Nigerian author and editor, Chimeka Garricks, didn’t intend for the Niger-Delta crisis to be the main theme of his debut novel, Tomorrow Died Yesterday: ‘I tried to write the truth as I know it. To show that the issues are complex, hued with plenty of grey, and that all major players are complicit in varying ways to the dysfunction.’
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?
I read everything as a child. Although my parents were civil servants who didn’t have much, we were rich in books. So, they gradually bought and built me a library. It had some Enid Blyton; and classics such as Chike and the River; The Passport of Mallam Ilia; children’s versions of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Treasure Island, The Three Musketeers, The Count of Monte Cristo. As I grew older, my mother added books from the Pacesetters series (thank you and Rest in Peace, Victor Thorpe) and the African Writers Series. My favourites included Cyprian Ekwensi’s Burning Grass, Elechi Amadi’s The Concubine, Alex La Guma’s A Walk in the Night and other Stories, and Nkem Nwankwo’s Danda.
My parents also had interesting personal libraries. From my father’s library, I remember browsing through volumes of Encyclopedia Britannica, Edith Hamilton’s Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes, abridged versions of the Iliad and The Odyssey, and the Qur’an (which at the time, was a fascinating book for a Seventh Day Adventist to own). My mother had a volume on Achebe, abridged versions of Shakespeare and Jane Austen, and an intriguing biography of Oscar Wilde.
Then there were comics. My parents didn’t buy them for me, but some newspapers had daily comic strips (‘Garth’ in The Daily Times, ‘Terror Muda’ and ‘Kaptain Afrika’ in The Vanguard). And there were the Marvel and DC comics shared between classmates in school.
If your life so far was a series of texts, which text (fiction or non-fiction) represents you at this moment?
The book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible. So many gems there express my current ethos—there is a time for everything; the race is not to the swift; wahala no dey finish; eat, drink, and enjoy good in labour; everything is vanity anyway; and respect and obey God.
What’s the last thing you read and disagreed with?
I read an essay that railed against Nigeria’s bourgeoise class and suggested increased taxation and some textbook statist/socialist policies for Nigeria. I rolled my eyes, and my first thought was: Alaye, let’s be serious, please. Nigeria was the poverty capital of the world till 2022, people are suffering in these Buhari times (shoutout to Show Dem Camp), the middle class are fleeing, inflation is ridiculous, etc. The better solutions are in a range of free market policies to spur economic growth (including full deregulation, import and market liberalizations, possibly cutting interest rates and lowering taxes, etc.).
So many gems there [in the book of Ecclesiastes] express my current ethos—there is a time for everything; the race is not to the swift…
What’s the last thing you read that changed your mind about something?
Recently, I reconsidered my stance on the right to bear arms. I did this after I read several articles on the subject and contextualized the core arguments to Nigeria (where many communities in the Middle Belt, Southern Kaduna, and parts of the North suffer regular massacres without justice). A summary of the two principal arguments supporting the right to bear arms (popularized by the US’s Second Amendment) are protection against government tyranny and self-defense. An important caveat: This is not an endorsement of the US’s gun culture, and its numerous tragedies of mass shootings, gang wars, etc.
In most countries—where governments generally protect citizens and punish crime—these arguments are mostly academic. But, for the longsuffering communities in Nigeria’s Middle Belt, Southern Kaduna, and parts of the North—who face deadly attacks regularly, and who allege the government’s indifference to, or collusion with the attackers—the right to bear proportional arms for self-defence and to protect against alleged government-backed tyranny, is a question of death or life.
It comes down to life, and the right to life. Many jurists point out that the right to self-defence is a basic natural right that grows out of the right to life. Both are fundamental human rights that shouldn’t be dependent on the whims of governments. Or as Fela put it, ‘Animal can’t dash us human rights’.
What makes a text powerful: the subject or how it’s written?
I think it’s both (with how it’s written taking a slight edge).
What was your process for writing your compelling debut novel, Tomorrow Died Yesterday?
I’d write a scene. I’d send it to my wife for her feedback, and he’d give it. I’d argue sometimes, but eventually, realize she was right. I’d edit. Repeat.
The novel explores relevant themes such as the ills associated with oil discovery exploration in the Niger-Delta. Why was it important that you wrote on this issue?
I didn’t intend for the Niger-Delta crises to be the main theme, but it is what it is. That said, I tried to write the truth as I know it. To show that the issues are complex, hued with plenty of grey, and that all major players are complicit in varying ways to the dysfunction.
I reconsidered my stance on the right to bear arms. I did this after I read several articles on the subject and contextualized the core arguments to Nigeria.
And what’s one thing about the reception to the novel that surprised you?
A character became larger than life. He even has marriage proposals till today.
Your second book, A Broken People’s Playlist, was recently released to the international market in the United States and the United Kingdom by HarperCollins What inspired this collection of short stories?
My struggles with writing a second novel, a headful of alternative stories, and lots of music.
And what was the trickiest/most challenging story to write?
That is the story titled ‘Beautiful War’. It’s a story about a couple navigating the effects of infidelity. What was tricky about it was I had to fully understand and write it from both perspectives, and I used both first-person and second-person POVs.
In what ways is writing a second novel different from writing a debut novel?
Technically, I haven’t written a second novel yet. I can think of at least three ‘Inevitables’: the expectations (that the second should be better than the first); the fears (of a sophomore slump); and the comparisons (between the two). At the same time, because I have grown as a man and a writer, it’s easier to be indifferent to the ‘Inevitables’ and focus on the process.
I tried to write the truth as I know it. To show that the issues are complex, hued with plenty of grey, and that all major players are complicit in varying ways to the dysfunction.
What’s the most interesting reaction/feedback you’ve had about your writing?
I am floored and grateful when people tell me some of my stories made them feel seen, helped them heal, and start their journeys to forgiveness (of themselves and others).
You also work as an editor. What do you think is the most important contribution an editor makes to a piece?
I think it’s honing and polishing a story into its best possible form. Sometimes, it’s just a little cosmetic procedure, and other times, it feels like open heart surgery. Either way, being an editor is a magical work.
What novels set in the Niger-Delta would you recommend to readers?
Othuke Ominiaboh’s A Conspiracy of Ravens; Kaine Agary’s Yellow-Yellow; Lawrence Amaeshi’s Sweet Crude Odyssey; Helon Habila’s Oil on Water; and Christie Watson’s Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away.
What is your favourite topic to write or read about these days? (Please include the names of articles and books, if possible).
Lately, I prefer to read articles about people I find fascinating. So far, I have read about: Jesse Jagz; Harriet Tubman; Hunter S. Thompson; Miyamoto Mushashi; Jimi Hendrix; and Adriano.
What are you currently working on?
My second novel (and third book).
Sometimes, it’s [Editing] just a little cosmetic procedure, and other times, it feels like open heart surgery.
Question from Nancy Adimora: When’s the last time a book or a piece of writing made you feel seen?
Lyrics count as ‘piece of writing’, right? Of course, they do. My mother passed away in early 2021. Later that year, Kanye West released Life of the Party, a tribute song to his late mum. André 3000’s verse on the song, about his own mother, tells my story, comforts and unravels me till today.
Bonus: Please suggest a question for a future author’s First Draft
If money was no object, what would you do with your life? PS: Being a writer is not an option⎈
We want to hear what you think about this interview. Submit a letter to the editors by writing to [email protected].