Booktique Ghana: What kind of research did you do and how long did you spend researching before beginning the book? Your book talks about 4 young men desperate to travel abroad in search of greener pastures. What research went describing the lives of these characters?
Nze: The normal course of life itself is the ultimate research. Like I indicated earlier, I didn’t need to do any heavy lifting to understand the characters and their motives. It was a story I was all too familiar with. From a very young age, checking out has been a thing. Hardly any adult of my generation in urban areas in Nigeria who does not know someone who has checked out and their reasons for. And by this, I am not even referring to leaving through documented and approved channels. I am speaking of the illegal routes and on the wings of criminal trafficking gangs. It’s a fact of life. That was all the research I needed. Of course, at the time I was doing a lot of journalistic writing. I had access to these stories in essays and investigative works. All I did was turn those statistics into real human stories.
Booktique Ghana: I like the fact that you wrote some part of your book on pidgin? What were your reasons for writing some part in pidgin?
Nze: Pidgin English is popular especially in West Africa is now global. LOL. You must have seen how in a recent release the Oxford English Dictionary added some Nigerian English words and phrases. But that’s an aside. Pidgin is a full-fledged language spoken by real people. If I am to be true to my characters, then their expressions on the pages of my book should be as they would have made them in real life. So it is not something I had to think too much about and as you may have also noticed, I did not italicize them either.
Booktique Ghana: Are you making money from writing? Does writing pay in Nigeria?
Nze: Very interesting question. I will wonder, on a lighter note, does writing pay anywhere? LOL. I do not write full time in the true sense of that term because really, not too many writers especially in this part of the world -with the state of the economy and the reading culture – can live off their writing full time. So, I hold down a job, a 9 to 5 like we like to call it. But I am lucky that in my case, my day job involves writing for the most part, so I can say for a fact that all I do is write even though the dimensions of the writing differ. One part is the creative writing and the other is more of strategic corporate communication, public relations and stakeholder’s management. Writing fiction is indeed, for the most part, a labour of love. We must continue to encourage people to buy books and read African authors. Own your copy, give copies out as gifts. That is the only way publishers and their authors can continue to do what they do.
Booktique Ghana: How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have currently?
Nze: There is a new book in the works and a few short stories that can be put into a collection, hopefully.
Booktique Ghana: Which Africa Writers do you look up to?
Nze: I will take this to mean, both living and dead. Achebe is a respected ancestor for me as he is for many in these parts. There is also Chukwuemeka Ike who recently passed, easily my favourite African writer of all time. The brilliant Pius Adesanmi who passed in the unfortunate Ethiopian air crash last year is another who’s essays are a cherished collection for me. There is also the late Binyavanga Wainana, who had a very large heart. Of course, I must mention the world-famous Chimamanda Adiche who taught me in her writing workshop and who is a big influence. I also look up to the likes of Helon Habila, NoViolet Bulawayo, Obioma Chigozie, Tsitsi Dangarembga, the Ngugi’s and many others. It’s a long list.
Booktique Ghana: What is your favourite childhood book? At what age did start writing? When did you first realize you want to be an author?
Nze: It sounds cliché when writers say the very first thing they did after perhaps learning to stand and walk was to write, but really for me, this is somewhat true. I have written since I can remember. My earliest memories were writing alternate stories of characters, some of them, animals, I encountered in children storybooks. All through my early education, I was always in the press club and literary society and I remember having quite a fun time writing short poems for a friend who wanted to impress their love interests back in secondary school. I, however, started writing seriously in the university. I contributed articles then to The Nation newspaper’s “CampusLife” weekly column and then I attended the maiden Adichie Creative Writing workshop. The rest is history.
Some of the books I remember reading as a child include the likes of Even the likes of ‘Sugar Girl’ by Kola Onadipe, Michael Crowther’s ‘Akin Goes to School’, Achebe’s Chike and the River amongst others. Then there was the golden cache of books of the Pacesetter series. I was lucky to have parents who invested in books. So books were my own video games, growing up.
Booktique Ghana: Does your family support your career as a writer?
Nze: Yes, they do. Even though I suspect they would have rather I focused on doing something related to my academic major, but they’ve always supported my writing. My parents who were teachers with a thing for documentation ensured they captured my earliest stories scribbled longhand in notebooks and I understand I always harangued their visitors back then to read my stories.
Booktique Ghana: What is the most difficult part of the writing process?
Nze: Knocking out the first draft. The rewriting is a lot easier for me. Getting that story out of you in the first place – finding the time and the quiet to write, conquering the self-doubt, enduring the mental pressure, overcoming the distractions, sustaining the muse, – all of these combine to make it the more difficult part of the journey.
Booktique Ghana: What do you do when you are not writing?
Nze: I watch lots of TV any day, sports especially. Added to that is news and documentaries. I also like to see movies and to travel when I can. I am not sure reading counts here ‘cos that should be normal for every writer.
By Abena Maryan