“Find your voice and your style” – Interview with Nneoma Mbalewe

“Find your voice and your style” – Interview with Nneoma Mbalewe

TABLE TALK

“Find your voice and your style” – Interview with Nneoma Mbalewe

As we anticipate the fourth edition of Kreative Diadem Annual Creative Writing Contest, we had a chat with Nneoma Mbalewe who won the flash fiction category of the third edition.

Nneoma is an award-winning writer who was shortlisted for the Creative Freelance Writerz (CFW) prize last June. She currently studies Law at the prestigious University of Ilorin, Nigeria. Nneoma discusses the inspiration behind her winning entry “Ayomide” and also shares some tips for young writers.

Enjoy the read!

Kreative Diadem: Who is Nneoma Mbalewe? Tell us briefly about yourself.

Nneoma: I’m an avid reader and zealous writer. Besides that, I’m a law student at the University of Ilorin.

Nneoma Mbalewe

Winner of the 2019 Kreative Diadem Annual Creative Writing Content (Flash Fiction Category)

KD: When did you first discover your passion for storytelling and what inspired you?

Nneoma: I would say in primary school. I was a ferocious reader (still am) and with such reading, grew my desire to tell stories.

KD: What are some of the challenges you face as a writer and what steps do you take to overcome them?

Nneoma: I would say timidity and lack of confidence in myself. I read some stories/novels and they’re so good that I begin to question myself. Is writing for me? It pushes me to want to better my work and spend time trying to be a perfectionist instead of actually sitting down to write.

KD: Who are some literary figures that inspire you and your work?

Nneoma: I have a lot, actually. Internationally, I read a lot of James Patterson, Sidney Sheldon and Karen Rose. I also look up to Elnathan John, Chidera Okolie, to name a few. But I don’t limit myself and my favorite figures change very often.

“Find your voice and your style. Just because someone writes the way you like does not mean that style is for you.”

Nneoma Mbalewe

Winner of the 2019 Kreative Diadem Annual Creative Writing Content (Flash Fiction Category)

KD: Last year, you won first prize in the flash fiction category of Kreative Diadem’s annual writing contest. What was your reaction like?

Nneoma: I was surprised, honestly. I hadn’t wanted to submit Ayomide because I felt it wasn’t ready but the deadline was approaching and I really wanted to submit something. Winning made me elated.

KD: What was the inspiration and meaning behind Ayomide?

 Nneoma: Ayomide was birthed by the question,” How do we prove our worth if we do not even get an opportunity?” If Ayomide was born elsewhere, at his age, he probably would have gotten a college degree being a prodigy. Besides that, no one else has noticed his genius, except his teacher. A lot of people we meet are talented yet have no way of letting the world know. That’s the story I wanted to tell.

KD: Do you have any other published works aside from Ayomide, as well as any other achievements you’d like to share?

Nneoma: I have very few published works. I was shortlisted for CFWriterz June 2019 prize and one of my stories was published in their magazine. Apart from flash fiction, I have won two essay competitions.

KD: What are some of your long-term goals as a writer?

Nneoma: I still see myself writing years and decades from now. It’s something I really love and I can’t let it go just like that.

KD: Any forthcoming works or publications?

Nneoma: I have a few incomplete works that I would like to flesh up soon.

KD: What advice would you give to young writers like yourself, especially in Nigeria?

Nneoma: I’d say, find your voice and your style. Just because someone writes the way you like does not mean that style is for you.

Any final words for Kreative Diadem and its readers?

Nneoma: To Kreative Diadem, thank you very much for this opportunity. You guys are awesome. To the readers, don’t you ever dare quit reading.

Isolation

Our third issue ever, "Isolation" is out. We had thought-provoking conversations with Alexis Teyie and Tobi Nifesi. It's a collection of works from some of the finest minds out there -- poetry, short stories, interviews, and creative essays.

Do you love our published works?

You can add your literary work to an endless list of poems, short stories, flash fiction, and essays.

NOTES ON CRAFT: ESSENTIALS OF A GOOD STORY by Olakunle Ologunro

NOTES ON CRAFT: ESSENTIALS OF A GOOD STORY by Olakunle Ologunro

Black and red typewriter

Notes on Craft: Essentials of a Good Story

by Olakunle Ologunro

Dear Writer,
 

I’m here again, just like I promised the last time. I hope you are here with me?

This week’s letter is focused on the essentials of a good story: what they are and how you can deploy them in your own stories. Before anything, I should remind you that our perception of stories (written work, generally) is often subjective. For example, if the choice was between The Joys of Motherhood and Second Class Citizen by Buchi Emecheta, I might go for Second Class Citizen while you’d prefer The Joys of Motherhood as the better book. And it’s fine. We will not always like the same work; our taste and preferences differ. But despite these differences, there will be certain qualities shared by the stories we consider excellent and well-written.

Recently, I shared a story with a friend and told him I liked the writing. He said he liked it too, but the story didn’t do for him what he wants good literature to do.

“What would that be?” I asked. 

“Reveal character, teach me about humanity.” 

I think we can start from here: A good story should reveal character, teach about [or shed new light on] humanity.

In one of my creative writing classes at the university, I learnt about defamiliarisation. Here’s a simple definition: making the familiar appear new. This is a truth we all know — every story we want to write has been written before. There is no new story. It might seem far fetched, but it’s the truth. Are you planning to write something about religion? Done. Domestic abuse? Done too. Infidelity? Done. Queerness? Done too. There really is nothing new. Everything is familiar, known. 

How does one then beat this? By making the familiar appear fresh. This leads to what might as well be my next point: A good story makes the familiar appear new, fresh.

Second Class Citizen by Buchi Emecheta

To do this, you have to find a fresh approach to the story, an angle that seems unconventional. Chimamanda Adichie’s advice is apt here: “Avoid writing stories that feel too much like Nollywood.” A fresh approach can be through the characterization, the plot, the setting, and the style of language. I have read stories about people grieving lost ones, but I will always remember an excerpt from one of Ayobami Adebayo’s short stories where the walls of the building are the ones narrating the story. That is the kind of story that stays with you. So, before writing, it might be helpful to think of all the ways to tell your story in a way that makes it appear new, that strives to shrug off the overly familiar. I’m not exactly making this a rule; I sometimes just pour stories down onto the page before thinking about it too.

I love Victor Shklovsky’s thought on defamiliarization: “Art makes the familiar strange so that it can be freshly perceived. To do this it presents its material in unexpected, even outlandish ways: the shock of the new.” Again, bear in mind that the ‘shock’ factor is subjective, depends on you or what you have chosen to write. 

Whatever you do, never sacrifice substance for style. 

Have you ever read a story where the style is tight and what not but feel afterwards that something is lacking? Yes, style is good. Play with language and structure and characters; it is something I love to do a lot. But make sure you do not do it at the expense of the actual story you are telling. Always put the story first. Because at the end of the day, it is the story, the substance, that matters. That is another important point: Always put the story first.

In a good story, empathy for your characters is important. This is quite simple: if you don’t feel anything for your characters, how do you expect your readers to feel something for them? In other words, write characters that are human, humane, flawed like the rest of us. How you see your characters determine what you put on the page, and what you put on the page — the character you write — is what the reader will meet and interact with as they read the short story. Even if the character is outrightly bad, be honest in writing them. You owe the character that much.

One piece of writing advice that has remained with me over the years is this: You can do anything; just do it well. What this means is that there are no cut and dried rules per se. And even if there were, if your story is good enough, it can break the rules. What matters is that you tell a story that is honest and true, a story that leaves the reader with something. Or a story that, when it ends, makes them sit quietly for minutes, awed by the experience they just had.

I’ll stop here now. 

Here’s a short story I really like and I think you should read: The Ache Of Longing.

I will be back in two weeks’ time, and we will talk about writer-ly habits. Promise me you’ll be here. 


See you soon,

Kunle.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Olakunle Ologunro is a Nigerian writer. His work has been published in Brittle Paper, Agbowo, the Queer Africa anthology, and the Gerald Kraak anthology for work that provokes thought on the topics of gender, social justice and sexuality. He is an alumnus of the Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop and a finalist for the 2020 Adina Talve-Goodman Fellowship from One Story Magazine. He won the inaugural Kreative Diadem Prize for short fiction.

Photo Credits: Cover Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

NOTES ON CRAFT: INTRODUCTION by Olakunle Ologunro

NOTES ON CRAFT: INTRODUCTION by Olakunle Ologunro

Notes on Craft: Introduction

by Olakunle Ologunro

Dear Writer,
 
Can you tell that I rewrote this opening several times before deciding on this one? I wondered how best to get your attention and hold it, how best to tell you the purpose of this letter. And of course, I tried to put a bit of style in it. You know, that literary glitter.
 
But here I am, nearly 50 words in and I don’t know if I have succeeded in doing that. If it looks like I’m rambling, indulge me. I promise you, this will make sense soon.

 

Struggling is a shared inheritance of writers. It doesn’t matter what stage we are in our writing career, there are times when the stories just don’t yield, times when the language falls flat despite all the glitter you’ve stirred into it. There are times when the characters simply refuse to come out of hiding, despite how tenderly you coax them, how crafty you are in cajoling them. It is what it is, my friend: this writing thing sometimes trumps us all. That sounds fancy, doesn’t it? Let me change it: sometimes, writing carries a long koboko and flogs us all.
 
Which is why I am writing to you today. This letter is what I (and the entire team of Kreative Diadem) hope will be the beginning of a series of letters on the craft of writing. It arose as a response to a series of letters we have received (and keep receiving) from writers who are hungry for growth, writers who want to produce literary work that will sit in the hall of fame when writing is mentioned.
 
We have drawn out a syllabus, a list of topics to be discussed: lessons on the fundamentals of writing great short stories, essentials on dialogue, character, and POV. Arguments for and against ‘writer-ly habits.’ Acceptance and rejection, reasons why your work is being rejected and what to do about this. We will do a lot of sharing too: rejection emails that cut us a little too deep, we-love-your-writing-but-we-don’t-want-you emails that left us confused for days, and acceptance emails that made us want to take a danfo to our ancestral hometown and say to our village people, “Shame on you, we have started making it.” And at the end of everything, we hope that these tips will help you produce a short story that will win the Caine Prize, or the Commonwealth Prize and all the notable prizes to be won in one’s writing career.

 

It’s true, I haven’t won these prizes myself, so maybe I am not fit to dispense writing advice, because really, who am I? Besides, I don’t think that prizes are the hallmark of stellar writing. At least not always. That sounds controversial, doesn’t it? In these letters, we will unfurl ‘controversial statements’ as they relate to writing.
 
I will not be running this series alone —  I don’t have the strength or the depth of experience required. From time to time, there will be craft lessons and emails from writers and editors who have more writing experience. They will discuss their favourite stories, their experience with submitting work and reading submitted work. Together, we will learn, and at the end of the series, I hope that one — or all — of us writes what will be referred to as that story.

 

So, dear friend. Every two weeks, there will be a new letter from me to you. Think of it as a growth pill delivered regularly. Or as the beginning of a relationship that will be beneficial to us. Think of it as a creative writing course, free of charge and with plenty of benefits. Think of it as opening the door to a grand house with an abundance of gifts specially crafted and curated for you.
 
Here’s to the beginning of a new thing.
 
See you soon,
Kunle.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Olakunle Ologunro is a Nigerian writer. His work has been published in Brittle Paper, Agbowo, the Queer Africa anthology, and the Gerald Kraak anthology for work that provokes thought on the topics of gender, social justice and sexuality. He is an alumnus of the Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop and a finalist for the 2020 Adina Talve-Goodman Fellowship from One Story Magazine. He won the inaugural Kreative Diadem Prize for short fiction.

A CHRISTMAS PRESENT by Gordon Aywa Anjili

A CHRISTMAS PRESENT by Gordon Aywa Anjili

Christmas present boxes

A CHRISTMAS PRESENT

by Gordon Aywa Anjili

The piercing ring of the alarm awoke him. He forced himself on his back, raised his torso and rested on his elbows. He glanced at the clock. It was still dark and he could not read the time. He switched on the bed light and looked at the clock again. It was 5.30. Obviously, the alarm had gone off a little bit too early. He sat up. His beautiful wife stared at him dreamily. 

“It’s too early to go jogging,” she said.

“I know, I think I set the alarm rather too early. But I have to go out and jog. I have not done so for more than a week and I can feel myself growing unfit,”

“I know better,” she said coquettishly. “You are fit and as your wife, I am better placed to know.”

He laughed, kissed her and, with youthful zeal, leapt out of bed. He shed off his pajamas and scrambled into his blue tracksuit. He searched about for his sneakers and found them under the bed. He wore them hurriedly and trotted out of the bedroom whistling a Christmas tune. Though a devout Muslim, he loved Christmas in a Dickensian way. He loved the food, the presents and the merriment that went with it. There were even times when he envied his Christian neighbours and wished he was a Christian only during December. He had gone to a catholic school where most teachers were devout Catholics and his strong conviction that theirs was a calling to ensure their youthful protégés were molded into strong Catholics. He had for years imbibed and ingested Catholic tenets. But he had remained a Muslim, for his parents were strict (almost radical) Muslims.

Christmas present boxes

He lived in a modest two-bedroom house with a modest living room, kitchen, bathroom and water closet. On his way to the living room, he decided to open the door to the bedroom. He switched on the light. On the bed lay his two boys-twins who Allah had blessed him with ten years ago. He saw their innocent faces, serene and blissful in sleep and felt his heart skip with joy. He smiled. That day, on the eve of Christmas, he would buy each of them a bicycle. He promised them. That would be a perfect Christmas gift.

He left the house and jogged into Bakari, a street that fringed the housing estate and joined the main road to the city centre. Usually, there would be many joggers, but since Isa had risen earlier, he found himself the lone jogger. He began to run fast, enjoying the cool morning air. He heard some footsteps behind and instinctively looked back. Another jogger had joined him. He slowed down to let him catch up. 

“Good morning,” called the jogger as he jogged in step with Isa.

“Good morning,” Isa replied, trying to accelerate.

“I like your tracksuit. Is it Adidas?” 

“Yes, it’s a blue Adidas.”

“It’s a very good design.”

“Yes, it is.”

“I think you’re exhausted. You shouldn’t jog until the end of this year.”

“Is that so? Thought I could jog seriously tomorrow,”

“No, there are younger joggers who can run faster. You can reserve your strength for sometime early next year.”

Having said so, the jogger accelerated past Isa and went round a corner. Isa heaved a sigh of relief and jogged up to the main road. Then he turned and ran back to his house. He was greatly relieved. At least he would stay at home and enjoy Christmas with family. He pitied the unlucky young men who had been given the Christmas assignment. Maybe they did not have families. Maybe they did not have lovely boys like Karim and Jamal. Isa was a member of a local cell of an international terrorist group. “The Peace on Earth” (P.O.E). Its operations were so elaborate and intricate that one hardly knew another member. Communication was verbal. A cell member received a message from someone he had never seen before or one he was familiar with but never expected he was a member. Two days earlier, he had received a message that the new password was “blue Adidas” and that he would receive his instructions from a jogger. What the jogger had communicated to him was that no assignment had been given to him this Christmas. He would come at the beginning of the following year. And that was the cause of his relief. He had feared he would get an assignment like suicide bombing. So far, all his assignments had been “soft” — passing coded verbal messages to members within and out of the country. He travelled under three fake passports.

Although Isa relished his task, he had long sworn never to undertake a suicide-bombing job. Once a senior member had expatiated at length about honour, sacrifice and concomitant dignity and perpetual bliss in paradise. Isa had bluntly told him that he did not believe in Kamikaze style exploits. “It’s brave to fight, win and come out alive,” he had said.
 
His wife and children were out of bed when he went into the house. The boys jumped at him, and he hugged and tossed each one of them at a time. They laughed joyfully, and his wife laughed joyfully, and they were all a joyful family in a joyful home in a joyful season. He proceeded to the bathroom and had a cold refreshing bath. Then he sat down at a table to have a hearty breakfast.
 
After breakfast, it occurred to Isa that he should go to town and buy the bicycles for his boys before the shops become overcrowded with last-minute Christmas shoppers. He knew he would get good bicycles at the Globe Hyper. He knew that the reasonably lower prices would make the place unbearably overcrowded. And if he did not hurry, what he wanted could just be bought before he arrived. That possibility was just too disconcerting.
 
By 9.30, he was at the Globe Hyper. It was teeming with men and women, and children all eager to buy what would make their Christmas memorable. He looked at the innocent excited faces of children in the company of their equally excited parents and regretted not coming with his Karim and Jamal.
 
He walked to the bicycle section and began to inspect two bicycles he thought would excite Jamal and Karim. Next to him was a man also inspecting two bicycles.
 
“I wish I had come with my boys,” he said aloud for Isa to hear. “They would have chosen the bicycles they want. I’m spoilt for choice.”
 
“I too have two boys, but I think they won’t mind if I buy these two,” said Isa.
 
“Mine are too fussy. I think I should go back for them. It’s just five minute-drive.”
 
Isa started weaving around other shoppers as he made his way out. He picked the two bicycles and headed to the cashier.
 
There was suddenly a loud explosion. People and things were hurled in the air. There were organized screams and cries for help.

Isa opened his eyes and looked blankly at the face before him. He felt excruciating pain in the head, the limbs and back. He groaned in agony.

“Allah be praised! You’re alive.”

He looked at the face closely. He recognized Shafiya, his wife.

“Where is Karim… where is Jamal…?” he mumbled.

“They are at home and fine. They saw it on T.V. and cried. A father to their classmate did not survive. It appears he had also gone to buy bicycles.”

“Bicycles… where am I?

“In the hospital. There was a bomb at the Globe Hyper. Over seventy people died. It’s by Allah’s grace that you survived. I wonder what I would have done without you. At least Jamal and Karim have a father.”

“The Globe Hyper… bicycles… the cashier…”

“It was a bomb at the Globe Hyper. A terrorist group, the P.O.E., has claimed responsibility. Very evil People.”

“P.O.E…” he began to cry.

But it was not for the pain in his body he was crying.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

In his fifty’s, he teaches English and literature at Njoro School, Passion for classics, once won the Nigerian Television Authority (N.T.A.) play-writing competition with the play ‘Eclipse at noon.’
PORTRAIT OF LOVE AS AN ARSONIST by Oluwatosin Babatunde-Olotu

PORTRAIT OF LOVE AS AN ARSONIST by Oluwatosin Babatunde-Olotu

PORTRAIT OF LOVE AS AN ARSONIST

by Oluwatosin Babatunde-Olotu

I
I was eight or nine
when I learnt to balance  my gaze
and heart
      on broken bodies and dreams.
Each time father returned from another fruitless journey
to Egbeda in Ibadan, he’d mouth denial
as if they were truths.
He’d say:
Bidemi is fine, she’d return home soon.
She’d come back to me, to us.

 

II
The truth crawls in unseen:
at dinner, as we fellowshipped
with Celine Dion and loss,
I’d taste the grief     brimming in his bones
in my bowl of eba
and my vegetable soup, too, would tell
tales of ends;
of fractured lovers that never find their way
to genesis, to tomorrow.
After dinner, before we find sleep,
I would wipe from his cheeks and chin
saltwater (that burned as though it were fire),
as he too would     from mine.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Babatunde-Olotu Olúwatosin is a nurse and a poet who lives and works in Lagos. He is a lover of art, with a peculiar interest in poetry and music. Tosin advocates for social justice, inclusivity and mental health. His poems have appeared in Agbowó, Nanty greens, anthologies and elsewhere. On Twitter and Instagram, he is @babstoxyn.

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