"I want to be a part of that magic." A Quick Q & A with #WriterPrompt Winner Innocent Chizaram Ilo

This is how Papa paints the mountain. 

He sits in front of the rotting canvas, the numb fingers of his right hand grip the brush and the aluminium paint tray dances on his quivering left palm.

Mama warns me never to disturb Papa when he paints but I still do.

Today, the painting is almost done. Papa has perfected the blue of the mountain's peak, the melting snow no longer looks like spilt milk and he has fixed the brown-brown skin of the elephants and buffalos grazing at the foot of the mountain.

"Ke kwanu," I greet.

"Who are you?" He asks baring the little remains of his chequered teeth.

"I live here," I tell him because I don't have the muscle to remind him I'm his son and then explaining to him what a son is. Papa does not seem to remember much these days.

"So we are like neighbours." Papa sets down the paint tray on the floor. "You remind me of my son Zim."

I smile, pat Papa's shoulder and run into the house before Mama sees us together. The last time Mama caught me talking to Papa, she yanked at my ears and called me 'devil's child'.

Tonight, Papa calls us to come and see his finished painting. Mama and I chewed our tears and smiled away. We know at midnight, Papa will crawl into the painting and return to the mountain. 

We all came from the mountain and must go back there some day.

#WriterPrompt is a regular flash fiction event we run on our Facebook page, although it is currently on hiatus. Writers post stories in response to a picture, then workshop them with other participants and members of the SSDA team. The tragedy and simplicity of Innocent Chizaram Ilo's untitled story won over ther judges.

 

Can you tell us when you first realised you were a wordsmith and why do you think you are so attracted to the craft of storytelling?

INNOCENT: "I am a storyteller and I would like to tell you a few personal stories..." - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's TED Talk - The Dangers of A Single Story, piqued my interest. I wanted to introduce myself in that same way to people: "Hi, I'm Innocent and I tell stories." I wanted to inhabit strange bodies and places.

Storytelling helps me to paint the world the way I see it or want it to be. There is a magic in how single words, when placed side by side, evocate laughter, thoughts, tears, pain and healing. 


I want to be a part of that magic.

 

What, where and who inspires you to write. 

INNOCENT: There is no one thing that inspires my writing. A walk in the rain, looking out of my window in the morning, eating, reading, watching movies and dreams.
Places also play an important role in my writing. The university campus in Nsukka, my mother's kitchen and my bedside view. Writers like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Lesley Nneka Arimah, Yiyun Lui and Petina Gappah rock my world.
 

 

If you had one tip for a newbie writer, what would it be?

INNOCENT: One tip. One tip. Listen to the tiny voice in your head. Communicate with that voice. Yes it's crazy, I know. Karen Russell calls writing "Taking dictations from imaginary people."

 

Innocent Chizaram Ilo lives in Nigeria but dreams about inhabiting strange places and bodies - this is why he writes. He studies undergraduate economics but prefers writing stories anytime of the day to analyzing clunky graphs. He draws strong influences from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Lesley Nneka Arimah, Petina Gappah and Yiyun Li. He once wore fake glasses to up his nerd game. It didn't work.

 

Interview by Jason Mykl Snyman

 

"The intense heat in the eyes of onlookers figuratively set the girl ablaze..."A Q & A with #WriterPrompt Winner Lydia Durunguma.

The Striped Girl

There had never been a colder morning than that in Gembu.

The oxygen in the air was replaced with ululation and hissing from parched lips; red, immovable eyes peered through windows.

“This is what the gods vomited when they choked on an unpleasant food offering."

“The womb that bore her was rotten!"

“I’m sure her mother slept with a black and a white man at the same time; sacrilege!”

Spit flew from mouths to ground, shoulders shrugged, thumbs and middle fingers snapped. Bent heads shook.

The fusion of the wailing of the womb that had borne her, the incantation of the priest and the chants of the young bare-chested men dreamed up a dreadful symphony. It was her sixteenth birthday and she was still abnormal, thus she had to be returned to the ones who had given her to them.

She was stripped; arms and feet bound.

Vivid cinnamon-coloured eyes; the brown stripes on her yellowish-white skin were like the stripes of a tiger. Those stripes; a work of art mystifying a lost and perhaps beautiful soul, creating wonder in minds only as deep as water puddles.

She was drenched in kerosene, a match was lit and the flame that ensued licked every inch of under-appreciated art.

I began to choke; no, not from the flame’s fume but from guilt; guilt that I let these people bathe in their ocean of ignorance.

But, what was a white man going to tell them about vitiligo that they wanted to hear?

#WriterPrompt is a regular flash fiction event we run on our Facebook page. Writers post stories in response to a picture, then workshop them with other participants and members of the SSDA team. The guest judge for this competition was author and illustrator Alex Latimer, he had the following to say about his choice of winner,

 

"I enjoyed every single one of the stories - they all have something quite compelling about them. Choosing a winner is never easy, but I have settled on Lydia Durunguma's story. In any piece this short, each word has to work hard and Lydia has done this very well. The tension starts right from the beginning, then on top of that she builds mystery and she ties it all together in the final sentence with a satisfying reveal which changes the way you understand the story as a whole. Woven through all of that is strong characterization and setting."

 

Hi Lydia! Congratulations on winning this #WriterPrompt! The competition was stiff, and we had a number of really imaginative interpretations of our tiger image. Tell us a little bit about yours. What inspired you to go into the direction of the vitiligo disease?

LYDIA: When I first saw the theme picture for this prompt, I was short of ideas on how to interpret it. I didn’t want to write a clichéd interpretation of a tiger which was, to me, writing about its strength and wildness, so I decided not to write and just read the other stories. The inspiration eventually hit me the next day when I saw a girl at the market with this disease; the intense heat in the eyes of onlookers figuratively set the girl ablaze. I thought she was beautiful but many didn’t. I remember the discoloration on her skin drove my thoughts to this prompt’s theme and there you have it.

 

This #WriterPrompt was judged by SSDA shortlister, Alex Latimer. Tell us a bit about your experience with our judge and hosts and what it’s like being critiqued by your peers so openly.

LYDIA: It feels really nice to have your piece appreciated by an amazing storyteller. I’m grateful for this platform, one where you can read other stories and have your story read and critiqued as well. Being critiqued by my own peers is also a reminder, lest I forget, that there are still so many things I’m yet to learn in the art of storytelling.

 

Some of our previous winners have said that a few ideas came to mind when participating in certain #WriterPrompts. Did you have a few back-up ideas or did you just go with the first idea which came to mind and made it work? Tell us about your process in crafting your stories.

LYDIA: I had no back-up ideas, but I also didn’t go with the first idea that came to mind. The process of crafting my stories; when my mind is sapped of inspiration, the first thing I do is eat. If that doesn’t work, which is a big ‘if,’ I take a stroll or I read a book or a short story. I used to think that reading what other writers have to say when I am stuck would inadvertently lead to subtle plagiarising but it doesn’t. What it does is take me to a place where my stunted creativity has room to thrive.

 

Lydia Durunguma is a creative writer; a native of Imo state, Nigeria. She is inspired by food and people. She is currently working on a collection of short stories and a novel.

 

Interview by Jason Mykl Snyman

"I am lost in thoughts, of how living can be a playlist on repeat." A Q&A with Keem Tunde.

Things That Never Die

It is 06:17am, and I am late. While waiting for a bus, I am lost in thoughts, of how living can be a playlist on repeat: sleep, eat, work and other things lost in transit.

A bus arrives; I am on my way to Victoria Island, but first, Ojuelegba. In the bus, the man beside me looks like my dad. He, the man, has my dad’s kind of Polo on – with stripes. He is light skinned, with folds above his eyes. His neck sits like my dad's – backward, and tilted up a bit, like when he watches the news.

He catches me staring. I do not apologize. I look away. I search through my phone’s gallery, in between, I let out a tear. I am broken. There is no picture of me and my dad, unlike my siblings who have many. Though I bear his name, and he preferred to call me Junior, we were apart, in several ways.

Through the window, I stare, at shops still locked. I think of the owners, still sleeping. I wish for the same, but faced with a different reality. A job waits on the Island. A dawn to dusk job. Two seats away, a man makes me a reference point to his son. "Go to school so you can wear a tie like him." I smile.

Almost at my stop, a look at my phone; I wish to call my dad, to hear him speak for the last time.

#WriterPrompt is a regular flash fiction event we run on our Facebook page. Writers post stories in response to a picture, then workshop them with other participants and members of the SSDA team. Keem Tunde's story tackled grief, memory and expectation in a particularly elegant way.

 

Tell us a little about what inspires you to write and when you started to learn the craft?

KEEM: My first real exposure to the craft of creative writing was in 2012 through a social platform - 2go. Every day, I would visit the poetry rooms just to observe others write. Later, I started writing my own poems. In 2014, I wrote my first story and posted it on Facebook. The comments were encouraging, so I decided to put in more effort. I am still putting in effort.

My writings are inspired by everyday activities. I am interested in the little things that many might overlook; the bus ride from home to school, how the kids in my compound interact - what they say and how they say it, a picture or phrase etc. Over the years, my writings (especially poems) are influenced by people, places and pain. We all have our shares of pain. Haha! 

 

Who are your favourite authors and why?

KEEM: Favourite authors? The list is endless, especially with the emergence of a new generation of African writers, I read based on mood. I have stuck with a few authors and works over the years though: say Mario Puzo's The Godfather, JD Robb's In Death series, TJ Benson's 'Tea' among others. Through media platforms, Facebook especially, new writers are emerging and they are changing the narratives; bringing new styles to the table. For every author I read, I am interested in how they depict human experience in their works. 

 

What is next on your writing agenda, plus some writing tips that you found most useful?

KEEM: The next thing on my agenda is to continue to grow as a writer. It has always been my goal to be a better writer. It is only when I have mastered the craft that I will aim to publish a book. For now, I can only grow through platforms like SSDA, and, hopefully, I can put in for the annual competition in couple of years.

I have allowed myself to be guided by two writing tips over the years:

A. Writing is like music; it must have a flow.

B. Sometimes, writing stories take time. If you relax for a while and come back, you may find errors that weren't visible before.

 

 

Keem Tunde is a graduate of Mass Communication from The Polytechnic Ibadan. He lives in Lagos where he doubles as a writer and street photographer.

 

 

 

"We just kept searching for food, lest we die." A Quick Q&A with Mo Cadillac.

The Cost of Greed

Kamal ended his inglorious life in the deep, dark, red fluid-laden churner of the magnitude of the creature of the lake. We had flown over the once shrinking aquatic space determined to survive the depression that had ran aground our economical institutions and impoverished our populace. It began as a recession, the dry season refused to give way to the rains until the government declared famine. It ravaged our village and sacked our king. It strode majestic through our streets, its gait lifted, its swagger boisterous. Emboldened by its conquest, it marched on. The King’s Guard could not stand its weaponry. If they could not fight it, what could our cutlasses and hoes have done. The sun scorched earth would have become our resting place, if we had attempted to fight the seemingly insurmountable. We fled our homes. We flew to nowhere. We just kept searching for food, lest we die. 

Kamal stumbled on a bag of grain under a rock, it had fallen off a truck headed for the human towns. He grew fat, while others got leaner. I became suspicious of Kamal not only that his limbs were fat and feathers bright but he left the clan at night. I trailed him to the rock, where he fed. Kamal was accosted. He refused to share the spoils despite multitude of pleas. The gods heard our cries and sent rain. We flew back home leaving an obese Kamal by the lake. He couldn't lift his body.

 

#WriterPrompt is a regular flash fiction event we run on our Facebook page. Writers post stories in response to a picture, then workshop them with other participants and members of the SSDA team. Mo Cadillac's winning story was a graphic story of greed and just deserts.

 

Tell us a little about yourself and your ‘name’ Mo Cadillac. Where does it come from?

I am Michael Chukwuemeka Mbegbu, birthed and bred in Lagos, Nigeria. I obtained a Bachelor's degree from the Federal University of Technology, Owerri in Nigeria. Mo Cadillac is gotten from the car brand Cadillac and Mo from the 42nd element on the periodic table, molybdenum. When I am not writing, I visit art galleries, I listen to soft music and read.

 

What inspires you to write and how often do you make time to practice your craft?

Writing to me is a creative venture in which one draws out his or her imaginations using the power of words and language to create pictures, to tell a story to entertain, inform or influence a social change. I am inspired by the works of great writers such as Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche. I tell myself if I want to change the world or influence it like Mark Zuckerberg did with Facebook, then I would have to develop and use my talent, writing, to do so. I write as often as I can. When I am traveling I write, when I am in traffic I write.

 

What writing tips could you offer new writers?

New writers should never give up on themselves. They should continue to work on their writing skills until they become mature.

 

 

 

Mo Cadillac is a Christian who lives and writes in Lagos, Nigeria.