A little while back, we brought you Obinna Udenwe’s debut novel, a conspiracy crime thriller titled Satans and Shaitans. (click here if you missed it.)
Are you as intrigued as we are about the idea of a Nigerian conspiracy thriller?
Well, we sent Udenwe a few probing questions about the novel and his writing process. Here are his rather fascinating responses.
He speaks on everything from terrorism, a worldwide political illuminati, to the inconveniences of writing in a place like Nigeria with erratic power supply.
Who or what influenced you to write a conspiracy crime thriller?
I can’t really say exactly because Satans and Shaitans took me a very long time to write. It metamorphosed from a romance story to crime thriller, then to a conspiracy crime thriller. I started writing Satans and Shaitans in 2007 and completed it on Holy Thursday, 2013. So it took a long time and the story, during these years, took a path of its own, took its own shape and became what it desired for itself.
Did you get any inspiration from bestselling conspiracy novels like Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code?
To some extent, yes. I believe that everything you read must have some influence on what you do or write. But I started writing Satans and Shaitans long before I read any of Dan Brown’s work. My dad gave me a copy of Da Vinci Code in 2009, I think. I’ve since read all his work. Da Vinci Code is actually not my favorite. I love The Lost Symbol so dearly, perhaps, because it’s about the Freemason. But there is also Luis Miguel Rocha, another writer I admire. One thing conspiracy writers have in common is their effort to portray a group or people as strongly influencing what happens around them. I believe so much in this because I come from a family where my father and his friends exert a lot of influence on what happens around where I live.
Your writing on Islamic teachings and culture is impressively detailed. How much research did you have to do?
It was a particularly difficult part of writing the book. You can’t be a good conspiracy or crime writer without research. Everything you postulate, no matter how fictitious must be made to appear real, so you have to research and research. In this case, I delved into very sensitive areas: terror, jihad and Islam. I had to ensure that the premise of the story was within the confines of the teachings of Islam, and realistic in the world we find ourselves as regards terror and jihad. So there was a lot of research. I read the Holy Quran several times. I got a gift of the Hadith from a friend, who also helped in the research. I read books on terror provided by my father. I also got help from other people in Nigeria, Egypt and someone in UAE. They were in regular interaction with me. And about the security issues too, I had to befriend some guys at the Department of State Security in Nigeria, who helped with names of guns and models, the security situations in Nigeria etcetera. At some point, I had to research on how to make Improvised Explosive Devices. It wasn’t easy. My editor, Jazzmine Breary, is also an extraordinarily talented person. A lot of research went into writing the book, without which we would have published it earlier than we did. But we had to be sure of what we were doing.
Do you care that some readers might interpret your novel too literally and think you’re suggesting that Boko Haram is tied to a global political illuminati?
This is what has continued to generate discussions. But I want you to agree with me that nothing is ever the way it appears. What is said to be blue could really be red after all. You see, the pastor in your church in Nigeria could even be one of the sponsors of Boko Haram. Your wealthy friend who lives in Nairobi could be one of the sponsors of ISIS. That is the world for you. Never doubt or underestimate what people could conceive in their minds or do. Never. Again, having observed Nigeria for a long time, there is a lot that go on that is controlled and influenced by clandestine groups, some of them dark and occult.
S&S is a vast and intricate web of intrigues—everyone is trying to outwit their friends and exploit their enemies. How did you manage to keep all the moving parts together?
I was able to keep them together through patience. The story is fast paced as you can see, but I was patient. It took a long time, a lot of thought, sleepless nights, thinking about how to weave this and that, how to connect this to that. I observe people a lot too. I come from a family of storytellers. My dad and uncles are master story weavers. That was helpful. But most importantly, I tried to study almost all the lead characters separately and thought of ways to connect them strongly to the plot, make them thick or vulnerable, make them wicked or kind.
S&S is a novel about organized crime, terrorism, and murders. Was it difficult weaving a romance story into such a dark, twisted tale?
It wasn’t very difficult because Satans and Shaitans started first as a romance story before taking a different turn. When the story came to me, it came in the form of a dark romance story of a young man who murders his girlfriend for a simple crime of being pregnant for him But then it changed along the way as I kept trying to figure out what could influence him to do such a thing—parental influence? How? What could be the qualities of their parents? Then the idea of occult organizations and terrorism came along as Nigeria continued to deteriorate into chaos. I finally decided to explore and merge both strands into one story with different twists.
What did you find most challenging about writing the novel?
The challenge wasn’t really with working out the story itself. Aside from the long years of research, the greatest challenge was with my environment. Incessant power failure in Nigeria is a very big challenge to some like me who doesn’t know how to write with pen and paper.
This is your debut novel. What has it been like going from being a writer of stories to becoming an author of a novel?
I made an attempt at self-publishing some years back, but Satans and Shaitans is my first traditionally published novel. It went through a full publishing process with a prior publishing deal and was handled by hardworking and intelligent editors at Jacaranda Books, one of the best and fast-rising publishers in the UK.
As a published author and novelist, are you looking forward to joining the Association of Nigerian Authors?
I have been a member of the Association of Nigerian Authors since 2009. Currently I am the Financial Secretary of my state chapter of the Association.
As someone who has worked closely with you, I am inspired by your journey thus far. Do you have any advise for writers who aspire to become novelists?
Sew a cloth with patience and wear it.