Saturday, 19 June 2010

You are not alone

As a writer you can sometimes feel like you are alone in your struggle to finish a book. I have never been to any workshop specifically for writers until today.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I booked my place at the Insider Guide to HOW TO GET PUBLISHED organised by Writers and Artists’ Yearbook a few months ago but when I walked through the ‘Free Word Centre” doors at a few minutes past ten in the morning, I was a bit nervous about being in the midst of established writers and sticking out like a sore thumb.

After the introductions, Richard Charkin, the Executive Director of Bloomsbury spoke about the publishing industry and the many phases that it’s been through. He laid out some not so encouraging statistics but informative all the same. It was good to see from the publisher’s view point and he did a good job at reminding us that at the end of the day, publishing is a money making industry and making profit for shareholders is their goal.

Jo Herbert, the editor of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook took us through the steps towards getting published, a reminder that your work as a writer does not end when you finish writing your 80,000 words. With most literary agents receiving nothing less than 20 manuscripts everyday! You have to stand out from the pack… no pressure at all ;)

When it was time for lunch, I got talking to some of the writers and realised there was no reason for my initial worry. Although some of them are on their second novel, they still have pretty much the same struggles as I.

Alison Baverstock, a writer, publisher and MA Publishing tutor amongst other topics touched on inspiration and what she said which I thought was so spot was that ‘inspiration finds you when you are working.’ She further said; You have to stick at your desk.

I know what it is like sitting in front of a blank sheet of paper or PC screen and waiting for one word to come… one sentence, and nothing worth writing seems to come. It was so refreshing to know that even seasoned writers go through the same challenges I go through.

Listening to Katie Hickman, a best selling author of both fiction and non fiction tell her own story of how she went through rejections and being dropped by her agent further drives home the truth that Carole Blake, one of UK’s top literary agent said in closing…

“There are as many exceptions as there are with rules.”

I walked out of today’s conference feeling revived and more determined to keep writing, to keep showing up everyday. So help me God!

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Welcome to MY Lagos

Last month I was in Nigeria for a couple of weeks; it’s my third time in the last twelve months, yep! My surname could very well be Ajala! (name given a frequent traveller). If someone had told me I would be making those trips twenty four months prior, I would have said err… I don’t think so. The reasons and the whys are a different story altogether.

Shortly before my last trip, the BBC showed a documentary series called ‘Welcome to Lagos’. The three part observational series featured on the lives of people who live in the ‘slums’ of Lagos Nigeria. As I watched, I kept asking myself “does this place really exist?”. A lot people felt that the documentary was another BBC exploitation, with Professor Wole Shoyinka branding it as "condescending" and "colonialist" I thought the title was deceiving in that it gave the impression that everything the series showed was all there was to Lagos and that is a BIG lie because even though I lived in Nigeria for twenty years I still find it unbelievable that people actually live in those slums! I have seen them or driven past these places but I don’t know anyone who lives in the slums. I know that I not knowing anyone who lives there does not mean these places don’t exist.

Truthfully, I would have preferred if the cameras were focused on the other side as well, similar to the channel 4 show ‘how the other half lives’ there is more to Nigeria that what the mainstream media chooses to focus on; Nigeria is not just about dodgy email scams, corruption and religious violence. It seems that every time there is a program about Nigeria or any other African country, the focus is always on what isn’t working, the suffering of the poor and so on.

Having said that, what I saw was human resilience in action, these guys took the term hustler to a whole new level. They weren’t begging the BBC for handouts neither were they sending messages of help via the cameras. They weren’t looking to the reporters to solve their problems, neither were they in denial of the difficulties they had to endure. These people were telling their stories in a way that starred up hope in me. I felt like I had no excuse to complain about anything. If Vocal Slender can work in the slums day in day out, to earn enough money for his studio time and still be able to present his art with so much pride, what was my reason for giving up, really??

Thankfully, his hard work paid off as he recently performed at the Coco Bar festival held at the Indigo 02 in London UK, on the 31st of May.

We can sit and complain about how the mainstream media chooses to tells our stories by focusing the magnifying glass on Africa’s dirty laundry but nothing will change until we start telling our own stories ourselves. the truth is, there are so many of them to tell…

The first thing I notice as soon as I land at the Murtala International Airport in Lagos is the HEAT! It smacks you right in the face and those pounds you’ve been struggling to loose start to melt before your very eyes, through your pores in the form of sweat. Lol! I kid you not, I always loose about 2kg in two weeks and trust me, I ain’t complaining at all. The British weather is so unpredictable with half of the year grey and dull, two weeks of heat is definitely an opportunity not to be missed.

Once you drive away from the airport there is an obvious BUZZ in the atmosphere, most drivers use their horns at will, it starts to sound like synchronized noise after a while... yeah, like music but a different kind of music. Let me just say this, driving in this part of the world is not for the faint hearted. You cannot be too slow to cause someone to bash into you and you cannot be too fast to bash into someone else, your reflexes have to be sharp and don’t expect anyone to stop to perhaps exchange insurance details with you just because your ‘lovely' car got grazed! Take it like a man, I say! Lol!

Depending on what month in the year it is when you visit, you might experience one of the special things about the tropics; WHEN IT RAINS, IT POURS this can only be experienced not explained. Imagine God and all the angels decide to pour bucketloads of water down on us… yeah, that’s the one! And another thing I love is the smell of rain coming… it’s a strong clayey or muddy smell mixed with forest or the woods. That smell takes me right back to primary school and I love it and when the rain stops, the air feels and smells fresher.

Did someone say the F word? FOOD tastes different here, I am not even joking. What we call plantain in London falls into 'food that tastes like cardboard' category. Suya is another thing that’s always on my ‘must eat’ list. For those who don’t know what that is, it’s beef, chicken or goat meat grilled on open fire and spiced with pepper, onions and tomatoes. Your taste buds goes into overdrive when this thing touches your tongue.

Another noticeable thing is that everywhere you turn to, there is MUSIC either coming from a radio, CD player, or the human vocal cord. If you want to experience it in its rawest form, you need to pay a visit to the hair dressers (not at the salons where you get your perm done) no, I am referring to what some call the ‘braiding center’ where braids that would normally cost you nothing less than 50 quid will cost a fiver! Okay maybe a lil’ bit of exaggeration is going on here, but if you’re paying more than a tenner, you’re either in the wrong part of town or you've opened your mouth and spoken in your best British or American (wannabe) accent. LOL! I usually go with my mum or someone who knows what the going rate is and I leave them to do all the talking and negotiation. Anyway, money aside these ladies will sing for the duration of four hours that you’re there! Yep! They go from one song to the next and sometimes interject with stories too. Who needs TV with these people in action eh? (((smile)))

If you don’t speak any of the many Nigerian languages that there are and you watch two people in conversation, you might confuse what you see with a row because another thing that sets Nigerians apart from everyone else is their PASSION. The hand gestures, the eyes and head movement, the body language tells you they are interested in the person they are talking to, no half hearted, stiff upper lip smiles at all. When there’s LAUGHTER, it’s a loud, hearty, belly holding laughter.

There are so many things I could go on and talk about but I will touch on the issue of FAITH in conclusion and I will focus on the Christian faith just because it’s what I am familiar with; though several religions exist in Nigeria. Sunday mornings are interesting to watch, people come out in their Sunday’s best, all headed in different directions. There is one church (or more) on every street some with large membership, and others a handful.

It does make me wonder why they don’t all come together to have one huge service? I also wonder why the inside of the ‘mega churches’ is so far removed from real life on the streets. I know there’s so much an organization that attracts a large number of people can do than having buildings worth billions of Naira and having services every other day of the week....

I know someone else’s story will be different from mine and I respect that but welcome to MY LAGOS!