Entrepreneurs · Fashion & Lifestyle · Interview

IN CREATIVE SPACES WE TRUST

by Akumbu Uche

I love well decorated interiors and as such, a good chunk of my browsing time is spent on virtual hangouts like Apartment Therapy and The Selby. Recently, whilst searching for similar websites to feast my eyes on, I came across Okiriko, a Nigerian blog dedicated to indigenous interior design.

Despite being less visual than I had anticipated, the intimately written but highly informative articles on offer, dishing on decorating tips and urging for an environment friendly approach to design, resonated with me.

Fascinated, I e-mailed some questions to one of the site’s Administrators, SCAD*-trained artist and interior designer, Azuka Okonji, and she graciously answered them.

 

Azuka Okonji
Azuka Okonji

 

Before co-founding Okiriko and starting up your own design firm [Ekaje Design Studio], you were already an accomplished artist and illustrator. Why did you make the switch to Interior Design?

Actually, Interior Design was my first love. I was 14 when I decided I wanted to become an interior designer. I couldn’t get enough of magazines like House and Garden. I would keep stacks of them and pore through them over and over again. So you can imagine my disappointment when it was time to do JAMB and I looked through the courses searching for interior design to no avail, I remember seeing Industrial Design in OAU* and briefly wondering if the courses were related. So Fine and Applied Art for me, was the natural substitute; I had been drawing and meddling with colours since I could remember so doing something in the Arts was inevitable.

Do you find that these two (Fine Arts and Interior Design) complement or conflict each other?

They complement. Illustrations that I do, drawings, design, graphics, they all feed and strengthen the same creative source.

A lot of people use the terms Interior Design and Interior Decoration interchangeably; what’s the difference?

An interior decorator “decorates”. The surface treatments you see like curtains, wall treatments, light fixtures, flooring and the tasteful and artistically pleasing – arranging all these elements in a space is the work of a decorator. Anyone really, with a creative flair and a good eye for colour can decorate.

A designer on the other hand is an “interior architect”; we deal with the actual space planning of the interior of any structure. We make decisions based on quality of life and ergonomics. We study the interaction of man and his environment and we bring solutions that maximise quality of life. We study a bit of everything – construction, electrical layouts, plumbing, lighting, furniture, the merits and demerits of various materials, like carpet, wool, paint, etcetera.

So in other words, an interior designer should be able to design a home for a 70-year old man in a wheel chair who is allergic to natural fibre, and loves to entertain. The architect deals with the design of the external shell of a building while, ideally, a designer takes over the interiors and does everything else. This of course also includes decorating.

Let’s pretend for a moment that I’m your client; could you help me find contemporary art pieces that match my design theme/colour palette?

Absolutely, although my personal opinion as an artist is that art pieces shouldn’t necessarily always be made to “match the décor”.

The world is going green and I would like to adopt that kind of lifestyle. How easy is it to find eco-friendly furnishings in Nigeria?

Very easy. Under-development comes to our aid a lot in Nigeria, not because of our love for the earth, but because we are still a very “manual” society for the most part. We take resources from the earth and produce what we need with very little processing.

The problem I see in Nigeria is not “going green” but staying green consciously. In many rural parts of the country people are still building their homes with materials they get from their immediate environment, [for example] my grandfather’s 4-storey building was built entirely with mud. We plant indigenous plants, we eat organically grown fruits and vegetables when they are in season, we call a carpenter to make a lot of our furniture, and we are not a wasteful society, even if a lot of that is due to poverty.

What we should watch out for are our production and use of plastics and most importantly, the things we import. We need better quality control.

Is it possible to redecorate my home/workspace without necessarily buying new things?

Yes of course, I have an article on my website, “Making the Most Bang for your Buck!” that gives pointers on this issue. We have the wrong belief that oodles of money need to be spent to redecorate; it is not necessarily true.

Looking around your environment and seeing things with “new eyes” shows one different possibilities. This is also a part of going green.

In our society, the services of a professional are more likely to be hired by the Oga Sirs and Big Madams. Do you have any D.I.Y tips for those on a limited budget?

There are loads of websites and magazines that offer countless D.I.Y ideas. Just Google! Be creative with what you have, never be scared of trying out a new idea.

Wallpaper has a reputation for being tacky so I’m surprised to find that you make a case for it on the website.

Ha ha, in what world is wallpaper tacky? Not at all! I pointed it out as an option and a good one. The problem I see with wallpaper is the perception that it ages badly, it’s a pain to put up and take down and after all it’s only just “printed paper”. But wallpaper like everything else has evolved a lot – from washable, to paintable to the range of beautiful patterns ranging from floral to geometric. Its application method has also greatly improved as well as its being easier to uninstall.

Wallpaper still maintains a relevant role in design and I have seen a couple of wallpaper shops here that have a very impressive range of product.

Final question. Home improvement and decoration shows are one of the attractions of cable TV; any chance we might soon see you doing something similar on one of our local channels?

Ooh, nothing like that being planned for the immediate future, but nothing would make me happier!

 

*SCAD – Savannah College of Art and Design, USA

*OAU – Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife

Interview · Sports & Fitness

MARTIAL ARTS 101

by Akumbu Uche

Growing up in the ‘90s, my siblings and I were fairly addicted to the numerous martial arts-themed movies, starring the likes of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, which were popular back then.

Fearing that our brains would turn to mush, our parents enrolled us in a Shotokan Karate dojo; while the weekend sessions were a good excuse to not do my homework healthy and exciting, somewhere along the line, Steffi Graf replaced Steven Seagal as my ultimate action hero and I dropped out.

Last year, during my three-week incarceration NYSC camping exercise, I signed up for self-defence training on a whim and was pleasantly surprised to discover that I had retained some muscle memory. My instructors could tell that I had had previous martial arts training and encouraged me to pick it up again.

After giving it some thought and carrying out some research, I’m considering taking up one of the following martial arts – Karate, Kung Fu, Taekwondo or Tai Chi.

To help me make up my mind, I reached out to some gurus and here is what they have to say:

Karate Kid
Bend it like…

 

  • Aaron Blumenstein on KARATE

How did you get introduced to Karate and how long have you been practicing?

I was first introduced to Karate when I was 6 years old as an after school activity. I practiced for many years, took a break, and then started again when I attended College. All told, I have roughly 12 years experience practicing Karate.

Have you done any other martial arts? If so, what is it about Karate that makes it stand out from the others?

I fenced foil for a short time. The obvious difference is the weapons, but many of the stances and motions are surprisingly similar. A front stance and a lunge could be mistaken for one another and the motions for the parry are similar to inner and outer blocks. The ceremonial aspect feels very different and special when practicing Karate. The opening and closing of a class are very formal, as are “promotions”. I put the word promotion in quotation marks because the event is less of a gain and more of a recognition of dedication and commitment to being a karateka.

Because of its origins, Karate makes use of many Japanese words; which is harder, learning the moves or the foreign words?

Learning the moves is definitely harder. A name for a technique or stance is just a word and you learn the intent of it after hearing it said many times – it is also made easier by seeing the word written down. Mastering the techniques is an ongoing process of learning and improvement that never really ends.

One of the techniques in Karate is the tameshiwari, which involves breaking wooden boards and concrete blocks with one’s bare hands or feet. Where does that strength come from?

The strength comes from practice and dedication. Whether there is a board in front of you or just air, the confidence comes through many repetitions of the technique, always trying to improve form and power. Another source of strength is the kiai or a focusing of energy expressed vocally. The more the karateka hones the kiai, the greater the force upon impact.

In our dojo at St. John’s College, our sensei never placed an emphasis on tameshiwari and I personally never saw the need. I hope I never have to use Karate to break anything, whether it’s wood, bricks or bones.

Karate, like several other martial arts can take years to master; what advice would you give a frustrated karateka who is about to quit?

We live in a world that is increasingly impatient and people expect instant gratification. Frustration is an emotion – don’t bring emotions into the dojo. When practicing in the dojo, there is only karate-do. Leave everything behind when you bow into the dojo and lose yourself in practice. Karate is a never ending process and lifestyle.  The karateka who grows frustrated with progress needs to remember that it’s not about achievement, but about the process.

When it comes to washing your gi, what is your go-to detergent?

Whatever detergent I have on hand! Wash your gi once a week and make sure to air dry it! The serious karateka should invest in a proper heavyweight Japanese gi since it will provide many years of reliable wear and offers additional protection when sparring.

Aaron Blumenstein is an alumnus of St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and is currently working to become a professional beer brewer. A former New Yorker, he lives in New Brunswick, Canada.

 

  • Michael Nelson-Cole on KUNG FU

Is weight loss a good enough motive for taking up Kung Fu or any other martial arts?

Yes; weight loss is a great motive for anyone to take up Kung Fu. I have a student who is over 55 years of age, was 122kg when we met; he now weighs 103kg after 11 months of training. He trains once to two times a week with me.

A key aspect to martial arts is the physical training which keeps your body in good shape internally and externally.

You have trained in several martial arts disciplines; why did you choose to focus on Kung Fu?

I have trained in quite a few martial arts and I still do. I have never been someone to stick to one art however my main art is and will always be Kung Fu. For me there is more to Kung Fu than just learning to defend yourself or what you see in competitions and movies. I focus on Kung Fu as it is a way of life for me and is in everything I do on a daily basis. Patience, health, fitness, thought, energy, self development, etcetera – these are examples of things that Kung Fu assists me with on a daily basis.

What does a novice need to know about Kung Fu training before they start?

There are loads of Kung Fu styles out there in the world accessible to anyone who wishes to learn. A novice would need to know the type of Kung Fu style he/she would like to learn, school location, student code of conduct, what to wear, style lineage, instructor’s profile and if the instructor is eligible to teach and fully insured.

You teach group as well as individual classes; which environment is better for the student?

To be honest this all depends on the requirements of the students. Personally I would say that a student needs the two. A class environment is where you can get the family feeling, social aspect, train with many other people as well as see a variety of skill, different levels of ability in the students, gain knowledge from senior students, etcetera.

An individual session is where you get more focus and time from the instructor/trainer. You are also more likely to learn more technical skills in this sort of session in less time.

When I used to do Karate, our senseis pretty much banned us from watching martial arts-themed movies because they didn’t want us to mess up our technique. Do you impose a similar ban on your students?

I don’t impose any such ban on my students. I am there to guide them but not stop them from living their own lives. If someone gets disillusioned due to watching movies, I will always try to make them see the reality of things. Till today movies have made some of my students overexcited and at the same time it has made some more committed to learning Kung Fu. So it’s for me to guide them regardless of the effect movies may have on them.

Michael Nelson-Cole is a London-based Kung Fu instructor and Personal Trainer who is “committed to helping people from all walks of life achieve their full potential”. For more information, visit his website, www.tpm66.co.uk or follow him on Twitter.

 

  • Dike Chukwumerije on TAEKWONDO

How did you get involved in Taekwondo?

I was introduced to it by my father when I was a little boy – it was a family sport. By the time I was able to run around, my elder ones were already black belts in Karate. I joined the bandwagon when they made the switch to Taekwondo. I have practiced two other kinds of martial arts since then, namely Kung Fu and Capoeira. They each have their strengths; I like Taekwondo because of its forms and the way it uses the legs. I like Kung Fu because it helped me develop versatility in the way I use my hands in combat. I like Capoeira for its blend of music and martial arts, and also for the beauty of its movements.

When you talk about Taekwondo and its ‘forms’, what exactly do you mean?

Stances, postures, techniques and movements. There’s a lot of structure and strength in Taekwondo: where you place your feet, how you throw a punch, the angles you form when you hold up a block, and the invisible lines you follow in your mind when you shift from one stance to another. To an observer, Taekwondo can seem very fast and fluid, but it actually breaks down to many specific movements carried out with incredible speed and control.

Two of your siblings are famous for representing Nigeria in Taekwondo at the Olympics and All Africa Games. Have you participated in any tournaments?

[Laughs] Long, long ago, mostly in the ‘80s and ‘90s. I never went international but I did lots of inter-club, inter-state and national competitions. I won my fair share of medals too, but I can’t remember most of them now. My clearest memory is of my most bitter rival, a boy named Abdullahi Mohammed. And his brother, Jafar, who kicked me in the head once! I saw stars, literally. It was fun, because we would be laughing and joking around one second and the next we would be on opposite sides in the ring.

Anyway, my last competitive outing was at the National Sports Festival in 2000 at ATBU Bauchi, where I bagged a Silver. I got punched in the face there, lost a molar, and thought to myself, I think I’ve had enough of this!

Martial arts is often associated with aggressiveness yet you come across as calm and cool-headed.

On the contrary, martial arts is actually associated with inner peace and self-control. Many forms of martial arts arose out of the search for inner peace. The way I see it, if your aim in life is to be aggressive and a bully, all you have to do is find a big weapon and you would have achieved your aim. Those that put in the years it takes to master martial arts are searching for more than just physical prowess. You may start out just wanting to be like Jackie Chan, but the discipline of the art teaches that true strength, often, lies in holding back.

How often do you practice these days?

I’m not a professional athlete at the moment so I just practice to keep fit; at least, three times a week.

What is the best way to keep your gi sparkling white and well starched?

I haven’t worn a gi in years now, so I don’t know if there any new ways of keeping it clean. Back in the day, I just washed and ironed mine. I didn’t even bother much with starching it.

Dike Chukwumerije is a lawyer, writer and social activist. He also anchors readings for the Abuja Literary Society.

 

  • Elizabeth DeMare on TAI CHI

How long have you been practicing Tai Chi?

I first got involved in Tai Chi while in college at the Annapolis campus of St. John’s College. It must have been in perhaps the fall of 1985, so almost 30 years ago. Prior to that, I had dabbled in various martial arts. I love the strength that they give one, and the control over one’s body and mind, but have never resonated with the aggressive aspects and the sparring in some styles. The Tai Chi teacher – another college student – at St. John’s was perfect for me. We would sometimes spend whole class periods in one or two postures learning the principles behind the posture and the fine tuning of the body position and gaining muscle strength.

Tai Chi is often referred to as ‘moving meditation’. Could you tell us more about that?

I think that this refers to the fact that the Tai Chi movements, while they may look slow and simple, are actually very complex. Many different parts of the body have to move in different directions and at different speeds at the same time. Anyone who has ever tried the ‘pat your head and rub your tummy’ exercise knows how difficult that is. Now imagine adding something for your left foot to be doing while the rest of your body is turning to the right and you shift your weight slowly from the front foot to the back foot – you might get the idea. It absorbs the entirety of one’s mind to accomplish the Tai Chi movements, leading to a quieting of all other thoughts.

In Tai Chi, there is a lot of emphasis on slow, graceful movements; to a skeptic, it looks more like yoga than a martial art.

I suppose that it depends on your definition of ‘martial art’ and of ‘yoga.’ The movements in Tai Chi are based on the basic blocks and punches and kicks of any martial art. In every movement, if you wish, you can envision your attacker and the ways in which your actions are a part of your self-defense. I have worked with several different Tai Chi instructors over the years, one of whom was very into a competitive martial art, I believe it was Karate. He liked the ways in which Tai Chi’s slow speed causes one to really focus on and deconstruct one’s postures. If you are moving quickly, you can move through or compensate for an imbalance in your posture. But at Tai Chi’s very slow speed, you feel the position of every muscle very intensely, and if you are off balance you will simply stumble or fall. Over time, Tai Chi helps you to have a great precision of movement, and a deep connection with the ground and with your stance.

One of the attractions of martial arts is that it teaches you to defend yourself. Can Tai Chi offer me that?

Thank goodness I have never been in a position where I have had to defend myself, with Tai Chi or otherwise! As I mentioned earlier, the movements of Tai Chi are all the standard blocks, punches and kicks of any martial art. Tai Chi certainly helps in your awareness of where your body is in the world and of how it moves, and that would, I imagine, be helpful in any potentially violent situation. But I would say that the cornerstone of Tai Chi is the ‘self-mastery’ aspect of martial arts, not the ‘self-defense’ one. If self-defense is your main concern you may want to chose a martial art where sparring between students happens frequently.

Are there any other benefits?

Tai Chi is sometimes described as an energy work, moving the currents of energy through the body – the same energies that acupuncturists work with. It is said to help to keep them flowing openly. For myself, I know that I move with more clarity and purpose through the days that I do Tai Chi than on the days when I don’t.

What should I look out for in a Tai Chi class/instructor?

I would say that the most important thing is for you to feel that the instructor is interested in the same aspects of Tai Chi that you are interested in. For example, I was not a good fit with the instructor that I had who was mostly interested in how Tai Chi could improve his fighting skills in his other martial arts, but others found this to be exactly what they were looking for. The teacher should allow you to participate in one or two classes free of charge at the beginning to see if their style and focus matches yours. If the first teacher that you find doesn’t suit your style, don’t give up on Tai Chi, but ask around to find someone who is more suited to you.

Elizabeth DeMare resides in Las Vegas, New Mexico. 

 

So which should I pick – Taekwondo or Tai Chi, Karate or Kung Fu? Help me choose.

Books · Giveaway · Interview · Writers

EASTER BONANZA

Hey guys!

If you’re interested in poetry, names and African culture, you’ll probably like my interview with poet, Dike Chukwumerije, out today, in the recent issue of Saraba Magazine (Available for free download here)

And if you like freebies and giveaways, you’ll be interested to know that I’ll be giving away 2 autographed copies of his poetry collection, Ahamefula: The Cultural Significance of Names Amongst the Ibos

Ahamefula

To participate, all you have to do is:

  • Follow this blog (Click on the ‘Yes!’ button at the top right hand corner)
  • Leave a comment on this post telling us your name, its meaning and what language it is derived from
  • Don’t forget to add your email address so that you can be contacted (This will not be published)

Entries close on Friday, 29th March after which,  two lucky winners will be randomly selected and results announced on Monday, 1st April.

***Please note that, for logistic reasons, this giveaway is limited to people  resident in Nigeria.

 

This giveaway is now closed and the winners have been contacted. 

Fashion & Lifestyle · Interview

WHY I WEAR MY HAIR NATURAL

by Akumbu Uche

Early this year, I made the decision to cut off my relaxed hair and embrace my natural coils. Six months later and my afro, more Kwame Nkrumah than Angela Davis, is at that stage where it takes 10 minutes to wash, 15 to dry and 20 to comb. In other words, I go to work late all the time.  Help!

I turned to my personal hair icons for some much needed styling advice. But first, what are their reasons for sporting a natural ‘do?

 

1. Relaxers are creamy crack

Who: Mgbechi Erondu, Medical Student.

Where: USA

Hair icons: Lauryn Hill, Amber Rose
Natural since: 2004

 

What made you decide to go natural?

Relaxers really are like creamy “crack”.  I hated feeling beholden to getting my hair done every few months so I would wait 6, 7 until my hair started breaking off. Relaxed hair is weakest at its junction with new growth.  I would attain great length while my hair was in braids but once I finished combing or brushing I would be left with that thin ponytail characteristic of relaxed hair.  In my sophomore year of high school, I decided to grow my hair out by keeping it in braids. After a while, the straight ends just disappeared. No “big chop” necessary.
Some people believe natural hair is limited when it comes to styling.

I definitely disagree! Natural hair is far more resilient. You can straighten it, curl it, put it in any style of braid, weave, wig and as long as you play nice (limit heat, deep condition and give your hair a break rest between styles), you’ll get your bouncy, healthy curls back with very little breakage.  I’ve never been very creative when it comes to hair.  I usually go for kinky or Senegalese twist braids but this is expensive so I’m currently trying to figure out the best combination of strategies to get simple wash and go curls that don’t get too dry and frizzy by the end of the day.
Your hair used to be longer than this; why did you cut it?

A number of reasons.  About a year ago I experienced the weave from HELL! The stylist braided the cornrows so tight that my hair literally pulled out from the middle! I had a bald spot!!! After a couple of months (thankfully!) my hair started growing back but I was frustrated with the obvious difference in length.  I was also tired of having long hair overall that I didn’t quite know how to style and it was starting to limit my braid options SO I decided it was time to try an edgier look.  Problem is, I think the ease of having shorter hair makes it addictive! Haha. I’m actually thinking about cutting it again!
What’s your usual hair care regimen?

I’m very impatient with my hair so I prefer to keep it in braids.  BUT I am a major proponent of giving your hair a break between styles. Usually I go at least two or three weeks before getting a new head of braids.  During that time I try to deep condition at least once, wet it every day in the shower coupling it with shampoo every couple of days (depending on my workout schedule) but otherwise doing what the natural bloggers call a “co-wash”: basically washing your hair with conditioner instead of shampoo.  Afterwards I try not to comb or mess with my hair too much except to moisturize the ends with castor oil and that’s really it.
What are your favourite hair care products?

Castor oil!!  And a spray bottle.  Moisture is key! Still looking for the ideal shampoo.  Apple Cider Vinegar* I use while I have braids in, Head and Shoulders I use to get rid of that post-braid gunk (eww!!), and after that I use Johnson & Johnson Baby Shampoo because it doesn’t give my hair that weird, squeaky clean feel.   I try to switch up conditioners because I’ve found that once my hair gets used to one, the detangling effect no longer works.  I think humectant conditioners are the best, but really even the cheap ones will do—especially if they smell nice!
Most annoying comments people make about your hair?
Can I touch it??  -_-

 

2.  I love being natural


Who: Hauwa Abubakar, Journalist
Where:  Abuja
Hair Icons: Nil
Natural since: All my life.

 

What made you decide to go natural? 

I love being natural.

Some people believe natural hair is limited when it comes to styling. 

I disagree. I style my hair however I want because it’s naturally soft, long and wavy.

What’s your usual hair care regimen?

I usually plait my hair without braids [extensions] and I do this every two weeks. I always wash my hair before plaiting it and after that I use hair cream.

What are your favourite hair care products?

Dax and Bergamot Hair Cream, Hair Fruits Shampoo and Conditioner, Heads & Shoulders Shampoo and Conditioner.

Do you ever feel tempted to change your hair texture with a relaxer?

 Yes, sometimes. But I deal with it by having a blow dry and stretching my hair with a straightening iron.

 

3. It’s a socio-political standpoint

 Who:        Ojiugo Uche; University Student

Where:    USA

Hair icons:    Just about everyone featured on lecoil

 

How long have you been natural?

With the exception of short periods that add up to between 2 to 5 months, I have been natural all my life.

What informed this decision?

I am one of those people who find it so much easier to wake up, wet my hair while showering, and run a comb through it.  For me, the constancy and simplicity makes it no stress in comparison to having to relax and retouch my hair, or go through the putting on and removing of weaves.  I have also always preferred the texture of natural hair.  However, keeping my hair natural is now a conscious decision and a socio-political standpoint born from the realization that the cultural pandemic of disfavoring natural hair as uncool, and even unprofessional in favor of expensive attachments that look like the hair of others is a way of saying that one’s own hair is not good enough and thus that one is not good enough. Subtle as it seems, I believe that this question of individual self-worth leads to, or perhaps is consequent of a societal low esteem. On a larger scale it manifests in the devaluing of our own traditional cultures, history and heritage in favor of being superficially like others.  This is a problem.

Some people believe natural hair is limited when it comes to styling.

I completely disagree! The tumblr blog, lecoil, (which my sister shared with me) clearly shows that there are so many things one can do with one’s hair. I have often cornrowed my hair into different styles like ‘basket’ and ‘shuku’. I have also threaded my hair. I have been inspired by this questionnaire to try out some interesting things. I have attempted a faux hawk, which actually turned out well. Also, I have begun a regimen of doing a quick cornrowing of my entire head (this takes about 17 minutes) before going to bed, loosening the rows in the morning and fluffing them out with my hands(as a pick spoils the texture).

What’s your usual hair care regimen?

Right now, it is a basic, wake up in the morning, shower, rub some Shea butter, do a quick comb through and ‘carry go’.  However that is changing.  As time goes on, and my braiding skills improve, I hope to include more faux hawks, zigzag cornrows and twist-outs.

What are your favourite hair care products?

I have one, and one only  – Shea Butter

People can sometimes be judgmental about those who wear natural hair; what has been your experience so far?

Well, the judgment I’ve had have been mostly good – there is a lot of great rep from Americans, mostly white people who appreciate the texture of our hair more than we ourselves do.  In Nigeria however, bad rep abounds. To be fair though, sometimes when I have gotten a bad rap about my hair in Nigeria, it was unkempt and in need of a combing touch-up (as afros are constantly wont of)

Would you like to see more women wearing their hair naturally?  

I would LOVE to see this happen, as this will mean that natural hair is gaining good rep (reputation together with representation) and it would mean a move towards a greater and more overt appreciation of self worth, not only on an individual level, but on the grander societal level.

 

* Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is a particular type of vinegar that is supposed to closely match the natural pH of one’s hair when mixed 1 part ACV to 2 parts water    –   Mgbechi’s note.

Books · Interview · Writers

SCI-FI AND WI-FI

by Akumbu Uche

The internet has changed a lot of our attitudes towards communication, made information more accessible and continues to do so. Thanks to this invention, I am always being introduced to new authors (to me) and my literary scope continues to widen. Case in point: Dallas-based Nigerian science-fiction writer, Uche Obieri whom I discovered through the blog Curiosity Killed the Eccentric Yoruba.

My brief foray into sci-fi literature had begun during my childhood with H.G. Wells and ended shortly after with Jules Verne. However, Uche Obieri’s Six and Fifty-four, though short showed me how much more advanced the genre is today and has whetted my appetite for similar tales.

Recently, I conducted an email interview with the author and she was kind enough to talk about her literary taste, creative ambitions and thoughts on artificial life with me.

Below is a transcript of our conversation:

Cover image for Uche Obieri's e-book

Your story, Six and Fifty-four fits tidily into the science fiction genre. How did you get introduced to the world of sci-fi?

I’ve always been interested in stories about impossible or improbable things, and though there weren’t many sci-fi books around while I was growing up, I tended to gravitate towards both fantasy and science fiction. A couple of the schools I went to had libraries with a good amount of both, and I read as many of them as I could.

What were the earliest sci-fi books you read?

The Risen Empire and The Killing of Worlds, both by Scott Westerfeld; Memory and earlier books in the Miles Vorkosigan Series by Lois Bujold; Foreigner and the rest of the atevi series by C.J. Cherryh. I’d read a few other SF books before these, but they left the biggest impression. The Risen Empire and The Killing of Worlds particularly struck me because I hadn’t read such a deft combination of hard SF and romance before then.

What other genres of literature do you read?

I read a lot in the Fantasy, Urban Fantasy and Young Adult genres, and occasionally also in Romance. I particularly like cross-genre books that straddle two or more of those categories. Recently I’ve also been reading a metric ton of manga, mostly shoujo (targeted at young girls) and josei (targeted at women). I’m kind of a manga noob, so I’ve been happily churning through all the classics, but I’ve already got a few series that I’ll wail over if they’re dropped. I’m into series like Wallflower, Crimson Hero, Skip Beat! and much more. Currently I’m mourning the unfair dearth of shoujo-style sports manga with female main characters.

When did you decide to start writing your own stories?

I’ve kind of always had little stories going in my head for my own entertainment. In high school I started putting them to paper, mostly so I could fix the details down in a way that would let me remember the coolest bits that I thought up.

And how long have you been a writer?

Since my early teens. That’s when I think I actually started writing things down and trying to make them make sense as a story. I still remember the first thing I seriously tried to write– it was a play based on Romeo and Juliet and set in an Igbo context. I had so much fun working on it and sharing it with my friends that I kept going. We never did perform that play, but I’ve been writing ever since.

How long did it take to write this particular story?

The first draft didn’t take more than a couple of days. The edits maybe took two or three more days, stretched over the months where I either forgot about the story or despaired of getting it to work how I wanted it to. I had a really tough time with the ending; it was pretty abrupt in my first draft, and finding a way to finish things off satisfyingly without explaining too much or leaving the reader hanging was difficult.

I thought it was unique the way you gave the characters numbers as names. What inspired that?

The title – that was the first bit that I wrote down, taken from a couple of numbers that my writing professor had mentioned in class. The whole idea behind the title was that the numbers referred to people, so that’s why the characters ended up having them as names in the story.

There is a notion that androids are metallic and mechanical. The ones in your story eat, drink and even wear clothes. They could be humans.

They actually sort of are humans, from my perspective. My thinking was that they were just very, very modified for the sake of their jobs, and that adding faster reflexes, highly changeable appearance and internal networking to someone wouldn’t change the essence of who they were. Or at least, wouldn’t change it very much.

The musician Janelle Monae is known for using the imagery of cyborgs and androids to explore the state of modern society. What are you trying to achieve? Do you these beings have anything to teach us? 

[Laughs] Not exactly. I simply find them very interesting to write about; there’s something about strong people struggling to break out of the mould or change their circumstances that really intrigues me as a writer. I think it’s the fact that the list of things they could do is longer and crazier than that of an average person; it’s fun for me to imagine that list and write scenarios from it.

You are a self published writer who has embraced e-publishing. Doesn’t the popularity of file sharing make copyright difficult to ensure?

Currently, I don’t worry about file sharing and piracy and all that. If I ever find myself in the situation where I’m not earning what I feel is enough from my work and that situation is directly attributable to random people illegally downloading my stories and nothing else, then there’ll be hell to pay and numerous lawsuits to file. For now, however, I think that making my stories available in convenient formats at a reasonable price is probably enough to keep things under control.

Some book lovers are strangers to sci-fi literature. What books or authors would you recommend to get them interested in the genre?

Generally, I’d recommend trying to find sci-fi that has themes they enjoy, for example, Military SF for people who like reading about wars and space operas for people who enjoy dramas. For specific recommendations, though, I’d probably fall back on these two authors: Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies and Tamura Yumi’s 7 seeds series, for an excellent apocalyptic survival story, mostly so that whoever’s reading these doesn’t forget that SF comes in a lot of mediums, manga included.

What next can we expect from you? How soon?

I’m currently working on my first novella, The Wrong Sort*, which one of my first readers classified as “romantic action”. It’s set in the future, and it’s about a woman dealing with the thorny police investigation of her employee, as well as her inappropriate feelings for the investigator in charge. I’m aiming to have it ready to publish sometime during April of this year.

Do you have any other creative pursuits?

I used to be really interested in singing, to the point that I entered in one or two vocal competitions in Nigeria, but all I ended up doing is singing a lot at home and buying way too much music. These days, I blog sporadically at flo.dreamwidth.org, and occasionally get to exercise the few Photoshop skills I picked up in college. I’m really proud that I managed to make the cover for Six and Fifty-four by myself, and I don’t doubt that the covers for most of my future works will start as a terrible mock-up on my computer even if I do end up paying someone with more experience to make them.

 

*Uche has kindly offered to send me a review copy of this book, so look out.