Please welcome to my blog author Chioma Nnani. Her book Forever There for You came out in November.
Where were you born and where do you call home?
I was born in Port-Harcourt (in Nigeria), went to school in Nigeria and the United Kingdom, and Abuja (the Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria) is where I call home.
What or who inspired you to start writing?
Writing is something I’ve done from childhood; it wasn’t like I was trying to try out a career path for the future.
How much of yourself, your personality or your experiences, is in your books?
To be honest, a fair bit. The protagonist in “Forever There For You” attends college in the city of Oxford and I attended college in the city of Oxford. She worked herself to the point where she got an ulcer, I did the same – although the ulcer showed up much later in my case. She finds that the British weather is not a friend of any Black girl’s hair; that was a traumatic lesson I had to learn … my hair was literally falling off. I can’t even laugh about it now; it was that bad! There are a few bits and bobs … “Forever There For You” isn’t about me, but some of the characters lived through what were my experiences in real life. One of the really weird things, though – in the book, the college accommodation where Nadine lives when she’s in Oxford is called “McMillan Student Village”. After the book was released, I found out that there is a real “McMillan Student Village” but it’s in London! A bus that I was on, broke down and it happened to stop beside the “McMillan Student Village” in London. It was very surreal!
Have you started your next project? If so, can you share a little bit about your next book?
Yes, I have started my next projects. As an author, there’s a collection of short stories to be released very soon. I read something in one of Faye Kellerman’s novels a long time ago, in which a character said, “Everybody is either running away from, or towards something.” But it dawned on me that you run till you get home, because home is that person, place or thing where you can be naked and unashamed. So, this collection of short stories is about finding home, being home and … just what home means to a lot of people despite our external differences.
Do you write full-time? If so, what is your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
(laughing) I almost wish I could afford to. But I run The Fearless Storyteller House Emporium Ltd; it currently consists of an “Authors Services” department, an “Office Angels” department, a “Learning & Teaching” unit, a “Services to Media” wing, and a “Mentoring Club”. There is one other component to the Emporium that I don’t think I should talk about publicly right now, because it’s still being worked on … but I also run a blogazine – Memo From a Fearless Storyteller – and present a radio show – The Fearless Storyteller PX Show – with a London-based radio station.
My work day tends to be … semi-organized chaos. Generally speaking, I’m up by 6am, meditate a bit, check my emails and social media, have a shower during which I go through some part of my day in my head. I have breakfast either at my desk, or on the go if I have to be out for a meeting. What I actually do during the day will depend on what needs to get done. I may liaise with a school to run a training program for them, a prospective client who needs more information on a service or product, an affiliate marketer who wants to sell our products or service, a media outlet trying to get an interview, an author whose marketing plan needs tweaking, my PR people to discuss a concern or a plan of action or an advantage we have, an editor or graphic designer who needs me to sign off on their work, a supplier to pay, a guest blogger whose content I need to approve, a mentee I need to get back to, a blog that I need to send content to (because I guest-blog as well), or my account manager to understand why I don’t like what I’m seeing on my bank balance. I might also have an event scheduled, so I would need to speak to my stylist or skin person or hair person … or all three (laughing). I actually have to create time for writing and that’s important to me because that’s actually at the core of who I am. I try to put my phone on silent from 9pm, which is when I start trying to wind down for the day. I will usually eat lunch and perhaps dinner at my desk, or on the go.
Having said that, there are days I just shut down because I need a break.
Please tell us about your current release.
“Forever There For You” is a cocktail of love, friendship, sisterhood, religion, domestic violence and cultural clashes. There’s quite a bit going on … it’s coming-of-age, chick lit, women’s fiction, Afro-centric stuff and sorta religious fiction going on. It’s also set in a number of places – Nigeria, London, Oxford, Paris and Bristol.
What kind of research did you do for this book?
There’s a case that shocked England when it happened, that I made reference to – a woman named Kiranjit Ahluwalia was brought from Punjab to England, via an arranged marriage to a man who turned out to be really violent. One day, when he was asleep, she poured gasoline or something on his feet and burned him. He died. Her case changed British legal history because at first, the judge ruled that her defense of self-defense wasn’t valid because she wasn’t in immediate danger. However, for some weird reason, the catalog and intensity of abuse Kiranjit had suffered, weren’t heard by the judge or jury – so, she went to prison. This organization, Southall Black Sisters, heard about her and felt she had been unjustly treated, that there had been a miscarriage of justice. So, they got involved and helped her tell the full story … they got a lot of publicity and celebrity support, and the case went back to court. The charge of murder was downgraded to manslaughter and because she had already served time, they let her go. She did a book, then there’s a film on it called ‘Provoked’ with Aishwarya Rai-Buchnan playing Kiranjit. That case literally changed the meaning of ‘provocation’ in a legal context in British law … when I studied it in my first year (Criminal Law was a compulsory module in first year), I had no idea that years later, I’d be writing a book and recalling that. It does pay to listen in class (laughing)!
Did you base any of your characters on real people?
Yes. The best friend of the protagonist, Nadine is called Stella and she’s based on two people I know. So, I got their best and worst traits and exaggerated them and Stella came forth (laughing). The abusive character, Tony is based on my brother – abusive, violent and in many ways, a coward.
Which of your characters is your favorite? Do you dislike any of them?
Oh, wow! I don’t have a favorite character. I do have different feelings about some of them … the protagonist is “Forever There For You” is completely different from her friend, Stella who is cheeky and mischievous, but fiercely loyal. I think we need different kinds of people across the spectrum for life to be as interesting and colorful as possible. Some characters, I don’t dislike, but I dislike some of the things they do – like Stephen, because he’s friend-zoned himself with Nadine. He loves her, but is too terrified of saying anything till it’s kinda late …
Can you tell us a little about the black moment in your book?
There are quite a few of those … there’s a bit about a plane crash in the book, but it’s not fiction. It happened in December 2005, in the city where I was born and it was really bad. There were only two survivors. About 61 of the passengers were schoolchildren who were coming home for the Christmas holidays from their boarding school in Abuja. A plane crash is never nice, but these were kids. And one of the really horrible things about it was that the plane actually got to the airport and parents were waiting – because obviously there was a schedule, they knew when their kids were due to arrive … and the plane literally burst into flames on the runway, in front of parents! It’s probably one of the blackest Christmases that the city of Port-Harcourt has ever known; it felt like everyone was directly affected, or knew someone who was. I knew someone who lost her sister, I know someone else who lost her dad, and one of my mum’s former colleagues at work was on that plane. There was this one woman who lost all three of her kids … you do tend to send all your kids to the same school, if you can. And you book them on the same flight or bus going or coming … all her kids were on this flight and she was waiting at the airport to receive them. I think one of the worst parts is that till today, over a decade later, nobody knows what actually happened that day. The investigation was a shoddy disgrace and left everyone with more angst than answers.
Now, in the book, it’s the aftermath of the plane crash that pushes the protagonist, Nadine in a certain direction that kinda determines the rest of her life …
What was the most difficult thing/scene to write in this story?
The abuse. It was mentally difficult. I had to go to places literally and metaphorically, that I really didn’t want to go. But I put in the work, because it had to be done. And having the kind of result that it’s birthed – not even about the awards or recognition or career trajectory – but the impact it’s had on people … a woman contacted me after reading it and was like, “I just read your book and I’m going to file for divorce right now”. It turned out she had been living in limbo for 17 years, her husband was a violent man who abused her terribly, they were separated but she hadn’t had the nerve to file for divorce because she was afraid of judgment from the church (which is something that the protagonist in “Forever There For You”, Nadine had to deal with).
If you could be one of the characters from any of your books, who would it be and why?
This is actually from a book that we’re scheduling for release in autumn, this year. The name of the character is Claire and I’m not even sure how I’m going to get away with calling her the protagonist, because she’s something else! (laughing)
If you could jump in to any book, and live in that world, which would it be?
Hmm, I think it would be the futuristic New York, in which J. D. Robb sets majority of her “In Death” series.
Do you have an all time favorite book?
No, but the “In Death” series by J. D. Robb is amazing; Cecelia Ahern’s “P. S. I Love You” made me bawl from maybe page 30 till the end, Martina Cole is in a league of her own, and a part of me sees Jeffrey Archer’s writing and is like, “I want to be like that when I grow up. Without the going to prison part, of course!” (laughing)
What book are you reading right now?
“Survival” and “Sun Sets At Vanity Fair” by two new authors, being published by my company, this quarter (January – March 2017).
If you could meet two authors, who would you pick and why?
Lynda La Plante, because of what she’s been able to do with her work in terms of creating multiple streams of income and a platform; it’s almost like a franchise. Then, there’s Barbara Taylor Bradford, just because her book “A Woman of Substance” is everything!
When NADINE is confronted with the reality of her failing marriage, her first instinct is to work it out. She has had it drummed into her that marriage is ‘for better, for worse’. Walking out is just not an option – her faith would condemn her and her culture would make her a pariah.
The combination of Nadine’s background, education, social standing, friendships, faith, experiences and past relationships is meant to equip her to become a success. Failure is alien to her and love means forgiving at all cost.
As she tries to survive and make the most of the curves that life has thrown her, she discovers that ’success’ is a subjective term, and ‘happily ever after’ is something that you have to discover and define for yourself …
About the Author
Chioma Nnani is the author of FOREVER THERE FOR YOU. She is an award-winning storyteller, as well as a two-time UK BEFFTA (Black Entertainment Film Fashion Television and Arts) Award nominee, in the ‘Best Author’ category. A talented ghost-writer who is known for “being able to get into your head and under your skin, before writing down exactly how you’re feeling”, Chioma is also a 2016 DIVAS OF COLOUR finalist (in the category of “Diva Author”), a 2016 CREATIVE AFRICAN Awards finalist (in the category of “Best Fiction Writer”), and has been named “One of 100 Most Influential Creatives” by C.Hub Magazine. She holds a Law (LLB) from the University of Kent and a Postgraduate Certificate in Food Law (De Montfort University, Leicester).
She is the founder of THE FEARLESS STORYTELLER HOUSE EMPORIUM LTD (a premium storytelling outfit based in the Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria, where she lives), typically contributes to lifestyle and literary publications, and runs the “Memo From A Fearless Storyteller” blogazine at www.fearlessstoryteller.com for which she won the 2016 BEFFTA (Black Entertainment Film Fashion Television and Arts) Award for “Blog of the Year”.
You can purchase Forever There For You on Amazon, Amazon UK (and all other Amazon locations – simply search Chioma Nnani). It is also available on Smashwords, the Kobo Store, The Apple Store, Barnes & Noble and Okadabooks.