Theophilus Enemali is an award-winning essayist at the maiden edition of Kogi State Undergraduate Essay Competition. He Studied English and Literary Studies at Kogi State University, where he was adjudged the most intelligent student in his class. He is a teacher, a novelist, a short story writer and a broadcast journalist. His debut novel is entitled ‘Homesick in Paradise’
CWN: Tell us a bit about what inspired you to be a writer?
THEOPHILUS ENEMALI : Growing up as a child, I loved reading story books, short stories and even comprehension passages with diagrammatical illustration in Macmillan English text; then I imagined my own book being read and loved years to come by someone I wouldn’t know. The year I turned ten was the year I went to secondary school, my father gave me Chinua Achebe’s Things fall Apart. It was the commonest Nigerian novel then and every household seemed to have it. When I finished reading it, I asked my father some surprising yet childish question like: ‘Is Okonkwo the father of Chinua Achebe?” My father laughed and said, ‘no’. With my inquisitive mind I asked further. ‘How come he knows Okonkwo so well like this?’ Then one day, my father came across my essay note in the secondary school, he read some of them and was so surprised I could write creatively in JS2. That compliment made me believe in my writing abilities. In the same vein, studying English and Literary studies exposed me to a wide array of novels, which gave me a mental shift in the art of storytelling. Then there came the big one during my university days, Governor Wada Academic Excellence Competition (G-WAEC), it was an essay competiton for all undergraduates of Kogi state. I was a winner, so, it opened a new door for me, it made me believe more in what we can do and how our little efforts may yield a big result. Soon after, I wrote a debut novel, entitled Homesick in Paradise.
CWN: Is Homesick in Paradise your first novel?
THEOPHILUS ENEMALI: Yes! It is my first published novel. I actually wrote one during my universities days. It wasn’t published because I believed that it was laced with an infantile proclivity. Years later, I wrote Homesick in Paradise. It is a fictionalization of actuality, in fact a good fiction is a reshaping of fact or true life experiences. There are certain things in the novel that are rendered in the exactness of how it happened. For instance, the death of Mama in the novel, the letter Enemona wrote to his late mother in the chapel, the encounter with a ghost and a lot more are nearly the truthfulness of my childhood experiences. Though the setting and characters are products of my imagination. It is quite unbelievable to write a letter to someone who is dead and then keep it in the chapel, because you believe that the person is in heaven and the closest place to heaven is the chapel. All of these explain the naïve nature of the young character Enemona. So, I blended reality with imagination in my first published novel Homesick in Paradise
CWN: Are you a full time writer or is writing just one of your hobbies?
THEOPHILUS ENEMALI: Honestly, I think there are a negligible number of those that can be classified as full time writers. I basically love three things, which I can do simultaneously with effortlessness. I love writing, teaching and radio broadcasting. However, I have a greater passion for writing than any of the two.
CWN: Your book has been adopted for use in schools. Congratulations on that. But how did you achieve this feat?
My debut novel is doing quite well. It is in use at Federal polytechnic Idah, Kogi state, Federal polytechnic Offa, Kwara state and Kogi state ministry of education has adopted it for use for junior secondary school literary text from September 2016.
And my publisher has submitted it at some universities and also at JAMB, for the purpose of it being adopted as a literary text. Thankfully, there are positive responses underway. It is pretty tough at times. The publisher may take it to some schools and it will be rejected even before they collect it to read. That could dampen the enthusiasm of a young writer. I believe the examining bodies, state ministries of education can adopt books from emerging authors to encourage creative writing activities in Nigeria.
CWN: What is the name of your publisher and where can your book be bought?
THEOPHILUS ENEMALI: My publisher is Adura Publishers in Akure, Ondo state. However, the book is also available on Amazon, the largest online bookstore in the world. Click Homesick in Paradise by Theophilus Enemali and place an order for the book. Interested readers can call +2348064196681 to place an order. It will be delivered to you anywhere.
CWN: Who are your favourite authors and what book are you reading at the moment?
THEOPHILUS ENEMALI: I don’t think I have favourite authors but a lot of novelists have really inspired me to a great extent. First among them is Chinua Achebe, a wonderful storyteller who portrays the culture and custom of the Igbo nation in a magnificent manner. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, my finest female fiction writer, a woman I respect her a lot for her fearless and timeless narratives. I could easily identify with her style of writing, perhaps we both belong to the contemporary era. Then among the English novelists, I love Thomas Hardy for his beautiful use of words and George Orwell for his awesome imagination that is nearly uncommon.
Currently, I’m reading Buchi Emecheta’s Second Class Citizen and a collection of Caine Prize short stories.
CWN: What did you enjoy most about writing this novel?
THEOPHILUS ENEMALI: What I enjoyed most about writing the novel was being able to express my experiences with a lot of people that I could never have been able to ever see or talk to. It gives me joy to know that people read my novel, analyze it, teach it, criticize it and even read deeper meanings to the stories in the novel beyond my thoughts. I feel blessed to share my thoughts with the world.
CWN: What are you currently working on?
THEOPHILUS ENEMALI: Currently, I’m working on my second novel that centres on contemporary issues. I am working hard to make it a timeless narrative; such a work demands time and space. I hope to keep the fire aflame.
CWN: What is your take on the poor reading culture; in your opinion what do you think can be done to change it?
THEOPHILUS ENEMALI: Generally, we are not unaware of the dwindling reading culture in Nigeria. A lot of people do not read novels; even those that read printed materials prefer religious and motivational books such as Be the Next Billionaire and those sorts of books. The youths are swayed away by the modern internet facilities. They surf the internet almost always. It could have been great, if they are using the opportunity to read books online, but they discuss trivial issues from the least important to the most unnecessary with cyber space friends. Our parents complain a lot about poor performances in schools and lack of reading culture. They can help schools and government by monitoring their children’s reading habit, enroll them in book clubs and something of the sort. It is easier to train a child than to mend broken men.
CWN: Do you have any advice for other aspiring writers?
THEOPHILUS ENEMALI: Aspiring writers should not give up on their dreams of becoming published writers. Sometimes you may feel frustrated perhaps because publishers are rejecting your work. Don’t give up. Always read other author’s work because it is the surest way to write a great work. Join a functional literary association, where you would have a lot of those with like minds, who may help you get better in the art of writing.
CWN: Why should we read your novel?
THEOPHILUS ENEMALI: Because my novel draws you close to an imagined reality in storytelling. Every once in a while, I read it myself. And I empathize with the lead character.
Readers will enjoy the dynamics of the cultural portrayal of the people and how the lead character adopted a split personality because he was nearly indoctrinated by the seminary he attended. The fabulous fun and naive qualities in some of the characters can make you laugh heartily. However, it undoubtedly creates a reminiscence of childhood experiences.