I Encountered Rejection After Rejection After Rejection | In Conversation With Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia

In conversation, Literary Prose

Write… be prepared to be rejected for a variety of reasons

Ladies and gentlemen, the Chief Synner welcomes you to another edition of the SyncityNGLLL show! Our guest is a first time Nigerian author who has scored publishing deals in 2 continents/3 countries: Nigeria (Parresia Publishers), South Africa (Penguin Random House) and Canada (Dundurn Press), Cheluchi Onyemelukwe!
For those who don’t know her, here’s her bio:

Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia is a writer, lawyer and academic. Her short stories and essays have appeared in literary journals, most recently, Entropy. Her first novel, The Son of the House, was published by Penguin Random House, South Africa in 2019, by Parresia in Nigeria in 2019. North American rights to the book were recently acquired by Canada’s largest independent publisher Dundurn Press. The Son of the House has been called “beautiful” (People Magazine, South Africa), “beautifully written and intimate… an incredible first novel” (City Press) and “powerful and intimate …worth every star and more” (Sunday Times).  Cheluchi holds a doctorate degree in law from Dalhousie University, Canada.


SYNCITY NG: Join me in welcoming, Cheluchi Onyemelukwe! Welcome, Cheluchi.

CHELUCHI ONYEMELUKWE: Thank you so much.

SYNCITY NG: Let’s begin, Cheluchi. Your book ‘Son of The House’ is absolutely refreshing. It was unambiguous. Had no airs of being anything more than it was–a story of womanhood, life, and the importance placed on a (male) child in the African society. How did it come to life?

CHELUCHI ONYEMELUKWE: It was first a story before it was anything else. It began its life about 7 years ago from a real life story that gave birth to the idea of the book. At first, it was going to take one track but then some characters kept coming to the fore, hence the two women.

SYNCITY NG: I totally loved the two major characters idea: Nwabulu and Julie. One would say that as both characters grew older, they became feminists. Was this a deliberate plan to show that feminism is very much an African construct

CHELUCHI ONYEMELUKWE: Interesting question and thank you for your comment on Nwabulu and julie. They would likely not use that term to describe themselves. I would say however that the idea that they are human is an idea that takes deeper root as the story evolves and time passes.

SYNCITY NG: It took you 7 years to complete the story? What happened all these years? Was the book rejected? Were you busy? Did life happen? Were you relaxing on a beach in Barbados without a care? Why 7 years?

CHELUCHI ONYEMELUKWE: Good question, hehehehe. Everything except Barbados, unfortunately. I completed a first draft, went back to other parts of life. Then encountered rejection after rejection after rejection. I also pursued other things in the course of rejections and rewrites.

SYNCITY NG: ‘Rejection after rejection’ sounds like a lot. Who was the first person/organisation that said YES and what did the ‘Yes mail’ contain?

CHELUCHI ONYEMELUKWE: A publisher first said yes. And right after that several more ‘Yeses’ followed. I ended up selecting from the sets of ‘yes’ that came. The first said something along the lines of ‘it has been a long time since a book kept me up at night and yours managed to do that’.

SYNCITY NG: Wow. It must have been quite a celebration in your home when the mail came in. Did you have to find an agent first? Or did you send to the publishers yourself? Why the choice of publishing outside Nigeria before bringing the book rights back home?

CHELUCHI ONYEMELUKWE: It was a real celebration! I am sure my neighbours wondered what was happening in my home. I actually got the first nod from my publishers, Parressia Publishers before I eventually signed with Penguin Books South Africa. I had always wanted a wide audience for the book in and outside of Nigeria.

SYNCITY NG: Amazing! Before we go on to your accolades, let’s talk about ‘The Son of The House’. Do tell our community why everyone needs a copy in their library.

CHELUCHI ONYEMELUKWE: 1) Thank you! I think it is an unadorned story, complete with plot and drama and wherever you are on the gender debate, it is first a story to be savoured. People who have read it tell me that they find themselves invested in Nwabulu and Julie. 2) I worked hard to make it accessible, engaging and readable. I have been told I succeeded. Beyond that, it is a story to make us think. It is not preachy but leaves room for us to come to our conclusions about many things – life, the place of children.

MYSTIQUESYNN: Your book is a must-read! 1) What’s the publishing process like? What extra ‘waka-waka’ did you do as a first time author? 2) Did your profile as a lawyer/ academic help in the publication of this work? 3) Do you have an agent?

CHELUCHI ONYEMELUKWE: Thank you! No. I don’t think it helped, being a lawyer or academic. I did write a law text published by Routledge Books at that time, and it helped me look away from the rejections. I do not have an agent currently. Not a lot of waka waka, just rewrites!

SYNCITY NG: The Son of the House can be gotten at the Parresia Books store. Send them a DM for a copy, or visit 82 Allen, Ikeja. Or have it delivered to you.
Before we wrap up with your general comments, tell us how to score a hattrick (Nigeria – South Africa- Canada) before hunger will kill us writers both home and abroad.

CHELUCHI ONYEMELUKWE: Hehehehe! I am still trying to figure that out! But write a good book. Be prepared to be rejected for a variety of reasons. And don’t give up. Rewrite, re-send, repeat.

SYNCITY NG: Interesting convo with Cheluchi. You can get ‘The Son of the House’ at PAGE Book Connoisseurs if you are a Nigerian Synner, Booktique Ghana if you are a Ghanaian Synner and Penguin Random House, South Africa if you are a South African Synner. For Synners in Canada, Dundurn Press has got you.
Last words for us, Cheluchi.

CHELUCHI ONYEMELUKWE: I do believe stories change the world and we have many stories to tell in a variety of ways. I hope people read ‘The Son of the House’ and fall in love with the characters, ask relevant questions. Thank you for having me and for all you do for Nigerian literature. Lovely chatting with you SynCityNG! Thank you!

SYNCITY NG: Ladies and gentlemen, It is finished! Thank you for joining Cheluchi and I. Don’t forget to get her books from all the bookstores near you.

We’ve had award-winning poet/lawyer and writer/essayist/food memoirist/lawyer joining the show this season; and also recently, the very talented Jude Idada on the show. Missed joining in, read here.

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