• Wednesday, November 29, 2023
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From columnist to novelist: The pursuit of a lifelong passion

The value of a good education

Dear readers, I am heading back to school this month. Yes, this September! With a PhD, two master’s degrees, an LLB, a qualification as Barrister and sundry other qualifications in journalism, business and economics, I thought I had had enough of formal education, enough of sitting down to receive lectures and tutorials rather than giving them.

But I was wrong. A lifelong passion and an undying dream have plunged me back into formal study. That passion is for creative writing, and the dream is to become a published novelist, poet and playwright. Put simply: a dream to become a successful publisher of creative work!

The inspiration and motivation to act came from the maxim of my church in London, New Wine International. Known as the 3Ds, the maxim enjoins individuals to: Discover, Develop and Deploy their God-given gifts to maximise their potentials. In line with the 3Ds, having discovered my gift and passion for creative writing, I have now decided to move into the “develop” mode to improve and master the craft to enable me to deploy the gift successfully in a global writerly community.

Over the course of my adult life, I have been an academic, teaching at the London School of Economics; a policy adviser, working for the UK Government and some international organisations; a legal adviser, advising major charities and businesses; and a columnist, writing for two of Nigeria’s, indeed Africa’s, most prestigious newspapers, BusinessDay and Vanguard, in addition to peer-reviewed articles in reputable academic journals.

But while I cherish those experiences, being a creative writer is in a class of its own. Of course, as a columnist, I have engaged in what you might call “literary journalism,” which goes beyond merely conveying facts and information, but uses storytelling techniques and literary devices to discuss topical issues and convey opinions. But being a novelist, a poet or a playwright goes into a deeper level of creativity. As I said, within the 3Ds framework, I have discovered my gift in creative writing. I now want to develop the gift so I can deploy it as a professional creative writer. I hear you say: Okay, but how are you developing the gift?

Well, this month, I’m starting a two-year, part-time course in creative writing at Oxford University. This is a huge personal commitment, not least because it’s an intensive and challenging course, which I have to undertake alongside my current preoccupations. Yet, the prospect of learning from some of the best creative writers in the world and studying with budding creative writers from around the world dwarfs any inconvenience and puts the high level of commitment required for the course into perspective.

As with any application for an award-bearing course at Oxford, I was interviewed for the course. One of the questions I was asked was why, despite my academic and professional backgrounds, I wanted to undertake the course. I responded that although I was an avid reader and had written regularly and widely, I believed I couldn’t be the creative writer that I desired to be through a process of osmosis. Surely, there’s a difference that a formal training at Oxford University makes, especially as you are surrounded by talented tutors and fellow trainees who will push you out of your comfort zone and help expand your writing. There’s certainly something unique about being trained by tutors who are established practitioners in their own creative fields.

But beyond all that, a major attraction of the Oxford University creative writing course is its cross-genre and cross-cultural nature. Whatever your preferences, you will be exposed to, and expected to engage fully with, all the three main genres, namely: prose, poetry and drama. So, at the end of the two-year course, you are potentially a novelist, a poet and a playwright. The course is cross-cultural because of its international nature and the fact that you are encouraged to explore and develop your individual writerly voice.

Now, allow me to give credit to whom credit is due. Regardless of your academic and professional backgrounds, you need references for any application to an award-bearing course at Oxford. And I needed professional and academic references. Naturally, I leveraged my relationship with Vanguard and BusinessDay. Eze Anaba, Editor of Vanguard, and Chris Akor, former Op-Ed Editor of BusinessDay, gave me glowing professional references. I am grateful to them. And Professors Razeen Sally and Stephen Woolcock, two former LSE colleagues, gave me outstanding academic references. I thank them too!

So, then, how would I deploy my creative-writing skills after the course? Well, the journey, so far, partly defines the destination. Over the past eight years, since I started writing for BusinessDay in November 2014, and later Vanguard in October 2018, I have immersed myself in the affairs of this country, contributing to its development through my weekly columns.

However, I believe the stories of Nigeria’s fragility should be told compellingly in books, through narrative non-fiction, through political novels, with a passionate polemic in defence of the best way forward for the country. So, in addition to column-writing, I would engage with Nigeria through creative non-fiction books and state-of-the-nation novels.

Two years ago, I was on the verge of publishing my first book on the future of Nigeria. But I felt the book needed more work and a better narrative structure. So, I suspended work on it temporarily. However, I will rework the manuscript at Oxford University, and hope to publish the book late next year or early in 2024!

But I won’t be an Oxford-trained creative writer only to write about Nigerian affairs. Rather, I would explore my creative imagination and writerly tendencies widely. Thus, I hope to write books – non-fiction and fiction – in other areas of interest as well as poems and plays, while being open to opportunities for other creative engagements.

Now, at 62, am I coming to this late? Well, no! I’m buoyed by stories of people who became best-selling writers later in life, such as a woman who published her debut novel at 80 and sold one million copies. Truth is, creative writing is not dimmed by old age. Our own Professor Wole Soyinka, Africa’s first literature Nobel laureate, published his latest political novel, ‘Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth’, last year, at the age of 87; and this year, at 88, he was appointed as Arts Professor of Theatre at New York University, Abu Dhabi. Hearty congratulations, Sir!

So, I have a future as a creative writer. After developing my gift in creative writing and mastering the craft, attaining writerly and creative excellence, I would, by God’s grace, deploy it successfully as a novelist, poet and playwright – generally, as a producer of excellent creative work. Wish me well!

Farewell Queen Elizabeth II. Long live King Charles III

Today, September 19, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will be laid to rest. She died last week, on September 8, at the age of 96, having reigned for 70 years as the British monarch. Since the Queen’s death, the UK has been in mourning, with nearly one million people filing past her coffin across the country. Around the world, some countries declared a period of mourning; others, like Nigeria, flew their flags at half-mast to honour her. Well deserved!

I came close to meeting the Queen personally in 2003 when I was the rapporteur for the business session of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, CHOGM, held in Abuja, which she attended. She was utterly charming, truly exceptional. I join the world in mourning the extraordinary monarch.

Of course, there’s no vacuum. King Charles III is the UK’s new monarch and head of state; also head of the Commonwealth. Warmest congratulations to His Majesty. May his reign be long!