It was my third application. I paused a while before I typed the address into my mailbox. Twice before, 2010 and 2011, I had answered the call for entries for the Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop. On both occasions, I got an email informing me that though I made the long list of thirty five, I unfortunately didn’t make into the final list of fifteen.
While I was saddened by the first mail, the fact that it came from Chimamanda Adichie, whose “I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed reading your entry – and to send my best wishes for your continued writing”, eased the disappointment. For me, that mail was a tacit stamp of approval that I was on the right path. In 2011, when I got a similar response, I was mad. How can they turn me down two years in a row? Does this mean I am not good enough or have not improved at all despite my efforts? So, I penned this.
Now, you understand the reluctance with which I applied for this year’s workshop. I felt I did not need any coaching from any writer, no matter how renowned. It was easy to learn about writing, especially with the internet. Having convinced myself that I didn’t need to learn from people who turned me down twice, I tried to forget about the call for entries, to ignore the nagging urge to type a small bio, copy and paste one of my numerous short stories and send another mail to Udonandu, whoever that is.
Tap, tap, tap. Her typing was getting to me. I detested it. I distracted myself staring around. The dreadfully cold room was filled with over 20 people.’ Nigerian Irene Nwoye describes the frustration of a writer lacking inspiration while next to her another participant of the literary work-shop starts typing away effortlessly from the moment the workshop leader explained the assignment. The teacher is one of international standing: Nigerian fiction writer Chimimanda Adichie, whose work has been translated in over thirty languages. Farafina Trust, the literary non-profit organisation of the awarded author, has organised this creative writing workshop in Lagos for the fifth year in a row. It is meant for African writers – whether they are experienced or have just started – to stimulate the literary talent on the continent. Its essential that we Africans tell our own stories’, explains Adichie. The twenty participants have been selected on the basis of the short stories they entered.- this year about five hundred authors competed for a place in the workshop. The participants are mostly Nigerian — except for two writers from Botswana – and with fourteen, women are in the majority. It is a varied group. Someone like the Botswanan Lauri Kubuitsile, a full time writer who got nominated for the prestigious Caine Prize for African literature this year, participates just as intensively as Morenike Singerr, a Nigerian law student who writes for pleasure.
The first thing I miss is waking up to memories of last night’s Smirnoffs. Waking up to the thought of breakfast with my literary kindred: litres of orange juice and mounds of French toast disappearing as we lament the fact that we have been irresponsible and not typed one sentence decent enough to be read in class, much less critiqued.
I miss sitting in the Coaster bus, gossiping about our tutors as we wait for Buchi (perennial latecomer that she is) to prance downstairs so we can go for class. I miss posing for pictures. I miss how the room brightened when Chimamanda walked in bearing apples and Ferrero Rochers (because we were such great students 😀 ) I miss the laughter during lunch at the Lagos Resource Centre where we held our sessions from 10 am to 5 pm (sometimes 7)
I recently had the great pleasure of being a part of the Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop which ended Saturday, July 2, 2011. It was simply divine. There really is no other way to put it. It was and will remain one of the most beautiful and enlightening experiences I have ever had in my short life. To sit in a room with 19 other talented writers, who all love what I love, and who had the same fears and troubles and stories about their writing as I did, and who were all as intelligent and as keen to improve their craft as I was… wow! There are no words to describe the feeling. I felt free. I was on Cloud Nine. I felt and still feel truly blessed. So, now, a week and then some after coming back to Earth, I decided to share some of that blessedness in the form of a few creative writing tips I got from the workshop.
Ok. Here we go:
On Farafina day zero, I arrived at the hotel hungry. At first it was just the hotel room, my hunger, and me pondering the stark loneliness that seemed embedded into the room and its matching shades and bed sheets, the symmetry of the paintings hung on the wall, and the cold floor. I went to search for my friend—who I’d known for the best part of the decade and was lucky to be accepted into the workshop with—who had just arrived, and together we went on a quest to fill our bellies. I should have known eating apples for lunch, and nothing for breakfast, before traipsing across the city jumping buses with my bag wasn’t the best plan for the day.
Later that night, we all gathered at the restaurant, fatigue in our faces, but desire too to see the name that drew us all to the workshop. We of course met an Adichie, just not the one we hoped to meet. In Okey we had the best of hosts, and his smile, even if it wasn’t enough to coax enthusiasm out of our sluggish bodies, was enough assurance that we were in good hands. We trudged into our rooms for the night, not communicating with one another, an act that continued for the first two days of the workshop in what Pamela, our class sleuth, would eventually call carrying shoulder. On the third day, the class arose. Walls were pulled down after a minor ruckus caused by mismanaged emotions. And in the concluding days of the workshop, we grew from strangers to friends to family. We agonised over assignments together, play charades and made fun of ourselves, and took long walks at nights exchanging stories and holding them to heart. Read more
When Ghana-based Nigerian singer, Villy, told me that taxi drivers in Ghana are ready to cheat you the minute they detect foreignness in your voice, I didn’t believe him. I remember telling him Ghanaians and Nigerians are siblings, and all he needs to do is speak pidgin. He laughed at my naivety and told me that the only reason they couldn’t cheat him was because he knew his way around.
I didn’t know my way around. I landed at Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos, my ignorance obvious.
A woman in a grey suit and flats rushed to help me with my luggage before asking if I needed a cab. I told her I needed to make a phone call first. She whipped out an old Nokia and I read Okey Adichie’s number for her off my phone. After a few seconds of talking to Okey she announced that we were going to Lekki.
“You get naira?”she asked as she wheeled my bag behind her.
That was when I made my first mistake: I replied in fine fine English instead of pidgin. My second mistake was not converting my cedis to naira before getting on the plane. The woman told me it would cost 200 cedis to take me to Lekki. I told her it was too expensive.
“You’re lucky o!” she said. “Some people, we charge them plenty dollars.”
I knew I was being cheated but I also knew there was nothing I could do about it. I had to get to Lekki.