‘Seun Salami is the author of ‘The Son of your Father’s Concubine’, a collection of short stories. He also works as a full-time editor at a publishing firm in Lagos, Nigeria. In this interview with Payme (www.payme2cents.blogspot.co.uk), ‘Seun talks about his first writing competition End the Story with which he is encouraging young creative writers to complete one of his popular stories, ‘The Sex life of a Lagos mad woman’ published on Ynaija.com where he also contributes stories from time to time.
What inspired your love for writing?
Reading. I say that because I did not set out to be a writer early in life. I wanted to be first a pilot and then an architect at different stages of my life. I also loved to draw. But when I would read books, published books, I would often find myself using a pencil to make corrections in what people have written. Afterwards, I began attempting to write them the way I thought they should have been written and then one thing led to another and so on and so forth.
What do you hope to achieve with the ‘End the Story’ competition?
We have a lot of fantastic writers in Nigeria as you already know. I always say I’m your favourite writer’s favourite writer (laughs) and that’s by faith, okay, because that’s what I want to become. But then, some people who have read my work have said, Oh, ‘Seun you write so well and all the other washings they give you on twitter. But truth be told, there are several other aspiring writers that are exceptionally brilliant. How do I know this? I have quite a number of protégés already on and off twitter, even though I still consider myself an aspiring writer. I have never met many of them before. I would read some of their works and go, Wow! So I have always known I had to be able to find a way to engage writers and get people to tell their beautiful stories. Sometimes people just need some form of platform, and those platforms are not enough. You dear (Payme) for instance, I got to know about you after my friend (Omojuwa) did Superbloggers. So we need these platforms. With End the Story, we hope to find three exceptional writers that I can help in my own little way to improve on their art and get better at what they do.
Hmmm. Interesting. Are you personally sponsoring the competition? If no, who is or who are the sponsors?
Initially we wanted to talk to a few sponsors. In fact, we were already talking to an organisation that we hoped would give us the BlackBerry Playbook. But then one day I read something in the bible and all that changed. I decided this was going to be my own seed; I was going to put my money where my mouth is, at least from this first time. So that prize is coming from my last month’s salary which has already been paid. (Laughs) Also thankfully, I work at the publishing firm that published my book, so I spoke to my people and they were willing to put the brand behind it and give us lots of books and Writers packs that we use for workshops. In addition, just today, I was able to get them to commit to giving a copy of my book to everyone who sends in an entry. So every entry now earns my book so long as you can come pick it up at the office in Ikeja or send someone. In all, the winner gets a Playbook, books and an evening with my humble self; the first runner up gets a writers pack, books and an autographed copy of my book, same with the second-runner up who will only be one book short. All participants will get a copy of The son of your Father’s Concubine courtesy of Bookvine. Subsequently we may have to involve other sponsors to make the prizes huge, but this first one is my own little contribution. I hope I answered your question.
Yes you did Seun. Please tell us a bit more about yourself.
I’m just a regular guy. I’m a writer primarily, that evolved from my love for editing. I read a lot of Chimamanda and other African writers. I have a degree in Journalism and another one in Mass Communication. What else? I work as an editor and I’ve been privileged to edit and be involved in publishing books for a lot of people like Fela Durotoye, Steve Harris and the rest…that’s pretty much it.
There’s one part you’re leaving out Seun…
What part? (Laughs) Oh! Yeah, I’m happily married and loving it. That happened recently.
Thank you. You are really talented and I have personally read several of your interesting stories, why ‘The Sex life of a Lagos mad woman’?
Yeah, from the feedback, it seems that story is one of my most popular stories among those that have been published online. However, that’s not even why I chose it. I had always known I wanted to do something like a competition for writers but I wanted something extremely unique that’s why I’ve been patient. One day, one of my guys was trying to get me to enter for an award and he recommended I sent in that story. But here it was, the story was less than the 3000 words the awards required. So I had to ‘End the Story’. When I was done, I was drained. In fact, I ended up not putting in for the award. But then it struck me. If this was so tasking for me who wrote the story, let’s see how creative we all can be with this, so I decided to put up this challenge and offer a reward.
How has the response been so far?
There is a lot of interest; interest I didn’t expect because I’m not even a celeb or anything like that, yet people are interested. Now, where the challenge is, is that this is not the type of competition where you can expect a lot of entries. If it was simply ‘submit any story you have’, you will get a lot. But this is specific, so it is only people who really want to take up the challenge that will take part. So far, I am satisfied with the entries that have been coming in and they keep increasing as the days go by, which tells me that some other people are procrastinating. But as we said at the start, we will post the entries in the order in which they were received. That means that those who send in their entries early will have enough time the following week to get people to vote them into the Top 10 from where the judges come in.
How will you ensure that the voting and judging process is fair?
Well, for the voting, it is more about your ability to push your story. There is no point writing a good story and not being able to get people to read it; your job is only half done. People who read each entry can vote for the entry and then we choose those with the highest votes. That is just one aspect. From then on, it is about the quality of your work. Strictly. We are looking for a well written, creative and logical conclusion to that story. It’s that simple. There are three impartial judges. There is also one ‘fourth official’, if you get what I mean, because there could be a tie. The interesting thing is that we don’t get to know these judges till the competition is over and then these judges don’t even know one another because they were selected separately and will each submit their top three entries individually and the fourth official will collate them. I think that is fair enough.
The competition has been limited to writers of African background; explain the reason for this please.
There is a funny way African writers and literature are still being viewed around the world. I can’t explain it, but we are still not yet at the point where African literature is widely accepted. Chimamanda said one of her professors once accused her that her novel was not ‘authentically African’ because her characters drove cars, lived in houses and all. So there is still that single story thing. Yet I know we have a lot of beautiful stories in Africa and we must find the African writers that will tell them beautifully. This way, more young people can begin to read literature and not just cram textbooks to pass. A lot of young people around here (Nigeria) still do not read. Although working in a publishing firm has shown me that if you write the right thing, they will read it. So maybe if we get a lot more people writing the right things, more people will get to read.
Give interested readers some writing tips please.
Let me share the little I know. I believe that good writing is always good, anywhere in the world. So you must always focus on the not just writing stuff but writing quality stuff. Always be original. One of the ways to do that is to get your concept right. That is extremely critical. If the concept of the story is good enough, the rest is easier. Even an average writer can be considered awesome if the concept is great, while great writing may not be able to rescue a weak story idea. Then, we need more simplicity around here. Simple words and short sentences. Too many people trying to get us to read with dictionaries. Writing is meant to express not impress. If you can’t write with simplicity it doesn’t show you’re a pro, it shows you’re immature. This is not a sub, as we say on twitter, just an advice (Laughs).
Are there more initiatives that we can look forward to?
My style is not to talk about things until I have fully processed them and I’m ready to launch out. I learnt that from a Yoruba proverb that says if your yam is big and ready to be eaten, you should cover it well and not let people see it. So, you’ll surely hear about anything else that is coming. The one that everyone probably knows is that I’m writing a novel and working on another collection of stories. So let’s see which I finish first and which my people decide to publish first.
Thank you Seun, sure more people will be inspired to showcase their talent. Thank you for granting the interview, looking forward to your next initiative.