A Thread of Gold Beads glistened and sparkled on her slender neck. Its make was indeed brilliant. They flashed at our eyes, be the distance far or near. The skill with which she must have made them amazed us and we admired her for it. Then she spoke, “Bury Me Come Sunday Afternoon” Would we ever know why? Novel Afrique has decided to ask her, for only she understood it all.
The ambience was lively. Guests clustered in twos and threes. Some munching happily, drink glasses in hand; some chattering away but laughing lightly whenever necessary. Others just walked around the shop browsing through the displayed goods: African-based items of clothes, bags, footwear, furniture, jeweler to name a few. And of course, books. The merriment couldn’t but be owed to the star of the day – Nike Campbell-Fatoki, a writer with fantastic story ideas buried in her books. Her bubbly attitude egged Novel Afrique on to erase all nerves while conducting the interview, being the first of its kind that we had ever done.
Settled at a corner of Quintessence craft shop, Nike Campbell-Fatoki, enjoying her portion of small chops, talked to Novel Afrique about her writing, her love for music and feminism.
IS THE GENERAL STORY OF WRITING SINCE CHILDHOOD THE SAME FOR YOU?
I recall I started writing after I read some Enid Blyton books in primary school. It was exactly in primary six. I wrote some things that mimicked Enid Blyton stories because I just wanted to see where it’d go. Of course, it just went around other friends who liked it. I’d staple papers together and write in them. It was all fun and I just wanted to explore, to see if I could do something like that. I also read a lot. I read a lot of books and it wasn’t restricted to a particular kind. I did thrillers, romance – Mills and Boons – and then Nigerian books: Pacesetters? I did a lot of that. I guess it was just me trying to explore the different genres. I just loved to write and I wrote in my journals as well. So I guess that’s how it started.
HAS THERE BEEN A MAJOR SHIFT IN YOUR READING CATEGORIES i.e. MAYBE FROM AFRICAN LITERATURE TO EUROPEAN LITERATURE, FROM DEAD WRITERS TO CONTEMPORARY WRITERS, etc?
I think I migrated from European writers to African writers, for some reasons. It’s strange right? Even in school, I used to read international writers but then I felt since my experiences were similar to African writers why not check out how they actually write. So I gravitated towards that a lot. Now, I think I even do more of reading African writers than any other.
WHAT KIND OF WRITERS DO YOU READ?
I like Sefi Atta a lot. She’s like my mentor. I just love her. I’ve read a myriad of different people. E.C. Osondu is another I’ve read, Wole Soyinka, definitely, Uwem Akpan, some Ghanaian writers, they’re my entire favourite. That goes to show that I read more African writers than any other writers. too. I recently started reading some historical fiction writers. I love historical fiction. I like Indian writers too, Chitra Banerjee, Sister of My Heart, Saadat Manto short story Indian writers. He’s known as the leader of short story writing in India.
TEJU COLE WROTE THAT THERE’S NO ONE FORM OF ART THAT EXISTS ON ITS OWN. IF YOU’RE A WRITER, YOU CAN’T SAY YOU’RE JUST A WRITER BEACAUSE YOU HAVE TO DRAW INSPIRATIONS FROM OTHER ART FORMS LIKE MUSIC, PAINTINGS, etc. SO: WHERE DO YOU DRAW INSPIRATION FROM OTHER ART FORMS?
I definitely love music a lot – so: yes, music does it for me. All kinds of music- Naija music, I love jazz, Afro jazz, Reggae, classical music; anything that speaks to my emotions. But the funny thing is that I still have to write in a quiet area. So you can’t see me listening to music and writing at the same time. I have to be in solitude to write, no matter how much I love music. What I do is I listen first then I go ahead and write.
YOUR FIRST BOOK, THREAD OF GOLD BEADS, WAS PUBLISHED IN 2012. CAN YOU TAKE US THROUGH THE JOURNEY OF WRITING IT? FINDING PUBLISHERS, AND STUFF.
I actually started writing it in 2006. It took six years to write. I took some time off, because at that time, I worked 9 to 5 but that’s still not an excuse. I think it was because of the research. I had to do a lot of research; online research, meeting with people; I had to meet with people from Benin Republic, my grandparents because it was mostly about my grandparent’s life. So that’s why it took a bit long. Now that was the hard part. The easy part was publishing because I self-published it over there. And funny enough, it was well received
WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU SELF PUBLISHED?
I established my own publishing company in the US. It’s a printing/self-publishing company. I was helped through CreateSpace. It’s an online publishing company where you have the right to publish. All you have to do is give them your layout and manuscript and they’d carry on with the publishing of whatever it is that any other publishing house can do. However, it’s published under your own imprint. But now in Nigeria, Thread of Gold Beads was printed by Parresia, the Origami press.
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO SELF PUBLISH IT?
You know, I was a newbie at the time. I just wanted my story to be out there. I had waited for six years to write it, so I didn’t even think to look for an agent. I just did it. And thankfully, it was well received.
HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT PUBLISHING IT IN OTHER COUNTRIES?
Yes. That’s the great thing about Amazon. Since it’s on amamzon.com, it’s worldwide so anybody anywhere can buy it and they’d receive it. And it’s also been translated to French.
HOW ABOUT BURY ME COME SUNDAY AFTERNOON, HOW DID THAT COME ABOUT?
When I was rounding off the publishing of Thread of Gold Beads, I noted that I wanted to write something contemporary since the last one was historical. I wanted to do something different. Apart from doing something contemporary, I just wanted to speak to the issues that we’re facing now in the society, things that we face but don’t really talk about. So I decided to write short stories. At the time when I was still a new author, on my website I said, ‘Nike’s next project is going to be short stories’ but by that time, I had no idea. Since I put it there, I was going to own up to it and I was going to do it. So I challenged myself.
THE EXPERIENCE OF WRITING SHORT STORIES FOR YOU AS COMPARED TO WRITING THREAD OF GOLD BEADS, HOW WAS IT?
Thread of Gold Beads took six years and I think because for one, I wasn’t yet a trained author. In fact, I taught myself to write and so it took more time to read others and see how they wrote and figure out what my niche was, what my writing style was. But Bury Me Come Sunday Afternoon, took less than two years to write and publish because I already knew my skill and my style. But then again, I think it was kind of hard to write this book of Short Stories than Thread of Gold Beads because historical fiction has always been my thing, I just love it despite the fact that it took an even longer period. I kind of enjoyed the whole research and getting to it, but in this book of Short Stories, I was speaking to issues that could anger some people. It just brought the things that I the things that are usually hard to talk about.
YOU’VE MENTIONED EARLIER THAT YOU WANT TO TEACH PEOPLE WITH YOUR STORIES. SO ARE YOU SAYING THE ROLE OF WRITERS IN THE SOCIETY IS TO TEACH? AND IF THAT’S IT, WHAT GIVES THEM THAT COMPETENCE TO DO SO?
As a writer, you have to create a platform to speak and whether you like it or not. You have the power because people are looking to read from you, whether your purpose is to teach. The story your bringing out is still a message irrespective of anything. And whether we like it or not, writers are activists. Naturally, we’re bringing something to the readers to take something out of it. And when we do that, we’re either teaching or imparting knowledge.
OKAY ABOUT THIS BOOK, BURY ME COME SUNDAY AFTERNOON, WHAT THEME CONNECTS EACH STORY?
Deception. The thread through out each story is deception; however, each story has a different theme. Deception is used in one way or to spot light some issues.
IN SOME OF THE STORIES, IT APPEARS THAT ONE WHO YOU EXPECT TO BE THE HERO IS NOT EVEN AS PURE AS EXPECTED. WHY DID YOU DO THAT?
Nobody is perfect, you that are calling the pot black, examine your own life first, you’re not perfect. I was only trying to tell that people shouldn’t be so quick to judge.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO VENTURE INTO MOVIE PRODUCTION?
You’re reading my mind. I have been exploring screen writing. In fact, I helped produce Thread of Gold Beads as a stage play in 2014. I enjoyed it but it was a lot of work. Now, I love movies, by the way, so it’s something I’ve tried exploring with a producer in the United States. She produces short movies. We’ve been talking preliminary about maybe adapting one of the stories into a short movie.
WHICH OF THE STORIES DID YOU FIND INTERESTING?
Well, the one that made me laugh the most was THE APPOINTMENT because the character was a bad-ass girl. I mean we all pitied her at the beginning: Oh! She’s going to be sold into prostitution by her own uncle; meanwhile she had an even bigger plan in mind. All the stories had serious issues, but this particular one, I just wanted people to chuckle at the end. Something to ease the tension, maybe? So yes, I enjoyed myself writing it.
WHICH OF THE STORIES AFFECTED YOU PERSONALLY?
I think the BREWING STORM one. The one about domestic violence. No kid should ever be placed in such a situation where they have to fight that kind of battle for their parents. But at some point, something has to give because I also wanted to tell the story from a child’s angle, how domestic violence can indeed affect a child. That one really moved me.
YOUR FEMALE CHARACTERS SEEM STRONG. THEY SEEM TO HAVE MADE THEIR OWN CHOICES DAMNING WHATEVER CONSEQUENCES. So do you see yourself as fighting for the liberation of women IN YOUR stories? Do you decide to make your characters strong for these reasons?
No. Not really. It’s normal because I’ve always seen myself surrounded by strong women. So it only came naturally when I decided that my characters would be strong. Growing up, I’ve watched really strong women take up the reigns of their home when the men couldn’t be there for their children, and also their extended families. My grandmother, my aunties, even my friend’s mothers are all strong women. It’s what I’ve seen throughout my life. I think it only came naturally that my characters would be strong women as well. And I’m not even a feminist. I’m a realist. It’s what I see. It’s not that I don’t believe in feminism, I’m just being me. Women should realize that they have the power already they just have to take hold of it. They don’t need to wait for anybody to tell them that they are free or that they can do it. I want women to know that they are already empowered.
YOU SAID EARLIER THAT WRITERS ARE ACTIVIST WHETHER THEY LIKE IT OR NOT, HEARING YOU SPEAK, WE’D SAY YOU’RE A FEMINIST WHETHER YOU LIKE IT OR NOT.
The thing about me is I don’t like to be labeled. I am me.
WORD IS YOU ARE FROM UKRAINE.
NO! I’m not from Ukraine. I was only born there. I’m Naija.
BUT AREN’T YOU SUPPOSED TO BE A CITIZEN?
No. It’s your mother that has to be from there. Don’t worry, I checked. I went to the embassy; they looked at me and said obviously I’m not Ukrainian. I was like, ‘can I get a passport because I was born there’, I even showed my certificate and all that but they said that my mother had to be Ukrainian for me to be a citizen.
THANK YOU, NIKE.
Thank you so much, guys.