“I can’t imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once.”
― C.S. Lewis.
My mother tells me when I was little, I was taught to use sounds to pronounce new words but I had no patience for that process. I’d walk to any adult available, point out the new word, ask for its pronunciation and that was it, word stuck…in no time I was reading perfectly with a love for new words and the absolute need to use them as soon as possible. Now she thought it was because I was in competition with my sister, the one I come right after but No, I simply found reading fascinating, and they made me think in many different directions at a time, fed my imagination.
My eldest sister recounts how I made her jaw drop when I questioned her one evening when she was bathing me, about a TV series they used to watch in my presence – Jake and the Fat Man.
Me: Sister Angela
Angela : Yeess
M: Is the man called Fat Man because he is fat?
M: That is not nice. Does he have a wife?
M: He has a girlfriend then.
And my sister Angela said she just stared dumbly at me, thinking, where from this conclusion?! But you see, I was very observant, and things I had watched and read were all in my head not for nothing, but to make connections! I was used to “Happily ever afters” involving a man, a beautiful woman to court and wife, and the family follows; that was the formula. Why was Fat Man an exception? If he wasn’t married yet, then definitely he was still courting her, that was why, no? It’s funny the connections I made between all I read and reality. People had to be happy, period!
Then again, there was my mother’s training (hehe, pupil teacher, no nonsense, Mrs. Anarfi!). She’d place stools in the kitchen while she cooked so my sister and I could read to her alternately, and I remember she didn’t just listen for correct pronunciation, but listened for observation of punctuations as well.
“There’s a comma, pause”
“It’s a question, not a statement, so how will you say that?”
“You sound too flat, add life to it.”
And like that, in the kitchen, we’d finish our homework and read to her, till she was done with dinner, we’d take our baths, eat, hang around a bit, mostly listening to adult chat, then off to bed. That increased my love for books. My first speech and prize giving day, I received a story book for outstanding performance, whatever that meant in class one, lol! It was a blue little book titled ‘The Proud Rooster’ and I am sure it is in the study back at home, I should find it! I was done reading that book on our way back home and wanted more! Why did it end so soon? So I’d continue the story myself! Lol! Now writing is coming in ehn? Yup, it’s how it started.
I remember feeling frustrated any time someone was called out to read in class and the person kept fumbling with words and completely ignoring punctuations. I took pride in being able to read delightfully well, and was always happy to help my friends do same if they were willing to learn. The first book that made me cry was Danielle Steele’s The Gift, only the first time though. I read that book over and over and it was so with any book I loved. Now because my siblings were older and were either in secondary school or Uni and because my Dad is a reader himself, I had access to both African and Western Writers from since I could read. Of course Armah’s The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born and Achebe’s Things Fall Apart were among the first I read. Then Mariama Ba, Rotimi, Soyinka, Sekyi followed. The Poes and Miltons and Popes were also there. All very exciting! And every time I’d think of other sides to what I read. What if this had gone otherwise or that hadn’t happened?
Reading so much made me realize how my mind worked, and I think I was about 7 or 8 years old when I started consciously creating characters of my own in my head, writing my own stories from scratch, mostly fables, and kept writing at the least opportunity I got. By Basic school Form 3 I had handwritten a novella titled ‘Complicated’ which my Dad had his assistant type out for me. I still have that manuscript – I cringe at more than a few places now when I pick it up to glance through but I think it is a tangible part of my story as a writer.
Now, although I started writing prose before Poetry which I started at 16, I do say Poetry is my first love because of how different it was for me, to produce it. It was a confessional mode for me right from day one, and the first time I experienced the catharsis of it, I knew it was some soul-craft I had just discovered I had in me.
It was no surprise to my parents that I chose to study Literature in Secondary School, and then English as an Undergrad. I have had no regrets aside that there is too much more that I could have gained from choosing this path here in Ghana if our systems were better structured, managed and backed with passion and a thirst for new ideas and positive change. I won’t go too much into my problems with such, let’s save that for another day.
It is also no surprise to me, where my love for books and reading and writing is leading me. As a kid I thought Fat Man needed a woman, be it wife or girlfriend, to be sure of his happily ever after, and if I could, rewrite the story and have Fat Man find the woman of his dreams. As an adult, I have realized happily ever afters come in all kinds of ways, and some people do not get them because they are not let free, they do not have their own sweet dreams and nightmares, all foully made and handed to them. We live struggling to tailor our happily ever afters. I grew to realize they were fairytales and then reality.
Because of my experiences as a writer, I read not just with the critical eye studying literature has given me, but with a writer’s heart…that knowing…that link with the authors of the books I read…the connection that makes you reach out to to ask if everything is ok, if you know the writer. and so whenever I read novels that disturbed me because these writers had simply put the worlds they lived in in fiction, I itched to do something…rewrite, if not the entire story, portions of it, the little I can do here and there, and that is what informed my decisions when it came to choosing what next to do, postgrad; Population Studies.
This love affair started from my Mama’s Kitchen, to a 16-year-old’s dark room, through to a woman’s discovery that truly, literature (by this I mean fiction) is a window to the world…and can very much inform research trains, policymaking and implementation – in a better way rewriting the real stories that seep into fiction, because that is what happens.
Reading…Writing…Discovering…Creating…Impacting positive change…
This is a lover’s brief account.