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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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