Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Have your say...

I was at the Centre for Contemporary Art, Yaba on Saturday for the PAGES event for the month of March. It was tagged: The World is Flat. Are you shaking your head in question of the title? Yes, it was the title that also nursed my decision to make it for the event, I wanted to know, how come again that the world is flat?

Okay for those who don’t know, here’s a little background into PAGES. It is a monthly event hosted by CCA with the aim of understanding our world and ourselves better through the arts. Usually, there is a convergence of art in diverse forms: painting, literature, map making, photography with the aim of  giving literary interpretation to the works on exhibition. The event had an ‘okay’ audience for an art event; to think that it was not featuring any of Nigeria’s young music artists (my opinion) that's what attracts 'Naija' youth, am I lying?

It was an opportunity to see the world from a new perspective and take brief lessons in architecture, cartography, history, literature  and also set me thinking about the process of writing.

Johanne, the curator of the exhibition introduced the theme of the exhibition and answered questions from a very inquisitive audience; there was a book reading and discussion from Onyeka Nwelue’s novel The Abyssinian Boy.

The the questions started sprouting from all corners: What is  the place of knowledge about a setting in the making of a work of literature? Where does reality stop and idealism begin? Does a writer need to have a perfect knowledge of the place that he/she is writing about? If yes, how was JK Rowlings able to write her best-selling Harry Potter series? If yes, how was Chimamanda Adichie able to pull off an Orange prize-winning Half of a Yellow Sun which is about the Nigerian civil war when she was not a part of the war? 

If no, how does a writer stay true to describing what a place is like at any point in time, bearing in mind that places change? If no, where is the place of creativity even when making fiction  out of reality?

What is your take?


  1. These are great questions. The issue of setting is important in all works of art. The world you create in your story has to seem realistic on its own terms, yet readers must be able to recognize the place as credible, or become used to the world the story presents. A historical setting (Biafra for Adichie) requires research so that the writer is factually accurate; a setting in a world of fantasy has to be appropriate for the world it orients the reader, and may also require research. Let's create places, times and space as believably human, even where only animals or rocks inhabit such settings.

  2. "a setting in a world of fantasy has to be appropriate for the world it orients the reader, and may also require research"

    How on earth does this sound convincing?

    JK Rowling only had to imagine! You don't need to 'research' for a work of fantasy. Write what you don't know. I can tell you that I have problem with the concept 'fiction'. When is fiction fiction?

    During the process of editing my novel, one of my early readers said that a passage of my book was improbable and unbelievable, but I made him understand that I was writing fiction, not non-fiction. When it is fiction, it has to be fiction, no matter what justice you are trying to do to the environment.

    Reality begins to seep into writing when you create believable stories, which is why I keep saying that I write to see a different world; a world that rarely exists.

  3. Onyeka, great to hear from you.

    How do you make your stories believable?

  4. Great to hear from you, too.

    You make your stories believable when they are steeped into real events, when you draw out of personal experiences, when you have to make sure that 'this character breathes'. But it doesn't work that way, in my opinion, when it is fiction you are writing.

    How do you see that?

  5. Your explanation has merit, but why can't fiction represent "real events, personal experiences..."? How are you categorizing fiction. I, for instance, would use categories like literary fiction, genre fiction (such as science fiction, romance, horror, etc)and they can all immitate some aspects of lived reality. Even where the reality is lived, they present them as livable, which is why readers can relate to the story.

    Congrats for your novel; I have get my hands on it sometime soon. I have heard good things about it, and I also like the updates on your blog, which I am following now.

  6. I believe fiction must reflect realness in terms of the reality of the characters. You can put characters on a Mars where restaurants hover in the air and people keep chameleons on leashes but if the character is depressed she should not be laughing at alien stand-up. It must ring true. As for setting, research and knowledge is required. Many Batswanan hate McCall Smith books saying they don't reflect Botswana.

    Fiction can live in real places and real events.

  7. Fiction should not represent any real event because we've decided to tag it fiction. In my opinion, which I'm so much entitled to, I think that when a writer writes fiction, it should not be questioned for its 'realness'. It should be left that way.

    Hallo, Lauri. Nice been on this together with you. I think that people make no meaning out of no meaning. Nonsense out of nonsense. Some people in Darjeeling had problems with Kiran Desai, for not 'doing justice to the setting of the town' in The Inheritance of Loss, but that should not be so, in my opinion.

    Let's hear more from you.

  8. "it should not be questioned for its 'realness'. It should be left that way." I don't think it's the author's place to decide what readers will question and how they will question it. You want your readers to identify a semblance of reality in your works for them to enjoy it. Art is representation or reality, but sometimes this representation is twice or thrice removed from the reality, but the core meaning of the human condition, even where the characters are animals, as in Animal Farm, should be present, or decipherable, since readers are also involved in the making of the meaning of a work of fiction.

    Perhaps someone here needs to define fiction to help us contextualize this dialog. Can you help us out Bookaholic?

  9. I think this definition can help us understand this:

  10. Thank you all for your comments; it is really interesting that we may not have the same thoughts about an issue, but our thoughts are not wrong or right. Here is what I think: