I had the pleasure of chatting with fab and soon to be published author Irenosen Okojie. Look out for her guys! Having secured an agent, it’s only a matter of time until she’s snapped up by a major publisher! For now, she’s been gracious enough to write about her writing journey so far…
My Writing Journey by Irenosen Okojie
I may have had ink stains on my tiny hands in my mother’s womb. I suspect during the birth, after her face crumpled in relief at the prospect of fitting into her clothes again, my first wail was bewilderment in foreign surroundings and the second and third shrieks, frustration at being unable to document my infant arrival into this world; to not yet feel the strokes of a pen or flick a written page.
Fast forward to adolescence and I was well and truly addicted to a drug. Reading. Most teenage girls were obsessed with boys but I coveted books; the smell of them, feel of them and emotions they evoked. Literature was magical, it transformed the mundane into the extraordinary, planted a seed in me that had lofty ambitions. I hid novels inside my supplementary science books, often reading in class, piled into WH Smiths on smoggy days clutching wrinkled five pound notes. I liked that you could be wandering down Carnaby Street holding a weathered copy of Chinua Achibe’s Things Fall Apart and simultaneously be in Africa. I was one of those kids with the disposition of someone much more adult. You know the ones, seemingly born mature. I began to write, scribbled diary entries full of wry observations, poems jotted down with a fountain pen I always had to shake several times so the ink could come through. There was so much in my head; I thought I’d combust from carrying its weight. Writing offered me a space to explore, create, play, offload and dream.
Years later, I joined a young writer’s development programme run by Spread The Word. It paired aspiring writers and poets with established mentors. What began as a short story developed into a novel. Over the next two to three years, I had regular meetings with my mentor who offered feedback and encouragement. We’d also set deadlines and mark milestones which meant the work was progressing, growing. Writing a novel is like being dumped in a small boat at sea. You have no idea where you’re going or how you’ll get there but somehow you muddle through. Bit by bit, chapter by chapter, you create a book, similar to building a puzzle. Writing is tough, daunting, isolating and at times frustrating. It’s also illuminating, exciting and fulfilling. It’s been a thread that’s snaked through my life. No matter the circumstances, I always wrote. I’m miserable when I don’t. I wrote on rumbling trains, mountains, hospital isles, music festivals, in sleep. I wrote at the end of new beginnings and the beginning of fresh endings. I work in the arts which meant always interacting with other writers, poets, illustrators and musicians. This also spurred me on. I kept reading, all kinds of books because I can’t stand literary snobs and believe every genre has its place and value. I attended literature events to meet and connect with other writers. After all, no woman is an island. I redrafted the novel, sought advice. I kept working on the craft.
In 2012 after a few rejections, I signed with my agent. I remember meeting her at Foyles Bookshop on Charring Cross road. We sat in the busy café. I shook rain off my umbrella, watching her over a steaming cup of peppermint tea as though she was a trick of light. I honed in on her words, ignoring the din of noise. Any minute now I thought, she’ll say she just wanted to meet and to try again down the line. I steeled myself, internally rationalising. Literary agents don’t waste time meeting writers they don’t want to represent. A week later, the contract arrived in the post. It was real.
Sometimes, I think of my journey so far. I think of that baby floating in the ether, tightly gripping her pen. As she grew into womanhood, awkwardly embracing all the stages it entails, I think of her changing those pens as if they’re gears.
Irenosen Okojie is a London based writer and freelance Arts Project Manager. Her work has been published by The Observer, The Guardian and Kwani literary magazine . Her short stories have been published internationally and she is penning her first novel and a collection of short stories. She is also the Prize Advocate for the SI Leeds Literary Prize.To submit please visit:www.sileedsliteraryprize.com
Visit Irenosen’s website: www.irenosenokojie.com
Follow her on Twitter: @IrenosenOkojie