Nigerian novelist, Chịkọdịlị Emelụmadụ, wrote her award-winning debut novel, Dazzling, ‘because nothing like it exists at the moment’. Emelụmadụ wanted a book that ‘represented the strange mix of world in which I grew up in contemporary south-eastern Nigeria, with its mores, hierarchies, and beliefs.’
First Draft is our interview column, featuring authors and other prominent figures on books, reading, and writing.
Our questions are italicized.
What books or kinds of books did you read growing up?
All sort of texts; newspapers with political cartoons, salacious gossip magazines, encyclopaedias, literary fiction, crime novels, romance fiction, horror, children’s books, erotica, plays, poetry, anatomy books, the Bible, and weird, uncategorizable stuff. You name it, I probably read it. My parents weren’t very careful or censorious about reading material and they taught me to read quite early.
If your life so far was a series of texts, which text (fiction or non-fiction) represents you at this moment?
Ooh, this is a good question. Let me see…I reckon my life right now could be better represented by titles of books: Really Good, Actually by Monica Heisey, Small by Small by Ike Anya, Aftermath by Rachel Cusk, For Thy Great Pain Have Mercy On My Little Pain by Victoria MacKenzie. I aspire to: Don’t Answer When They Call Your Name by Ukamaka Olisakwe, simply because there is too much noise and not everything deserves your attention or focus.
What’s the last thing you read and disagreed with?
I tend to put things like this from my mind to make room for things I do agree with. It was probably some article though.
My parents weren’t very careful or censorious about reading material and they taught me to read quite early.
What’s the last thing you read that changed your mind about something?
Another article probably, a profile this time. It made me change my mind about an artist being only slightly a wasteman: they’re properly a wasteman.
What is your writing process: edit as you write or draft first, then edit?
Write first, edit later. It takes too long to do it the other way now.
Your debut novel, Dazzling, won the Curtis Brown First Novel Prize in 2019. What was your process for writing Dazzling?
For Dazzling I wrote at any and all hours: in the morning before anyone was up, deep into the night, in the library after school run, whenever I had a spare moment. It was a sickness and only writing could get it all out of my system.
What’s the inspiration behind your book?
Well, I wrote Dazzling because nothing like it exists at the moment. I wanted a book that represented the strange mix of world in which I grew up in contemporary south-eastern Nigeria, with its mores, hierarchies, and beliefs.
What’s the most interesting reaction/feedback you’ve had about Dazzling?
It concerns a certain character and how people cannot seem to have enough of them. A lot of people would like to see more of them and aren’t shy about letting me know!
I wanted a book that represented the strange mix of world in which I grew up in.
Which chapter of Dazzling was the trickiest or most challenging chapter to write?
The great reveal was tricky.
What’s something simple but surprising about writing a book?
Ha! There is nothing simple about writing a book, but it comes with lots of surprises. The waiting for one. Publishing moves to its own beat, and you have to either acquire or practice patience or you will go berserk.
Your work encompasses magical realism and speculative fiction. What are some of the best speculative fiction works you’ve ever read?
I’ve recently finished a proof copy of The Saint of Bright Doors by Vajra Chandrasekera, a writer from Sri Lanka. I have never read anything like that before! It tells the story of Fetter, a shadowless, floating (literally!) young boy who has been raised by his mother to slay his father, the all-powerful, time-bending head of a religion. Except Fetter grows up and abandons his mother and destiny on the village in which he was raised and tries to hide out in a big city, where it turns out that people with destinies are a dime a dozen. It is beautiful, violent, intelligent and surreal! It is published by Tor in…July, I think.
Who are the Nigerian/African authors you’re most excited about today (and why?)
It’s hard not to cheer for everyone coming out of Nigeria. Have you seen us? So much talent and skill. All you need to do is take a look at online magazines like Doek, Lolwe, Isele, Granta, Transition Magazine, and more. So many Nigerians, so many avenues.
I’ve recently finished a proof copy of The Saint of Bright Doors by Vajra Chandrasekera, a writer from Sri Lanka. I have never read anything like that before!
What is your favourite topic to write or read about these days?
I don’t have one. I seem to be reading quite a few proofs these days. This should probably be the answer to the question about something simple but surprising about writing and publishing a book. Publishing a book means that people send you proof copies and books all the time! You are inundated with the stuff. Who knew? I’m enjoying this perk immensely.
What are you currently working on?
I am working on two books at the same time because right now I can—I’ll probably drop whichever lags. My next books feature weddings—which is all I can say for them right now. Well, they are both Igbo-centric too, so that’s two things I can say.
Publishing a book means that people send you proof copies and books all the time! You are inundated with the stuff.
Question from Kuukuwa Manful: What seemingly small thing has made you smile/be happy recently?
I went away this past weekend with ten women I do not know, and one that I know. It was my first time being away in a group and it was invigorating. Upon my return, I had a long phone call from a writer friend to whom I have not spoken in a while. After that I got to spend an extra day (teacher strikes in the United Kingdom) with my children. My cup is full to overflowing!
Bonus: Please suggest a question for a future author’s First Draft
How are you taking care of yourself in the lead up to publication/post-publication?⎈
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