When it comes to writing, Umari is on a roll. Today she shares with us her story and how she has been able to achieve so much. Enjoy today’s #WriterSpotlght
Hello Umari. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I am a lawyer and arbitrator by day, and a writer by night. I was born in Cross River state, raised in Niger and Lagos states. I currently live in Abuja where I have just established my law firm, Godel Aten Consultants and Solicitors, a non-litigation commercial law firm. I am an avid reader and spend most of my day scouring the Internet for information. I enjoy long walks in parks and the occasional hang out with my friends.
What inspired your love for writing?
Books. I was encouraged to read by my parents from an early age. Being a quiet shy child, I found it easier to create my own friends and world from the colourful stories of Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, Sir H. Rider Haggard and Ken Saro Wiwa. I grew to have an insatiable appetite for books and discovered African and African American writers like Wole Soyinka, Chinua Acheba, Mariama Ba, Peter Abrahams, Camara Laye, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Ayi Kwei Armah among others, while in Secondary School. All these writers, along with poets like J.P Clark and Okot p’Bitek inspired my love for writing.
Since you are a lawyer and an arbitrator, how do you find time to write?
It can be challenging fitting writing into my schedule as a lawyer, but writing has been a part of me for so long that it is hard to escape the urge when it comes. However, I find that the nights offer the silence necessary for my imagination to run wild, making writing easy. Once it is day, I am back to being a lawyer.
You have published seven books, two in print and five e-books. How was the experience?
Rewarding. I learned many things along the way. I have learned that as a writer, you must be open to exploring new ideas and new ways to do things. After my first book Twilight at Teracotta Indigo, I found it troubling that many book readings I had attended to discuss the book had a few young people in attendance. My audience was usually between the age-range of 30 and 60.
I discussed this issue with a close friend and decided that I would go into blogging to connect with younger readers. I put all of my energy into blogging, sharing stories three times a week. I quickly found out that writing for young people came with its own challenges. We are in a jet-age and a time when young people are inundated with information and entertainment from all angles. To keep their attention, I had to be as creative as possible. I changed a lot of things, including my writing style. My dialogues became longer, infused with bits of information culled from the day-to-day drama found on social media. I think I got their attention after that. Now, my audience has more young people than it did when I first started out.
Also, sharing my stories on my blog made it easier to get feedback, praise and criticism alike, which in turn helped my writing.
Congratulations on your soon to be released book Guardian of the Fall. Tell us about the book and why you decided to write it.
Thank you. Guardian of the Fall is a story that deals with the themes of love, betrayal, change versus tradition, problem of identity, corruption, discrimination and the role of nature in the creation myths of different cultures in the world. The story is set in the city of Lagos, the village of Agbokim in Cross River State and Kenya.
It is centered on the Guardian of the Agbokim Falls, a mysterious spirit that lives in the forest around the Fall, its messenger Erom and Ken, a young engineer from Lagos whose company has been commissioned to build a nature themed resort around the Fall by the state government.
I have always been intrigued with the question why many creation myths are around the phenomena of the physical world which we know as nature. My deep interest in religion and history led me to the conclusion that early man lived in such awe of his natural environment that his idea of the divine was inspired from what he observed around him. This is why gardens, mountains, rivers and the elements always found their way into many creation stories. Guardian of the Fall draws parallels with creation myths around the world, focusing on the Kikuyu creation myth, those of the world’s major religions and that of the Guardian.
Guardian of the Fall also touches on the subject of environmental preservation. The areas of Cross River where the story is set and other Niger Delta states have mangrove forests spanning 36,000 km2. This mangrove concentration is the largest in Africa and the third largest in the world. However, due to the challenges of illegal logging and encroachment, deforestation has continued at alarmingly high rates.In my book, the Guardian is the retributive force against this problem, but it is also a call for the government to put more effort into curbing the activities of loggers in the mangroves.
Lastly, the Guardian with its many forms is also my own way of conceptualizing the protective force that keeps human life in balance. Unlike anything representing the divine in many creation myths, the Guardian is neither male nor female.
What’s the most important lesson writing has taught you?
It has taught me to be patient, to be open to learning and to believe in myself no matter what.
What answer will you give a budding writer who desperately needs to start making money from writing?
I will say, do your homework properly. Research your audience, know what they like, be determined and be very realistic. You are not going to make millions overnight. Focus on building your brand. Take advantage of social media to give your work visibility. Share your stories with established writers and ask them to share with their followers. Build your own platform and remain dedicated to building a following of loyal readers who will in turn buy your work.
You have recorded a lot of successes since you started writing, what will you say is responsible for this?
I am a very determined person. Once I set my mind on something, I make sure to achieve it. I am also very confident in my abilities and rarely ever allow myself be distracted by people or circumstances.
In five years, where do you see yourself?
I see myself at the top of my writing and legal game. I see myself winning more awards and recognition for my books. I also see myself influencing the lives of young people positively.
What should every budding writer know about the business of writing?
It is one of the most precious gifts given to man with the power to shape thought. To win at writing, you must always believe in yourself. No one started out perfect. It took countless mistakes for many good writers to get where they are today. Be prepared for the rejection. Many publishers will tell you your work is not good enough for them. That is not an indictment of your abilities. It is just life’s way of building you up. Keep working on your craft and it won’t be long until you are reaping the rewards.