Onyeka Nwelue on Writing

by Onyeka Nwelue

My first book, The Abyssinian Boy was launched in January of 2009. Now, this is 2011 and I’ve not published another book. Truth is, people have said and I’ve heard them say it, that I will not be able to write another book. I questioned myself. Why wouldn’t I be able to write another book? What would distract me? How can I stay for this long as the author of one book? I was getting worried; I was being bugged by people who said they wanted to ‘eat the next lunch I would serve.’ I tried to force myself to write to impress them, but I couldn’t.

My greatest literary influence, Arundhati Roy wrote a masterpiece, The God of Small Things, which won the Booker Prize in 1997. This is 2011 and she has not written another ‘novel.’ She has done non-fictional works, but another novel? No. And a lot of people think she can’t write another novel because she feels she can’t be able to do a better job than what she did in that masterpiece that took her years to write. I don’t feel so. I feel she is distracted with the realities of the world that she has lost touch with fiction.

Uzodinma Iweala is another author I respect a lot. Since after Beasts of No Nation, I’ve been longing to read another novel from him. It seemed he disappeared into oblivion, but I realized that when a man has a lot going on in his life, he cannot do much of what people expect him to do. Then, there is the prolific Helen Oyeyemi, who has produced about three novels in a very short time. However, what matters is the quality and not the quantity, people would say. That aside, writing is a different art form that requires total discipline. Many will argue that it is no different from music, but just as anyone can hum a song and can sing in the bathroom, not anyone can spin a tale from the tender to the ridiculous. For real, a writer’s life is so different from that of a musician.

For the past few months, I’ve been distracted from finishing my second novel. My publisher is not on my neck as any other publisher would have been, because he understands what I’m going through. I never have writers’ block like most writers. But I can get easily distracted by new ventures and I’m easily influenced by what happens around me. All those nights I had spent in nightclubs with friends, I would have used to concentrate on my book. All those nights I spent thinking about raising money for a film that no one was interested in, I would have used in finishing my book. All those nights I spent chatting away on Facebook, I would have spent writing and researching my book.

Now, it is already 2 years and I’m still basking in the euphoria of being an author of just one book. Fellow authors keep throwing out new works and grabbing more awards and going on book tours. I know that I don’t lack inspiration. I know that I have a publisher who is ready to invest in my writing, but I know that it is very difficult for me to beat distraction; I know I can’t afford to halt all public outings and return to the kind of life I had that made me produce The Abyssinian Boy, which opened doors for me, a novel that took me round the world, a novel that made me take myself seriously as a writer, a novel that keeps me scared: what if I don’t write a better book? What if I end up retelling the stories I told in the first? What if I end up with the same voice in the first? What if I don’t succeed this time? I have fears, but all these fears I will put to an end, as I’m in The Orchard of Memories…

The Abyssinian Boy, originally published by DADA Books, Lagos is out this month by Serene Woods, Delhi (www.serenewoods.com)

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