#WriterSpotlight – “It is not easy to give a story heart but when you do? Slam dunk!” – Abigail Anaba

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Today’s #WriterSpotlight is absolutely off the hook and you have to read it. Our guest is a book evangelist. As the founder of GrillandRead, her goal is to get non-readers and lazy readers to love, buy and read books. 

You’d love this one. 

Hello Abigail. Can you please tell us about yourself in a few words?

My name is Abigail Anaba. I write, I read, I teach.

Would you say you chose writing or writing chose you?

I wish I understood this question. How does an occupation or profession choose someone? I have a mental picture of walking down the street trying to make sense of the chaos around me when from behind a wooden pole jumps profession with a written or verbal proposition. I would very much like to see that happen…to anyone.

At what point did you make the decision to become a writer?

Two decades ago after binging on movies to a state of near delirium, I told myself I could enjoy writing as a job, and I believe I deliberately started to take actions that would bring the dream to fruition.

You are well known as a screen writer. Can you tell us how you honed your skills as a screen writer?

I wrote, read and then wrote some more. I read everything available on the internet to be a good screen writer, I read books on screen writing and I attended workshops on screen writing. Then I wrote some more and made very generous use of my delete button.

In your opinion, what makes a good story or script?

It must have a heart. And by this I mean it must connect emotionally with the reader and if you are fortunate to have good actors interpret the script, then it must connect emotionally with the viewer. I don’t think anyone wants to be a passive consumer of a story. They want to laugh, they want to cry, they want an emotional roller coaster. I certainly do. So each time I read a story I ask, ‘where is the heart?’ To be candid, it is not easy to give a story heart but when you do? Slam dunk!

You published your first book Sector IV in 2015. What made you decide to write this book?

I felt I had a story to tell that had not been told.

Publishing a book in Nigeria seems to be a Herculean task. Can you please tell us some of the challenges you faced and how you were able to overcome them?

Finding people who could key into my vision with the limited resources at my disposal. I am quite fussy about finishing and sometimes I had to just go on the internet and read how stuff is done and then teach someone to do it…plus supervise to ensure it was done correctly. But by far the biggest challenge was the lack of a promotion and distribution structure in the country. I would rather not blow my own trumpet. It took a great deal of talking to for me to talk about things that I do. So that was a major obstacle. As I have come to realize, however, you gotta toot your own horn.

What do you think can be done to move our publishing industry forward?

I know this word has been used a lot, but we definitely need it in the writing and reading business. We need disruptors. People who will come with innovative ideas based on study of the Nigerian market and habits. For instance, over 40 million Nigerians are literate, but I am unsure if any book published for the Nigerian audience had sold 100,000 copies in a year. I have heard ridiculous numbers like 5-10 thousand in some quarters. I think that’s unacceptable.

It is said that Nigerians do not read. Do you believe this?

People say Nigerians don’t read for pleasure and they say this is why books are not sold that much, I disagree. I believe Nigerians will read if you give them a good reason to. We need to begin to tell stories like Nollywood does, and enter the market like Cowbell did. Story type and the pricing dynamics are two reasons Nigerians don’t read Nigerian. There certainly is a thriving second-hand books business where books are much cheaper and more easily accessible. 

In 2016, you started Grill n Read. What informed this decision?

It was my little way of showing that how you present books will affect how people perceive books. I knew there were Nigerians who could afford to buy Nigerian books (even with the crazy prices) but who did not even know the books existed. Grill and Read was created to target non-readers and lazy readers. It is a type of evangelism using food and drink to promote books. Our message is, everyone can be a reader. I will have to mention that a lot of people are put off by the hoity toitiness of writers who have hijacked the reading space and talk about books to the exclusion of readers. The entire intellectualism associated with something that should bring pleasure. It really shouldn’t be that deep. We felt that needed to change.

Since its launch, you have organised several book reading events across Nigeria which were well attended. How were you able to achieve this?

I have the best and most supportive friends. Starting from when this was just an idea up till now. Of course one of our biggest problems has been getting financial support. But thank God for organisations like Hedge&Pembrook  who have supported us from day one. 

I must say, the events have not even been as well attended as I would have wished but I have been told we have done well so far. Of course, we keep looking at what works, what needs to be tweaked and we adjust as we go along. We take feedback seriously and work on it. We have also had uncommon grace of God. 

What should we expect next from Abigail?

My next books. I’m experimenting with a few things and I hope it works :). A new and improved GrillandRead for the 2018 season and in October of this year the GrillandRead Annual Readers’ Award #GaRARA2017. This is one every reader wouldn’t want to miss. 

There are writers who look up to you. What advice do you have for them on their journey to becoming a published author?

Three things: Stay away from social media sycophants. Read until you know what works. Keep improving your use of your language of communication.

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