“We should always be looking to create opportunities” – Interview with Uchechi Princewill

“We should always be looking to create opportunities” – Interview with Uchechi Princewill

Anthony Okpunor

TABLE TALK

“We Should Always be Looking to Create Opportunities” – Interview with Uchechi Princewill

Uchechi Princewill is a fiction writer and medical student at the University of Benin. He is a founder and administrator of The Story Tree Challenge. His works have appeared in The Story Tree Challenge Maiden Anthology. He is also a winner of the 2017 Commonwealth Youth Council Unseen and Unspoken Poetry Competition.

In his recent interview with Kreative Diadem, Princewill takes us on his writing journey and offers a glimpse into his writing process.

Enjoy!

KD: Let’s meet you. Can you tell us about yourself?

Uchechi: I’ve always enjoyed reading and writing. I enjoy reading a little more, and I think that’s a good habit for a writer, that is, consuming more than you produce. I know that is some extremely inappropriate advice in any other context outside of art. But I really believe in it and it’s shaped my writing journey so far. Currently, I am a founder and administrator of The Story Tree Challenge, an online writing challenge I started with friends in March 2020 to give writers like myself a medium of expression and growth during the pandemic. It’s since blossomed to become more than that, and it’s still growing. I am also pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Medicine and Surgery at the University of Benin.

Anthony Okpunor

Uchechi Princewill

Winner of 2017 Commonwealth Youth Council Unseen and Unspoken Poetry Competition

KD: When did you start writing professionally, and can you tell us a bit about the early days?

Uchechi: I started writing seriously around 2015. Before then, I’d dabbled in some short fiction, poetry and essay writing. It goes without saying that most, if not all, of those early efforts were pretty bad. But they were necessary. I found my first serious commitment to writing when I joined Facebook and immediately joined as many writing groups as I could find. It was around this time that I discovered my affinity for fiction and promptly started focusing on that. I chose fiction because, frankly, you can still find some of my poetry around if you sleuth hard enough and let me be the first to tell you my poetry is rubbish. I have written three or four poems that I like, but beyond that, it’s an art form that eludes me. But fiction comes more naturally to me. In those early days, my two major influences were ‘Storried’ run by Andy Akhigbe and a Facebook group run by Brian Paone. They were what took a juvenile curiosity and gave me a path to focusing it. I’m still on that path, and it’s a marathon, not a sprint. 

KD: How would you describe your writing style?

Uchechi: That’s an interesting question. I’ve heard people describe it as clean, precise, functional, and even utilitarian. What I take away from that is that I don’t usually spend a lot of time describing things and while this is a good thing in that my stories can be read easily and keep a fast pace, it also can be a hindrance when writing particularly complex stories because I might not be providing the reader with enough information to create a meaningful mental image. This is what I ask my “beta” readers, actually. Did you think it was too confusing? Did the scenes come across how I intended? Is this paragraph too dense?
All in all, I like my writing style. It has taken influences from Nnedi Okorafor, N.K Jemisin, Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss, Peter V. Brett, Joe Abercrombie, etc. (you can already tell I like sci-fi/fantasy a lot) and I think I would point to Kritika Pandey, winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, if I wanted to show someone what I’m aiming for with my style. Her writing is a ten thousand times more mature version of my style, but with a flavour that’s distinctly hers. I’m enthralled by it. 

KD: Can you give a brief description of your writing process or routine? Do you have any helpful writing tips you’d like to share?

Uchechi: My writing process is quite simple, actually. I take out my laptop. I have Word open as well as my favorite dictionary—thesaurus. I also have my phone nearby just in case I need to Google something. Then I start writing. If I have a theme to follow, I like to put myself in the mood by imagining a cinematic soundtrack that evokes that sort of feel playing in my head. Hans Zimmer usually does the trick. I don’t write with music actually in the background, however. I find it distracting because I’m also a musician and I end up trying to analyze what I’m hearing instead of focusing on writing.
I also do not usually plot or plan. I rarely ever know what my story is going to be until I’m three-quarter of the way through writing it. It’s very satisfying when it turns out great, but sometimes I do wish I was more organized. But when I plot something, it usually ends up in my unfinished WIP (work in progress) folder.
In the way of tips, someone once gave me the advice to start with the action. Think up the high point of your story and start writing that. This was when I used to complain a lot about being stuck. It worked for me. Sometimes the story you want to tell is easier to de-escalate than to escalate, and writing back from the climax is a good way to skip the uninspiring setup phase. This advice also works if you want to tell a story backwards. That kind of nonlinear storytelling is beautiful when done right. Just try not to be too predictable. 

“I think there are never enough opportunities. I think that we should always be looking to create opportunities, as well as take the ones that are available to us.”

Anthony Okpunor

Uchechi Princewill

Founder of The Story Challenge

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

Uchechi: I briefly touched on this in the discussion of my writing style. I have something called Aphantasia – the inability to conjure a mental image. You can find more information online and I’m working on an article about it for my Medium, but basically what this means is: Picture a red apple in your mind’s eye. If you can do that, if you can produce a detailed image of something that’s not in front of you, then you do not have Aphantasia. I can’t do that. Never have been able to. It was recently I actually discovered that “picturing things” was a real thing people did and not just a metaphor. This explained many things about myself I had taken for granted. It also exposed why I didn’t really put a lot of descriptions in my writing. I rarely give a detailed physical description of a character—black hair, blue eyes, ruddy complexion— because all these things mean very little to me. It’s not usually a problem, but discovering it has made me a little more intentional about adding these descriptions for the many other people who do appreciate these visual cues. 

KD: What was it like completing and publishing your first book?

Uchechi: It was an illuminating experience, I’ll tell you that. There was so much work to be done, especially for an essentially three-man army, because we did the editing, compilation, preparing all the ebook versions, promotion, and one of us, Mustapha Enesi, exclusively did all the graphic design work. It was a lot of work. Self-publishing is not easy. Add to that having to go back and forth on individual stories (because The Story Tree Challenge Maiden Anthology is a collection of flash fiction from seven different authors), deciding to drop some at the last minute and add some, edits and rewrites—add all these things and it’s suddenly a huge deal that we were able to complete all of this in the one-week deadline we gave ourselves. Most of the work was split three ways between Raheem Omeiza, Mustapha Enesi and myself.
For the sequel anthology, we’re slowing down a lot, because that one week of barely sleeping, constantly working, was very eye-opening.
However, the sense of fulfillment we got when we were done, and when we were able to get quite the number of downloads that first week, was amazing. I loved every second of it. But if I had to do it again, and I will, I’d slow down and spread that process over a month at the very least.

KD: Rate the influence of the Nigerian education system on literary arts.

Uchechi: I’d rate it how I’d rate the entire Nigerian Education system. ‘Painfully lacking’. I mean, we have the material. Books are not our problem, although availability and cost can be a limiting factor and our libraries are grossly out of date; that’s not the major issue. The teaching of literature and grammar can be painfully boring, pedantic, and outdated across both secondary and tertiary institutions.
I’d rather attribute the raising of good quality to the efforts of Nigerian giants like Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, and honestly, more recently and relevantly, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Nnedi Okorafor, who is ‘Naijamerican,’ and great writers on the African continent as a whole, of which they are many. Many who write specifically short fiction. It’d be difficult to name all of them. Great writers are inspiring new great writers, and everyone is taking their education into their own hands, because school here doesn’t cut it for creative writing, if we’re being honest. As to the specifics of that, we’ll have to ask my colleagues who are pursuing degrees in the literary arts. Most of the writers I know personally don’t come from writing degree backgrounds.

KD: Who are some literary figures that inspire you/you look up to?

Uchechi: I think I’ve mentioned a few of them so far. Brandon Sanderson, for the expansive world building and his fantastic handle on magic systems. Nnedi Okorafor, for her masterful command of African futurism. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, for making us feel and making that feel very African. N.K Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy was mind-blowing when I read it and it had an impact on my style. Many others.

KD: Do your short stories have a unifying theme or you simply write on matters of the heart or what inspires you?

Uchechi: There’s no unifying theme that I’m aware of, though something may have leaked in subconsciously. I write what comes to me or what I come up with. In The Story Tree Challenge, we’ve been playing with the idea of writing stories connected to each other by characters that travel between them. That is, one universe with characters playing out stories in different corners of that universe and running into one another. It’s a very fun concept and we’ve explored it in the maiden anthology, and are exploring it in the sequel as well. But that is as unified as my stories get. This may change. I still have, hopefully, decades to go as a writer. Maybe I’ll be thinking about this when I write now. Maybe I’ll explore having a unifying theme.

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

Uchechi: My long term goal is to publish a novel-length work of fiction, maybe a series of books as intricate as Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere. I’m not rushing this. I see people rushing to put out books here and there and I’m working on flash fiction anthologies and generally just improving my craft. I’ve been asked when I’ll publish a novel of my own and my answer is always “when I’m ready”. As much as I think writers should write, I also want my novel debut to be special and as good as it possibly can be. And I have a very strong idea of what that time will feel like so I’m not just procrastinating.
Oh, and I want to write a film. No details on that one yet.

KD: Are you currently working on any book(s) at the moment?

Uchechi: Yes. The sequel to The Story Tree Challenge Maiden Anthology is currently being written. It’s a very special process that involves as many writers as contact us indicating interest. We’re just there to grow, experiment, write and compete. The anthology is just a bonus because we look at some of the stories we’ve written at the end of the day and go “Damn! That should be in a book.”

KD: Do you think there are enough opportunities for young writers in Nigeria?

Uchechi: I think there are never enough opportunities. I think that we should always be looking to create opportunities, as well as take the ones that are available to us.

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

Uchechi: I’d give them the same advice I received when I told Andy Akhigbe, founder of ‘Storried,’ that I wanted to write a book; that was over four years ago. He said to go read five hundred books and come back. I’ve passed that number and stopped counting a long time ago, and I’m still reading. My writing’s improved, and my vocabulary. And more importantly, I am aware of my limitations and can see an almost quantifiable difference between where I am as a writer and where I want to be. I can see my weaknesses and I’m now able to target them and improve my strengths. My writing’s transformed radically in those four years.
Never stop reading. That’s the only advice I feel qualified to give because it’s the best one I ever received.

KD: Any final words?

Uchechi: I’ve said a lot already. Final words should be short. Keep writing! And thank you to Kreative Diadem for this opportunity to share.

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: ON SECOND PERSON POINT OF VIEW by Olakunle Ologunro

NOTES ON CRAFT: ON SECOND PERSON POINT OF VIEW by Olakunle Ologunro

Notes on Craft: On Second Person Point of View

by Olakunle Ologunro

Dear Writer,

The second person point of view (POV) is a very tricky one to pull off. It’s not as though the other POVs are easy, but with the second person, there’s the additional damage of trying to tell the reader’s story and failing woefully at it. With the first person POV, you can help the reader feel through the character. That way, when the character says: “I pulled at one of the cornrows underneath my black church scarf to make sure I was not dreaming,” you are able to picture her doing just that. (1)

The same thing can be said for the third person POV where the writer allows the reader to see, almost like a movie being played, the characters and everything they get into or out of. And this is why, when a writer says: “Dr Lustucru’s wife was not particularly talkative. But he beheaded her anyway, thinking to himself that he could replace her head when he wished for her to speak,” your interest is piqued because you have been offered an exquisite slice of human interaction. (2)

But how does one make the reader settle into a story that is not theirs? How do you tell the reader, “After you won the American visa lottery, your uncles and aunts and cousins told you, in a month you will have a big car,” when the reader hasn’t even been to the airport?

I honestly wish I had the answers. You know, the ability to say this is what you should do to make it work. Write it this way, remove that. But I don’t. I can only talk about what should guide your stories: heart, empathy.

I have written some stories in the Second Person POV. In fact, I won my first fiction prize ever with a story told in the second person. This was in 2014/5, and I didn’t know then, some of the things I do now. 

Here’s another of those things: When writing a story in the second person, it might work better to not throw the reader abruptly into the action. For example, a story that opens with “You are eating rice in your dinner dress” can fail to achieve the desired effect. Instead, do what I call “laying the groundwork.” In other words, ease the reader gently into it. The opening paragraph of Chika Unigwe’s beautiful story “Borrowed Smile,” does this very well:

It is not possible to describe it if you have never been there. But you know it because you have lived there. It is what you will call a ghetto neighbourhood. Metal sheets nailed together in a row. The metal is rusty and dark. Like the lives lived in them. They look crass and rough, like the work-abused knuckles of Sunday. Continue reading.

 

writing

Or you can take a cue from Otosirieze Obi-Young’s thoroughly modern epic:

THE MANGOES HAVE BEGUN TURNING reddish and yellowish when the man starts coming to the cathedral field, and often you see him jogging in his green-and-white Super Eagles jersey and sparkling-red boots, or in the pitch lying and stretching himself on the dark-brown sand, or in the canteen buying snacks and drinks, or under the mango tree a stone’s throw from the pitch, sitting in his black Jeep. Continue reading.

This is not to say that a story that begins by putting you in the action is a bad one. No. One thing I have come to realize with writing is that there are different paths to a destination. What matters is that you arrive there, triumphant. In the eternal words of Binyavanga Wainaina, “You can do anything, just do it well.”

And this is why I love what Moje Ikpeme did with the opening of his piece in Lolwe, “Tell Me Something Happy”. Here’s an excerpt:

It is Obiageli who insists that you start therapy, and gives you her hours, as she is out of the country for the next month. It is also Obiageli who swallows the cost of transportation, effectively ending your last-ditch excuse, when Sanwo Olu suddenly bans okada and kekes in most of Lagos, leaving more than half the city stranded and throwing your already shitty life into more chaos. Continue reading.

***

“I haven’t failed, I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work” is a very famous quote by Thomas Edison. Let’s twist this a bit and apply it to using the second person POV. In my years of trial and error with that style, I have found many other ways to make it work. One way is to put yourself in the story and attempt to tell the reader their story. I, talking to you. “Conference” by Naja Marie Aidt is an example of this: 

It’s strange to meet you here, after so many years, and to still feel disturbed just being near your body. The way you’re settled in the chair like a large contented animal, like a large wild cat licking itself in the sun, or an elephant bathing in a river, like a person resting on top of another after pleasurable sex, it has an intimidating and shameless effect on me. My complete attention turns toward you and I’m unable to relax. It’s as if I am overflowing my own banks. Continue reading. (An aside: this is one of my favourite shorts of all time).

In this style, you are in a relationship with the reader. You are a teacher, a friend, a lover, a neighbour, and you both have a shared experience, or something that links you together, just like it links Hema and Kaushik in Lahiri’s spellbinding piece, “Once in a Lifetime”: 

I had seen you before, too many times to count, but a farewell that my family threw for yours, at our house in Inman Square, is when I begin to recall your presence in my life. Continue reading.

I will stop here so I don’t bore you. Second POV is an endless discussion, really. Just like every other point of view in fiction.

But I am open to taking questions. Write me kologunro@kreativediadem.com. Send me your questions. I’ll try to answer them to the best of my knowledge.

Will you be here in the next two weeks? I promise I won’t be late this time.

Yours,

Kunle.

References:

(1) “Purple Hibiscus” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

(2) “Dr. Lustucru” from the collection Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi.

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:

Photo by Arshad Sutar from Pexels

Photo by Jeremy Bishop from Pexels

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.
HERE IS WATER by ‘Gbenga Adeoba

HERE IS WATER by ‘Gbenga Adeoba

HERE IS WATER

by ‘Gbenga Adeoba

(After Kechi Nomu’s Your Old Bones are Seeking Wooden Crosses)

At the waterside in Boyo, the 
rituals of movement intensify at dusk. 

The pull of tides reinvents the shore 
into a space for things intimate and lost. 

You could find trinket boxes or a girl’s 
plastic doll in that rubble. Baby shoes, too.

The tiny things are heavier—even songbirds.
I am thinking these tunes being telegraphed 

into the dark, fretting the waters, 
are a tribute to the lives of drowned men.  

I sit by the water, knowing how 
sounds could alter the shape of an expanse. 

The boys who walk the boundaries now,
in search of collectibles, bear on their bodies 

a history threaded to this river. 
One wades inward: water around his body; 

water, a different texture, in his eyes. 
He pulls two of his friends along,

past the quay where the barges 
and their fathers’ canoes used to lay. 

Here is water, he says.
Here is memory shifting in its form,

 bearing things heavy and lost. My father 
and yours, here now and gone like the tides.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

‘Gbenga Adeoba is from Nigeria. “Here is Water” is the title poem of his chapbook included in APBF’s New-generation African Poets Series.

THE MAN WHO WEARS THE SEASONS by Jide Badmus

THE MAN WHO WEARS THE SEASONS by Jide Badmus

THE MAN WHO WEARS THE SEASONS

by Jide Badmus

On the surface you are weak &
Your smiles are a broken stream
But nightmares could not break your sleep.

You hang your fears
Like jackets in closets
& bury sullen memories
In unmarked graves. 

You carry your flaws like a flag,
Showing off scars, like medals.
You wear the seasons—
Face of haze, beards of rain—
& bear tales of sprouting shoots, fallen leaves…

You are chronicles of wailing winds,
Diary of grieving waterfalls—
A chameleon of time. 

You are an emblem of strength—a tide,
Anthology of falls & flights…relentless!

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jide Badmus is an electrical engineer, a poet inspired by beauty and destruction; he believes that things in ruins were once beautiful. He is the author of There is a Storm in my Head, Scripture, and Paper Planes in the Rain; curator of Vowels Under Duress; Coffee; and Today, I Choose Joy anthologies.
Badmus explores themes around sensuality and healing. He writes from Lagos, Nigeria. You can reach him on twitter @bardmus, IG @instajhide
MAKE IT GREAT, AGAIN by Othuke Umukoro

MAKE IT GREAT, AGAIN by Othuke Umukoro

MAKE IT GREAT, AGAIN

by Othuke Umukoro

So here’s the story folks. Number one, I am the least
anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen, in your
entire life. Number two, racism, the least racist person. 1

Sadly, the overwhelming amount of violent crime
in our major cities is committed by blacks
and hispanics-a tough subject-must be discussed. 2

If you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say. She probably — maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say. You tell me. 3   They are not our friend, believe me. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people. 4

I’ve been treated very unfairly by this judge.
Now, this judge is of Mexican heritage. I’m building
a wall, OK? I’m building a wall. I am going to do
very well with the Hispanics, the Mexicans… 5

 

Oh, look at my African-American over here. Look at him. 6

 

Sorry haters and losers. 7

References: 
  1.  Comments made by Donald Trump during a news conference at the White House on February 16, 2017.
  2. Tweet from June 5, 2013 @realDonaldTrump.
  3. Trump calling out a Gold Star Muslim family (Khizr Khan & his wife Ghazala Khan) during the presidential race in 2016.
  4. Donald Trump insulting Mexicans and kicking off his presidential journey.
  5. Trump attacking U. S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel who was presiding over the Trump University lawsuit in an interview with CNN on June 3.
  6. Donald Trump at a June 2016 campaign rally.
  7. Tweet from August 5, 2014, Donald Trump applauding Rush Limbaugh on the 26th anniversary of his broadcast career.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Othuke Umukoro is a poet & playwright. His demons have appeared, or are forthcoming in The Sunlight Press, Brittle Paper, AfricanWriter, Eunoia Review & elsewhere. His debut play Mortuary Encounters (Swift publishers, 2019) is available here.
When bored, he watches Everybody Hates Chris. He is on Twitter: @othukeumukoro19

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