By Solomon Nda-Isaiah
…Panel of highly diverse writers talk of the very different joys of their work
During a panel session of highly distinguished authors, best-selling crime writer Leye Adenie told an audience at the Sharjah International Book Fair: “I look back at some of the things I have written and think they are rubbish.” Thankfully he is talking about the drafts and not the finished products.
The Nigerian author, who now lives in London, was on a panel with highly respected American author Dr. Tayari Jones and renowned Iraqi novelist Saad Mohammed Ibrahim. In a discussion titled The Joys of Writing, it became apparent that the three authors came from very different backgrounds and expressed very different viewpoints on many of the issues raised.
Beginning the session, Dr. Jones spoke of her upbringing in Atlanta, Georgia. “I loved to read and write as a child, but no one ever considered that as an intellectual pursuit, it just meant I was a nice little girl and that was a nice thing to do.
“Atlanta was the first city to have a black mayor and a black chief of police and was the home of Martin Luther King, but I remember as a little girl that over a two year period, there was a killing of 28 black children and when I wrote the novel ‘Leaving Atlanta’, I was visiting my former self. The joy of it was that the characters in the book became my friends, but the worst part was that I began to understand the true horror of what had happened – I hadn’t seen things in the same light as a young girl. I think both the pleasure and the pain for me in writing is the analysis of myself; there is joy in finding out more about yourself and sadness in the nostalgia which you realise is not always the truth. If you hold onto your memories, then writing is not for you – the past is not fixed, it changes in line with your perceptions.”
Leye Adenie had a similar love of writing in his formative years, but told the panel he did not believe he was more talented than anyone else.
“I wasn’t born an innate storyteller. My father and my grandfather read and so it followed naturally that I developed a love of reading. When I was at school, I would write in the back of my book during lessons, while my friends were doodling or drawing, but am I a highly talented writer now? I don’t think so at all. I believe that we all have the same level of talent. I look back at some of things I have written in the past and they are rubbish!”
Saad Mohammed Ibrahim agreed with his fellow panellists that writing from an early age is the key to a love of literature in later life. “We lived in a relatively poor environment growing up and although my mother could not read or write, she was an amazing story-teller and that encouraged me to take my writing seriously. I would read and write anything. My first piece of published work was when I was very, very young and I sent off one of my earliest pieces of writing to a children’s magazine, which they published along with a cartoon.
“I couldn’t believe it and didn’t sleep that night because of the excitement and joy it gave me – I knew then that I wanted to be a writer. Some people have a passion for mathematics, some for history and others for engineering, for me that joy and that passion is for writing.”
When the panel was asked if they tended to write about what they knew and whether the characters were part of them, Leye Adenie stressed that he didn’t like crime – he liked to write about it…
“I think crime is exciting and fast paced and that’s why they call it a thriller, but do I go out and kill and maim people and try to rob a bank? The answer to that is definitely no. Although it’s a question that often comes up about what type of person wants to write that sort of book. To be one hundred percent honest, I think crime writers are some of the most intelligent and peaceful people you could ever find.