Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Mercy Ngozi Alu - Guest Author (Halima)
Our author interview today is with Mercy Ngozi Alu, and her first book is Halima.
Tell us about yourself: I come from Afikpo, in Ebonyi State of Nigeria. My local Afikpo (Ehugbo) name, is Ogerigwogo, which can be translated Ogechukwu(God's time is the best). The original word means lady of song or composition and dance. I believe naturally, I am meant to be creative and full of ideas. My father was, and still is a professor, and I must say, he instilled some discipline in me.
My early studies through late secondary school were in Nigeria. I then studied English in the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, U.SA. , further graduate studies in Law, University of Illinois College of law Champaign, U.S.A; and earned a Master's of Business Administration from the Keller Institute of Management.
- What inspires you to write?
My interest in writing African literature was originally ignited by my background interest in reading many novels from all around the world. Besides pacesetters and the entire African Writers Series, I was an avid Mills & Boon, Silhoutte Romance Reader, and also read collections of stories and tales from around the world. I was fascinated by the depth of knowledge and culture reflected in stories from around the world.
My passion for writing was reignited as I taught English as an Adjunct Faculty in a few Universities in the United States. I believe that Education is important in finding solutions to the challenges facing the African Continent, and the world at large. I also believe in encouraging and supporting other youth to develop their talents, because they are the future. There are many places, where I cannot go and things I would like to say which I may not find the opportunity to say. I find that writing gives me expression, and allows me to connect with others on a deeper level.
- Do you see writing as a full-time career or do you have another main job?
Writing is a full time career, but in hybrid with my background in HR Consulting and Teaching. Writing and Teaching do go hand in hand. In addition, I do have a hobby as a singer/songwriter which I love. One of my favorite activities, is writing and recording music.
- Can you share a little about your writing routine? How does real life impact in your writing?
I write from inspiration. I believe my creative ability is a God-given gift. My writing reflects real life, even as a fictional work. I can visualize things I have not even seen yet, in my imagination, and write directly from the heart. I have been told by some of the University Professors, Secondary School teachers and other reviewers of my book, Halima, that my novel, Halima, takes them all the way to Nigeria, where the story is set, and they feel like they visited the village of Obodo, and the other towns mentioned in the book, meeting the characters in person.
- Tell us what inspired your book, Halima, and more about what the novel is about:
I cherish my brief secondary school experience at the Airforce Girls Military School, Jos, Plateau State. There, I met many other students from all across Nigeria, and became very familiar with some of the folk songs, tales and cultural dances that they presented. I see the plurality of cultural expression in Nigeria as a blessing.
In my novel, the main character, Nnanna, is from a lively village in the East, called Obodo(meaning village). He is blessed to be intelligent, and wins a much coveted scholarship to secondary school. This gives him the opportunity, eventually, to meet Halima, a lovely girl from Kano. The novel displays typical life in the secondary school dormitories, as well as the dilemma faced afterwards, to either go to University, or learn a trade. The possibilities that life has to offer, with or without formal Education, are reflected in the book, along with the organized discipline of village/township life.
There is a lot of culture in the book, showing how we, as Africans, and human beings in general, from all over the world, are more similar than not. From the way in which Halima is given away in marriage by her father, but refused, to the local wrestling match, the village boys going hunting in the forest, to the way teachers in school are nick-named after the subjects they teach as in, Oga Agriculture, to Nnanna's mother's visit to the native doctor, the original culture of Africa in Post-Colonial times is reflected.
There are plenty of proverbs in the novel. According to African Culture, proverbs are the palm oil with which words are written. Halima's father stated a proverb, which can be interpreted in many ways, " I have sewn a Babban Riga, ...whoever the neck fits should wear it".
- Is there anything you find particularly challenging while writing Halima?
I had to place a glossary at the end of the book, of Igbo words and proverbs and their meanings, and Hausa words and proverbs and their meanings. The book reflects Igbo Culture, Hausa Culture, and a little bit of Yoruba Culture, through the character, Chukwuma (Chuks), Nnanna's brother who lives in Lagos or Eko, an original Yoruba town which was the former capital of Nigeria. Since the three main languages in Nigeria are these three, I had to reflect the cultures.
The two main characters had several settings in their villages, developing towns, and places of learning. Several cultural elements had to be described in the book, including the process of childbirth as reflected in culture. In addition, there is a lot of humour in the book.
- When and why did you begin writing? When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I used to write a lot of poems in secondary school, and had one published in a Newspaper. It struck me that I had a gift, when one of my new English teachers in School who just arrived, asked me my name in class several times. After the class, she called me over privately, and told me, that she had read one of my poems when she was in Bauchi State, from a newspaper, and liked it. I thought that was amazing.
I also realized I had a gift for writing, when I was noticed by my literarture teacher, Mr. Uka, who everybody called, "Igbonoba", from a novel we read then called, "Ikenga". I had to play the main character in Literature class for one of Zulu Sofola's works, "Wedlock of the gods". I wrote good summaries for these events, as well as good peices for the Press Club. I also wrote a lot for the debating society, where I engaged myself in actively winning good debates with competing schools. This is reflected in the debating competition two of the characters in the novel engage in.
- What books have most influenced your life most?
I have enjoyed books from around the world. I love "So long a letter" by Senegalese writer, Mariama Ba, and even the Kenyan author, Ngugi wa Thiongo, has a lot of books I like. I also have enjoyed books by Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, and Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, etc.
- Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I have many favorite authors, it is difficult for me to say.
If you had to choose, which writer would you say writes in about the same line or genre as your book? You know, like if you like this book, then you'll also like mine?
Some of the older writers such as Flora Nwapa, Buchi Emecheta, Chinua Achebe. More recently, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
- Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? What books are you reading now?
Well, as a Nigerian who has travelled to the United States, I do like Myne Whitman's "A Love Rekindled", because it so smoothly reflects the ideal dynamics of the love relationships between couples with similar backgrounds in the diaspora and beyond. I love the intertwining of cultures, between Nigeria and the diaspora, reflected in the book, because the intercontinental movement between both cultures presents its own unique challenges in marriage and relationships.
- How has having a social media presence - blogging, Facebook and Twitter - affected the success of your book?
I think it has helped me to have a social media presence. This is because my book is mainly marketed online, and actually, there are many places I could not always travel to, in balancing family and other obligations, which the internet makes up for. It is absolutely very helpful to also get some feedback from facebook on the book as well. I have not been very good with blogging or utilizing Twitter. I find Twitter not to be my style of communication, since I think a little tweet, is just that, a tweet. I prefer to be able to say a little bit more, and get a little more feedback than that.
- Do you hope or plan to be one day published or sold in Nigeria?
Yes. I have worked with a publishing company to make my books available in Nigeria. I have also had my book reviewed by the University of Lagos, and Ebonyi State University, as well as a couple of other Universities and Secondary Schools. I have also had people asking for the novel in Nigeria, who would like to read it.
- What comments do you have about the reading culture in Nigeria?
Nigeria is developing speedily. There are many bright minds in Nigeria who love to read. As a matter of fact, the internet is not always reliable in Nigeria, as well as electricity. One of the main sources of entertainment which sharpens the mind, and widens the vision of many, should be reading. Reading can be for fun and entertainment. It also improves our vocabulary.
- Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
You may contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org, with any questions you may have about my book, Halima. I would love to hear from you. You can direct questions on how to get the book as well through this email. It is available online in many mediums, including as a very inexpensive E-book. You can google the author and book also, Mercy Ngozi Alu, Halima. Your comments and feedback can be fodder and raw material for a new book.
You can find out more about Halima and how to buy at http://books.google.com/books/about/Halima.html?id=jntzmAEACAAJ
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