Thursday, June 30, 2011


I’ll start today’s post with Tolu again, but this time not because he asked me to. I sat beside him at the workshop today for the first time and it was really fun. We gisted quite a bit.

It wasn’t one of my best days today. First the workshop started late, and then Binyavanga just seemed to talk the day away. He’s a funny guy, and quite entertaining, but sometimes I’d find myself lost trying to trace the train of discussion that had brought us to a certain point. Tolu was quite helpful. When lunch time came it was a great relief for me. Just before lunch, Iheoma (a former workshop participant who’s on his way to great things and who Chimamanda is really impressed with) came in with Jide (another former workshop participant) and they were with us until the end, critiquing the assignments with Binyavanga.

After lunch assignments from some more of us were read. I didn’t read mine. I don’t think my piece covers the assignment well. Anyway…

Chimamanda came in towards the end. We took some pictures and she asked me about my work with Farafina. I followed the guys to the hotel where they were staying, and Tolu and I gisted some more on the bus.

I can’t believe tomorrow is the last day. Sob. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


I will start today’s post with our ‘class captain’, Tolu. He came to me today and said, “Six whole days and not even one mention on your blog.” Or something like that. So, Tolu, here’s to you. And thanks for reading.

We started today taking pictures as we waited for the session to start. Chimamanda came in and we talked—I mostly listened—until Binyavanga came.

How to describe Binyavanga. He’s so… jolly! I mean, like, incredibly. He has these sparkly, mischievous eyes, and he talks fast, like he can’t wait to get all those words out. He has a sense of humour and gisted us about Kenyan politics in the most colourful manner. He asked us to introduce ourselves and the introduction kept veering off into other subjects, like the origin of the Ebiras, like women who beat their men (lol), like how at writing workshops in Nigeria people tend to take critique less personal (I’d told him about my ‘Blame it on a Yellow Dress’ and how I no longer thought it was such a gem). That introduction went on for like an hour!

Binyavanga uses the ‘f’ word and says shit a lot. He puts us at ease and we laugh quite a bit. When he first walked in with his shaved head, I was like, “Oh, so from where did I get the impression that he wore his hair in dreadlocks? Was that someone else?” Then he told us the story of how he lost his hair.

Three stories, by Osemhen, Wame and Tahirah, were ‘workshopped’ today, and we got an assignment, which I am yet to do and which I'm not completely sure I understand. Tomorrow we continue with Binyavanga.

Funny, at my table today we discussed—among other things—shyness versus quietness, and who we thought was shy or not. Olumide, our ever cool lawyer, says he’s shy, and I say I think he’s just quiet. They all agree I’m not shy, which I think is a testimony as to how I’ve learnt to keep the shyness in check. I’m quite pleased.

And then Olumide says, “No, she’s not shy; she just thinks she’s better than everyone else.”

And I’m like no, I don’t! Gosh!

I hope I've not been going about rubbing people the wrong way. 

Better go do my assignment so I can have something to read tomorrow.   

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


We continued with Adewale Maja Pearse today. Oh, and I was able to complete my assignment. It was two paragraphs and about six lines long. We read out our assignments. Some were short and punchy, others made us go awwww (like mine). Many were funny, and others were kind of like rants (like Glory’s). But they were all fun.

There was a lady who came to watch today, and I sat next to her at lunch. I told her that when I first saw her she reminded me of myself. Tahirah thought so too. She looks much younger than her 24, she’s light skinned and soft spoken like me, and she seems to have that same inner smile going that I think (and have been told) I have. We chatted a bit.

After Mr. Maja Pearse was done, Chimamanda told us her publishing story. I learned two important things: persistence, educate yourself (and I’m not talking about classroom education here), and believe in yourself. Okay, that’s three. Her story helped me see, even though I’ve always known it, that stories like hers don’t happen by magic. It was the years she spent working, in obscurity, that have earned her the place she has now. Of course, that doesn’t mean she won’t have to work hard anymore, but you know what I mean.

Oh, I got my Half of a Yellow Sun signed today.

Tomorrow we will be having Binyavanga Wainaina teach us. Should be fun.      


Today we learnt about nonfiction from Adewale Maja Pearse. I dunno… didn’t find today quite as interesting as the other days. But I did get my Purple Hibiscus and The Thing around Your Neck signed by Chimamanda. Half of a Yellow Sun tomorrow. 

Oh, and we had a nice lunch.

Our writing assignment for today is to write about today at the workshop. I don’t feel very inspired on the subject. Hope I can get something done.

We finished early today, compared to the other days, and some of us went out for drinks. It was fun.

Monday, June 27, 2011


We started at 1 p.m. today and finished at about seven. As always, I had a blast, even though it was one of my more quiet days. Our workshop entries were ‘workshopped’ today, which basically means we were given hints and tips and suggestions on how to make those stories better.

Then we had a nice lunch.

And after that, we read our assignments from yesterday, the one that had to start with ‘my mother never…’ For me, so far, that was the toughest one to do, and I’m not really sure why since it allows for so much freedom. At first I thought I’d write something that was actually about my mother. But then I didn’t. For something that was so hard to write I think I did okay in the end.

I find it funny that these past days, with the workshop assignments, I’ve never gone to bed without doing them, even though I’m extremely tired at the end of every day. It just makes me think of how, before the workshop, I’d get home from work usually at past six, go through my routine and when it’s time to write I think, ‘I’m too tired’. If nothing else, this workshop has made me see that if I say I really want to write something every day, I can. Discipline is the word. I know external motivation has always seemed to work better for me, but seriously…

At the workshop today I thought it quite tragic that I could never capture everything. Many of the things that never find their way here are some of the most interesting things for me about this experience. Like how Elnathan does the best impressions ever and has everyone in stitches. Like how Gimba is sort of the one everybody likes to pick on, in a good natured way, because he says stuff like ‘linguistic playfulness’ and ‘mechanical sexiness’. Like how Morenike is so stylish and I want to be like her when I grow up, but I just don’t care enough. Like Chimamanda’s subtle sense of humour. Like how twenty writers would take the same assignment and build twenty different worlds out of it, each one distinct and unmistakable. These are some of the things I never want to forget.

It’s just day four, but I’m already thinking, I don’t want this to end.

Sunday, June 26, 2011


The session today ended really late today, even later than yesterday. I think we left around past seven. I was hoping Chimamanda wouldn’t give us a writing exercise for tomorrow. Tough luck. We’re to write a one page piece starting with the words ‘my mother never…’

Today was a good day. I got an applause for my dialogue exercise, and a book from Chimamanda too—Jumpha Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth. Wame also got a book. Our pieces were voted the favourites for today.

Six stories were ‘workshopped’ today, and the writers got some great tips on how to improve their pieces. My story is one of those that will be done tomorrow. Yes, we have a session tomorrow, Sunday, too. It starts at one.

More tomorrow.

Friday, June 24, 2011


I took a jacket with me today.

When I’d left the house I knew it would rain. Soon. All the way to V/I on the bike, even as the first tiny drops fell, all I kept saying in my head was, ‘rain cannot beat me today. Lord, please hold the rain.’ And He did. Barely minutes after I walked into the hall it really started to rain. It rained almost all day.

Anyway, the workshop.

Today was great. We got a stipend—something I think none of us had been expecting. Just being there was good enough. While I was settling in to finish the reading assignments before we started I kept hoping I would have enough energy to participate and enjoy myself today. I'd stayed up till about 2 a.m. doing the writing assignments. I would start writing a particular story, get about one quarter of the way and change my mind. I think I did this three times before I finally got it. The assignment was to write about an object, either using it as a sort of platform for time shifting in the story, or as the subject of the piece itself. I needn't have worried about energy, though: I was fine all day.

The reading of the assignments was really nice. That was the highlight of my day. Elnathan made an impression with his reading skills. I liked his story, but what I liked even more was the way he read it, complete with the South African accent. Osemhen’s story was really sweet and taught me something about the Ishan tradition. Apparently, whenever an Ishan child is born, wherever they may be, the placenta is cut off and taken to the child’s hometown and buried. On the spot where it’s buried, a tree is planted; orange for girl children, mango for boys. Interesting.

Pemi worked her flash fiction magic again. Amazing. Gboyega’s story made me laugh till I cried. It was about farts and a boy on a danfo bus. Hilarious. Some stories got an applause after they were read. Mine was one of those. I was really pleased. And Olumide and Chimamanda showed me some things I could do to make it even better. Chimamanda said she really liked it. I'm doing happy dance in my head.

Also had a nice lunch today.

The workshop ran really long today. We left some minutes after six. I got a ride to Ikoyi with Glory. Tomorrow we start at 12 noon because of environmental. We have nine pieces to read before tomorrow. One piece to write. As part of the activities for tomorrow we will be ‘workshopping’ the entries we sent in, or whatever alternatives we would prefer to use. The writing exercise is on dialogue, what I consider my Achilles heel as far as writing is concerned. Right now I have no clue what I shall write. Should be fun!

Oh, note to self: take a shawl tomorrow, even with the jacket. For your feet.    

Thursday, June 23, 2011


First, I have to warn that this post will be rambling. We’ve just finished the session for today and I’m pretty tired, but I’d said I’d blog about it every day for the duration of the workshop, and this is me doing that. And I have to do it quick so I can go do the reading and writing assignments. I’m not home yet cos I know if I go home I won’t get to do all I should before this day is over. So here goes.

Today was fun for me. I enjoyed every bit of the workshop—well, apart from the fact that I was freezing in there. Note to self: wear something warmer tomorrow.

Getting to the venue, I can’t really define my reaction cos I hadn’t known what to expect in the first place. Before the end of the day though, I’d gotten a bit familiar with the other participants there, and I can already pick out some interesting characters. It was nice meeting Pemi Aguda of the Afrosays fame. My first impression is of a quiet, unassuming person. But I think that a lot probably goes on inside her head, beneath the surface—I have read her work. And she’s an amazing writer, I must say. She writes the most incredible flash fiction pieces; and I think it’s a beautiful thing, that ability to pack so much into so few words.

There was also Elnathan John, the official class clown and all-round troublemaker (and I say this with love, Elnathan, just in case you ever read this). What I like about Elnathan, apart from his sense of humour, is his eloquence. He says some really deep stuff, and he does this so effortlessly. I might write some deep stuff, but anyone that knows me knows that expressing myself through the spoken word is not my strong suit. And then there was Onyebuchi. I like her. She seems fun and bubbly. And she likes to have her picture taken. There was Gimba, who likes “linguistic playfulness”, and thinks that simplicity in writing is overrated. We all had a good time poking fun at him, but he’s entitled to his opinions. There was Laurie from Botswana, and from some of the exercises we did today, I can tell she writes beautifully. There was Gboyega, and he strikes me as someone who’s quietly confident. There was Chinyere, the mom and banker who wakes up every morning at two a.m. to write. I want to be like her when I grow up. Talk about dedication! There was Gloria Edozien, who writes for Bella Naija. I’ve read her work on the site, so I wasn’t surprised she did so well today. There was the “Uncle” of the class (Mr. Emezuom), the oldest one among us, who became the inspiration for Onyebuchi’s piece for one of the writing assignments.

And hey, there was Chimamanda, who I’m meeting for the first time. She has such insight into the writing process, and she’s a discerning reader too. How does one ever get to be (or become?) that way? And she’s really pretty too. I shall get a picture taken with her before this workshop is over.  

Okay, now to the activities. We did quite some reading, eight pieces in all and of varying lengths, and we have more to read in preparation for tomorrow. We discussed the pieces and what we liked or didn’t like; what worked or didn’t work for us, and we just basically shared our opinions on stuff. We did two assignments in class; one was to describe the room we were in, and the other was to write something on beauty without using the word ‘beauty’ or any of its synonyms.

We had a nice buffet-style lunch, and good conversation to go with it.

There’s a lot that happened that I won’t get to put on here cos I’m pretty tired and need to get started on the assignments. But I had a great time and have learnt quite a lot already.

Day two, here I come.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Good news. I got accepted to attend the Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop. I'm really excited (I will get to meet Chimamanda! Yay!), especially since I wasn't able to attend either of the last two sessions - even though I was accepted - because I was doing my youth service in Onitsha and I couldn't make the trip to Lagos.

It will be a wonderful experience and I'm looking forward to it. The workshop runs from 23 June to 2 July, and I shall be blogging about my experiences - daily, if possible. Enjoy. I know I will.

Thursday, June 9, 2011


Image from here 

I was thinking of what I could share today, and I remembered this writing newsletter I subscribe to. I thought I'd share Daphne Gray Grant's seven steps to becoming a better blogger. I found it quite useful, though I'm not quite there yet. Oh well, baby steps. 

1) Post regularly. Some people say you need to post three times a week, others say daily. My original plan for my blog was to start posting five days a week. I've changed my mind since becoming an RSS-feed reader. (If you have no idea how to use an RSS-feed reader, be sure to check out this wonderful video-based tutorial by Colleen Wainwright.) I'm easily overwhelmed and I've unsubscribed from several bloggers who publish good information—just too much of it! As well, I'm mindful that it's better to start small and work your way up rather than start big and end with a whimper. My plan is to start by posting twice a week. I think once a week is the bare minimum. 
[Me I know I'm guilty of this one. My plan was to post once a week at the very least. Sigh. I think part of the reason is that I'm not writing as much as I should be. I shall do better!]

Be brief. There is more information than there is time to read it. I have little time for bloggers who regularly go beyond 750 words (especially if they do it five days a week). Have they not heard of editing, I ask? More often, I think, bloggers should aim for a concise 350-500 words with an occasional foray into the land of 750. Better to push readers away from the table when they still want more rather than forcing them to be uncomfortably full.
[Hmmm. Some of my posts are over 750 words. But those are just the fiction posts, I promise.]

Have a point. Too many bloggers ramble on about nothing of import. Remember, your blog should have a purpose and each entry should support it. If only your friends and your mother are interested, you have a problem.
[This blog doesn't necessarily have one point, but I believe every post does have a point.]

Tell stories. When you read my newsletter you typically get lots of information about my husband, my kids and thinly veiled accounts of my clients. I'm not saying I'm fascinating. But I do know some people who are and I hope they help make my columns more interesting. Stories have a natural beginning, middle and ending—and they're designed so that listeners are eager to know what happens next. You can harness that enthusiasm to help impel readers through your writing.
[I concur, he he.]

Add a photo to each post. I know, this isn't a writing tip—it's a bit of graphic advice. But photos grab the eye, create mood and provide some relief from all the black bits of type floating on the page. Use Flickr to get some photos for yourself at no charge. (Just be sure to attribute the photographer.)
[Okay, this sure makes sense. I plead guilty to using some photos without attributing to the photographer. Bad Uche!]

Make your entry scannable. It's often been said that people don't READ the Internet; they scan it. You can make your blog more interesting and more engaging to readers with some boldface type, sub-headlines and by adding numbered lists (as I have in this newsletter) or bullets. Visual tricks aren't just for amusement—they work!

7) Put a darn good headline on the sucker. Headlines are almost always written last, usually in a hurry. Doesn't it seem strange to you that a blogger might spend 45 minutes or longer labouring over an entry and then devote only 15 seconds to dashing off a headline? It seems nonsensical to me (and yet I'm sometimes guilty of doing exactly that.) Be aware that a good headline might not only persuade someone to read your blog entry—a bad one can also convince them to ignore it. Ensure you headline says what the article is about (don't try to be too cute or coy) and try to work in a verb.  
[Sound advice. I think some of my headlines could use a little pizzaz.]

Finally, (let's call this the bonus tip), read lots of blogs and find one you really like. Then imitate the heck out of it! Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

-  Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and editing coach and the author of the popular book, 8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better. She offers a brief and free weekly newsletter on her website. Subscribe by going to the Publication Coach.