Chinyere Obi-Obasi had already proven herself as a reputable children books’ author with her first two books, ,Brave Driver’ and ‘The Faithful Dog’. Her third, ‘The Great Fall’, announced her to the world. Obi-Obasi has a first degree in English Language and Literature and a second degree in Law. In this interview, she tells ‘Ifreke Inyang about her calling, the silent period, and her sudden rise to prominence.
You have a background in Law and you work in a bank. So what is writing for you? A hobby, a passion or a business venture?
No, it is not a business venture. It’s a talent and a talent is what you do and probably don’t realise you are doing it but people will gush over… oh… I can do it again. The sad part is when you don’t identify your gift early in life and veer off the path. When you are multi-talented, you can learn to combine two or three of your gifts well. There are writers who are lawyers, doctors, pharmacists, name it.
So when did you start putting your gift to use?
I read English Language at Imo State University so I was always writing back then. I then went to Obafemi Awolowo Univeristy, Ife and I continued writing. I’d go to the library and when everyone else was reading, I would be writing. There was even a book I was supposed to publish but it didn’t see the light of day. After I graduated, I went straight to litigation. I practiced litigation for five years. I got a job at Centre Point Bank miraculously and when I got there, I continued writing briefs for them. It is during that time I started asking myself what I had to do. I had this strong feeling that I was cut out to do something else and not just work and earn a salary. For one week, I kept on crying, trying to find out how I can contribute to the society. After that one week, I went to church and on that day, the pastor gave a word of knowledge. He said there was somebody that God was asking to go back into writing. I immediately knew it was me and I started crying right there in the church. Even after everybody left, I sat down there and keep crying. That same night, I started getting ideas for stories. With each passing day, they were becoming too much. Most of the books I’m writing now are ideas I got way back. [This lady might win o!]
So how did you get the inspiration for your books, ‘The Great Fall ‘and ‘The Faithful Dog’?
The Great Fall was a folktale I had to situate in a modern setting and thank God I succeeded. Now God has validated my writing who am I not to praise this God who caused my story to change. For The Faithful Dog, I read a phrase somewhere that said: “A nation is known by the way it treats it animals’. That statement struck me and I began to look at it more closely. It suddenly dawned on me that a nation that doesn’t care about its animals will likely not care about its people. It is not as if I am an animal rights activist or anything but it is just not right. So I decided to do a book that will try and change this mentality. People have even gone ahead to buy dogs after reading the books. There is something special about dogs. In my book, the dog used everything he had including his life to save a family. Dogs are always faithful to the end.
Let’s talk about your NLNG nomination.
I got the NLNG nomination for The Great Fall. I was selected along with 125 other writers initially. Eventually, we were reduced to three.
What was the feeling like when you were announced among the final three?
I didn’t even know about the initial 126. I was having dinner with my friends when I got a call from somebody who asked me which book I had put in for the NLNG competition. What happened is that three weeks to the competition, I saw a call in the newspapers for entries. I couldn’t put in the two books I had written before then because they both had been overtaken by events. So I sent in The Great Fall, which was almost ready as of that time. But I made sure I was satisfied with the final work before I sent it. That is why nobody knew about the book before the nomination. It was from the lady I heard about the list of 126. What made me happy is that I said to myself, ‘So as I was sitting down every night writing, God was taking note of everything!’ That sudden awareness of the God factor humbled me. I saw His grace at work.
What are your expectations? Are you looking forward to taking home the prize money?
I don’t want to pretend that I’m not looking forward to winning. That will be totally unfair on my part. I will be unfair to my family, especially my children who have been making plans on how they will spend mummy’s money. So even if I didn’t want to win it, for the sake of the people around me, I want to win. Even my father says that God has brought this prize to wipe away our tears. There’s also my colleague at work who’s constantly ringing it into my ears. Even old friends have resurrected! There is so much goodwill, so many people are harassing God about this matter. Whatever the case though, I thank God for this vindication. He has brought me out from pitch darkness, from obscurity, and has thrown me to the stars and the moon. At least I won’t walk around and people will be wondering who I am. And again, I will have something to boast with – writers love to brag with what they’ve done. I may have picked up late in life, but the Bible says a thousand days are just like one day in God’s sight. I’m also grateful to NLNG for instituting the award in the first place.
So what will happen if you eventually win?
I already have the dream of how the event will go. And again, as children of God, we are taught to confess positively. I will be excited, I will be happy. It’s a lot of money. I don’t think I have ever had that amount of money at a go. Very importantly I will pay my tithe. I will also give my offerings. I have my obligations to God. After I have fulfilled all those obligations, I will seek advice from experts on how to spend the money well. I have not really made up mind how to spend the money.
What do you have to say about the reading culture in Nigeria?
Everybody knows that it is poor. And the sad thing is that it is getting poorer. With the advent of TV, iPODS, BlackBerry, etc., nobody is reading again. The thing is that you can’t force anybody to read in this age and time. It is also down to the writers. If people say they are ready to read and they don’t find good books, what happens? There is also the part the government must play. And that is about building more libraries. Parents should also ensure they read and encourage their children to read.
What advice do you have for people who intend to start writing or become writers?
They need to work very hard. If you are an upcoming writer and you are lazy or don’t have true love for writing, it is better you look for something else to do. I can’t count how many times I have to re-write the draft for my book. If possible, it is good you write every day. Also, joining literary associations is very good because you will find people that will challenge you and you will learn a lot. That’s the only way you can get better. I tell my children that this generation is blessed. There are lots of things you can do and make money. All you need to do is polish your trade and elevate it. Y!