The book “My Mind is No Longer here” by Sylva Nze Ifedigbo was my discovery of the year – 2019. I truly enjoyed the story of four (4) young men in search of greener pastures outside Nigeria. Donatus, Chidi, Osahon and Haruna suddenly find their fates tied to a certain consultant named Yinka. The themes explored in the book includes: greed, love, ambition, unfulfilled dreams and the fear of failure.
This book was authored by Sylva Nze Ifedigbo. He is a fiction writer and op-ed columnist, was born in 1984 and lives in Lagos Nigeria. His works of fiction and socio-political commentaries have appeared in many publications both online and in print, including Prick of the Spindle, African Writer, Maple Tree Literary Supplement, Saraba, Kalahari Review, True Africa, and AFREADA. Spectrum Books published his novella, Whispering Aloud, in 2007 while DADA Books published his collection of short stories, The Funeral Did Not End, in 2012. My Mind Is No Longer Here is his debut Novel.
I hope this interview helps you understand the thought process and creativity that went into this book
Booktique Ghana: What is it like being an author from Africa -Nigeria precisely? Does it exhaust or energize you to write about Africa?
Nze: I am proudly Nigerian and African and writing about human experiences on the continent excites me. We have lots of beautiful stories to tell and we must. Besides providing literary entertainment to today’s readers we are also advancing the African storytelling tradition albeit on a different medium and documenting history for posterity. I find nothing exhausting about it. Indeed, I hold the opinion that while a story may be set in a particular geographical area, its essence is universal in nature. In that sense, African stories are global stories and the experiences told of resonates with people in other parts of the world.
Booktique Ghana: What inspired your book “My Mind is No Longer Here?
Nze: I have been asked this question often and frankly, the answer is a newspaper headline. Sometime in 2011 or thereabout I read a story in the metro section of one of Nigeria’s top dailies about a so-called travel agency which had swindled a lot of people of their money promising to help them immigrate to Canada. At that time too, issues of human trafficking was also rife. I thought to interrogate that desperation to leave at all cost and the people who had made an industry out of that desperation.
Booktique Ghana: Tell me about the writing process? How hard or easy was it creating the characters? What was your work schedule like when you were writing this story? How long did it take to write the book?
Nze: The initial draft of My Mind is No Longer Here was written in a month. I had taken part in the NaNoWriMo challenge, it is this annual internet-based creative writing project that challenges participants to write a 50,000-word manuscript in a month, usually in November. So, I participated and by the end of the month, I had a manuscript, slightly over 50,000 words. But it took another four years to be published. In between that period, was the many rounds of editing and rewriting and the discussions with my publisher. I can tell you for free that the finished book is way different from that initial manuscript. But like I always like to tell budding writers, you cannot edit a blank page. Write, then start re-writing.
For my writing process, I usually start by building the story in my mind, end to end. I need to be convinced I have a story in my mind before I start to write. This can take any time from a few weeks to months. When I start writing, that story could take other forms. But I first must think it through to be able to write it. The instigation could be anything, from a newspaper headline in the case of MMINLH to something I overhear in a crowded bus or a thought that popped in my thought while driving home from work. When the idea is fully formed in my mind, I just go ahead and write. The characters mere names and roles in my mind now begin to be further developed as the plot unravels. The other aspect of the writing process I must not fail to mention is the editing and rounds of re-writing which must happen to create any good piece of writing.
Writing the characters in MMINLH was fun, especially Yinka. I didn’t need any extra imagination or deep research to write them because all the characters were known to me, people I encounter everyday living in Lagos. They urged me on as I told their stories.
Booktique Ghana: Walk me through the cover of the book? People usually say do not judge a book by its cover but the cover of your book speaks a thousand words.
Nze: First, shout out to Fred Martins, the visual artist who designed that cover. Great job he did. Usually, publishers create cover design options for the author to pick from. It could be an iterative process sometimes. But once I say the cover, I fell in love. I knew yes, this was it. So I give the credit to my publisher and the artist for his smart interpretation of the brief. I think a great cover and an appealing title plays a part in our decision to pick a book out of many enticing options off the shelf in a book shop. As an author, you must also be thinking of the marketing bit for your book and that is where book covers play an important part. I am glad you seem to agree that MMINLH’s cover, resonated with you and the story.
Booktique Ghana: Who is your favourite character in the book? Why?
Nze: I think I already gave that away in my earlier response. Yinka it is. His motives, his mischief, his ambitions, all typical attributes of a character popularly known as the “Lagos Big boy” I enjoyed writing him a lot.
By Abena Maryann