Our Associate Web Editor Kemi Falodun speaks to Amarachi Priscilla Ekekwe, one of the shortlisted writers for the Saraba Manuscript Prize (Fiction Category)

Kemi Falodun: How do you feel about being shortlisted for the Saraba Manuscript Prize?

Amarachi Ekekwe: Excited to say the very least! When I saw that I made the longlist, I was thrilled beyond words! Over 70 entries and I made the list of 10? That was an amazing feeling. Being shortlisted was something else completely. It’s almost surreal but I’m loving the feeling!

KF: Did you write Beyond the Beautiful Sea majorly for the purpose of entering for SMP?

AE: Well, I originally started working on the book a little while before SMP but never got around to completing it. It’s one of a writer’s curses; so many uncompleted manuscripts! The manuscript prize motivated me to finish it.

KF: So how did you go about that? Did you have to enter a level of isolation to get it finished?

AE: While I was writing this book, yes, I did go into some form of isolation. I also set up a schedule to write nothing less than 2000 words a day – in one sitting. And I stuck with it. I wrote more than that sometimes but never less. In the end, I had to cut out a lot of what I wrote. The objective wasn’t to write great pieces all the time, although I did get some good chapters out, the objective was to rid myself of all inhibitions and just write.

KF: Why Beyond the Beautiful Sea? Why that story?

AE: The book is loosely based on my mum’s life. I’ve always been curious about Nigeria’s history and the civil war. I know a lot has been written about this topic and I wanted to bring it closer to home. With the rise of civil unrest within the country (regarding secession, etc.), I hope to remind people about the ugliness of war.

KF: When you write, how do you create your characters?

AE: My characters are inspired by (though not based on) real life persons. I see life and people in stories. I’m not even sure if that makes sense but, basically, I am inspired by everything and everyone around me. When I have a ‘baseline’ for a character, I then begin to flesh out everything about them. Sometimes, I get to know my characters more as I write.

KF: When you read, what do you expect to see in a book?

AE: A character I can relate to. I want to be able to ‘see’ the character and be in the book with them. I also love to see a good, believable plot.

KF: As a reader, are your interests predominantly subject/theme based, author based, or are you simply on the lookout for good books?

AE: I typically read anything I think I’ll find interesting. I’m not restricted to a particular subject, theme, or author. However, I do love some subjects more than others and I will read more of those. Also, if I read one good book from an author, regardless of theme, I’d look out for more books from them.

KF: What does getting published mean to you?

AE: It’s probably every writer’s dream to get published someday or, at least, I know it’s always been a dream of mine. But it’s really more about sharing my ideas, my world– whether fictional or real–with others and hoping that they are inspired to be different, to think differently, to escape the norm, or that they experience the same amount of emotions I do when I write.

KF: Which writers do you enjoy reading?

AE: I am discovering more writers as I explore more literary options. I’ve enjoyed works from Chinua Achebe, Lola Shoneyin, Nnedi Okorafor, just to mention a few. I also enjoy reading works from several foreign authors.

KF: How do you balance being a software engineer and a writer?

AE: I try my best to allocate my time properly. I look for ways to compliment activities associated with both tasks. I also draw up a writing schedule from time to time, an agenda I guard jealously and strictly adhere to.

KF: What are your observations as regards the quality of literary works being produced in Nigeria?

AE: I see a lot of impressive works from well-known authors but it appears as if our reading culture is dwindling and so are our literary materials. I also have the perception that not many literary houses are willing to take on upcoming writers. It was very refreshing to see new faces in the SMP shortlist.

KF: Are you working on any literary project at the moment?

AE: Not really. I’m not working on something completely new but I am revisiting an old manuscript and reworking it a bit.

Amarachi Priscilla Ekekwe  is a Software Engineer by day and an aspiring author by night. She loves to read and enjoys writing just as much. She has written several short stories and flash fiction, some of which are featured on her personal website and other online platforms.

When she is not writing, she enjoys travelling and exploring new cultures and traditions. She has visited twenty states in her home country of Nigeria and has also travelled to a few countries abroad. You can find her works on www.chapterone.com.ng

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