‘Criticisms Can Only Make One a Better Writer’ (An interview with Victor Oluwasegun by Emman Shehu)

Victor Oluwasegun once gave up a job so that he could complete the manuscript of a novel. With four novels already to his credit, Oluwasegun published a collection of short stories, In The Shadow in 2013. He had this interview with Emman Usman Shehu…
Tell us a little about yourself and your background?
I was born in Sagamu on the April 29, 1964 and moved to Lagos at an early age to continue my education. I had a degree in English Arts from Ogun State University (now Olabisi Onabanjo University), Ago Iwoye. I have had experiences in administration and media mostly in my working career. I am an easy-going person and like to add value to people’s lives in whatever little way I can. I hate sad faces and try to make myself and others as happy as I possibly can.


How did you discover your flair for creative writing?
It just happened. All through my education, I discovered that I was always excelling in English Language as a subject, perhaps this also had to do with the good background I had in Lagos. I was always reading comics and novels and as I grew up, I became interested in how the stories and the plots were put together. I was also very good in drawing and had initially intended to study fine arts. By and large I also became interested in music as well and learnt to play the guitar a little (even had an album in collaboration with my wife!). But the honing of my creative skills was at the Writers’ Workshop then in Ogun State University under the tutelage of late Sesan Ajayi, who was the coordinator. Writers’ Workshop in those days was a hub of literary activities. There was a weekly Wednesday meeting in which there were poetry rendition, readings of short stories and drama as well as the critique sessions. For any one aspiring to be a writer in those days, the Writers’ Workshop was a place to be.


How did your involvement with the Writers Workshop at the Olabisi Onabanjo University shape your writing career?
Not long after I was admitted into Ogun State University, the Writers’ Workshop went on an excursion to the Obudu Cattle Ranch in Cross River State under the aegis of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA). This was around 1988, I think. I remember I had to go to University of Ibadan with some other friends including Wale Ajayi to rendezvous with Dr. Bode Sowande, Dr. Harry Garuba and Prof. Niyi Osundare in order to make the journey to Calabar. That trip was a booster in my writing career because names I normally saw in writing stood before me in the flesh, and I thought to myself that if writing could make me stand before such important men of letters, it was the way to go. Within the three days we were in Obudu, I was able to interact with Prof. Chinua Achebe and other literary giants. Unfortunately, Prof. Wole Soyinka could not make the journey because he had an engagement in Europe at the time. On our way back from Obudu, we stopped at Oku Iboku ( Nigerian Paper Mills) where we were hosted by the literary icon, late Ken Saro Wiwa who at the time was a member of the board of directors. Being in the midst of such literary giants was a motivating factor for me. I must add also that winning the Chief Tola Adeniyi Prize for Creative Writing as a graduating student in 1991 was a great encouragement for me. Writing for me is a craft that I can never jettison.


Is your latest book, In The Shadow, a collection of short stories, a departure from your previous two books?
In The Shadow cannot be said to be a continuation of the theme that resonated through Messie’s Kingdom, my fourth book and Aminat and Mahmoud, my third book, in the strict sense. Though there may be some thematic kinship between the first two, there is a radical departure in terms of form and content.


How long did it take you to put together the collection?
Two of the stories in the collection, In the Shadow and The Robber, were written in 1991 while I was serving at the Advanced Teachers’ College, Kano (now Federal, College of Education, Kano). But some of the other stories are as recent as January this year. That is over 20 years.


Despite its thriller inclination which foregrounds it as primarily geared towards entertainment, In The Shadow appears to also be an exploration of various facets of human existence…

This is correct. Primarily the collection is an attempt to show societal judicial disjunction as seen in The Robber. But if that is the case, how do we categorize In The Shadow, which is the title story? To an extent, other stories in the book like The Epiphany, A Favour Turned Sour, and “Boomerang” mirror existential situations and questions the motives and actions of various characters in the book, yet does that deny the place of creative illusions meant to tax the intellect of the readers. However, the “read and enjoy” factor of the first story and “ Something about Daphne,” was in no way only geared towards entertainment, it was also meant to stimulate the sensitivity of the readers.


What were your experiences in getting In The Shadow published?
The experience has been really terrible. I initially sent in the manuscript to Longman Publishers with three stories: In The Shadow, The Robber and Boomerang, it stayed a whole year with them and they did nothing to it and did not even contact me. Their office was in Oba Akran, in Ikeja Lagos then; I don’t know if there still there. I was told there was a need for me to know the chairman before it could be published. I had to retrieve the manuscript after a year. But thankfully things have gone well this year to God’s glory.


What reactions have you had so far about the stories in the collection?
It has been fantastic. People call and say things like: you’re a morbid writer, or you’re wicked or one thing or the other. But the most important thing for me is that people appreciate the work as an art form. There have been positive comments in terms of structure, style and language. No one has said “you’re a sloppy writer” yet, that makes me happy. Of course critics will always have issues with theme, setting, characterization and so on, that is what makes a work of fiction endure. Its normal. Criticisms can only make one a better writer.


You are working on a science-fiction thriller tentatively titled The Sagamu Takeover. Why the choice of Sagamu for the setting? Why the shift to science-fiction?
My Cousin, Folarin Longe introduced me to science fiction decades ago. And ever since, I have been fascinated with the genre. Sagamu is my home town in Ogun State. So, if something bizarre that would shake humanity to its foundation and change the course of human history for all time is going to happen, why not in Sagamu? Why should the concept of aliens and immortality be alien to Sagamu? And on why the shift to Science Fiction, I believe there’s no longer any discernible line between realism and fantasy. What is real today was yesterday’s fantasy. I am suddenly shocked at the realization that since God is with me, if I set my mind to it, there’s nothing I can’t achieve. So, I am seeking to achieve a profound level of creativity I thought was beyond my reach, it seems huge, but its do-able. In fact, I am furious with myself for waiting this long, why put a lifetime of creativity on pause? With Sagamu Takeover, I am going to press play and see what happens.


What are you currently reading?
I am not reading right now. I am writing The Sagamu Takeover.


Who are your favourite writers?
At home, Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe. Beyond, Saul Bellow, Joseph Conrad and Ernest Hemingway.


What are your ambitions for your writing career?
To die empty. But not only in terms of writing alone, singing as well. I want to look back on my death bed and say: I wrote all I should have written, I sang all I could sing.


What is your take on the proposed Authors Fund?
The Authors Trust Fund bill was sponsored by a seasoned writer and federal legislator, Hon. Jerry Alagbaso, who has over 10 books in print. The intention of the bill is clear: to boost the writing and publication of academic books to revive the fallen standard of education in Nigeria. It is also to help improve the reading culture of Nigerians. Other objectives of the bill include fostering reading habit, development of vocabularies, spelling and pronunciation among Nigerians especially students. The fund also aims at talent hunt for writers and to encourage research in literature and culture amongst other laudable objectives. I believe it’s a wonderful bill that should be supported by all writers

Source: Thisday


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