In an internet era, writing is the new speaking. So it pays to learn it. Not everyone can write like Soyinka and you don’t have to rival Achebe. According to J.P. Clark, you only need to find your own writing path.
It’s a comfort to know that normal is good enough. Aslak Sira Myhre, a writing coach, prefers simple, unadorned prose. Just be yourself and eliminate grammatical errors. That’s all that’s required.
But, if you’re the wordsmith kind of fellow, go ahead and be yourself as well. Be purpose-driven and organic. If your cutest phrase can be removed without hurting the story, kindly sacrifice it. That’s the brave thing to do.
Aslak writes creative nonfiction. It’s a genre of writing that uses literary styles and techniques to create factual narratives.
You could ask your mother how her teenage years were and present her history using the elements of literary prose? Elements like plot, characters, setting, point of view, theme and mood. Add a core element of drama, like dialogue, and you have history in a mimetic form.
Let’s leave the turenchi for another week and try a little practice. You could take a walk through Broad Street and narrate your observations like a movie, while I have a chat with Surgeon Commodore Mobolaji Sojinrin and present our conversation using as many literary devices as I can without turning history to fiction.
To start with, let’s choose the theme of mutability and title it, “What Doctors Remember When They Retire.”
It was relatively calm in the emergency unit at the University College Hospital at Ibadan. The young doctor was leafing through a paediatric review, when his night float nurse, Victoria Zakari came in with a case file. Her uniform was immaculate as usual, but she had a worried look.
The tall slender doctor glanced at the file and gestured to Miss Victoria Zakari to wheel in the patient. It was a three-year-old female presenting diarrhoea, vomiting, high temperature and she had lost much body fluid.
The pretty nurse wheeled the child into his office and work began at once. The little girl had lush hair on her head, but the best place to attach the drip was her head, so Mobolaji Sojinrin and his nurse had to shave the girl’s pretty hair to get the needful done.
It was then time to reassure her mother that everything was going to be fine.
“Mogbe,” exclaimed the alarmed young mother. “Mo ti ku. Ah, Doctor, you’ve killed me.”
“Calm down, Madam,” said the bemused India trained medical practitioner. “Your child is going to be alright. I assure you, we’ve done what we need to do.”
“You don’t get it, Doctor,” said the hysterical mother in Yoruba language. “That child has been born thrice. Woli said she will die if we cut any strand from her head.”
“What is she saying, Doctor?” asked Nurse Victoria Zakari.
“Some superstitious nonsense. Tell you what, Victoria, get rid of the rest of the child’s hair. First, get her file.”
Mobolaji Sojinrin scribbled ‘special baby’ on the file and retired to his quarters.
The telephone rang.
“Sir, the father of the girl has shown up in his white church garment.”
“What? I’ll be right there.”
In the reception, the man, pacing up and down in his white tunic, was agitated.
“What’s the meaning of this?” the doctor demanded.
“We came for the corpse of our daughter.”
“The one you shaved her hair. The Woli is never wrong.”
“There’s always a first time. Baba, the child is asleep. Come back in the morning, understand? We shall see who’s right between your Woli and medicine. I can bet the girl’s going to stick around.”
Three years later. 1970. The nurse is now Mrs Victoria Gowon, the First Lady of the Military Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon.
The doctor returns from Edinburgh, Scotland’s compact, hilly capital, where he specialised as a paediatrician. He joins the Nigeria Navy as one of the three pioneer Nigerian doctors. The Indians were in charge of many naval services at that time.
The civil war had just ended and the feeling of optimism was everywhere.
It was a beautiful day. Mobolaji Sojinrin, in his dazzling white naval uniform, was in Ibadan and decided to visit his former colleagues in the University College Hospital.
It was a nostalgic interlude of handshakes, hugs and reflections. He was thus striding in his white shoes through memory wards when a jubilant woman showed up. She had a child strapped to her back and a lovely seven-year-old in tow. You know how the Yorubas greet someone they want to honour. She went flush on her knees and greeted him like a long-lost relation.
Mobolaji and his colleagues exchanged glances.
“Thank you, Madam. Have we met somewhere?”
“Doctor, you don’t recognise the woman whose daughter you shaved her hair?”
“Oh, my special baby. The one a Woli said would die. How is she these days?”
The woman stood up and tugging the arm of the pretty girl, announced, “This is your special baby, Doctor. And this is her aburo on my back. Thank you for freeing us from fear.”
Mobolaji Sojinrin hugged the girl. It’s the sunniest moment in a doctor’s life. Worth more than all the gold in Timbuktu.
Here is history furnished with all the literary trimming I could deploy. I got my materials from asking a truckload of questions. You could also do this from reading history textbooks and researching background materials about the period you like.
Don’t let anybody fool you, writing is not more difficult than digging a trench. Writing is also not spending a lifetime imagining a great epic. Writing is sitting for an hour or more, writing at least two hundred words per day for a sustained period. It’s a habit of putting words down on paper or your device, one letter at a time until you garner a body of organic incidents.
There are simple roadmaps to follow and that’s why we are here. Justin Imoudu, Stella Kpolugo, Folake Oyofo, Jennifer Abraham, Owei Lakamfa, Eric Osagie and some truly heavyweight writers who side with us are hunting for three would-be novelists. We hope to critic and give free copy editing support. There’s an email address on this page. Hit us, if you seriously want to write a novel or novella before September 2019. Enjoy.