Nkem Ivara - Closer Than A Brother [Author Interview]

I have featured Nkem Ivara,  previously on this blog, where she shared her own love story. She is the blogger behind The Wordsmythe, and back then I described her as also a writer, and aspiring author. Today, her first book, Closer than a Brother, has just been published by Whispers Press. Talking about the road to publishing this book, Nkem says;

"I'm a hopeless romantic, I love happy endings. I grew up reading lots of romance novels whose heroes and heroines were predominantly white. I wanted to read stories about black characters falling in love but there were none. This has changed considerably since my youth, there's now a representation of the black community in the romance genre. I wanted to write a story that explored the transition of best friends from friendship to falling in love."

She adds that the Internet has been a powerful tool in helping her not only to write but to network, collaborate and share with and among fellow writers. Just like in my own experience, the internet and social media made it easy for Nkem to reach a wide audience and get instant feedback. We are both members of the Romance Writers of West Africa, and it was a pleasure to engage Nkem in this informative interview.

What inspires you to write?
This is a good question. I would say it is less of an inspiration, more of an urge and this incessant nagging feeling that I need to write down  my thoughts. I feel like I am living in exciting times, I look around me and the energy is palpable, there are so many things to write about. Human interest stories fascinate me; the world sometimes seems riveted by sad stories. On the other hand, there is something so profoundly fulfilling about writing about love and relationships. Writing Closer than a Brother helped me immensely to plumb those issues that for me reflect the essence of the human condition.

- Do you have a specific writing style?
I don't really know if I have a specific writing style.  I think my writing style is determined by the subject matter. I will say that I know I am in a certain writing groove if I can feel the passion and energy throbbing through the pages of my drafts. I enjoyed writing Closer than a Brother and I hope that it shows in the enthusiastic style. It is a love story and I wanted the joy, heartaches and triumphs of relationships to come through in my writing style.

- What are your current projects?
I am currently working on two stories which are both set in Lagos and Abuja, Nigeria. One is about a married couple who have to deal with the pain and betrayal of infidelity. The other is about a couple who find themselves cornered into a marriage of convenience.

- Do you see writing as an alternate career or will it remain part-time?
I would love writing to become my main career but I am not there yet.

- Can you share a little about your writing routine? How does your career impact in your writing?
I don't really have a routine. I write when I can though not as often or as much as I would like. I run a business and I am lucky enough to have staff so I just do the supervision and can pretty much do as I wish with my time.

- This is your first novel. Tell us the details about how you got published.
When I started writing the story, I got a group of savvy beta-readers to read it and make suggestions. Their feedback was mostly positive so that encouraged me to complete the story. After it was completed, I didn't do anything with it for a year till, at the prodding of some friends and my husband, I chose five publishers in the genre and pitched it to them. To my utter delight, within a few weeks, I heard back from one telling me they loved the story and would love to publish it subject to some changes. I decided to wait and see if I would hear from the others. I did. In the end, four out of the five responded. Only one of them was a rejection, three wanted to publish it. After considering all the other offers, I went with Whispers Publishers.

- Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Yes, it doesn't get any easier. It would be really nice to engage my writing passion on a full time basis. Life gets in the way. But I am happy I am still able to write.

- When and why did you begin writing? When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Since my teens, I've dabbled in writing but never considered myself a writer as such until six or seven years ago. I enjoy being able to express what I'm experiencing and how I see the world around me in the written word. I also write because I have to. I get listless and out of sorts if I can't or don't write. Writing makes me happy.

- What books have most influenced your life most?
Of all the books I've read, I have to say the Bible is the one which has influenced my life the most. Others are Shakespeare's plays, Frank Peretti's Piercing the Darkness and This Present Darkness, Francine Rivers' Mark of the Lion series, Enid Blyton's Famous Five, the Pacesetters novels and Mongo Beti's Mission to Kala. There are quite a few more but I will stop at those.

- Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I have a long list of favourites including Francine Rivers, Frank Peretti, Karen Kingsbury, Penny Jordan, Charlotte Lamb, C.S Lewis, John Grisham, Robert Whitlow, Buchi Emecheta, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Chinua Achebe, Chika Unigwe, Lola Shoneyin. What strikes me about their work is their ability to spin a tale I get so engrossed in that I become more a part of the story than my actual reality.

- If you had to choose, which writer would you say writes in about the same line or genre as your book? You know, like if you like this book, then you'll also like mine?
I'm sure there are some but I would very much prefer that readers see in my works, my own voice. I would like a reader to tell another reader, please go read Nkem Ivara! That would be an honour.

- Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? What books are you reading now?
Yes, I'm very excited about lots of new authors like Kiru Taye, Tolu Popoola, Ukamaka Olisakwe, Myne Whitman, Chibundu Onuzo, Lara Daniels, Emmanuel Iduma, Richard Ali, Chika Ezeanya, Ngozi Achebe, Abimbola Dare, etc.  I am reading Binyavanga Wainaina's One day I Will Write About This Place.

- You are having a book launch, what other ways is the book being promoted?
Yes, we are having a book launch in London at The Africa Center on April 6, 2013. I am super excited about that, the responses to the invitation have been overwhelmingly positive. In this new age of writing, writers have to do a lot more promotion of their works than ever before. Fellow writers will be blogging about my book, I am expecting some reviews out soon and I am plugging the book on the Internet and social media.

- You seem to be working with Paressia publishers. What do you think of the Nigerian publishing industry?
You are referring to my current collaboration with the author Victor Ehikhamenor who recently published his book, Excuse Me! With Paressia Publishers. I have no direct dealings with Paressia or any other Nigerian publishing company. I must say that I have been impressed by the grit and determination that quite a few of them are showing under very difficult conditions. I am rooting for them and I sincerely hope to collaborate with one in the near future.

- What comments do you have about the reading culture in Nigeria?
Some have said that the reading culture is dying in Nigeria. I think that may be true in the sense that people are not reading books as much as they used to. However, on social media, it is clear that Nigerians are reading a lot; there are many more options for reading today than hard copy books. The good news is that writers are beginning to write and promote their books on social media and on the Internet. Closer than a Brother is an e-book, I am taking advantage of consumers’ increasing preference for digital media. So far, the responses to my book by Nigerians have been positive. So, I dispute the notion that the reading culture is dying in Nigeria.

- Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Yes! Go to amazon.com and amazon.co.uk and buy my book, Closer than a Brother! You will be glad you did. While you are there, buy for your friends and relatives. Help promote a healthy reading culture. Buy a book for a friend. Buy a book for yourself. And read, read, read.

Book Blurb

Daye Thompson didn’t know when it happened, but while playing the role of the-big-brother-she-never-had to beautiful Samantha Egbuson, he’d gone and fallen in love with her. Confessing his true feelings could signal the end of their lifetime friendship. Can he risk losing her altogether?

She may have fallen for her best friend, Daye but can Sami trust him with her heart when she’s had such rotten luck with men she trusted in the past?

You can also purchase Closer Than a Brother on the Whispers Website, All Romance Ebooks, and it will be available on Barnes and Noble.