that it occurred to me that I actually had a collection of about twelve short stories that could be published and I started working on them again. Eight of them eventually made the cut.

Why short stories? Do you plan to write a novel too?
Short stories come naturally to me. I can’t really say why, but they just come naturally. Although I cannot be called a ‘short story writer’ because I also write non-fiction and I’m working on my first novel. The novel is an epic, set in ancient Yorubaland in Nigeria. I think it’s going to be something big and I’m taking my time to write it, two years in the least. I’ve spent more money buying books and research materials for it than I have spent on clothes this year, so hopefully, I should come up with something very rich and very special and it can be published in a couple of years. I also have a non-fiction book I have completed; it is called Good - Better - Best.

Discuss one of the stories in your book.
This is tough. Ordinarily, I should like to discuss the title story, The Son of your Father’s Concubine. It is about a chaste Christian girl in the church choir who was raped on her way home from a vigil on Saturday of Easter. She got pregnant and didn’t realise early enough and her world takes a turn for the worse. Her parents and the church instead of supporting her, turned their backs since she refused to confess who she had been ‘fornicating’ with. A year later, she meets the man who raped her and he is now a pastor. From then, the story takes an unprecedented twist. I actually love the conclusion and end of that story very much. But then, my best is Pastor Jay is dead which is about a campus pastor who came back from the dead to win a soul; it’s quite dramatic.

Do you have a major theme that runs through all the stories?
 Although it wasn’t planned, all the stories turned out to be tragedies in one way or the other; but each one is extremely thought provoking and full of lessons.

What books have most influenced your life most?
 If it is about life in general, the one book that has made the most impact on my life is Holy Spirit, my Senior Partner by Benny Hinn because it was a paradigm shift after I read that book. But in literature, the books are countless, really.

If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
 Another tough one. You said, a writer, so that would be Chimamanda (Ngozi Adichie). I love her a lot, though we’ve only met once and I’m not sure she can remember me if she sees me today. But I love her courage and bravery; she is very daring and her writing is daring. I can’t write some of the things Chimamanda writes, she is just too bold and I love that. But in life, I have mentors in different things; chief of them is Fela Durotoye to whom I owe a lot of the things I know and the person I have become over the last two years.

What books are you reading now?
 I’m reading a ‘Teach Yourself’ book for writers to help me understand how to assist the publishers in promoting and marketing my book amongst other things. But naturally, I also have a lot of books waiting and I just bought Half of a Yellow Sun for the third time because I can’t find the last one I bought (someone must have taken it) and I’m going to read it again after my book has gained some momentum.

Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
 New authors; I think Steve Harris stands out. I edited his first book From College Drop-out to Corporate Sell-out and for a first time author; I thought it was absolutely brilliant! I’ve also seen his second book which is more like fiction and it is amazing, so I like him. I also like Lola Shoneyin. I read The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives and I thought she did a great job. Just that I’m not sure if she is a new author.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
 I think that would be the fact that there is no constant power supply (yet) in Nigeria. It is a bit difficult, especially for someone like me that likes to write on my laptop directly. Once power is off, I begin to pray for my battery life and once that goes off too, I have to start tweeting or doing something else while the thoughts and story line evaporates.

Who is your favourite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
 I’m sure you know that by now. (Smiles)

What do you think of the Nigerian publishing industry?
 It is tough. Very. There is a lot to be done, especially with structures for distribution and promotion of books. Interestingly, there are great authors in Nigeria, but Nigeria is not the place where you want to set up a publishing industry (yet) so many of them either have to go abroad or self publish their book.

What comments do you have about the reading culture in the country?
 Well, I used to think Nigerians don’t like to read, but I have recently found that if your book is good and you get people to know about it, they are willing to read. I walk into bookshops these days and I can’t find some books because the sellers say they are out of print. We may not be reading as much as the rest of the world, but there is something Nigerians want to read, if you write it, they’ll buy it.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Well, I guess the major news at the moment is the fact that the book is out there, even as we prepare for the official launch and book reading. It will hold on Sunday, November 20 in Ikeja, Lagos. I will be reading with inspirational speaker, Steve Harris and Sokleva a member of a hip-hop group (Rooftop MCs). A female celebrity will also join us to read the title story. I will be signing books at the event and I can answer as many questions as possible there while we listen to music and have some fun.

Where can we get your book?
The book is available at major bookshops in lagos as well as selected places in other states; Hub Media Stores, Silverbird Lifestyle Stores, Terra Kulture, Debonair Bookshop, University of Ibadan bookshop, Obafemi Awolowo University Bookshop and Bundle of Joy in GRA, Benin.

Do you have an online presence?
I think so (smiles). My twitter handle is @SeunWrites and I try to tweet as much as possible. I also have a facebook account (‘Seun Salami). I write a column on YNaija.com (which I hope to resume actively once this book reading is done) and I’m working on a personal website. But the publisher’s website has some information and a free e-copy of a story in my book. You can check it out at www.vinemediang.com