Monday 31 January 2011
On February 1 last year, I signed my contract with my publisher. I remember the day was very cold and it was already dim by the time I got to my agent's building even though it was only three o'clock. I was coming from a lecture, a boring, one and the juxtaposition was too much for me to feel excited in an obvious way. I saw my classmate on the platform and so we sat next to each other on the tube.
"Where are you going?"
"I'm going to buy some trainers."
"Cool," I said wanting him to return my question but not quite.
"So where are you going?"
I am usually quite secretive about good news. I don't know, maybe it's the way I was brought up but I've always felt that telling people about the good things that have happened to you is a little like boasting. But it was a direct question.
"I'm going to my agent to sign the contract for my book."
"Wow that's amazing. Congratulations."
There was nothing else he could say really but hearing the words that one always says when good things happen, made my good thing feel like an anti climax, and I was a little embarrassed that I had told him.
"So what's it about?"
The question that always froze me. "Well--" I hmmed and haaad until it was time for him to get off and go and look for his sneakers.
When I got to my agent's, the contract specialist placed a wad of paper in front of me. I looked over it, skimming through the pages, asking questions when I came across a clause that was unclear but to be honest, I didn't read it in detail. I trust my agent. They've been reading contracts for years and as I say to those who are aghast that I don't know the clause by clause detail of my contract: the agency is not a charity. 15% of everything I earn goes to them so if anyone cheats me, they cheat them as well.
After I signed, I called my parents. I was very subdued by it all. I had just turned 19 and I remember speaking to them very quietly while I tried to summarise what I had just signed. When I finished, my mother said, "We thank God."
"Yes. We thank God."
After all who else could I thank for this inexplicable thing that had happened to me in a manner that was almost like a movie, like film trick.
"So what are you going to do now?" they asked.
"I'm going home. I have readings to do for tomorrow."
To celebrate my one year anniversary with Faber, I'm going to dedicate February to answering any questions that you guys may have about publishing and the publishing industry. Anything from how to find an agent, to what your editor does for you, to the revision process. You can email me at email@example.com I look forward to hearing from you.
Friday 28 January 2011
"Hello good evening."
"Who is speaking?"
"Please may I know who is speaking?"
"It's your Uncle from America."
"Make a guess."
"Is it Uncle A?"
"Chibundu get off that phone," my mother shouted from the bed.
"But mummy the call is from A--"
"Drop that phone now."
I slid the phone onto its hook.
"Mummy that call was from America."
"It's a lie."
"But the man said--"
"It's those 419 people jo."
"It might have been Uncle--"
"Don't argue with me. I know what I'm saying. He wanted to make you list names so that next time he calls he will use them."
"But what would he use them for?"
Ladies and gentlemen, forgive my naivety. That was my first encounter with a live and direct 419 phone call. Prior to then, I had received the usual emails. Dear Sir/Madam, I have access to General Abacha's stolen billions but not to a private email account and if you can help me, I will give you ten percent. Those sorts of emails flooded my inbox in the early noughties. However, never, ever had I spoken to a 419er on the phone. For those who read this blog but may not have had the opportunity to be scammed by telephone,let me explain what would have happened if my mother had not been there to stop my ten year old mouth from running.
"Who is speaking?"
"Please may I know who is speaking."
"It's your Uncle from America?"
"Make a guess."
"Is it Uncle C?"
"Is it uncle E?"
"Haba you don't recognise my voice."
"It's Uncle X. I'm sure of it."
"You've come to stay with me before now."
"Oohhh.It's Uncle Kkkk."
"Do you even remember where I live?"
"Uncle K of course now, you live in Texas."
"And what's my address?"
"That's easy. 114..."
"That's correct. So it's your birthday coming up abi?"
"Not for a few months."
"Well the thing I want to send to you will take a few months to come."
"Ooh Uncle K what is it?"
"You just don't worry about that. Just give me the address."
"Uncle K you don't have our address?" (After all I wasn't entirely stupid)
"I have it. I have it. Just confirm it for me."
"Are your parents around."
"Where are they?"
"They're in the hospital."
"Ah ah Uncle K you've forgotten their hospital."
"Oh of course. Em, em--"
"Of course! Sorry, my brain is getting old. So how is school? Remind me of the name again?"
And that is how this man would have spoken to me for half an hour and harvested all the details of me and my family in Nigeria and my family in America and maybe even my family in England. What could he do with this information?
Next time he called, it would be Q Hospital calling on behalf of my Uncle X who had been in a car crash in Texas. They needed to operate immediately but the sum of X thousand dollars had to be transferred into Y account by Z hours or else he would die. Or some other fantabulous story along those lines. And because they would had information from me, the unwitting mole, they could pepper their story with facts that made it seem plausible. For example, he gave us your address before he lapsed into unconsciousness, he mentioned that he wanted to be treated in your hospital before he lapsed into a coma and so on and so forth.
Thank God my mother was there to shout, "Get off that phone."
And that was the end of that.
What are your own 419 stories or close calls?
Wednesday 26 January 2011
Tuesday 25 January 2011
Sunday 23 January 2011
I used to think the Cross was like music,
It's not for you if you don't choose it.
Like some like rap, some people like blues,
Some like hip hop, others want old school.
But the Cross is way much more than a preference,
It's still for you even if you don't choose it,
Cos God loved us and He made the first move,
Came down from heaven, our lives to improve,
Died on a Friday,
Rose on a Sunday,
Saved the whole world before He got to Monday,
So next time you think that the Cross ain't for you
You didn't choose the Cross, the Cross chose you.
Friday 21 January 2011
Some excellent, excellent, I can't stress how excellent advice from Teju Cole about writing. It's a compilation of the 'Letters to a Young Writer' series that he did on Next's online newspaper last year. Even if you're not interested in writing, I think the letters are a great read thus I'm looking forward to reading his novel, OPEN CITY. If his prose in that is as toned as it is here, then I am very excited indeed. Read the letters here.
Thursday 20 January 2011
Tuesday 18 January 2011
The teenage years are over and I really thank God for bringing me this far. I wouldn't be alive without Him, or sane, or happy, or writing, or singing, or going to school, or saved. My testimonies are many, more than I can write in one post or ten thousand. So I'll let Sammy sing it for me.
This decade is for God. Not for fame, or fortune or marriage. But if those come along sha, I won't say no ;)
Saturday 15 January 2011
We Nigerians pride ourselves on having a classless society. Like the Americans, we strongly believe that anybody can become a somebody if they work hard enough. Some magnates have little more than a primary education behind them, many somebodies were street hawkers, mechanics or even petty thieves in their youth so we have grown to overlook a person's antecedents. After all, we live in a society where almost all the money is new so as long as you have it, we're not too discriminating about it's age.
Yet though class as the British define it is absent in Nigeria, we have this curious thing that we call 'levels.' ' Levels dey' is a phrase that is common. 'Know your level,' is another one and of course the classic rhetorical, ' Do you think we are on the same level?' Yet, though I use the term freely, I am still unsure as to what exactly a level is.
It is not just an economic grouping. An electronics trader might not be considered on the same level as a banker even though they earn the same amount of money each month. Yet, it is not just a social grouping because a teacher who attended the same university and had the same upbringing as a banker may not be classed as being on the same level. Yet, it is not simply a socio-economic stratification because people who would be considered in the same socio-economic group will still not agree to be on the same 'level.' The maid and the houseboy are not on the same level, the gateman and the driver are not on the same level, the clerk and the teller are not on the same level. Levels, levels dey.
Unlike class, which is imposed from outside, levels are decided by the individual. In my ranking, I might put the President above the Emir of Kano, in someone else ranking, the Emir would come first. In my ranking, a businessman with a modest company might precede the trader whose education has been entirely informal, in other rankings, the uneducated magnate would always top the list.
I suppose there are pros to every individual deciding for themselves how they wish to grade society but the cons stand out for me. The fluidity and ambiguity of a level means that each person is always constantly clinging to their position, trying as much as possible to distinguish themselves from the level below them, to prove once and for all their superiority.
This is why we constantly feel the need to remind each other that levels dey. These reminders can come in subtle and not so subtle forms. We can say point blank, we are not on the same level. We can bring out our phone and put it on the table so those around us can guess our level from our mobile device. We can use verbose vocabulary, discombobulating those around us into agreeing that indeed we are not on the same level. Everyone is constantly trying to assert their level, while at the same time hustling to move to higher altitudes. Thus we have a curious mixture, where we constantly put down those we see as an inch below us and grovel to those that we see as a centimetre above.
This system of levels has chasmed our society. A man who is secure in his class can speak with civility to his domestic help. A man who is constantly needing to assert his level, cannot speak in anything but an abusive tone to his driver. A woman who is comfortable in her class can use the word please, when speaking to her maid. A woman who is constantly needing to assert her level, can only speak to the maid in commands and orders. On and on it goes.
Here's a video that mentions levels. Watch out for the man at 2:31.
Thursday 13 January 2011
I started writing my first novel when I was 10, roughly at the same time seven years later that I would start writing THE SPIDER KING’S DAUGHTER. I suppose there is something incredibly dull about the June/July exam period that makes one want to escape into the creative process of writing. Still, this does not fully explain why I chose to start a novel on a day when I should have been using the interim between my Maths and English exam to revise. I still don’t know why I picked up that pen, I still don’t know why the daunting fact that the exercise book had chequered pages and was for numbers not words did not stop me from writing the opening lines. What prompted me, I wonder. Why, I ask my ten year old self and she rolls her eyes at me and like a true Nigerian answers my question with another question: Why not? And I have no response for her, not even an answer couched in a question. Why not?
Why not has played a major process in my writing journey so far. It stops me from being proud, it stops me from being crushed. I hear many aspiring writers like myself ask, ‘Who do I think I am to get my novel published? Who will want to read my work? How can I be good enough?” Why not stops me from thinking like this. I might not be good enough, no-one might ever read my work, the novel might never be finished, let alone published but why not start a new one after the primary five one failed and the primary six and the short stories were not completed. Why not try again? And I can never come up with a good enough reason as to why not? Because why not gives you hope and as an aspiring writer, you’re going to need hope for the rejections you may face, you’ll need a practical optimism that says, even if this one fails, there’ll be a next one because why not write, instead of moping about the failure of your last novel, poem or short story?
At the same time, why not stops me from feeling special or chosen or somehow superior to other aspiring writers like myself whose book deals are yet to materialise. Listening to successful writers give interviews and readings, I’ve noticed that some will mysticise their writing process. Perhaps they do channel the sprits and listen to the wind but I believe if you strip all this away, the process is the same for everyone. You get an idea, you think it’s good and you say, why not run with it? That’s the beauty of this democratic process of writing. There is no rigging here, no zoning, anyone can sit down, pick up a pen and say, why not? Some will say that not anyone can become a Mario Vargas Llosa, this year’s winner of the Nobel prize for literature, but I say the worst that can happen is your craft will improve, the best is you’ll find yourself in Stockholm.
I know it takes more to writing a book than this why not attitude. There is the perseverance and the intense attention to detail, the long hours you might have to put in for only a few paragraphs of words but these things can be acquired along the way. To get the journey started, I’ve always needed a why not? Maybe they’re right and not everyone can be a writer but you’ll never find out until you try. So go ahead. Why not because really, you have nothing to lose.
N.B This is a piece that I originally wrote for Mayowa Idowu on his blog. Here
Sunday 2 January 2011
The person who sends a mass Happy New Year!!!!! text is always at an advantage. With one blow, they bestow this greeting on their entire contact list. You on the other hand, the recipient, have to rack your brain to personally respond to this text. I suppose you could just forward them back the text they sent you,
Friend: Happy New Year God Bless You
You: Happy New Year God Bless You
But social etiquette states that one must not reply a seasonal greeting with a seasonal greeting and Christianese demands that you reply a prayer with an even more elegantly phrased prayer. Still, I love receiving mass Season's Greetings and spending hours mulling over how to reply to each one. Here are some of the best I got/saw this year.
HNY- Happy New Year from a friend who couldn't be bothered to type it out in full.
2011 dawns with new hopes, new dreams and new beginnings from an Ever-gracious Father. I am delighted that we still have quite a way to go. Thanks for being in my 2010 and see you in the New Year! Bless, - from a poetic friend who realises the power of the three fold.
May your happiness increase like fuel prices in Ghana, your troubles fall like the Zimbabwean dollar value. May your love and joy increase like corruption in Nigeria. May your enemies struggle like they need American visa. Have a wonderful and prosperous New Year - from a rather ironic friend.
Happy new year peeps and have a wonderful, incredible, adventurous, lovely, romantic, successful, nice, sweet, cool, uncompromised blessed year - From a friend who loves his adjective. My favourite is uncompromised. Spell check tells me it isn't a word but what do they know :p
I wish you happiness, fruitfulness, Joy, blessings unending, God's divine favours as your vanguard and His mercies your rear guard as I welcome you this New Year of Evidence. -from a relative who wanted to be in the army and is currently gathering evidence for a court case.
Hello beautiful people of God. Happy New Year. May the Lord keep you and bless you abundantly this New Year. I love you sooooo much. But most importantly God love you. - One of my favourites.
May God's richest blessings be upon you and yours both today and throughout 2011 - and may those blessings flow through you to touch the lives of everyone you meet. Happy New Year! - I really like this one as well because it reminds me that I'm blessed to be a blessing to others.
Account Number : 31122010
Depositor: God Almighty
Amount: Divine Favour
Balance: Long Life, Good Health and Abundant Goodness
Details: Happy New Year
And with that folks I rest my case. Have a wonderful 2011.