Dianah Aigiomawu’s story should be an inspiration to all aspiring writers out there. A few weeks ago, she had no book to her name. She shared excerpts of story drafts on Facebook and on her blog Dianah’s Place. That was about it.
Today Aigiomawu is the author of a fine collection of stories titled We Are Still Breathing. She didn’t wait for a big name publisher to discover her work. Confident in the quality of her writing, she decided to publish the collection independently. She has also followed the publication of the collection with aggressive social media marketing. As far as I’m concerned, We Are Still Breathing is already a success story.
The book is a fun collection of stories. It is also a significant work of fiction by virtue of the fact that it brings a fresh perspective into the Nigerian literary scene. By telling stories about life in a place like Benin City, Aigiomawu challenges the literary dominance of cities like Lagos. She shows that life in other parts of Nigeria is rich, complex, and deserving of narrative expression.
In this interview she talks about her journey as a writer.
Your short story collection came out last week. Wow. Congrats. Are you excited or what?
Excited is definitely an understatement. I have achieved a childhood dream! There are no words for the way I feel. It’s exciting and at same time I am nervous and anxious to hear what people other than my friends have to say, their response and reaction to the book.
How long have you been writing the collection of stories and how does it feel to final have it out in the world.
I have been working on this collection for over a year now. I had just completed my MSc and decided to put the ‘spare’ time to good use. I realized when I was studying and also when I was pregnant that I did not have the time to read novels, so I became interested in short stories, that I could read a bit and go do something else without feeling disconnected from the flow. Now that I finally have it out, I can’t wait to start writing something else.
Was there ever a time you thought of quitting? Why didn’t you?
I did quit writing for some years, till a friend of mine saw some of my old notes and he was shocked, because like so many friends he didn’t know I was interested in writing. He encouraged me to write notes on facebook and eventually a blog to share my stories. Once I started, the passion for writing came back and between work, school and family I just kept at it.
Can you tell us a bit about the book?
We Are Still Breathing is a witty collection of ten stories that are unrelated but inspired by real people and some personal experiences.
I wanted to write stories that people could relate to, stories you can see yourself or someone you know in the characters.
I tell everyone who cares to listen that it is a collection of ‘feel good’ stories.
I felt good writing them and I hope people feel good reading them.
Let’s go back to how it all began. What inspired you to write?
My older sister was a good writer when we were growing up. I wanted to do same because I loved books. I started when I was about thirteen and had a dear friend, Ose, whose older brothers saw my poems and silly little stories and made a big deal of it with their encouraging words and I decided to do more.
I fell in love with the works of Cyprian Ekwensi when I was eight years old, and in a strange way I wanted to tell stories like he did with Passport of Mallam Ilia, African Night Entertainment and the likes. I discovered James Hadley Chase in my early teens and wanted to be a detective or at least write crime fiction. I am still smitten by Professor Wole Soyinka and his plays, Chinua Achebe and prose, the list is endless. I realized the genre did not matter; I just wanted to put words down and paint vivid pictures in people’s imagination. I even started a literary group called Written Pictures for a short while.
The stories are so real Dianah. “Twist of Fate” is a lovely story. I was struck by how authentically Nigerian it was. You explore everything from being in secondary school, taking SSCE, NYSC, and so on. Your stories capture the all-Nigerian experience. Did you set out to write stories that are relatable to a Nigerian audience?
I certainly did. I was born in Lagos, grew up in Benin and lived in Abuja and Lagos respectively as a working adult. I wanted a story I could tell with a lot of authenticity.
I also wanted a story that highlighted some things about my state. All the major characters have Edo names, and it’s funny why I did that. I met Chimanda Adichie at the book reading of Americanah in 2013. I wanted her to sign a copy of the book for my younger sister who is a huge fan. Adichie liked the name Obehi and asked where we were from. So I decided that the characters and the settings would be mainly from Edo state, even the cover has the Idia Ivory head, a subtle sign to say I am proudly Edo. Lol .But the stories cut across the entire country.
What was it like meeting Adichie? Do you find her work inspiring in any way?
It was exciting to meet Adichie. I don’t know if this makes any sense, but she seemed to epitomize young, smart, eloquent and feminine in one person.
And yes, The Thing Around Your Neck was one of the inspirations behind my short stories. I have every book she has written, though I am not as obsessed as my younger sister. Lol
What was your favorite story to write? And why?
I had a lot of fun writing THE PASSENGER. That story was completely fictitious and the character’s mishaps and frustration was fun to write, I kept laughing as I doled out the misfortunes.
What was the most challenging part of writing these stories?
Without sounding smug, there were no challenges writing. It was fun all the way. The challenge was after writing. I was and still am nervous to hear people’s opinions. But so far it has been really good. Unless they are all lying. Lol
Deciding on a cover picture was also a bit challenging, the stories are so different I couldn’t decide on an image that would capture everything, then I came up with this and people! It is different and I designed it so every story is represented on the cover. Someone said it looks like an artwork.
Lots of aspiring writers read Brittle Paper. Do you care to share writing habits that worked for you?
Some writing habits that I would say worked for me were setting achievable targets. Looking at my schedule and knowing how many words I could write down based on the schedule each day.
I also worked on subjects I was comfortable with, so the flow was easy.
Lastly, be original. You might like someone’s style and borrow a few ideas and but don’t try to be someone else, so you don’t get lost in their shadow.
Thanks to Aigiomawu for taking the time out to have a chat with us. Click here to order We Are Still Breathing.