Julius Bokoru, a writer and Media Assistant to Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva, tells AWAAL GATA how he started writing, among others
“The Angel That Was Always There” was selected for the Nigerian Writers Series; did the scheme give the novel the wings you wanted?
Upon writing “The Angel That Was Always There”, I didn’t initially nurse very high hopes because the manuscript, at the time, was my strategy towards beating a writers block. I had just been accepted at the Ebedi International Writers Residency and I was supposed to finish my poetry collection there. The words weren’t coming, and I decided to do something else. That something else became the book thanks also to my Ebedi flatmate, Khalid Imam who encouraged me all the way through. The book has been a success, but by its own merit. The Nigerian Writers Series scheme apparently became a failure because the then president of ANA, Mr Denja Abdullahi, didn’t believe in the scheme. He was very lackadaisical during and after the production period.
How did you become a writer? What gave you the spur?
My mother’s passing in 2004 gave me the spur to want to write. It was too big a tragedy and I needed to engineer emotional outlets. Poetry came first, it was shorter to create, gave more room for emotions. They weren’t particularly good poems then, of course, but fundamentally those early poems set me on course for a life that seems to now be revolving around writing
So far, would you say what you projected when you started has been achieved?
I haven’t written as much as I would like. These days I am in politics, business and a few other things. Writing requires too much of our time. Still, for the writings I have done, I look at them and think the books I have read over the years were for something. I haven’t done very badly, honestly, I think so.
Would you say politics and business are impeding on your literary sinew?
My (literary) writing seems to be on a pause. They haven’t defeated the writer in me, not even close. But I think politics clearly took its toll on my writing. This year, I began my next book. And I would consider that my reentry into creative writing.
How are you going to combine writing the book and politics?
There will always be spare times. The greatest challenge would be being concentrated enough. I’m still working around uncluttering my mind as best as I can. I will find a middle ground eventually.
What sort of reader were you while growing up? Can you recall the books that influenced you?
I was a heavy reader. I liked books that explored the geography of the world, initially. I guess I wanted to know how big the world was. I read a lot of fantasy, history and books that promotes nationalism in nations. Some of the books that shaped me are Walter Dean Meyer’s “Fallen Angels”; everything George Orwell has written, “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding and Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird.”
Are you at home with Nigerian literary landscape? Would you have fared better in another clime?
Nigerian literary landscape is about literary gangs these days. There seems to be the Lagos gang, the Abuja gang, the Ibadan gang, the Minna gang and a gang of young poets who hustle with LGBTQ as capital. I am not exactly at home. There is a lot of plasticity, superficialness about it all. Writers shouldn’t be ganging up, especially to undo other groups or other writers. Talking of other climes? Well, I don’t know. These days even in those so called saner climes, the more you tilt to the far left and that reflects in your writings and beliefs the better you are accepted. It leaves me worried. This comes at great costs. Writers who are good, who are on the conservative side are sacrificed for liberal mediocres. I hold very strong views. Views that are now taboo to the literary intelligentsia of the world, I really don’t know how I would fare anywhere anymore.
How should the landscape ideally look like?
It should be a spontaneous landscape.
Can you elaborate, please ?
Writers should be busy writing and imagining, not forming blocs, gangs and circles that aims purely at unnatural dominance. The landscape should just happen as writing happens. The landscape should not be created or engineered. It should just happen. I feel these deep rooted literary gangs are somehow shifting the definition of what good literature is.
Now you are in the realm of politics. Writers are progressive idealogue; how is this affecting your politics ?
It does very greatly. Apart from the fact it doesn’t give you enough time and that it mentally exhausts you, it also locks you in an ideological box. Writers always have bits of rebellion within them, and sometimes that rebelliousness is part of the muse. Being in politics you dont enjoy all that. You are measured, tailored and you find yourself always struggling to fall in line ideologically. At this point the writing can get a bit mechanical and people may see through your intellectual insincerity.
What challenges do you face as a writer?
My first challenge is time. The other challenge, which is closely related, is focus. In my library I have piles of half, unfinished works. That is a personal flaw, I must admit. There’s also the problem of editors. I am not very certain at the moment we have many competent editors just as we have no real literary critics. There is also the demoralising imagination that we may not have so much (literature) readers in the country and every writer, above all else, simply wants to be read.
It is part of our narcissism. I cannot think of other challenges. One could think a writer’s first challenge should be lack of publishing prospects; I have divorced myself of that thought long ago. Getting published, getting traditionally published cannot be a problem for a writer that knows what he or she is doing. Things haven’t gotten that bad yet.