A 2013 Etisalat Prize for Literarure flash fiction category winner, Uche Okonkwo has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Manchester, UK. Her short stories have been published in print anthologies and online. Uche lives in Lagos, Nigeria, where she once worked as an editor at a small publishing firm. She currently divides her time between working for an art auction house, writing fiction, and writing and editing freelance. She shares some of her writing on her blog, and is working on a collection of short stories. Okonkwo talks about her writing in this interview with our contributor, Geoff Gyasi.
I suppose you were born on nkwo day?
One of my ancestors probably was.
You recently won the Etisalat Flash Fiction Prize with your story ‘’Neverland’’. What inspired this story?
The story was inspired by a sense of nostalgia, and a longing for childhood days. It seems to me like things were a lot simpler then. I also tend to write stories that explore human relationships and the various dynamics that come into play among people. And lots of my stories have children as main characters.
Is flash fiction your specialty? What genres besides fiction do you engage in?
I write a lot of flash fiction; they’re the perfect length for blog posts. You can find more of my work on my blog, www.yourstruly-uche.blogspot.com. But I also do short stories and longer, almost novella-length stories. So far a novel is not in my plans. I dabble in poetry once in a while.
How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing since I was a child. I can’t say the exact age for sure but my earliest memories of writing are from primary school.
How do you start a story?
I’m not sure I understand the question exactly, but I’ll say it usually starts with an idea. Then I spend some time thinking about the idea, forming it in my mind. Depending on the story, I could start writing the words almost immediately, or I might spend several minutes, maybe even days or weeks, thinking on it.
As for the actual writing, how else do you start a story but to start writing the words? I think that for the first draft all you need to do is get the words out. When you rewrite and edit later you can think some more about presentation. I think first sentences are often crucial, so I like to try and make them interesting, to draw the reader in.
When you write, what audience do you have in mind?
When writing the first draft I have no audience in mind, and I think this is a good way to go about it. Thinking about the audience from the first minute is, to me, an unnecessary burden that I will have plenty of time for later. But I guess my stories are largely targeted at an adult, international audience.
Tell us about your writing process? When do you often write?
I don’t know if ‘process’ is the word. Most times I like to think through the piece, and then write. Sometimes the writing seems almost effortless, and I don’t have to think much before I start. I often write early in the mornings, first thing when I wake up. I’m trying to form the habit of doing this every day except Sundays. So far it’s still a bit of a struggle, but even at that I’ve seen an improvement in the volume of writing I do. The discipline to write has always been one of my biggest problems as a writer. As much as I enjoy writing, and the finished product, I realize that I have to be business-like about it, to an extent, if I hope to earn a living as a writer. It has to become more than a hobby for me. It has to become my job. So this is what I’m aiming for. I have a part-time job and I take on freelance editing work, but ultimately writing is my first concern.
What is the best part of writing for you?
I’d have to say the best part of writing is seeing the ‘finished’ product, and the sense of accomplishment that comes with it.
Are you a great reader? What books do you predominantly read?
I read a lot of contemporary literary fiction.
Any writers you look up to for inspiration?
There are writers whose work I admire. NoViolet Bulawayo, Chimamanda Adichie, Ngugu wa Thiong’o and Jonas Jonasson are a few.
Do you ever write with an ending already in mind?
I always write with the ending in mind. I like to plot the stories out in my head before I start. I might not have all the details set, but I have a good idea how the story will end before I start. Sometimes I deviate from the ending I had in mind from the beginning, but most times I don’t.
I know not all writers do this, but it works very well for me. For some reason, starting without knowing the end often means that I don’t complete the story.