AS is a client who has become my friend. She is based outside Nigeria. On one of my visits to her country of residence, she decided to give her lawyer a treat. Don’t worry, this piece is not about lawyer-client relationship. The treat was to take me out to dinner in one of the finest restaurants in town. There is nothing in the RPC against that. RPC, by the way, is Rules of Professional Conduct for Lawyers.
I listened absentmindedly as AS began to reel off the names of the restaurants along with their star ratings. There was nothing like Amala Iya Oyo or Calabar Kitchen on the list. I lost interest. Suddenly I became attentive when she mentioned the name Shakespeare.
“Of course, it is a restaurant!” She responded. Perhaps sensing my unintended disappointment, she quickly went on: “Ha! Lawyer and books! Let’s eat first and I will take you book shopping.”
That’s how I found myself in one of the biggest bookshops I have ever seen. Now, I want you to close you eyes for a moment and imagine a place like a quarter of Ikeja City Mall. You have done that? Now imagine the place full of books on every imaginable subject. Yes, that’s where I was taken to by AS.
The books were arranged from floor to ceiling, and from wall to wall. I knew I was not going to leave the place anytime soon. AS was equally at home. We separated as each of us went in search of our preferred choices. There were seats for you to recline on and browse the books in case you needed to take a break from standing at the shelves. There were assistants to help you locate a book or answer your queries. There was even free coffee to stimulate you.
There was this book I had read about thirty years ago. Yes, I read The Hound of Death by Agatha Christie in 1987/88. It is a collection of twelve chilling mysteries. I was particularly fascinated by two of the stories; The Fourth Man – a story about dual personality; and the lead story, The Hound of Death – a strange story about invocation of supernatural powers. I have searched for the book since the early ‘90s without success. You can therefore imagine my indescribable joy when I saw the book in the bookshop, as if it was placed there just for me.
Last week, I saw a picture on Lukman Olaonipekun’s IG page. In case you didn’t know, Lukman [popularly called Lukesh] is one of the leading documentary photographers in Nigeria. The picture was that of the Emir of Kano, His Highness Alhaji Sanusi Lamido Sanusi and the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, His Excellency, Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN. The picture was taken, I assumed, in the Emir’s Library in Kano.
The intense pleasure I derived from just looking at the well-arranged books was beyond what words could describe. I imagined being locked up in the library for weeks. I had actually slept in a library before. It was in my Egbon, Steve Ibitola’s office in Port Harcourt during my service year. He had left me in the office and went home. When the staff didn’t see his car in the parking lot at the close of work, it was assumed that he had closed for the day. They locked up and left. And all the time, I was in the library! I had to wear his shirt, and wig and gown to appear at the High Court in Obiakpor the following day.
Back to the Emir’s Library. I know His Highness is brilliant, intelligent, and articulate. I also know that SLS used to love bow ties. By the way, what happened to His Highness’ rich collection of bow ties? Now, through the lens of Lukesh, we have been given a rare peep into the other side of Emir’s life as a scholar and a lover of books. Adenike Giwa, my big sister, was there when the picture was taken. She told me that the photograph didn’t do justice to the Emir’s collection. According to her, all of them were impressed by the massive collection. I opened my mouth yakata when Lukesh was telling me about his experience.
This now takes me to the mail I received two weeks ago from a young man who wanted to know how to write like Onigegewura. I get mails regularly from readers who are interested in developing their writing skills. This particular young man was very passionate and his passion was apparent from our exchange.
To start with, I belong to the school of thought that believes that you can learn to be a writer. To some, writing may be an innate talent. But many of the successful writers you see around actually developed their writing skill along the line.
So to my young man, I believe the starting point in your quest to become a good writer is to first become a good reader. What are you reading at the moment? When was the last time you bought or borrowed a book to read? When was your last visit to a library? In my introductory Information Processing class, I came across GIGO – Garbage In, Garbage Out. I think the same thing applies to writing. When you read great stuff, you are likely to write great stuff.
I know of the challenges of the modern day social media assault on reading culture. Many of my readers have told me that ordinarily they don’t read anything more than three short Twitter paragraphs. I therefore consider it a privilege, and a very big privilege at that, that Onigegewura is succeeding to arrest people’s reading attention.
You may ask why reading is important to writing. Of course you know that writing is about perspective. Every writer writes from his own perspective. That’s why Soyinka’s Abiku is proud and condescending, and JP Clark’s Abiku is not. So by reading widely, you gain insights into different perspectives and cultures.
For me, nothing excites me like a great expression. Let’s look at this: “But Al-Khafji stood deserted – a peppering of empty, angular buildings and forlornly looping power lines on the salt flats of the Gulf Coast.” Look at that! A peppering of empty, angular buildings! Such a vivid description! By the way, that’s from Robert Lacey’s book, Inside the Kingdom.
Or this one from Bolaji Abdullahi’s new book, On A Platter of Gold; “The harmattan fog descended heavily into Eagle Square, thick as the conspiracies that ruled the night. Otherwise blinding lights of the early evening now wore a pale fuzziness that transformed everything to a ghostly negative pictures.” Ghostly negative pictures! My generation grew up before digital camera. We know how ghostly negative pictures were. What a fantastic way to describe the surreal atmosphere.
As you are already aware from my writing, I don’t like ‘big’ words. That’s one of the things I learnt from HAG [Ade Ipaye]. His briefs are always couched in simple but effective words. “Your words must come to you naturally. Dictionary is to confirm the meaning and the spelling.” From HAG, I also learnt not to make assumption about my readers. “Judges are human beings. They are learned but don’t assume that they know everything. They are usually grateful for every assistance they can get from counsel.”
What about inspiration? Inspiration is good. And it’s great when you are writing when you are inspired. However I have come to discover that sometimes inspiration may miss its flight or its flight might be delayed. What do I do? I start writing all the same. And you know what, sooner than later, inspiration usually catches up with me. My advice: Don’t wait for inspiration. Write.
What do you read? This is a good question. And my answer is read everything, to start with. In the beginning, be eclectic in your reading. Read everything you come across. Phlilosophy, religion, sciences, arts, photography, comedy, in fact everything. As you move on, you may then begin to be selective. You learn different things from different books.
Yoruba books top the list for me, anytime. From D. O. Fagunwa to J. F. Odunjo, from Oladejo Okediji to Akinwunmi Isola, from Delano to Afolabi Olambitan, from Kola Akinlade to Adebayo Faleti, in fact everything written in Yoruba. The gentleman who borrowed my Oladejo Okediji’s Binu ti ri, this is your final pre-action notice. It's not a gift. Please return it. The book is out of print.
Every Monday, I read Akede Agbaye and Alariya Oodua. Alaroye comes out on Tuesday. I must also include Nollywood movies. Most of the proverbs I used in King Sunny Ade and Abioro’s story were from one of Saidi Balogun’s movies. Yes! I bet you didn’t know that. Hausa and Igbo movies are very good sources of proverbs. Of course, Reginald Udom (Partner in Aluko & Oyebode) is my Igbo teacher. The Hausa proverbs are usually from Rafindadi Muhammed (Partner, Madyan Legal Consult).
Autobiography is also very good. Mind you, I said autobiography and not biography. Most of the biographies published in this part of the world, and I apologise if you are offended, are hagiographical. They are written to pander to the whims of their subjects. Even the titles are usually a turn-off. You see words like “Icon of ABC”, “Quintessential Statesman,” “Pillar of AXY”, etc. But I read them all the same. You don’t know where you are going to strike your next oil.
Finally, there is something very important you need to do if you want to become a writer. You have to WRITE! Yes, that’s very important. You have to develop a passion for writing. If you know Raphael James [I have written about him on this blog], you will see that he is an extremely passionate writer.
Writing is a skill and to become skilled in writing you have to write regularly. Adunni Phoenix is my aburo and friend. She is a fantastic writer. According to her, she writes everyday. Please check out her Facebook page for a stimulating dose of her writing.
It doesn’t matter whether what you write is publishable or not. Just write regularly. Write. Write. Write. Write and Write!
And before you know it, you have become a writer.
I wish you all the best.
Many thanks to Lukesh Photography for the photographs. In the event you decide to download the pictures, please indicate Lukesh Photography as your source.