In partnership with Writivism, Syncity NG is publishing Conversations with the shortlisted writers of the Writivism and Koffi Addo Creative Prizes. This conversation took place on Twitter (@SyncityNG) with Frances Ogamba (@FrancesOgamba).
Frances Ogamba has made history, appearing on both Writivism shortlists in the same year (No one has ever done this, before now). Frances is on the Writivism Short Story Prize shortlist for her short fiction Ghana Boy, and on the Koffi Addo Creative Nonfiction Prize for The Valley of Memories. Her stories appear in Afridiaspora and Writivism digital mini-anthology, Dwartonline and Ynaija websites, and on Enkare Review. She is a workshop alumnus of Writivism 2016, Ake fiction 2016, and Winter Tangerine 2016. She lives in Port Harcourt, Nigeria.
She is also on our shortlist for our anniversary anthology competition for A Memorial Service in Honour of Our Daughter, Sister and Cousin.
Syncity NG: Frances, I think the first question everyone wants me to ask is the name of your dibia. Can we know who he is? Your name is everywhere! What’s your secret weapon?
Frances Ogamba: I loved the books I read as a child and I knew I definitely wanted to do this. But it was tougher than I thought. I took to reading a whole lot, and just falling and stumbling until it began to look beautiful. The dibia is a long road of tedious work.
Syncity NG: So you are saying it took a lot of work to get here? I no gree! Frances, Frances… Between you and I, tell me the truth. Just this year alone, you’ve made Syncity NG‘s shortlist. Then two Writivism shortlists. Then others I can’t recall now. And we are still just in May. Nne, talk to me.
Frances Ogamba: I have had very bitter rejections. Let me tell you something personal. In 2016, I got on the Writivism longlist with a story I believed in but it didn’t go further. I actually cried because I didn’t get on the shortlist. I started sending out stories to count my rejections. What you see right now is not automatic. It may be for some writers, lucky them. But for me, it’s been a long road filled with gravel.
Syncity NG: Wow. So there’s no medicine man after all. I’m so disappointed! Oh well, there’s really no shortcut to this writing business, is there? What’s your writing regimen like? Write, write, eat, sleep, repeat?
Frances Ogamba: I hold down a 9 to 5 job. I have a little son who takes half my hours in a day. That leaves me with early hours, say 12am to 4am. I set a personal goal for reading and it helps. 4 books a month. One short story a day.
Syncity NG: One short story a day? Ha! You didn’t come to play at all. Tell us about your most recent rejection and how you handled it.
Frances Ogamba: I got one from Masters Review for a story which I believe is one of the best things I have written. I just shrugged and thanked them for returning my baby to me in good health. I have now dusted the baby and sent to another journal. We keep moving until we find a loving home.
Syncity NG: Your story Ghana Boy tells a tale of dysfunctional childhood, parental upbringing, sibling love, the rot in Nigeria’s security agencies, et al., while The Valley of Memories speaks of re-incarnation. Both made fiction and non-fiction shortlists. Why these stories?
Frances Ogamba: The stories we tell best are culled from the snippets of our memories, of things that happened to us or around us. There were many Ghana Boys in the small town where I was a child. Young criminals who were taken by the SARS and nothing was heard of them again.
Syncity NG: There has been a lot of conversations around writing, asking if it’s the right tool for change. Using Ghana Boy as a case study, do you hope that your writing will one day bring change to other Ghana Boys out there?
Frances Ogamba: About The Valley of Memories, it’s about the hardest I ever had to write. Because I walked into the off-limits parts of myself and another relative to unearth it. Reincarnation and its essence have been erased by the western religion. Let’s have this conversation another time. I believe that all forms of writing inform change. It is slow, but it works [eventually]. Take Twitter for example, all we do here is write. Now look the kind of social change it has brought about. So yes, someday the story will be different for every Ghana Boy out there.
Syncity NG: Well said, Frances. Now, let’s talk about muse and writer’s block. As someone who has a strict regimen, where do you get daily inspiration? Is Writer’s Block foreign to you as well?
Frances Ogamba: Recently, someone proposed to pay me to rewrite something. I had a deadline and I coughed out 1,000 words daily for 18 days. So you see, if we were all paid to write, we’d have written a lot. So the best way to tackle it will be to write that shitty story and then revise.
Syncity NG: The Igbo blood in Frances’ is strrrrong. Money can be a good motivation. Speaking of money, was that why you applied for the @Writivism prize?
Frances Ogamba: Lmao! No joor. I have tried Writivism 4 times, got 3 longlists. It wasn’t money. All I did was keep hacking my axe at a wall that wouldn’t come down. I finally made the shortlist. The wall is down. Goal achieved. [However,] I really must commend Writivism for providing financial and mentoring support for emerging writers through initiatives like the annual prize. Job well done. We need more of such initiatives.
@Gwinuc: I’m curious! Frances, For how long have you been writing? Two, what made you [decide to] become a writer?
Frances Ogamba: I have been writing since age 11, I think. I had laughable manuscripts when I was 12. Did shallow poetry for a bit in the university. Two, I sincerely dunno what else to be if not a writer. Writing is home. Writing is my essence as a person. I cannot quite find the words.
@gideonogbonnac: I have two questions: One, what influences your thought process? How do you come up with stories? Two, I read somewhere that you grew a blog to 2000 readers within a year. How did you achieve this? What’s the name of the blog?
Frances Ogamba: Stories happen everywhere. It’s on the news. It’s inserted into a Facebook comment, an Instagram status. It’s in a statement someone just made beside you. About [your second question], I just tried to capture the readers with interesting stuff. It’s a blog on food packaging. You may DM me.
Syncity NG: Thank you so much for joining us. We’re rooting for you!
Click HERE to read our conversation with fellow 2019 Writivism Short Story Prize shortlistee Resoketswe Manenzhe.