Few humorous books come out of Africa
New Delhi: Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, winner of the Commonwealth Writers Prize 2010 for the best first book in the Africa region, says she has fulfilled her dream of "writing the kind of humorous book that I have always wanted to as a child".
"As a child, I read British comedies by P.G. Wodehouse and other humorous writers and always dreamt of writing funny novels I loved reading," said the Nigeria-based writer who has made waves with her novel, "I Do Not Come to You By Chance".
"As I wanted to write about e-mail scams - I guess the easiest style to adopt without being too incisive was humour. It came easily. In fact, I wrote so many humorous scenes that the publishers had to slash it," Adaobi told reporters in an interview in the capital.
"Very few humorous books come out of Africa and the few that I have read have been published from South Africa. Our well-known writers in Africa are not humorous at all. I think anything that I write in future will be humorous."
Her book is set in the adventurous world of Nigerian e-mail scams. It narrates the story of young educated "unemployed man" Kingsley who turns to Uncle Boniface aka Cash Daddy for help. Cash Daddy is a mastermind of e-mail cash scams and Kingsley realises that "to balance passion for knowledge and hunger for money, one had to give in".
The book, written in the classical style of British rib-ticklers, also probes the minds of people in Nigeria who are on the other side of the law.
"I was 16 at the time and was studying at the University of Ibadan (in Nigeria). Once when I went home to Enugu I visited a house from where the envelopes (fake letters of assurances for money) were going out. That was before the e-mails were sent to prospective "victims"," she said.
"I asked a lot of questions to a man who was a scamster. He said it did not yield much money. And I wanted to write a story about their lives. Most young authors are writing about contemporary Africa."
Adaobi, a graduate of psychology from the University of Ibadan, made her first money by winning a writing competition at the age of 13.
Asked how she managed to hone her English despite hailing from an interior area of Nigeria, she said: "In my family, my parents spoke English and Igbo - the local tongue. They spoke English because I suspect they did not want to influence my English.
"I also learnt English in school, along with Igbo. Later, I read African literature in English. It grounded me in the language."
Adaobi points out that the most popular books on Africa have been "written by those living outside. Several authors in Nigeria are self-publishing their books. Nobody knows about them outside Nigeria. The publishing units are short of money.
"Only a handful of publishers - I know of only two - who commission writers. My publishing house, the Cassava Republic, is one of them. Most of the well-known Nigerian writers are on their list. One of my dreams is to own a small publishing house that will encourage new Nigerian authors to write."
Adaobi explained how she got her own book published.
"After writing my book, I scouted for an agent online and roped in one. His name was Daniel Lazar - he was a reputed agent who had also sold Commonwealth winner Marie Heese`s book. Lazar is an amazing man - he is very young, dynamic, accountable and takes care of every problem. Though I had submitted my manuscript to Cassava earlier, I went through Lazar after signing him on.
"I was the first Nigerian author to manage a deal within Nigeria."