Abandoned Kids In Orphanages Inspired This Book — Hadiza El-Rufai
Born in Kano, Hadiza Isma El-Rufai holds BSc and MSc degrees in Architecture from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria, and an MBA degree from the same university. She also has an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University, Bath, UK.
She is the founder of the Yasmin El-Rufai Foundation which aims to awaken and nurture creativity in children, and improve the literacy skills of disadvantaged young women in northern Nigeria.
Hadiza currently lives in Kaduna with her husband and children. An Abundance of Scorpions is her first novel.
Ladies and gentlemen, give a rousing welcome to our guest on the show today: Hadiza El-Rufai!
You are welcome, ma!
Let’s get right into it: How long did it take to write this book and what emotional process did it involve?
It took me about five years. I was not writing continuously, of course. There were periods of time when I could not write at all. Unfortunately, I lost two children during this time, and I had to muster all the courage to restart after each loss.
Loss is never easy. Our condolences.
Did this loss in any way influence the theme of the book?
I didn’t set out to write about loss. I wanted the protagonist to be a woman alone in the world because I wanted to explore the theme of self-reliance. That was why I killed off her family right at the start. I had written that part before I suffered my first loss.
The book is set in Kano, then Accra, then Kano again. Do you think that writers should only write about spaces they are familiar with?
It’s easier, I suppose, to write about places we’re familiar with. However, it is interesting to carry out research about new places. I spent a very interesting two weeks in Accra, getting the feel of the Hausa quarter in particular. It’s all about imagination.
If writers only wrote about spaces they were familiar with we wouldn’t have science fiction, Star trek, Harry Potter etc.
Let’s talk publishing. For some, it takes years to get a publisher. How did @OuidaBooks come into the picture?
I, one day, mentioned to Lola Shoneyin of Ouida Books that I had a manuscript. She said I should send it. She gave it to Eghosa Imasuen who read it and liked it and the rest, as they say, is history. I guess I was lucky.
Lucky ke? *side eye* I’ll say more of preparation plus opportunity. Plus Lola Shoneyin publishes only the best.
Tell us about the book.
I like to visit orphanages and I often wonder about the kids that are abandoned. Who are they really? Who will they turn out to be? I wanted to write about identity. What makes us who we are.
That was why I decided to write about an orphan who is raised with an entirely different identity. I wanted to write about how “chance” makes us who we turn out to be.
One hour into the show and it feels like 5 minutes! Ahn ahn, why is the clock so fast? Obviously, there are a lot of people itching to ask questions in the audience. I shall be leaving the floor open now for those that have questions.
@ChukwuderaEdozi : My question to @Hadizel is how finally becoming a novelist has impacted her and who her highest intluences in the literary world are.
Getting published has a way of giving a writer validation. I felt that I could write, but now it’s like its been acknowledged and that feels great. My influences are many. Foreign classics were early influences, but these days I read more African stories.
Another question which I like to ask is: What are your views on feminism?
For me, feminism is about women being able make their own choices in life. By themselves, and those choices should be respected.
I’d also want to know who your favourite authors are.
Charlotte Bronte, Harper Lee, Geraldine Brooks, Chinua Achebe, Ian McEwan, Chimamanda Adichie.
@Adefolami_ade: I’m sorry about your loss. However, would you say that the loss helped you focus on making the book what it is — a brilliant debut? Did the loss motivate you?
In some ways, yes. My late daughter was my first reader and critique and I felt I had to finish it, for her.
I was curious about the early killing of the protagonist’s family. I was worried about how the story would unfold but you expertly maintained the pace and tempo. How did you manage that? How were you able to hold the pace and mood?
Thank you. About the pace and tempo, I’d say that had a lot to do with editing. I have probably discarded half the number of words I retained. It’s important to write freely at first draft.
But a writer has to be disciplined enough to discard unnecessary words however beautifully written.
So, in trying to create a strong woman character, didn’t you think that the clash between the two female characters sort of negates the feminism agenda, where women should support each other for the greater good?
But we have to write realistically. There will always be women against other women and women who support other women, just as is the case with men. Tambaya has women supporters like Esther and Maman-Ruth. It’s not black and white.
@NajAlpharouque: Writers often get stuck in the middle of stories they want to write. What advise will you offer?
When you get stuck, it’s time to give it a break. Go out for a walk, go watch a movie, do whatever else makes you happy. Trust me, when you get back to writing you’ll find your way out.
Will you consider mentoring an upcoming writer?
@DheeGenius: Speaking about the book title, An Abundance of Scorpions, what was the inspiration or idea behind the title?
If you read the book, you’ll find that the protagonist faces a lot of hardship and malice from adversaries. An Abundance of Scorpions along the way…
@muntaseeer: I was present at the book launch at Yar’adua Centre. Do you still practice your Profession? If yes, how do you combine the office of the First lady, your foundation and writing?
I juggle. But it’s important to know that you can’t do everything. I concentrate on the foundation and my writing. I de-emphasize the First Lady thing.
I borrowed my copy of your book to a colleague and she is not happy how the book ended. There are many questions left unanswered. Should we expect a part 2 (like we say in Nigeria) of the novel?
Sequel in the offing.
@izzattics: For me, it’s just the rationale behind the cover photo I want to understand.
Empty shoes: Her husband and daughter gone. She’s left to walk alone.
@Uchekweremadu: I mean, if she broke the rules because it’s about her brother and niece, doesn’t every other rule breaker have justifiable reasons for doing what they do?
Yes, my protagonist is a flawed character. Like all of us. Human.
“The book Abundance of Scorpions is an excellent read. I was particularly pleased with your writing style. The way you inserted the title just in the beginning of the story. Cute!
It was truly an intriguing ride very well researched.
Absolutely no boring moments!”
Whoo! Our audience are sure fired up! They do come prepared! Always!
I would love to know if you ever thought of giving the book to a ghostwriter. First ladies usually have full schedules.
No. This is fiction. It’s my imagination. No one has my content, my thoughts, my experiences. Plus, I love to write.
Taking a cue from renowned feminist Chimamanda, would you rather be addressed as author or Gov. El-Rufai’s wife?
Last words? For your fans? For young writers?
To young writers: Whatever you do, keep writing. Remember that the fact that you’re not published does not mean you’re not a good writer. Your manuscript has just not yet reached the right hands, and it will one day!
Thanks to everyone who tuned in. Till we come your way next time, stay safe!!
This interview originally happened on Twitter. Follow the #SyncityNGLLL to be a part of the conversation.