Abubakar Adam Ibrahim is the entertainment editor of Sunday Trust. He was born in Jos, but hails from Kogi. He is substantially known in the literary orbit as a writer of lyrical and evocative short stories. In 2007, he won the BBC African Performance Prize, and in 2008 he won ANA Jos/AmatuBraide Prize for Prose. Ibrahim, whose collection of short stories is to be released by Parresia Publishers, a publishing outfit with a buckled passion to change the trend of publishing in Nigeria, in the end of the month, divulges about the collection in this interview with AWAAL GATA. He also reveals that The Whispering Trees, the title of the collection, is not his first book. He had been published in the US. to a problematic circulation.
You have had a long presence in the literary world, why did it take you this long to produce a book? Or do you have books preceding this?
I don’t know if I have been around for long enough. Maybe a couple of years. I have been taken my time, waiting for the right opportunities. I have learned that a writer must be patient while he improves his craft. I did not want a situation where I would rush into publishing a book and several years down the line, I would look back and wonder why I ever published it in the first place.
But I have had a book out. My first novel was The Quest for Nina, published in 2009 by a publishing outfit in the US.and unfortunately, the book has not been widely circulated, especially here in Nigeria. But it’s been available elsewhere. I have not been impressed because my principal audience has not had access to it. I write about Nigeria, for Nigerians and it doesn’t make sense if Nigerians don’t get to read what I write.
What inspired your decision to start with a collection of short stories?
I didn’t think when I started writing short stories a long time ago, that I would be having a collection. I just wrote the stories as they came to me, inspired by different incidents, under varied moods. It was much later that a friend observed that I have more than enough for a short story collection and urged me to seriously consider putting them together. I was a bit reluctant at first, but it made sense seeing that the stories were all scattered out there. So, there was never a conscious effort from the beginning to bring out a short story collection. It was just a product of time and circumstances, I suppose.
How do you think your book would touch the psyche of fiction writingin Nigeria?
I think that fiction writing in Nigeria is already enjoying are surgence. It is a trade in bloom. When you go to literary events and see the amazing number of young Nigerians from all over the country who are there because they love writing, because they love reading what other Nigerians have written, because they believe that fiction has a future even in these dire straits we have found ourselves in, you will agree with what I am saying.
I don’t know exactly how The Whispering Trees will touch the psyche of fiction writing, I suppose that will be determined by the readers, by time and by circumstance. But I hope it has a positive impact on social and cultural perceptions and on the writing community as well. I hope it inspires other writers to feel confident about their works and seriously consider making them available to the public, after subjecting them through the right processes – not just running to the press with very raw manuscripts. Ultimately, I hope it challenges this notion of there being a single story to Nigeria, that irrespective of where we are in this country, we share certain universal concerns such as love, and hope and grief. We all experience these things and react to them in different ways.
Who is your target audience?
All lovers of literary fiction, all lovers of adult fiction, all lovers of literature generally.
There are already established publishers in the country; why did you decide to work with Parresia?
Established publishers? How many do we have? I think that has been the problem impeding the development of literature in this country. There are so many writers and so few publishers. So you have eager writers rushing to the press, to self-publish, immediately they finish writing, without having their manuscripts properly assessed, without subjecting them to rigorous editing and re-write, where necessary. And sometimes, those ‘established publishers’, you wonder how they select the manuscript they choose to publish.
I am glad Parresia is coming on board to provide another option for writers and I have been really impressed how they have been handling my work, from the manuscript to the book. I don’t know exactly how they decided to start with me, but they called me and said, we are thinking of publishing your short stories if you are interested, and I said, well, for them to have approached me means they have a lot of confidence in my work, so I said why not?
How do you feel being Parresia’s first author?
It has been quite an experience. At first, I was a bit skeptical, I was afraid of them turning my manuscript into mush and calling it a book,but they assured me and in their offer they said ‘ we are going to be paying you a sign on fee’ and I was like, ok, if they are willing to do that even before anything else, then I think they must be serious because I don’t see a situation where someone will invest his money into something and let it go to ruins. I realised that they are going to have a stake in the success of the book so they have to be serious about it. Now, I feel privileged to have been the first writer in Nigeria to be paid a sign on fee by a Nigerian publishing outfit, I feel honoured to be working with the really, really wonderful people in Parresia, I really do.
How much were you signed? What are those agreements between you?
It wasn’t that much, I think, but it is substantial enough, more than some writers have made in decades of writing, I think. The important thing, for me, is that someone believes in your work enough to want to pay you in advance just so you will agree for them to take your work to the next level. And apart from that you have the standard royalties and the works. I think Parresia will take the publishing business in Nigeria to the next level, international standard and I am anxious for The Whispering Trees to succeed just so they will be rewarded for their hard work, for their believing in it.
How do you juggle between journalism and literature?
It has not been easy. You close from work and you are too tired to do anything else. It is always a challenge to find time to write. Fortunately for me, I cover an area of journalism I am really passionate about, and since I am passionate about writing, I always try to find time for it, even if it means sacrificing some hours of sleep and my off days.
Has journalism in any way affected your literary expertise?
I suppose you learn every day. I have learned many things in the course of my work that I think have made me better than I was before. But then again, journalism has been known to blunt the craft of some writers because you get so used to writing journalese and it becomes a problem when you want to write with a flourish as fiction requires. But my being a journalist was a conscious effort, I wanted to be a journalist so I could be a better writer and so far, I think it has been paying off.
What have been your challenges?
There have been a lot over the years. Apart from the regulars, like finding the time to write when you have to make a living, dealing with rejection slips and so on. But I think losing my manuscripts, and everything else I had, in a fire a couple of years back was a difficult one to deal with.But I think every career has its challenges and it’s your passion and zeal that drives you on.
Are you going to launch your book?
Ahhh, I don’t know . . . yet. Personally, I am not a big fan of launchings and all. But this is a decision for the publishers to make and I have absolute trust in them to make the right choice.Whatever they decide, I am in all the way.
Any other book in the works?
I am working on what I hope will be a novel someday.