* ‘Children’s writing is potential growth area for creative writing in Nigeria’
* ‘Short texts, books that have exciting pictures, and graphic novels excite children’
By Godwin Okondo
THE Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Lagos Chapter, held its 2021 yearly Convention/Colloquium on Friday, December 10, at Julius Berger Hall, University of Lagos. It featured a workshop session on ways to appealing books for children and promote them in Nigeria and had panelists from the Network of Book Clubs and Reading Promoters in Nigeria (NBRP), with the theme ‘The Throes of a Nation: Arts and the Pursuit of Relevance.”
The event featured literary activists such as the Chairman of Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Lagos, Mr. Ifeanyichukwu Avajah and the President of Network of Book Clubs and Reading Promoters in Nigeria (NBRP), Mr. Richard Mammah. The panelists for the session were the founder of Readland Leadership Children’s Centre and author of ‘Risi Recycle,’ Mrs. Temiloluwa Adesina, the founder of Bookworm Café, Mrs. Farida Ladipo-Ajayi, and the founder of African Writers Tribe, Josephine Oghenekevbe Ogufere.
While welcoming guests, Mr. Avajah spoke on the importance of encouraging literacy in Nigeria, noting, “We want to make a change that would help us move closer to the nation of our dreams, and that’s one of the reasons why ANA is collaborating with the Networks of Book Clubs and Reading Promoters in Nigeria, because we believe that most of the perpetrators of the evil in the nation are those who are mostly illiterate. Most of them are not well-educated, and so they are easily lured to these vices.
“As people begin to educate themselves, their minds become more enlightened, and they become less prone to the trickery of these peddlars of vices. So, you and I, working together, can bring about lasting change. We can use the tools of our writing to effect a change in our society. And we hope that all youths will get actively involved in this conscious role to become readers and leaders.”
In his introductory remark, Mammah said the ‘throes’ theme of the convention need not be conceived only in the negative sense, as a woman about to give birth to a child also undergoes the throes of labour but with positive outcome. So also can a nation undergo the ‘throes’ of renewal and newness if it maps a new, better direction for itself.
“When a woman goes into labour,” Mammah said, ”it is a critical period. It depends on different variables including the experience of the midwives and doctors at that point, if all the antenatal checks were well done. When you talk about the ‘throes’ of a nation, it’s not exactly negative, unless you do not address it well. This nation went into labour and brought out the likes of (Wole) Soyinka, (Chinua) Achebe and many others. (White) People wrote untrue things about Africa, but Achebe disagreed and wrote about the Africa they could (not) recognize (in ‘Things Fall Apart’), and that established the African Writers Series (AWS). “So, when you see negatives, the idea is to write positive over it, so that the next breaking news will not be that people died, but that a new nation was born.
That is the opportunity that we have, to focus on the possibility to implement that; and for us as a network of book lovers, we prefer to look at the possible things that can be done. And for the past few months, we have been investigating how to assist the industry to get some progress in spite of the negatives in our environment, and that is why we are holding this session today. There are a number of potential growth areas for creative writing in the country, and one of them is children’s writing. In an average bookshop, we find a majority of foreign-authored books for children. This session is to interest and encourage more inspiring writers to take interest in children’s writing. If we do it well, we will get good results.” The panelists spoke on the kind of books that interests young ones and how to write them. According to Adesina, “Children no longer read what we read as children. When I was a child, I read books by Erid Blyton, a British writer, and Nigerian books as well. I read books that were wordy — had a lot of text — but today, you need to beg or give incentives to children to read wordy texts. They only want to read pictorial books, short texts, books that have exciting pictures, and graphic novels. They don’t want to sweat to read these books they find boring. So, authors are being put through the onus of creating books that go according to the interests of these children. Children at the middle level (teenagers) love to read African books, but they would love to read books that are exciting.” On children’s literature taste, Ladipo-Ajayi said, “Some children love to read humour. Some of them don’t like reading texts by Nigerian authors, but these days, you find very interesting books authored by Nigerians, with graphic illustrations and humour. They are interested in our own stories, but they want them presented in an exciting way. They don’t want to stress themselves reading books that are too wordy. Younger readers also explore stories with African settings than older ones.”
For Ogufere, “Children learn in different ways. Some prefer to listen and some prefer to read. We have audio learners and visual learners. Audio learners don’t want to spend time reading a text; so, no matter what you write, they will not pick it up to read. For the visual learners, they want to see pictures, illustrations and things they can identify with. You can’t confine them to a particular learning style. There are times when they want to touch something hard or soft; this has a way of telling the kind of books they want to read.”
The panelists also shared a few writing tips with aspiring writers. According to Ogufere, “I was out of work during the lockdown, so I got into writing. I realized that most jobs were done online; so, I got engaged in copywriting to improve my writing skills — practice makes perfection. As a writer, you need to have information, and find a way to encourage, inspire and transform your readers.
“Before starting, you need to know what you want to write — a preferred genre, when you want to write, who you’re writing for — your target audience, and where you want to set your write in. When you answer these questions, you must get to work. Continuous practice makes you become proficient.”
Also for Ladipo-Ajayi, “To be a writer of children’s books, you have to be a reader of children’s books, because the words you use for adults are different from what you use for children. You need to develop a habit of reading what people are writing for children, so you decide what would be a good story for a child.”
Adesina also shared a few tips to guide aspiring authors, when she said, “To write a good book, you need to have a good soundboard based on people who are versatile on whatever genre you’re writing about — those who can check your paperwork for you and tell you where to make improvements. I have a friend, Moyo, who looks at my paperwork before publishing. If my story isn’t good enough, she just tells me, ‘this is rubbish, go and rewrite this,’ and it gets so annoying at times, but I don’t call it quits because someone criticizes my work. I see it as an opportunity to improve.
“So keep practicing, write everyday, read and have a collection of books by other writers. The world of an author is a world of imagination, which plays a great role in writing. If you can’t be imaginative, you can’t be a good writer.”