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Literature’s New Rock Chick, Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani – Author of “I Do Not Come To You By Chance”

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Nigeria has become a new hotbed for young gunslingers in the world of the literati. It seems this year, Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani has emerged it reigning literary Rock Star. Her debut novel “I Do Not Come To You By Chance”, chronicles the story of a bright and promising young man named Kingsley as he seeks the help of his mafia like fraudster uncle Boniface a.K.a Cash Daddy in order to rescue his family from poverty.

The book is humorous and yet tenderly written, in a very original and unapologetic voice that brings all its characters to life in a grand way. The cadence in which the story is told creates visual slideshows in the head of the reader literally transporting you into every scene.

“I Do Not Come To You By Chance” has earned Nwaubani  several accolades and literary awards including the 2010 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book in the Africa Region. She was a finalist for the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa, a semi-finalist in the VCU Cabell First Book prize and most recently won the Betty Trask award (some of its past winners include Diana Evans and Zadie Smith). Awards and accolades aside, the psychology graduate from the University of Ibadan and former editor of Elan (The Fashion Magazine of Next Newspaper’s Sunday Edition) still remains very unassuming and unpretentious. She maintains that this novel is the product of a team that includes her editors, agent and publishers

For Adaobi, writing this novel was something she wanted to do like every other task and dream in her life and she did it. We had a chat with her to savour in her journey so far.

In your own words, tell us what the book is about

My book is about a young man called Kingsley who seeks the assistance of his 419 kingpin uncle called cash daddy to help his family out of poverty.

Everyone comes up to me and says do you know about this 419er, he is exactly like Cash Daddy. But the original 419ers were pretty much like him.

You took just a month to write your first draft. Is it a story you already had in your head, how did it come to you?

The novel came before the story. I decided it was finally time to write a novel. I had known since 2001 that I was going to do something more seriously with my writing talent but I was looking for the right time. So at the end of 2006 I said this is the time, I’m ready to write my novel now. I studied psychology and I have always been fascinated with personality and why people do the things that they do and I wanted to write a story about something that had to do with personality and personality change. So the 419 thing came in handy. It wasn’t something I planned to write about all my life. I find out that every time I write stuff even short stories, I always start of with some kind of psychological thing. I look for real things happening to give it life. That’s how the novel came up.

The novel was published abroad first. The dialogue was distinctly Nigerian; it was a very fast read and had a flow to it. Did you ever fear that non-Nigerians reading it would not understand or get lost from time to time?

I didn’t realise that I had done that until Ikhidie who has become one of the top reviewers pointed it out. Then he described it as being bold and damned. I don’t think I was aware that people wouldn’t understand and also I didn’t really care. Then my agent who was the first point of contact read it and didn’t have that problem. And I had editors who didn’t have that problem. I guess if they had pointed it out, I would have been aware.

You said you had to do a lot of research in order to find your agent. Tell me more about that experience?

I actually started to do the research before I even started writing this novel. So I found out about agents but there was still a lot that I didn’t know. When I finished writing my book, I approached Nigerian publishers Cassava Republic. So while they were reading, that was when I decided to search online for an agent. By the time Cassava Republic called me in May, I had already signed a contract with my agent. At some point, I did think I could do without an agent but I realised there is so much else involved. You are the writer, you are the creative person and its better to have someone else deal with all the contracts and all the other drama.

Take us through the process of establishing authenticity with regards to an agent as well as the other processes involves.

First of all, your agent makes money off you. You have a Beyonce or Rihanna, but there are a lot of people behind the scenes that do a lot more of the work and make money off you. It’s the same with an author. Your name is on the book, you are the one on television doing all the publicity but there is an agent that makes money for and off you. The agent makes fifteen percent of anything that you earn, and the advances of my book. So it is his responsibility to make sure that my book is in top form. The better my book does, the more money he can make. Because he is earning 15 percent from you, he is not asking for any money in advance. He looks at all my work to make sure its good.

Certain agents like certain kinds of work. So you can start searching online. There are some agents that won’t take certain kinds of work, no matter how great the book is. Essentially, not every agent represents every kind of book. You can start by looking out for agents who represent the kinds of books that you write like.

Most people are always under the impression that it takes a very long time to write a book. How were you able to complete your novel in a month?

I was like a lot of people who thought you could take five years to write a book but then I thought to myself again, why would i have to take that long to write a book? It also had to do with the kind of story I was writing. I didn’t have to do so much research because I was writing about things and places I was familiar with. I was writing in my voice. I can do the whole creative technical writing thing because I am Nigerian and we are thought to write that way. I went away from that and I just flowed with my personality. I talk fast and so I just wrote the way I talked really. I also had a vague idea because I sketched every scene. I knew what I wanted each chapter to do so I had it all sketched out roughly and then I worked with that. I think it was a decision I made in advance that I didn’t want to sweat and toil to write the book. When I signed on with my agent, we still did a lot of work with the editors, but the draft that got me the contract was the one that I started in January and finished in February. Even though there was a lot of editing afterwards, I still got a contract based on my first draft which means it is possible for anyone to do it in that amount of time. I think the more people hear that people have written a book in that amount of time, the more they realise that you can do it. It’s just that we have been hearing for so long that it takes 20 years to write a book.

How important was it for you to write in that distinctive Nigerian dialogue.

I don’t think too much about it. I think that would have just slowed me down. I was just writing about people around me. I guess living and growing up in Nigeria, had an advantage because I was writing about people I grew up around. I wasn’t taking a microscope to Nigeria of 1940 to know how my grand mother lived. I was writing about contemporary times.

With the scarcity of publishing houses in Nigeria compared to some other countries, most Nigerians seem to resort to self publishing. What are your thoughts on self publishing?

I think there would have been more Nigerians published internationally if we didn’t have this self publishing epidemic. There would have been more literary stars. You have people like Ogochukwu Promise who has written seven books all self published. People like Wale Okediran, his seventh book won the Wole Soyinka prize which my book was a finalist. I haven’t even read any of the books but out of the seven, you just think to yourself, amongst all of them, there must be one with an idea that is worth something. I think it is just slowing us down. More of us need to be on the international scene. Yes you can be published here as well, but think of going beyond the borders.

There is also that stigma attached to self- publishing, that a story was not good enough?

It’s like that in the West. If you are self published, the assumption is that you have got a lot of rejections and then you self publish. But here people are self publishing without even trying to get an agent or publisher beyond Nigeria. So they think it’s the way to do it. If they knew, they would try and then they could self publish after they were turned down by 200 publishers, then it makes sense. Not when it’s your first choice. So you are writing a book and thinking of self publishing immediately, I think there is a problem. Some people don’t know that there is a way to get round this thing that gets you more attention, publicity, fame and wealth, rather than using your money to publish your book and then selling it from the boot of your car.

Let’s talk about the winning of prizes. It seems to have become the latest means of authentication, quite similar to the world of music and film.

I find it very uncomfortable. I was telling my publicist Chude that please when you are writing about me, can you stop calling me “award winning writer”.

For Nigerians, that seems to be the new thing. I believe there are still other ways to be successful. Even before I won my Commonwealth prize, I received letters from different parts of the world from people I have never met saying, “I am teaching your book in a course this semester”. Or some people saying “we would like you to help with publicity for anti- 419 stuff”. That kind of response is really big. So even if I didn’t with the Commonwealth prize, there is the satisfaction that someone from a part of the world I have never been to thinks a student will learn something from my book. It is always fantastic to win a prize, but it is not the end. There is a lot more about being successful as a writer than winning a prize. There are other kinds of books that are really good, very successful and can’t win prizes.

Let’s delve into the omni-present question of the second book. Do you feel any pressure or irritation when it comes to the question of the second book?

My whole life is not about my writing. I say it all the time that I have dreams of being an entrepreneur. I always say that I would like to own my own publishing house. I would like to do things with education in this country, plus own little schools in rural areas. There are so many things I want to do. So writing is not my 24/7 existence. It just happens to be something I can do. I have no professional training in it. If I had done a PhD in writing, maybe I would have been panicking about the second book. So my life is beyond that, I have a job. I have to deliver every week and every day. Maybe that is why the question of the second book thing doesn’t bother me.

I want to talk about finding your voice because the book feels very organic. It is simple and humorous. It feels like the reader can see and hear each character. The fact that you didn’t do creative writing professionally, did that make it easier for you, as you might not have been over thinking the story.

I think it did actually help me but I am not saying that having creative writing training wouldn’t have made me better, but it just helped me be myself. Again, I always read a lot so I think the kind of writers I loved and read kind of sipped into me. So in a way, my style became a combination of all those things. P.G Woodhouse is one of my favourite writers of all time, he writes a lot of humorous stuff and his metaphors and similes are very rear. So I think the kind of writers you read also affect your writing. I am glad that I was able to do this without having to do a creative writers course.

Did that ever make you feel insecure or inadequate compared to any other writer?

Not at all. I suppose it helps that I have done a lot of work in my life that I was never trained for. I worked as the editor of Elan which was something I had not done before. The same with a lot of other jobs. I always say I had a lot of help with my book. From my agent to my publishers, they were able to identify that the raw material was there and the idea was good and we worked on it from there. Once you have the right help and support, you are ok. I also read a lot online

So what kind of responses have you gotten from people so far?

A lot of people have questions about the end of the book or they ask what happened to this or that character. I tell them “the way the book ended for you is the way the book ended for me”.

If people read the book, they might be inclined to insult Cash Daddy, as he has a fleet of cars with his name imprinted on the license plate, expensive clothes, shoes and lives in a huge mansion. This is also very indicative of the culture that we live in.

On a personal note, what is your own take on this ostentatious display of wealth?

As they say problems have different stages. I will not quarrel with anyone that got their money honestly. Where I have a problem is when you know someone is an armed robber, he is showing off all his money and he still happens to be the special guest at your event. He is still the chief speaker, and he is still the role model, that is where I have an issue. Let’s deal with where they get their money from before teaching them how to spend it. As I said, problems come in different stages.

How do your parents feel about the book?

Well they live in Umuahia so they haven’t really felt the vibes. My Dad is still an Igbo man at heart so until the book is in Umuahia and there is a big launch, I don’t think they will be satisfied so I guess they are still waiting for that. But they are very pleased and happy that the book has done well.

“I Do Not Come To You By Chance” is published by Cassava Republic (Nigeria)
You can also purchase the international paperback version online via Amazon

33 Comments

  1. omogekofo

    July 26, 2010 at 10:11 am

    nice……..nice looking writer……
    keep it up.

  2. Ifeyinwa

    July 26, 2010 at 10:54 am

    Does she have a problem with
    creative writing or is just a metaphor on her part?
    I have read the book though.. it is just in connection
    with the interview. It is a good book still.

  3. brownsugar374

    July 26, 2010 at 11:26 am

    I bought this book in terra culture when i was in Nigeria recently and i have to say much kudos to the writer. The book is really good and deserves all the accolades its recieving. Keep up the good work Adaobi much love !!!

  4. ifycee

    July 26, 2010 at 11:34 am

    I love Adaobi’s book. I think it was so well written with my favourite element…humour! Keep going places…

  5. MissR

    July 26, 2010 at 11:42 am

    I just read this book last week after a friend recommended it to me almost 6 months ago…and I must say I wasn’t dissappointed and I was wonderign why it took me so long to read it??? I wasn’t dissappointed at all…
    The story was told very beautifully; the characters felt real and genuine and I think many people can relate to the theme…
    I look forward to more books from Adaobi…
    Well done Adaobi and the sky is your limit. 🙂

    Miss R

  6. fi

    July 26, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    Possily one of the best funniest books i have ever read!! I love reading this on my normally boring Tube journeys into work. Cat wait to see more from her.

  7. Peperempe

    July 26, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    I haven’t read the book..but she sounds very clever from the interview. Can’t wait to read it. Gosh, I miss Lagos!!!

  8. http://westafricanhair.blogspot.com/

    July 26, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    I am reading this book right now. Only on page 50 but I’m LOVING it.

  9. west african hair

    July 26, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    btw, people should check out Helon Habila….

    He’s the North’s answer to Chimamanda and Nwaubani (Bella you guys spelt her name incorrectly).

  10. Meme

    July 26, 2010 at 11:23 pm

    Her book was off the hook… I could not stop howling with laughter at the cash daddy character…

  11. myra

    July 27, 2010 at 12:40 pm

    my 74 year old mother-in-law recommended the book to me.i loved it so much that my love for her increased ten fold. i made sure my six sisters read it too, they loved it. adaobi u rock.

  12. Tosin

    July 27, 2010 at 4:33 pm

    I liked the novel. Hope it gets read way more than it is now.

  13. Renna

    July 28, 2010 at 9:39 am

    Crap book!

  14. ije

    July 29, 2010 at 10:52 pm

    The book is such a pageturner,couldn’t drop it once I started.the characters are very real and you and connect with them. Hilarious too. Very well written Adaobi.keep up the good work

  15. Peperempe

    July 29, 2010 at 11:48 pm

    @ west african hair; I wouldn’t say Helon Habila is necessarily the north’s answer to chimamanda ad tricia. He has been on the writing scene much longer than they have. So maybe they’re the South’s answer to him? I don’t know but I love Helon anyway. I really loved “Measuring time”.

  16. KemiPen

    July 30, 2010 at 1:43 pm

    began reading yesterday…but loving it already…

  17. Nne

    July 30, 2010 at 10:46 pm

    Renna, quite the outlier aren’t you, given the other comments. I’ll be getting this book.

  18. Bolanle

    July 30, 2010 at 11:41 pm

    I find the title “Literature’s rock chick” a tad annoying. It’s implying that literature is not “cool” enough, so we need to borrow some cool credentials from rock music to make it cooler. It actually sounds more pathetic. What has literature got to do with being a rock chick? Why can’t you just say she is the hottest new writer or something like that?

    Anyway, on to the book:

    The novel attempts to chronicle the realities that lead people into a life of crime. Kingsley Ibe, a recent graduate can’t find employment and the love of his life, Ola, leaves him for a man who can buy her Versace bags and Gucci shoes. His father, highly educated, principled and poor dies in penury and his masters degree holder mother’s dying sewing business can’t sustain them. A burdensome sense of responsibility takes hold of Kingsley and he decides to join the 419 business of his Uncle Boniface who has reincarnated as Cash Daddy.

    As a writer, Adaobi did well, but I don’t really get the hype. I am wary of books that suddenly become popular because the author has friends in the industry who have helped her to promote it endlessly. It doesn’t mean it’s not a good book, but I don’t think it’s worth the hype. That’s all.

    • Josephine

      August 19, 2010 at 5:06 pm

      Bolanle,i’m sorry but i find u rather patronising if not annoying. While i am not saying that you are not entitled to your opinion whatever your was point was. You started out “quarrelling” with the expression “rock chick”, It’s simply trying to capture the completeness of the author’s non-conformity with the “regular’ writer, her age and the freshness of her style and yes i say it suits her. It is not demeaning in anyway. I am not suprised that you can’t “see what the hype’ is all about-what cynicism coming from you! Abeg this girl is big deal and so is this effort of hers. Sit up and recognise please!!

  19. Rosserie

    August 2, 2010 at 9:33 am

    Bella. Rock chick works perfectly. I like the way it grabs the attention with an unusual metaphor.

    Nitpickers like Bolanle – neither likes book nor title of piece. Typical, innit?

    I do not come to you by chance? Totally worth the ‘rock hype’!

  20. Wunmi

    August 4, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    is that ankara tshirt she’s wearing from the Ghanian designer ReneQ? I so love her stuffs!!

  21. Afam

    August 8, 2010 at 7:09 pm

    I can’t wait to read her books.

  22. Kemi

    August 15, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    Lovely book. It got me laughing n crying so hard…

  23. Kc

    August 17, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    I wanna be just like you, when i grow up, yes i do

  24. Mrs Ajunwa

    August 18, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    Nice One,on Ada.Saw Ada while she was writing the book,the Lord has exalted her efforts!

  25. Ihuoma

    August 25, 2010 at 12:01 am

    I don’t understand the haters, I absolutely loved the book!! When a writer can weave in humor even in sad scenes you have to admit she does have skill! I hope we can read more from her, and Ms Adichie and more and more Nigerians. The thing I love most about (good) Nigerian authors and their books is that I can directly relate with them without having to twist my imagination every which way (as is sometimes the case with these oyibo writers)

  26. ijk

    August 25, 2010 at 12:39 am

    just finished it today ,i thought the book was funny and very interesting, excellent ending .

  27. Nana Fredua-Agyeman

    September 8, 2010 at 5:07 pm

    Very intelligent responses to equally intelligent questions. Nigeria abounds in literary talents and I am glad Adaobi is one of them. I would look for this book, read it, and review it on my blog too. I promote African literature.

  28. Adaeze

    July 7, 2011 at 8:14 pm

    Absolutely loved her book. Definitely one of the most humorous Nigerian books I’ve read. The end blew me out of the water!

  29. Pingback: Wana Udobang Interviews Nigerian Novelist Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani | Books LIVE

  30. Felicia

    July 25, 2011 at 3:04 am

    I just checked this book out in my public library in Augusta,Georgia on Thursday, and finished it on Sunday. Through Adaobi’s novel I feel like I have traveled to Nigeria and got a chance to take a peek into the people’s lives there.Thank you for sharing this story with the world. As an African American I am proud to read an authentic African story. Because as Adaobi said (paraphrasing loosely) we have to change the we look,feel, and treat ourselves, before we complain about any effects other people’s actions have had on us as black people.Adaobi is giving a voice to our people through her writings and we can be proud that she isn’t candycoating it but keeping it real. We are human too, whether living in Georgia or Nigeria. Poverty for black people is widespread all over the world, even in America, but we are still human and we have a story to tell. I’m glad Adaoubi shared one and I hope there are more to come!

  31. Victor A

    May 31, 2012 at 6:19 pm

    I happen to be a cousin to Adaobi, and having known her all her life, it was a pleasant surprise when she told me she finally wrote this book. Anyway I proceeded to Amazon.co.uk to buy two copies. Well, I travel internationally frequently in the course of my work. Not a few people wondered what was wrong with the young man reading that book, as I guffawed with laughter at the most hilarious story I’ve read in a long time.’ I do not come to you by chance’ is one book I’ll recommend any time and day to cure people of the drudgery of daily existence. My two copies have been taken away by friends, I intend to buy more to give to people. Thanks Adaobi for such a wonderful book. I hope to write mine one of these days

  32. Ephi

    December 13, 2014 at 11:20 pm

    I’m just about reading the book “I do not come to you by chance” and with the comments above, really quite excited about it. I love African writings

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