Abubakar Adam Ibrahim is the author of the short-story collection, The Whispering Trees. He is a Gabriel Garcia Marquez Fellow and has won the BBC African Performance Prize in 2007. He studied Mass Communication at the University of Jos and he is currently the Art Editor of Sunday Trust Newspapers, Abuja. In 2013 he made the shortlist for The Caine Prize For African Writing. In this encounter with Edozie Udeze he talks about his writing career, how writing has shaped his life and lots more
What sort of books do you like most?
I read mostly literary fiction now. I find that they give the most satisfaction, especially when they have an engaging plot and use language well. I have never had the patience to read self-help books.
When you read a book, what are the salient things you look out for most?
I look for a strong plotlines, good command of language. I like stories told with a flourish, with some panache, if possible. I look out for convincing and believable characters, engaging dialogue and challenging storylines. I don’t like stories that I can predict how they end. I love reading Nigerian and African fiction but I want books with good aesthetic appeal and sound production quality and most importantly, well told stories.
Who are your favourite authors in the world and why?
I have many favourite authors for very different reasons. I love Author Golden for his ability to combine research and good story telling in Memoirs of a Geisha, the same quality I admire in Cyprian Ekwensi and many of his works like The Burning Grass. I love Gabriel Garcia Marquez for the richness of his prose and the depth of his imagination. Isabel Allende too is a favourite. The richness of these prose is captured in Veroniqu Tadjo’s As the Crow Flies. I like Murakami for his daring narrative. Every day I discover new authors and fall in love with their works.
When and where do you like to read and what time and why?
I read whenever I have time. Sometimes before going to bed.Sometimes after waking up. Sometimes while travelling, other times while using the convenience. It is hard to find time to read now so I use every opportunity I get.
What is your preferred literary genre?
My preference is literary fiction. It echoes the reality of life more closely than any other genre for me.
What book or books have had the greatest impact on you and why?
There are many. Too many. Recently I gave a talk in London at the African Writers Festival on African Books to Inspire and I chose to talk about the books that spoke to me at various times in my life. Camara Laye’s The African Child, Cyprian Ekwensi’sThe Burning Grass, and Elechi Amadi’s The Concubine were the three I talked about. I could also count Ben Okri’s Famished Road and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera. These were some of the books that I think gave me permission to write the way I write now. But different books influence me differently.
As a child what books tickled you most?
Before reading Laye’sThe African Child I remember reading RL Stevenson’s Treasure Island and wanting to be like Jim Hawkins, hoping to defy pirates and find an island full of riches. But Laye’s book showed me that there is enough adventure in an ordinary African life. I loved Ekwensi’s An African Night Entertainment and The Passport of Malam Ilia.
At what point in your life did you begin to nurse the idea of becoming a writer?
For me I suppose writing has always been a life-long interest. I became conscious of wanting to tell stories before I could write and when I began to learn how to write, it was just the next step in an evolution. But I think my first conscious thoughts about becoming a writer was in my early teens when I read a book called The Prisoner of Zenda and wished I had written it. I was impressed by the way the author, Anthony Hope, used language and for me that was when I think I started consciously cultivating myself as a writer.
How has writing shaped or reordered your life?
Writing has freed me. It has made me a happier and fulfilled person. It has given me the opportunity to travel, to see the worlds in my head and the world out there, to meet different people and explore new cities and cultures.
It has shaped my life in the sense that it has made me a recluse, it is always demanding my attention, always demanding time. It is a hard and lonely job being a writer. But there is an effervescence to that kind of loneliness. It is dangerously beautiful.
If you meet your favourite author face to face what would you like to ask him/her?
Well, I don’t know how that will happen now since my favourite author Gabriel Garcia Marquez died last year before I got the chance to meet him. I would have loved to ask him about the first girl who broke his heart. I know there might be a story there.
Of the plays you’ve read which character struck you most?
Soyinka’s Brother Jero is a favourite. He stuck because he is at once funny and confused and embodies everything that is wrong with us today.
What book do you plan to read next?
I have many, many books on my shelves and a huge pile by my bedside. I am reading Raymond Carver and EC Osondu’s latest novel at the moment. I hope to read Haruki Murakami and the works of Junot Diaz. They are all in the pile by my bedside.
How do you arrange your private library?
My favourite books are on the top shelves. The ones I have read and enjoyed and just love looking at them to remind me of the pleasure of reading them. Then the least favorites take the lower shelves. I have mentioned the pile by my bedside; these are the ones I plan to read immediately next. Interestingly, that pile keeps growing. It seems I am acquiring more books than I am able to read.
Are you a re-reader and how often?
I don’t reread much. I have a pile of books I have set aside to reread but I haven’t got the time because there is so much going on, so many new books to read. So, if a book doesn’t grip me the first time I don’t see myself going back to it any time soon.