Abubakar Adam Ibrahim has a novel out later this year. He is judging the 2015 Short Story Day Africa Prize along with Mary Watson and Billy Kahora. We spoke to him about his work and what he thinks winning stories are made of.
Tiah: You are the Arts Editor at the newspaper Daily Trust. What influence has journalism had on your fiction work?
Abubakar: For me, the two are interrelated as one is the product of the other. My decision to become a journalist was born out of the fact that I knew from an early age that I wanted to be a writer. Realising I needed exposure and experience to be a good writer, I made the decision to be a journalist. It has given me opportunities of interacting with all sorts of people and has helped my fiction writing in terms of creating more believable characters. At least that is what I like to think.
Tiah: Do you ever write by hand before hitting the keyboard?
Abubakar: Only when I am caught somewhere without my computer and I have a Eureka moment when I am struck by an idea I have to pen down. If this happens when I have a pen and paper at hand that would be perfect. When I was younger I always, always had a pen and paper with me for such eventualities. But mostly it is easier to just hit the keyboard directly. At least it saves a lot of trees and time, too.
Tiah: Short stories seem to need a PR makeover. As a reader, what about them appeals?
Abubakar: The appeal is that they are brief, and in this age where there are so many things competing for peoples’ attention, the short story can engage a reader’s attention for only a short period as compared to a novel and sometimes they deliver more punch than the novel. The novel is a complex beast. It takes stamina to write and I think smart writers have realised that not all of them have that stamina. It also takes stamina to read. The novel is a marathon; the short story is a sprint. You pick which one works better for you.
Tiah: What would you like to see change in the African literary landscape?
Abubakar: I would like to see more intra-continent engagement and better utilization of the literary space. I would like to see Africans reading more African writers. I would like to see South African and Kenyan books in Nigerian bookshops, I would like to see Nigerian books in Tanzania and Uganda. I want to read Ghanaian books in Abuja. I want to see better engagement between Anglophone and Francophone Africa, with more translations across the two divides. It is a shame that Togo is just next door and I have absolutely no idea what the literary landscape looks like over there. I want this to change.
Tiah: You are one of SSDA's 2015 judges (thank you). What are your writing pet peeves? What makes you grin?
Abubakar: I am not too keen on works that convey a desperation to impress rather than a need to tell a story. If that is your proclivity then perhaps you are better off writing an essay. I am not too keen on sex scenes for the simple sake of titillating the reader. I don’t have a problem with them if they are integral to the story. And of course, I think everyone hates lazy writing so invest a little time in finding exciting new way to say things.
Abubakar Adam Ibrahim is a Nigerian writer and author of the short story collection, The Whispering Trees, (Parresia, Lagos, 2012) which was longlisted for the Etisalat Prize for literature, with the title short story shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2013. He is a winner of the BBC African Prize, among other awards and is a Gabriel Garcia Marquez Fellow and a Civitella Ranieri Fellow. His novel, Season of Crimson Blossoms will be published in November in Nigeria by Parresia Publishers and in the UK by Cassava Republic in 2016. He also works as a journalist with one of Nigeria’s biggest newspaper.