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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

As I Continue this Being in my 20s….



My birthday posts on this blog are perhaps the most consistent posts on this blog. I have been absent on this blog for some time now. Yeah, I know. A serious blogger does not behave this way, especially when you want someone or an organization somewhere to take you seriously, and start paying you for what you blog about.

Before I began writing this post, I made a solemn promise. I wanted to make this birthday post different and I decided I was not going to allow anyone read it before publication. Previous ones had at one time or the other been read by people close to me. My girlfriend read last year’s post before its publication. But this year’s is different. Know that everyone who read this did so the same way as you, on this blog. Perhaps what informed my decision was a personal urge that comes with personal feelings and space. I just wanted to keep some personal things, personal.

You know, recently, I have really been thinking. I think mostly anyways. But recently, I have been thinking deeply. The thoughts that always came off this brooding were not what people around me understood. And sometimes, the people you thought might understand always didn’t. In recent times, I have had people who just pretended as if they were listening when what they were really doing was doodling in their minds. 

So, most of those things I couldn’t share with those around me are what I will be touching cursorily in this post. Only cursorily. I can’t afford to reveal much. I don’t blog anonymously you know. Someone once told me I am secretive. I playfully disagreed I was to downplay how right the person was. But meh, I could be secretive.

Money:
This comes on the top of my list. I want to be my own man someday, independent from my folks’ support. I want to make my money and cater for my needs. When I marked last year’s birthday, I hoped and prayed that it would happen soon. Along the way, I did some jobs, made businesses happen from random several things and got some money. But these are not dough that make you financially secured. Realities are changing for me. I am not getting younger. And the luxuries I used to have are now been priced. Wait, why do you think I am telling you this gan? Oya, hire me joor.

Love:
I am in love. This love confuses most times. I am always thinking about what the other person is thinking. This love is a big piece of job. Whoever says loving is easy? It isn’t easy. It takes some working on. I am still learning to know her.  And it doesn’t help she isn’t emotionally expressive. I become the partner that always has to calculate: what is she thinking? What will she do any moment? How will this and that affect her? But do not let me mislead you, I love this love. I love N.

Now: 
You know, everything will begin making sense if a paying job comes along now. Now. Everything for me now revolves around money. I am 20 and a big + now. 

Wish me a happy birthday with a job offer.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

For WANT of What to Write



For want of what to write on, this blogger refuses to blog. Probably, I should just have written anything from nothing, ranted and pretended to be intelligent about nothing, everything. Isn’t that what we do mostly as bloggers? The famous and widely followed among us know this and do it well. Mostly, we look for those lines which mean nothing, we thread them into glosses and remake new realities from them, and buzzes happen. But even doing this requires a special humor. To take the mundane, hawk it, weave spiels around it, browbeat it to our language and make it our own: so we could be admired. And it would seem we have done something – something something; something I don’t know; something many will call special. Interestingly however, doing this requires humour. And when you lose that humour, you are lost. You feel you are the mundane. You feel you are wasting your time as realities dwarf what childishness you call blogging. To me, I seemed to have lost that humour. The very humour that keeps a blogger though blogging may not pay his bill soon. Maybe never. But miracles can happen. Fuck that. Who still wait for miracles to happen? No…no…no… I don’t mean that. There are miracles and people still wait for them and still they happen. Many, recently, trooped out to be stampeded. Many. Recently. Trooped. Out.They needed jobs. They only needed (their) miracles. 

I need miracles too but mine mustn’t come at the expense of a simple common sense. The base things we could do for miracles when we are faced with other realities. My miracles must understand my realities. I don’t pray often for anything anymore, but for the other not to happen.

I’m a friend with the thoughts inside of my head. Say I’m crazy for that and you mightn’t just be fair. I am only being human. And I didn’t just parody Eminem’s chorus. I am really a friend with the monsters inside of my head. My monsters; my wars to win. 

I have written more than 70 posts for this blog and this will be one of my few shortblogs. I really needed to break the inactivity on this blog. And I just did. Did you know Uche Okonkwo won the E… Flash Fiction Prize? A shout out to her, and for E… for making a less talked about genre popular.


Uche and the prize

I’ve been a friend with a monster inside of my head. My monster; and my wars to win.

Really, I didn’t just make sense all through this post. But I just succeeded blogging again. Oyebanji Ayodele, you should resume blogging too. One day, we will be paid for what we do. But first, miracles must happen.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Etisalat Flash Fiction Top 20 Writer, Uche Okonkwo, Speaks





This is the last in the interview series and on anything Etisalat Flash Fiction Prize from me. It all started HERE. Go read past posts to follow how it began. 

I came across Uche Okonkwo’s story on the Top 20 list and I just liked it. You can’t read the “Neverland” and not be hooked. No wonder she’s made it thus far. She has less than 800 friends on facebook and as she said, in this interview, she did little or no campaigning at all. And that makes you wonder that maybe, maybe not all stories on the Top 20 had the strength of massive votes. Maybe some thin few were really picked for their artistry. Maybe. Or perhaps her prayers worked. :)

Read, share and savor! This is the last of the interview series.
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TrueTalk: Tell us about yourself, your life in and outside writing. Let us meet Uche Okonkwo.

Uche Okonkwo: I always find this a hard question to answer. Thankfully this isn’t a job interview, so I’ll just throw in a bunch of random stuff: I’m the third of five children. I’ve never ridden a bicycle; I don’t know how. I was born and raised in Nigeria. I’ve worked as an editor, freelance and within a company. I like cats and ice cream, though the latter might be bad for me. One of my favourite books is Ngugi’s Wizard of the Crow. I’m female (one can’t always tell by my name).

I only write short stories (ranging from flash fiction to much longer short stories), and have no plans to write a novel yet. I’ve had two short stories published in anthologies: in 2012, Of Tears and Kisses, Heroes and Villains, and The Manchester Anthology 2012/2013, from my MA class. I write simply (or at least I try to), and with every piece my primary goal is to not bore the reader – everything else comes after.

My biggest challenge with writing is a combination of laziness and procrastination. I blog partly to help keep myself accountable.

TT: How do you think the internet is helping our writing?

UO: It helps to spread the word, for one; to get writing out there, especially from unpublished writers. It’s free to set up a blog, and many writers now have them and can build a fan base from them. And having a fan-base means there’s a ready-made audience if you publish a book; no publisher would complain about that.

I think the internet can also fuel creativity by giving us new material, or at least a new context or culture within which to write. The internet – and the world – is very different than it was say ten years ago, and as technology changes it affects how we live, what and how we write; how we see the world.

The internet is also invaluable for research, as I’m sure most people would agree. How did we ever do it before?

TT: I like the “Neverland”, it’s one of my favourites on the list. But I just couldn’t relate that title to the story. How does the title relate to the story?


Uche Okonkwo

UO: For me, the story is about nostalgia; it’s like a small slice of my childhood. The events in the story aren’t completely real, but I did have a close friend in primary school that was male, and his family and mine used to tease us about being a couple. ‘Neverland’ is the home of the fictional Peter Pan (along with Tinker Bell and the Lost Boys) who refuses to grow up, so I guess I chose that title because of a sense of longing for that time in my life. I don’t know that I would want to go back to being a child, but I certainly look back a lot. I’m not sure why.

TT: Looking at the large number of entries for the Etisalat Flash Fiction Prize at the initial stage, how strong was your hope? (I assume) Something must have been nudging you to have held faith all through the voting period. Let’s talk about it.

UO: I’d say I was reasonably optimistic. What I tried to do once voting started was fix my mind on other things, not think about the prize too much; and thankfully, I was well occupied for most of the voting period. I knew I had sent in a good enough entry, and I was satisfied to wait and see what would happen.

TT: So many things have been written on the Etisalat Flash Fiction prize in recent weeks. What do you think of the commentaries?

UO: I read only a few and I was mostly amused by them, especially the more fiery ones. I understand the distaste many people felt at having a writing contest where the public voted, and I certainly understand the concern that it might turn into nothing more than a popularity contest. I’m not sure why some of the commentaries were so aggressive, though; I didn’t think that was necessary. But people are (mostly) free to express their opinions how they wish, and so they did.

TT: How do you think this prize has helped our literature and growing unpublished writers especially?

UO: Writing is a relatively difficult thing to make a living from, and so I’m a fan of writers’ prizes in general. Anything that makes it easier for a writer to do his or her work, and be sustained by it – even if it’s a thousand pounds – can’t be so bad. As for how else this prize helps growing unpublished writers, perhaps through exposure. I think it’s too early to say more at this point.

TT: Do you think the prize will give anyone who wins the bragging right even when some said the Top 20 is fraught with many poor entries due to the voting method employed?

UO: I don’t know about bragging rights, and I doubt there’s ever any sense in bragging. I think the winner(s) would do well to take their prize(s) with gratitude and continue improving themselves however they can.

TT: Reading through some of the entries, one realizes that some do not know what a flash fiction is before submitting. What is your own idea of the flash fiction genre?

UO: The way I see it, flash fiction is about capturing one core thing. Some people make the mistake of trying to tell a big story with flash fiction, and then instead of a story they end up writing the summary of a story. When I write very short fiction I focus on the micro – that elementary narrative arc that can be whole in itself even with so few words, without frills. And I’m minimalist about it; I decide what the core of the story is, and whatever isn’t absolutely necessary for that core to be exposed I take out. I don’t see flash fiction as the medium for extensive character portraits or detailed descriptions of place, though it is very possible to present character and place using very few, carefully selected words.

Also, I think there’s a way to read very short fiction, and it might be something of an acquired taste. Before I got to understand the short story I used to come away from them feeling cheated, like they were incomplete. But reading short stories – to a larger extent than novels, I think – is kind of like chewing cud; there’s room for the reader to digest and add to the story long after they’re done.

TT: About the Etisalat Flash Fiction prize, some popularly put this way: ‘it is a prize that has turned writers to hustling marketers, where only the best marketer wins’. How far do you agree with that comment?

UO: It didn’t turn me into a ‘hustling marketer’, so I don’t agree very much. But I only speak for myself.

TT: Your story reads well and still made the Top 20. Many pieces read well but couldn’t gather enough votes to make it to the Top 20. What campaign strategy did you employ? Tell us about your campaign period.

UO: When I first read about the contest and saw that the winner would be determined partly by votes, my heart sank and I considered not entering. I thought, with good reason and like many others, that it would all come down to who was most popular and who could make the most noise. I don’t consider myself popular, not in the least. I’m only moderately active on social media (and that’s being generous), and I’m almost religious about keeping my business my business. But I decided I would enter anyway. The prize(s) was attractive enough, and I already had a good number of stories that would fit the word count. I knew it wouldn’t take much.

That decided, there were things I wasn’t going to do for votes. I wasn’t going to beg – vote for my story if you like it enough. I wasn’t going to harass anyone – no tagging friends or followers on Facebook or Twitter, no repeated messages. I shared my entry a few times on Facebook and Twitter, once on my blog. I sent personal messages, and never more than one per friend, to some friends on BBM and Whatsapp who I thought might miss it on Facebook and Twitter. I told my family about it. I prayed. I set my mind on other things.

My family and friends were great; they did much more than I did in spreading the word. They tweeted several times, shared and liked and commented on Facebook, they BBMed about it, sent emails and got their friends and colleagues to vote and share as well, and they did all of it without me having to ask. They’re my friends and family so they were partial to me, of course; but I think they were also glad to do it because they genuinely loved the story and could see something of themselves in it. I’m very thankful to them; I had them, so I didn’t need a ‘strategy’. However it turns out, it felt really good to have had their support.

TT: Thank you, Uche. *hi-five*


I also blog about books on CLR

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Etisalat Flash Fiction Top 20 Writer, N. Bassey, Speaks




In this interview series, I started with Tee Jay Dan. Read that here. Today, almost three days after, I am engaging N. Bassey, the author of Dressed Like A Prince. For now, until I get more writers on the Top 20 list to interview other than those I had already done, I would say N.Bassey’s took more time of preparation. For days, we exchanged many mails and some phone calls (and as such, a part of this interview was transcribed). So, what you have now are days of mails and many minutes of calls. Interesting conversations we had and you can’t just be bored. Really interesting.


On twitter, she’s known as StNaija. With her writings, she’s N. Bassey. You are just about to know how she manages both identities and how she is passionate about writing.  In this also, she shares her (the) #Etisalat insults, her regrets, her pains, her campaign, her drive and all. Enjoy!


****

TrueTalk: Who is N. Bassey or StNaija as you are also known by?

N.Bassey: N.Bassey is a pen name. StNaija is a twitter handle. Part male, part female, part bot. :)

TT: On the social media, you are popularly known as StNaija and your writings carry the name N. Bassey, how do you cope with these two identities?

N.B: As said above, they aren't the same. So I suppose you want to talk with N. Bassey. :)

TT: It is the difference which exists between them that brought about the question of coping. And I suppose combining dual identities should be somewhat interesting. I also suppose there must be a reason why you created the different names for yourself. You are StNaija and at the same time N. Bassey.

N.B: A name is a brand. A twitter name for instance is not always what one would be known as in real life. StNaija is a Twitter handle that can be operated by more than one person. N.Bassey is a pen name, one useful for voting type competitions. :)

TT: I have read some of your writings on your blog, elsewhere and recently in the Etisalat Flash Fiction competition. I am fascinated by the way your writings marvel one with simplicity. How do you achieve this? What’s the place of simplicity in writing?

N.B: Thank you for reading my work, that's a huge compliment. (Smiles) I am glad you find my writing simple. I write to communicate, to entertain, educate, edify. That can only be done when one is understood.
Simplicity in writing is a good thing. But simplicity is not the same as being simplistic. The question every writer should ask him/herself is does my choice of words serve the form? The story? The audience? Or am I alienating my audience? With my bogus words?

TT: How did you come about writing Dressed Like A Prince? Have you always had the idea of the story before the competition or the competition inspired it?

N.B: Dressed Like A Prince is a story that I had been turning over in my mind for some time. The dominant themes and scenes: Insecurity in Northern Nigeria, child abuse, jungle justice, governments demolishing structures without humane alternatives etc, have bothered me for months. The competition was a catalyst though, it helped me bring all those thoughts together in less than 300 words.

TT: So many things have been written on the Etisalat Flash Fiction prize in recent weeks. What do you think of the comments?

N.B: What things?

TT: That the contest is shoddily organised going by the voting system; that the voting system must have sifted better stories out, which may be the reason why we have so many poor entries on the Top 20. Just to mention but a few of the comments. What can you say to those?

N.B: First, I will like to speak about the contest being shoddily organized. I disagree with that. It is a maiden competition. It is the first of its kind. Even a child that will be a president; a Nelson Mandela or Barack Obama, will have to learn how to sit, walk, stand and run before he can be elected for a political office. So, for a competition that is just starting, I wouldn’t say it is shoddily done.  I would say yes there was some inexperience. I would say yes they could have done better in some way. But no, I won’t say that it was shoddily organized. 

You also talk about the issue of bad stories. I don’t think there are any bad stories or any good stories just because some stories might not meet one’s expectations. In every story, there is always some good and some bad. There is no perfect story. All stories are in the spectrum of imperfection. Now, this competition told us the rules. The rules are not just about writing. I think they are looking for someone that is able to write, able to edit, able to promote, able to advocate, able to champion the cause of African literature. That is the sort of person they are looking for. You just don’t sit down there and write a perfect story that nobody reads. 

This competition wants to give us stories (as winners) that have been read and loved, read and loved all over the world. This particular contest is not just about writing, it is a complete package. Call it a hybrid and you wouldn’t be too far from it. That’s what I think they were trying to do. So, I am not at all bothered. Every story had its own space, its own time. Everybody was given the same amount of time. So, if know you had a good story, you should have gone all out and promoted it. If some other person with a bad story and better confidence and better contact outpaces you, you should just plan to come better next time. Every competition has rules. More important than good stories and bad stories is that the competition rules are followed. And rules are not changed in the middle of the game. 

You don’t call something you can’t reach sour grapes. It is easy to call something you can’t reach sour. That you can’t reach something doesn’t make it sour. It is just unreachable to you. And guess what, you can decide to reach it next time, you can buy ladder or borrow an helicopter (laughs) and reach it from the top of the tree.

I know that promotion is tough for writers. Most of us are introverts. Some of us think, how can I, a great writer, go and ask an okada man to open my page and like this story. There is a need for writers to connect with their readers.

TT: The first stage, which is the major process, of the competition is primarily based on voting, and you seemed to be everywhere on the social media campaigning for votes. How was your campaign like? 

You have over a thousand and five hundred followers on twitter and quite a followership on your blog. Do you think that gave you an edge during the campaign period?

N.B: Really? I doubt that. 99.9% of Nigerians don't even know that there is an Etisalat Flash Fiction contest.

My campaign was fun, I had a fantastic team and overwhelming support from my family, friends, followers and fans. #TeamDLAP kept the flag flying throughout the thirty days. Frankly, I didn't have a clue on how I was going to sustain a campaign for thirty days but they made it happen.

TrueTalk: You talked about having a team, #teamDLAP, on ground. You must have been astute, perhaps desperate, at seeing “Dressed Like A Prince" go far in the contest. What can you say to that?

N.Bassey: I was not astute and I was not desperate. I was only passionate. I was passionate about literature. I have always been passionate about literature. Promoting a story is not just a new thing to me. And it is not new to most of my friends who are writers on twitter. We write and promote our works every day. When you go on twitter, you’ll find out one writer or the other promoting their blogposts. I even have a friend on twitter who actually pays people to read his posts and asks them to answer some comprehension questions. 

I was very shocked and afraid of some of the hate mails and threats that I got because of the promotion I did. If you no fit run, no dey go track. If you no fit fight, no dey go boxing ring. No so the thing be. The promotion I did was just 10% of what I had planned to do. So, I don’t understand when people say I am desperate. The promotion I did was just phase one of ten. Some did reviews for me. Some did videos for me. As for me, to add to those, I really wanted to do rallies, road shows, t-shirts, dances and parades. Those are the things I wanted to do. Maybe I need someone to educate me a bit on what I did that was desperate. I disassociate myself from that word. Passionate – yes. Consistent – yes. Teamwork – yes. Excellent - yes. I used the little time and resources I had. 

This is one of the few issues I had with the competition: If I am going to host a competition and bring out 400+ strong men on that longlist, then I should give out resources to them to help them with the promotion. It wouldn’t have been out of place for Etisalat to give #20,000 worth of airtime and other support to all the writers to promote their stories. It is a win-win.
My regrets about the competition are few.

One, I regret that we were not given any money to start with. So, some of us had to start with fundraising first of all. Some of us had to do with little fund. We had to use the materials we already had, diverting them from their previous uses to do what we are passionate about. I would have loved a situation whereby you are given 2million naira and 2 months to promote your story, then we’d know how much some of us are passionate about literature. I didn’t just suddenly become so passionate about literature because Etisalat decided that let’s have a Flash Fiction prize. 

I also want to say that voting is just a part of the contest. Even if a man has billions of votes, it will still have to be left to the judges to pick the winners. Even if you campaign so much, you cannot by your sheer votes scale it all. At that level, the votes don’t really matter. So the issue of desperation is just out of it.

TT: Few days after your story made the Top 20, you posted on twitter that you have severely been insulted. You called it the “Etisalat insult”. What really brought about the whole “Etisalat insult” issue?

N.B: That's not what I posted. :)

TT: Oh. My bad. What you really posted (to quote you now) was: 'I receive grace not to respond to all the #Etisalatreads insults. To ignore the voices crying "Sour Grapes!" To smile, silent, at the dogs in the manger. To shake my head and walk past the Leaven of the Pharisees.'. Tell us about the insults. Why the insults?

N.B:  Oh that, I wrote that in response to the tweets I was reading about the prize, especially those from writers who had entered and/or supported writers for the prize. The rules of the prize were clearly stated from the start. It would have been wise to protest then, six months ago, not now, after it is clear that one's entry didn't make the top 20.

TT: How do you think this prize has helped our literature and growing unpublished writers especially?
N.B: Yes and No. Yes, it helped to get the word out but no, in the end it was just a few that were committed in the end.

TT: Do you think the prize will give anyone who wins the bragging right even when some said the Top 20 is fraught with many poor entries due to the voting method employed?

N.B: Bragging rights? Do you mean something to be proud of? If yes, then yes of course. The winner should be very pleased and proud of themselves. First, for having the guts to enter the contest and submitting their entry before the deadline. Second, for playing according to the rules, being a good sport about the contest, not crying murder halfway. Third, for hosting a successful thirty day long global campaign. Fourth for writing a story that wins the Judges' nod. Yes, they would have quite a lot to be proud of.

TT: Thank you StNaija (or should I say N. Bassey? *similes*.

 N.B: You are welcome. :)
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