Abigail Anaba is a Nigerian screenwriter with a number of movie titles to her name, including: Lost Maiden and Unguarded. Her movies have seen casts that include starring Omotola Jolade Ekeinde, Bimbo Akintola, Kalu Ikeagwu, Ngozi Ezeonu, Ramsey Noah, Uche Jombo, and Desmond Elliot, among others. She also recently published her first book, Sector IV. The book is a work of fiction telling a captivating story of love, family and community, pain and heartbreak woven around events of the Nigerian Civil War.
I sat down to have a chat with her about Sector IV. Here is how our conversation went.
Congratulations on the publication of your first book, Sector IV. I am curious, as I am sure others are: what inspired this book?
My mother. She is such an inspiration. Plus, I wanted to tell the story of a part of the war I can’t remember reading anywhere.
The Civil War is a thread that runs through the entire story. Did you build some parts of the story from real life experiences that your mom had during the war?
Actually just one part of the story is based on my mum’s personal experience but I had to tweak it as well. Everything in the book is actually fiction. But you know truth is stranger than fiction. (laughter)
Splendid! You mentioned wanting to tell a part of the story of the civil war that you had not read elsewhere. Can you please share more about this?
The crossing to Sector IV. People having to throw away crying babies in order to cross to ‘safety’. That actually happened. And one of my brothers was almost thrown away. In fact, he saved my parents because somehow they did not join in the crossing, but many did and died.
That is a shocking scenario. When I read the book, the powerful emotions and the internal turmoil that was painted in that scene, as in many others, was gripping.
Its a part of the book really close to my heart. Unfortunately, I can’t even say exactly where this happened. My dad says its close to Arochukwu and they were to cross to Biafra One. I really wish I had more details but this as in other things we rely on word of mouth.
This brings me to your writing. This is your first book in print, yet it is so well scripted. Where did you learn to write in such a descriptive, yet catchy manner?
I’ve been writing for a very long time. 15 years at the very least, but I’ve been writing for Nollywood, screen writing that is. So I got a lot of practice from there. I would say my ‘style’ grew from there. In screenwriting we say “Show; don’t tell” and use more pictures and less words. I guess if I was into words per se, this book would be much larger. But I’m not and so here we are. This was very much an experiment and I’m ‘lucky’ that a lot of people are accepting it.
A very good experiment it is. It is interesting to hear that you have been writing for 15 years. We do not see a lot of brilliant writing in these parts. We have a very small handful of shining stars, but that is it. Yet, a society without good writers is a society that is sorely lacking catalysts. What do you think is behind this and how do you think the narrative can be changed?
I started reading from a very early age. I was quite a voracious reader. I had a library card at age 9 and I would borrow 2 books every other day. I don’t think a writer can rise above his learning. These days, the library culture is almost as dead as our education system. Ironically, this is a time when there is actually more access to books (with the rise of e-books). I think a lot of factors have contributed to having fewer writers but I’d always look to the foundation, our education system.
Everyone worth reading that I have spoken to mention being voracious readers from an early age. That, it seems, is always the first step, followed by a good education. With libraries almost totally extinct and the digital media now reigning supreme, how do you think we can get our youngsters to read more? You have three boys yourself. How do you provide them this much needed exposure?
We read together sometimes. I buy a lot of literature for them, mostly foreign because I hardly find Nigerian children authors worth reading. My first book was to be a children’s book but I ended up finishing Sector IV first. I’m done with the first draft. I also download free ebooks for them to read. One of my kids has interests in story telling through comics so he loves reading to get ideas. I also teach them to research. That’s really one key area a lot of people overlook. Instead of just answering their questions, I ask that we Google. So these days we do more of sharing than question and answer sessions
Now, back to your book, Sector IV. I cannot for the life of me forget to ask you about the scene in which Oyinyechi and Duke consummated their love. It is easily the most inoffensive, tasteful and brilliantly written description of sexual love between two lovers that I have ever read. The use of metaphor – earth, planting, fruit, et al – is mind blowing. Everyone I have given that section if the book to read fell in love with your writing immediately. How long did it take you to perfect that description?
Funny, I took that poem off my blog. In the first draft, I wrote a description of that sexual encounter talking about how he rolled his tongue over her nipples and kissed and teased until he was sure she was ready but such writing seemed to destroy the ‘sanctity’ of that moment. So I ditched it for that poem. Talking about how long it took me to write that poem? Perhaps a couple of hours at the most. Sometimes I get fired up and my keyboard burns, and sometimes I can’t even work up a tiny flame.
Interesting. The plot of Sector IV is a captivating one with its twists and turns. I certainly did not see the end coming. It took me by surprise. Which is a good thing. I’d love to have many more people read it and then hear what they think. I am sure you would too. Writing a book is one thing. Publishing and distributing it is another. What has your experience with these other aspects of the project been like?
I have worked with Eljara.com, the branch of ICCOM.ng that is into publishing. I had to learn a lot about publishing along the way to be able to explain exactly what I want. The feedback I have received on the quality of publication has been largely positive, though I would have loved for it to be totally perfect. I am in talks with a distributing company. We have agreed in principle but have not put pen to paper and so I cannot talk about that yet. I think I have been fortunate. The positive online buzz has helped a lot with getting distributors but its time to go offline especially with the planned presentation in October.
I see what you did there. So, there is a planned presentation in the works? Is that a book launch or its something different?
Its a presentation cum launch. I belong to both worlds and I’m looking at marrying the two worlds. I hope I am able to pull it off.
I certainly hope you do. I wish you all the best with the book. I am a huge fan. Thanks for taking out time for this interview.
To purchase Sector IV in Nigeria, call 0806 128 2222 or 0816 363 6146 for details.