Jude Dibia has gradually settled into the Nigerian literary scene as a novelist. He has two well-received novels to his credit; Walking with Shadows (2005), and Unbridled (2007) which won the Ken Saro-Wiwa Prize for Prose (Sponsored by NDDC/ANA) and was also a finalist in the 2007 for the Nigerian Prize for Literature (Sponsored by NLNG)
Are your characters usually based on people you’ve known?
A younger writer once asked me recently how he could write believable characters and my answer was that he should use real life people as muses. This apply to my writings as well, however, there is no singular blueprint to a character, but a mixture of various people I have come across. I love studying people and how they react to issues and situations; the insights I get from this helps in crafting my characters.
How do you create your stories—from a sentence you overheard or thoughts accumulated from reading?
Now this is a tougher question! Some stories come to me through the characters, while some are based on an ideology or a series of ‘what if’ questions. I have to admit I have been inspired by stray comments I pick up from conversations as well to write portions of a story before. However, this need to tell stories is a way of exploring the human condition, making experiences a shared culture accessible to people who in the normal run of things may never experience what it is you are writing about.
In a society like ours, where being a writer could mean becoming a political activist, armchair or placard-waving, how politically-involved would you define yourself?
It is difficult for a writer to remain apolitical especially as politics plays a huge role in the lives of the people of whom he or she must write about. Human rights and injustice are things I care deeply about, but I’m hardly a placard-waving activist in any sense. My stories and novels are my placards; somehow, I always seem to tackle issues I care deeply about in my writings.
What are your writing habits? And with three books, has anything changed?
My writing habits vary. Sometimes I feel I’m a lazy writer. I do not write everyday, it’s simply not possible for me. I work full time and manage to squeeze time for my writing. For me, the story comes to me first and then I spend some time working out the plot and characters and things like point-of-view and narrative perspective. Once I have a clearer picture of the project, then I start the writing. I usually like to plan out the first few chapters keeping in mind that there must be something significant with each chapter as I progress, which adds to the overall story. This really helps me with issues like ‘writer’s block’; knowing that there is something to look forward to in each chapter sustains my interest in a book project, also knowing that my characters may rebel and have a mind of their own—things don’t always pan out the way I originally planned them. With three books, I still very much follow these steps.
Understandably, you’re not one of those who have the luxury of doing full-time writing; how do you juggle your administrative duties with the demands of writing?
It is hard, especially if you are in the middle of a book you know you must complete. I’m an early riser; up by 5 am and in the office around 6.30 am. The first precious two hours belongs to me before my work start, so I do a lot of writing then (the office is usually empty and quiet at that time), and if I am lucky, I get a few hours in the evening to write as well. It’s a slow process but I have adapted to it pretty well.
The last time I spoke to you on your recent effort, you mentioned something about writing from the perspective of other ethnic groups, that you have gone to the extent of learning Yoruba words to fill your writing. What point are you trying to make exactly—Acculturation or dependence?
I’m not so much trying to make a point, but feel that it is extremely limiting for writers from one ethnic group to write majorly about people from his or her ethnic extraction. What you end up having is Igbo writers writing stories with Igbo characters mainly and Yoruba writers writing stores with mainly Yoruba characters as main characters etc. This applies to the other ethnic groups. I just feel I can tell an equally engaging story using a character from the North or West or any other part of the country. I’m not afraid to do some research to make my characters believable.
You have never really made any pretensions as regard poetry, how do you perceive the genre?
I love poetry, the rhythm and intricate patterns of sound and imagery. It is something I go to for deep reflection; however my exposure to poetry has been very limited. I was exposed to prose much earlier and found my love there. Perhaps if I had read more of poetry when I was younger, I would have found my voice in that genre as well.
How much improvement and impact have you made as regards, a personal improvement of your art since your last book—something so noticeable that you can point out that makes you want to go back to your very first book and rewrite it?
With each book I see my growth. Having said that, I believe each story was written the way it was meant to be written. The writer I am now would not have written my first book the way I did years ago, but I do have readers who tell me they prefer my first book to my second and I am sure I will have some who would prefer the second to the third. But am I a better writer now? Yes, definitely.
What future do you see for this latest project?
Oh I certainly hope that I gain more readership with ‘Blackbird’. A writer’s greatest wish is to be read after all!
What does it mean to be a writer?
A writer is someone who, against all odds, writes.
Jude Dibia’s third novel Blackbird was recently published by Jalaa Writers Collective. He blogs here: http://judedibia-jd.blogspot.com/