Interview: Tony Nwaka, Author of Mountain of Yesterday

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Ahead of the release of the SMASHWORDS EDITION of his latest novel, Mountain of Yesterday, TONY NWAKA shares with New Books Nigeria about his brand new release. TONY NWAKA is also the author of Lords of the Creek.


Two-time author, Tony Nwaka

NEW BOOKS NIGERIA:

In your first novel, Lords of the Creek, we’re in the creeks of the Niger-Delta where kidnapping holds sway, and in your just-out novel, Mountain of Yesterday, Amina and Udoka are fleeing the volatile northern city of Maiduguri in the aftermath of a religious riot. You seem to tend towards using a socio-political backdrop for your stories as a sort of commentary, do you consider this a calling for you as a writer?

TONY NWAKA:

Well, writers are naturally disposed to source the ingredients for their creations from the socio-political realities of societies. In my case, I believe that my training as a conflict historian may have influenced the urge to draw from the dynamics of the two major security challenges of contemporary Nigeria; the militancy and inter-ethnic distrust in the oil rich Niger Delta and, of course, the devastation occasioned by fundamentalist Islamism in the North of the country. But, that is not to infer that such perspective would permanently constitute the cornerstone of my writings. Certainly, some of my subsequent works would deviate to something less conflictual in complexion.

NEW BOOKS NIGERIA:

Mountain of Yesterday is set in various parts of Nigeria, and your characters speak a few Nigerian languages, was this a conscious effort to write your story more Nigerian or what is behind that?

TONY NWAKA:

I think this could be attributed to the cumulative effect of my varied inter-regional experiences. I was born and raised in the Ibo-speaking part of Delta State, which has strong cultural affinity with the east. I had my higher education at the University of Lagos, and also worked for a while in the city. And, of course, I did my National Youth Service in Katsina State, in the north of the country. So, there naturally would be the tendency to locate a tinge of nationalistic fervor in my creations.

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NEW BOOKS NIGERIA:

For a writer, often, there are a few stories knocking around in your head at a time, begging to be told, why did you feel you had to tell this story?

 

TONY NWAKA:

I believe it’s contemporaneous to the times. I honestly had thought that certain societal prejudices against women were things of the past. But recent experiences tend to speak to the contrary. So, in writing Mountain of Yesterday, I felt a compelling need to highlight some of these social contradictions, with a view to permanently exterminating the insidious cultural inhibitions.

NEW BOOKS NIGERIA:

Interestingly, you tell this story from three narrative points of view, why did you elect to do this?

TONY NWAKA:

If you take a deeper look at the architecture of the work you will observe a triangular dimension to its construction. The drift of the story takes off from Maiduguri in the northern peak of the country and on to Uboh at the eastern flank; then from there to Lagos on the western axis; and, for Dr. Usman, this journey takes him back to Maiduguri. So, beyond the need to keep the POV consistent with the narration, the triple points of view are in furtherance of the harmony with the golden triangle, which underpins the totality of the story.

NEW BOOKS NIGERIA:

Told in this way, Amina survives in a real and literary sense, doesn’t she?

TONY NWAKA:

Yes, she does—which obviously underscores the centrality of her character in the story.

NEW BOOKS NIGERIA:

If Amina were sitting across from you right now, what would she say to you?

 

TONY NWAKA:

I believe she would say, “Thank you for getting the world to see the trials, tribulations and triumphs of women in some African societies.”

 

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NEW BOOKS NIGERIA:

I have to say you did a good job writing the opposite sex in Mountain of Yesterday, but do you struggle with this or does it come easily to you?

 

TONY NWAKA:

Hmmmm . . . thank you. That seems to presuppose I should consider writing in the genre of romance. But back to your question, seriously, I think it comes off easily. Probably because I grew up in the midst of my three elder sisters and, also, I have three lovely daughters I am currently raising. Then, of course, having been in marriage for about two decades, it should be given that one would be fairly acquainted with the basic elements of feminine psychology. Or, possibly, I am romantic by nature.

 

NEW BOOKS NIGERIA:

So, how much of your characterization comes from real life? For instance, is Mr. Ibeto based on someone you know?

 

TONY NWAKA:

Yes, quite a lot comes from real life experiences. Some personal, but mostly the accounts of friends and relatives. Mr. Ibeto simply symbolizes the fickleness of the numerous praise-singers who prowl the corridors of power, across the Nigerian political landscape.

 

NEW BOOKS NIGERIA:

I have to ask, which character from this book is most like you?

 

TONY NWAKA:

Well, I’ll say that elements of my personae tend to inhabit quite a number of the characters. But it would appear to have found greater expression in Chief Abala. His temperance and sense of moderation are attributes that would naturally define my personage.

 

NEW BOOKS NIGERIA:

What chapter of Mountain of Yesterday was the toughest to write and why?

 

TONY NWAKA:

The first chapter, without a doubt. I kept writing and re-writing the beginning of the story in an attempt to strike a balance between introduction and acceleration. But the moment I crossed that hurdle, the pace acquired a traction of its own.

 

NEW BOOKS NIGERIA:

What is your writing process like?

TONY NWAKA:

I do most of my writing on my laptop. Though, flashes of thought and the few things I observe on the go are usually noted on my smartphone. Generally, I sit to write when I am inspired to so do. I’m really not the type that sets out a time table for writing. I could write for three hours today and thirty minutes tomorrow. I could be intensely engaged, writing all through the week, and completely be off it the following two weeks. I guess we all have different ways of  giving expression to our craft.

NEW BOOKS NIGERIA:

Is ‘writer’s block’ fact or fiction to you?

 

TONY NWAKA:

I think it’s real. Sometimes the mind simply appears vacuous, completely devoid of creative exertions.

NEW BOOKS NIGERIA:

How long did it take you to write Mountain of Yesterday?

TONY NWAKA:

About a year and half.

NEW BOOKS NIGERIA:

Winding down, do you have any celebrated author in your phone contact, and would they pick up your call if you rang them right now?

TONY NWAKA:

O sure, Eghosa Imasuen, author of Fine Boys. He provided very helpful literature on the craft of creative writing. Equally supportive have been Professor Nduka Otiono and Professor Samuel Aghalino; renowned writers in their own rights.

 

NEW BOOKS NIGERIA:

You seem to have figured a lot of this writing thing out yourself, what advice would you give to aspiring authors?

TONY NWAKA:

To simply say that nothing is impossible. You’ll achieve it if you put your mind to it. I did not start writing imaginative literature until I was 50 years old. My first publication, Lords of the Creek, was done just two years ago.

NEW BOOKS NIGERIA:

A little trivia, do you roll up your sleeves to eat eba or do you use cutlery?

 

TONY NWAKA:

[Laughter] O dear, what a question! Of course, I roll up the sleeves. But in a public gathering of men of eminence, we all resort to the cutlery, in collective pretense of assimilated Western values.

 

NEW BOOKS NIGERIA:

What can we expect from you next?

 

TONY NWAKA:

A possible sequel to Lords of the Creek. But that’s not cast in stone yet. The drift of cerebral exercise could take me a different direction.

 

NEW BOOKS NIGERIA:

Which is the oldest book on your bookshelf?

 

TONY NWAKA:

My Bible.

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Tony Nwaka showing the next generation the way

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You can read nearly 50 free sample pages of the Smashwords Edition of Mountain of Yesterday and pre-order the book at a 50% discount using this code at checkout: “HL35L”

[Offer expires on March 19, 2017]

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