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Aishat Abiri’s Note on Craft

As part of the Notes On Craft series, I (Olakunle Ologunro) reached out to a number of writers and asked them to share a piece of work that is most significant to them, and what they think other writers can learn from it.

Here’s Aishat Abiri’s pick: White Teeth by Zadie Smith

The first time I read White Teeth, I must admit, my admiration for Zadie’s writing was mixed with a degree of indignation. Because why should you as an author have so much fun writing a book? I went on to read On Beauty and The Autograph Man and soon became a huge fan of Zadie’s work.

As a writer, my biggest challenge initially was writing in the third person; whenever I wrote in the third person, it felt detached with zero emotional stakes. It felt empty. I had concluded that writing in the third person was not for me so I stuck to writing in the first person with an occasional piece in the second person. For White Teeth, I know that I learned to write in the third person from that book. For me, it’s a textbook of sortsa fun and extremely enjoyable one. I learned to also enjoy the story, even as the teller of it. 

When one reads White Teeth, the first thing that strikes the reader is the persiflage she wields so effortlessly in her narration; how comfortable she is with teasing her characters, finding amusement in their predicaments, like a mother who is all too familiar with her children’s nakedness to the point of see finish.

“Below him on the pavement stood Varin—a massively overweight Hindu boy on a misjudged traineeship program from the school round the corner, looking up like a big dejected blob underneath Mo’s question mark.”

“Maybe he should have left with her right then, run to the hills. But at the time it seemed impossible, too involved, what with a young wife with one in the oven (an hysterical, fictional pregnancy, as it turned out, a big bump full of hot air), what with his game leg, what with the lack of hills.”

I believe this ease of humour stems from a degree of confidence in 1) Her story and 2) Her audience that makes her relaxed. Of course, this degree of confidence comes from practice, from telling and retelling stories, from reading other people’s work and paying attention to detailwhat the author was trying to do, what worked or didn’t. 

Like me, I think other writers can learn to relax in the stories they tell, to find enjoyment in storytelling because if you enjoy telling a story, how much more would the reader enjoy reading?


Aishat Abiri is a writer with a passion for issues concerning gender, politics, sexuality, and mental health. Her short stories have been featured in Afreada, Saraba, and the Aké Review. She has written screenplays for Tinsel and ‘In Love and Ashes.’ She lives in Abuja and is a Farafina 2016 alumnus.

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