Eghosa Imasuen, author and co-founder of Narrative Landscape Press, interviews ENENAITE BLESSING about his career, challenges and other issues
To tell about tell us about your background
I am a doctor, author and editor. I was born in Ibadan, Oyo State in 1976. My mother was a pharmacologist; she graduated from the University of Ibadan, Oyo State, but later studied law at the University of Benin, Edo State. She retired as Chief Magistrate of the Delta State Judiciary in 2010. My father was an engineer with Shell Petroleum Development Company before starting his own business. He died in 2018.
What influenced your decision to be an author and editor?
To be honest, I don’t have a deep answer to this. I loved to write and I found out I wasn’t great at it. Over time, I found myself running the publishing house that published my books. I wasn’t bad either. Then me and a close friend, Anwuli Ojogwu, founded Narrative Landscape Press in 2016.
What challenges do you face as an author and publisher?
As an author, (finding) the time to write is a challenge for me. As a publisher, my challenge is Nigeria. Everything can be summed up in this word. Our home country demands a lot of its citizens and everyone finds themselves focusing on survival rather than prosperity.
Would you say that “Fine Boys” is your most remarkable work as an author? What did you need to write the book?
“Fine Boys” is my most satisfying work to write so far. It didn’t take much for me because his characters lived a life that I had lived. I think what it gave me was the satisfaction of seeing these characters talking while my friends and I were talking. I also saw that these lives were now important enough to be in a book.
What other books have you written and how would you describe their reception so far?
I have only written two books. “To Saint Patrick”, my first novel, was an alternate history novel with a plot going back to the Nigerian Civil War. ‘Fine Boys’ was my second book. I will say that they were well received.
It has been said that e-books are taking over hard copies. Do you believe in this concept?
It’s one of those things people say. Things rarely take over older things. Instead, after the initial gragra (hype), every new thing finds its place in the air. We see it with the history of cinema, television and radio. Television has been the great disruptor. It would overcome and replace cinema at the multiplex and radio at home. But that’s not what happened. Instead, radio has moved to the car and prime time has moved to the commute to work and the commute to home, and the cinema has increased audience appreciation and the morning of the weekend was born as a special event. We will see the same with eBooks. They seem to serve as advertisements for the printed book. I know people who, after seeing a book for the first time in their tablets and Kindle readers, buy the book in print so they can feel like they actually own the book. One will not replace the other. This will only add to the reader’s choices and experience.
It has been said that Nigerians do not read. Therefore, selling books is not so profitable if the author is not popular. What do you have to say about this?
People don’t read as much as we would like. It is a losing battle. But we write anyway, because our audience is there. It is for them that we write and publish. They are enough to satisfy us.
Do you think the government has a role to play in encouraging the habit of reading among citizens?
I do not think so.
Materials for editing are quite expensive. How can the government help in this regard?
The government can help by coming off. When a government tinkers too much, it hinders more than it helps.
How would you describe your relationship with the other authors?
It is the same as my relationship with others. It’s warm and friendly.
How do you manage Farafina and Narrative Landscape Press?
I couldn’t manage both at the same time. I joined Kachifo Limited, publisher of book publisher Farafina in August 2013 as Chief Operating Officer. It required a steep learning curve. I already had some corporate experience, but editing is a whole other aspect. I learned what I had to do and ran the business for three years until I left to co-found Narrative Landscape Press with my friend, Anwuli Ojogwu.
Your publishing house is known for printing the Nigerian version of Chimamanda Adichie novels. How would you describe your relationship with her?
I consider Chimamanda Adichie as a friend. Now that she is also an author (whose books are) published by my company, we have a professional working relationship. It’s a good experience.
Do you think authors are duly rewarded and recognized for their work?
The satisfaction an author derives and the reward he seeks is to have his work read and loved by readers. Now I’m on both sides of this conversation, as a writer and an editor. I can tell you that it is never enough. The pay can always be better. However, recognition is relative.
Most authors use their works to talk about the evils of society. Would you say this is your case?
Most authors? I don’t think that’s right. I think that after we write and we are asked why we wrote such and such a story, we arrive at answers that journalists want to hear: “It was about such and such a social issue or such and such a question “. The reason we write is that we cannot not write (we cannot say that we do not want to write). Society is full of evils, so it’s a nice coincidence that when we write, there are subjects ready. Even in a utopia, writers will write. It is important. Agenda-driven work tends to be bad if it’s not backed by genuine interest and talent. If a writer offers me work for publication and leads with the agenda or “societal evil” they are trying to engage with, I begin to fear the quality of the work. However, if they lead with the people, the characters, the conflicts, the theme and the other elements of the fiction, I hope the work in question will be worth considering.
How do you find inspiration for your work?
I do not know. Maybe because of dreams, a stranger’s smile, daydreaming during a car ride to work, or other things. I cannot answer the question.
Do you encounter writer’s block and how do you deal with it?
Writer’s block is not what most people think. (The question should be) do I procrastinate? Am I lazy? Am I afraid of the work I’ve given myself while planning the book I’m writing? A writers block for me is all of those things. You can deal with it by sitting down to write. It can be horrible and it can be bad, but you can’t edit a blank page. You have to put it on paper and worry about its quality later.
How do you think Nigeria can defeat book piracy?
Nigeria can begin to defeat book piracy by ensuring that piracy is painful for pirates. Currently, intellectual property theft is viewed as a victimless crime. There is no such thing as a fake book. Unlike fake foods and fake drugs, a fake book will not harm its consumer. Therefore, consumers are not allies in this particular situation and efforts to educate and educate our consumers, or readers and listeners, will not work. They just want the cheapest version of our work. The target here is hackers. We need to direct their capital to more appropriate outlets, much like what happened with the music and producers in Alaba Market. The vast amount of capital that was out there chasing pirated CDs eventually found its way into marketing deals with the genuine singers and producers.
As for how it will work for books, we will say that Ajegunle Book Market is our analogue of Alaba Electronics Market. Ours is still a vibrant cesspool of pirated titles. Most pirated books are imported and pass through ports. Although the Nigerian Copyright Commission has made it harder for pirated books to enter the country, they still do. Enforcers, criminals, and readers all have a deep feeling that no one is really harmed by the hack. They are right in a way. No one is harmed despite the pain of seeing their work for sale in circulation and knowing that it is a fake copy. Nevertheless, the economy and innovation suffer. New ideas are stifled. This is where the fight is. Hacking should be made painful and capital should be forced into the proper channels.
If the merchants of Ajegunle knew how easy it would be for them to obtain the rights to print their versions and editions of our books, compared to the time spent in jail for stealing from us, their money would follow the path of the lesser resistance and we would sign agreements with these people.
The paper industry in Nigeria is struggling due to the non-functional status of the country’s three paper mills. How did you manage to manage this? Are you heavily dependent on imports?
We print most of our books overseas. It is a losing battle. It is cheaper to print in South Asia. Things like the state of the paper industry and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Florence Agreement of 1950 and its Nairobi Protocols of 1976 combined to do so.
How can authors contribute to nation building?
Authors can contribute to nation building by creating and becoming an industry. Also, by becoming the conscience and the mirror of their societies.
What advice do you have for budding writers?
I would advise them to read.
What are your memorable moments as an author and editor?
The day I saw my first book in print in 2008 was memorable for me.
What are your hobbies?
My hobbies are swimming and video games.
How do you like to dress?
I like to dress smart and casual, whether African or Western.