SylvaNze Ifedigbo, fiction writer and op-ed columnist, was born in 1984 and lives in Lagos Nigeria. His works of fiction and socio-political commentaries have appeared in many publications both online and in print, including Prick of the Spindle, African Writer, Maple Tree Literary Supplement, Saraba, Kalahari Review, True Africa, and AFREADA. Spectrum Books published his novella, Whispering Aloud, in 2007 while DADA Books published his collection of short stories, The Funeral Did Not End, in 2012. My Mind Is No Longer Here is his new Novel.
–Our moment of discussion started on Facebook in August 8th, 2019. The necessity to feature him on our interview section was a pleasantry decision. One can see that Sylva’s has made a lot of meaning from his new novel”My Mind is No Longer Here”. Am pleased to welcome him into our interview section. You’re welcome Sylva. Now to our questions.
LIBRETTO Tell us about yourself.
SYLVA NZE IFEDIGBO: My name is Sylva Nze Ifedigbo. I am a fiction writer, op-ed columnist and Communications professional. I am the author of most recently, the novel; My Mind is No Longer Here. What’s more? I am a Father, lover of books and a student of life.
LIBRETTO: How long have you been writing?
SYLVA NZE IFEDIGBO: It may sound cliché when writers say the very first thing they did after learning to stand and walk was to write but really for me, it is true. I have written since I can remember. I started from writing alternate stories of characters, some of them, animals, I encountered in children story books. My parents being teachers with a thing for documentation have collections of my earliest stories in note books and I understand I always harangued their visitors back then to read my stories.
LIBRETTO: What was the process of writing your first book like for you? Was it hard or easy when you were writing a book? Did you give it a second thought or you just decided to see your first book published? How long did it take you to write the book? What inspired the title “My Mind is No Longer Here” and why this title?
SYLVA NZE IFEDIGBO: Let me start by saying that my first book was really a novella published in 2007 titled “Whispering Aloud” which is now out of print. But I imagine this question is really about my first novel “My Mind is No Longer Here”.
I try to build the story in my mind first, end to end, before starting to write but of course when I start writing, it could take other forms. But I first must think it through to be able to write it. The instigation could be anything, from a newspaper headline to something I overhear in a crowded bus. When the idea is fully formed in my mind, I just go ahead and write. The characters mere names and roles in my mind now begin to be further developed as the plot unravels. The other aspect of the writing process I must not fail to mention is the editing and rounds of re-writing which must happen to create any good piece of writing.
The initial draft of My Mind is No Longer Here was written in a month. But it took four years to be published. In between that period, was the many rounds of editing and rewriting and the discussions with my publisher. For the title, first I like titles that run like sentences of their own. A few examples are “I do not come to you by chance”, “We must set forth at dawn” to mention a few. This was not the title the initial draft had, but I settled for this because it captured the essence of the story.
LIBRETTO: Can you give us your favourite excerpt from the book?
SYLVA NZE IFEDIGBO: Here is a conversation between one of the main characters, Dr Haruna and his colleague. Page 183.
“I am leaving the country.” Haruna announced. The words left his lips before he had the time to think about it. He saw her eyes spark up.
“You are? Cool. That’s what you should have done a long time ago. A few weeks away will do you a lot of good. So where are you going to?”
“It’s not for a short time. I mean I’m leaving.” Haruna said slowly. He saw her pupils’ contract and her eyes go dull like a light bulb inside them had been flicked off.
“Leaving, leaving?” She unfolded her hands and placed them on the table, leaning forward.
“Since when? You never mentioned it. When are you going?”
“Anytime now, processing the papers––”
She was quiet. The only audible sound was that of the nurses chatting and giggling outside at their station.
LIBRETTO: Who are your favourite authors?
SYLVA NZE IFEDIGBO: I’m in love with the printed word so really, I love to read everything. But I have a bias for African writing and even more, for Nigerian authors. I have read many books that made an impact. Like JD Salinger’s ‘Catcher in the Rye’. Like Achebe’s ‘Anthills of the Savannah’. Like Pius Adesanmi’s ‘Africa you’re not a Country’. Like Marquez’s ‘One hundred years of Solitude’. Like Adichie’s ‘Purple Hibiscus’. Even the likes of ‘Sugar Girl’ by Kola Onadipe or Michael Crowther’s ‘Akin Goes to School’ both of which I read as a child. Every book has left its own mark and contributed to my writing in some way today.
LIBRETTO: What genre of books do you read?
SYLVA NZE IFEDIGBO: All genres. I hitherto didn’t read so much of fantasy and Sci Fi but I am now also getting into the groove with that.
LIBRETTO: Do you have published works or articles? Where can they be found?
SYLVA NZE IFEDIGBO: My writing including short stories and socio-political commentaries is allover cyber space, and in print, including Prick of the Spindle, African Writer, Maple Tree Literary Supplement, Saraba, Kalahari Review, Brittle Paper, True Africa, AFREADA, Thrice Fiction and the likes. You will find my articles in the archives (if they exist) of NEXT, DailyTimes, OlisaTV, SabiNews, SaharaReporters, etc. I also have a blog which holds some of my writing.
LIBRETTO: Could you share with us one story you’ve been most fascinated by? Tell us why and share favorite excerpt from it? And please tell us why this story? And what prompt this story?
SYLVA NZE IFEDIGBO: Perhaps one of the most fascinating stories I have read is Chuma Nwokolo’s “Bloody Benji” in the Series Tales by Conversations published in African Writing Online. It was an interesting series where entire stories were told through a conversation between two characters. To pull it off, the writer must employ elements like humour and vivid imagery within the conversation to ensure the reader is drawn into the story as he can’t describe anything, settings, emotions, etc. Bloody Benji was my introduction to the respected writer, Chuma Nwokolo and his works, but it was also a story that widen my thinking on style and language. Very hilarious and serious at the same time, Bloody Benji needs to be specially celebrated. Excerpts:
God forbid! What sort of painting is this on your wall?
You don’t like it?
See all the red jaga jaga lines all over the place. You can’t pay me enough dollars to hang this thing in my own house. This sort of painting can give children nightmares!
Ha. You don’t want to know how much I paid for it.
Rafael! You mean you paid money for this thing?
Look, this is one of Ben Enwonwu’s abstract paintings.
Enwonwu? Are you serious?
I call it ‘Bloody Benji’ — because it is so red! My wife made me buy it actually, you know she is an art lecturer. It cost me hundred thousand — but it’s actually worth more than two million naira!
Is it that Ben Enwonwu the sculptor? The one that made the bronze of the god, Sango, in front of the Power authority building?
The same one.
The same Ben Enwonwu that—
Look, there was only one Ben Enwonwu and he was the best! You know he’s dead now, not so? So the price of all his art will just be going up and up! So you don’t like it?
Well, the only thing I like about it is how all the yellow paint mixes with the red in that corner. When you look at it very well it begins to resemble the head of a masquerade, isn’t it? An Okwa masquerade, in fact. Is very, very clever, I’m telling you. – And the size as well. I like how it is big and heavy like this. I really like paintings that are big and heavy.
My wife says that if I want to sell it now I can get from two and a half million upwards. And it is not even up to five years since I bought it.
Are you telling me?
I swear to God.
LIBRETTO: In less than thirty seconds, what are your best wears?
SYLVA NZE IFEDIGBO: I am not sure I am your regular fashionista. A t-shirt over jeans and sneakers and I am good to go.
LIBRETTO: Do you think the Writing industry can grow better in few years time? Particularly in Nigeria?
SYLVA NZE IFEDIGBO: For every system, there is always room for improvement. In Nigeria, the industry has a lot of growing to do in opening the space, creating publishing opportunities for young writers, developing a good distribution network for books, making publishing profitable for publishers and helping writers make a good return for their work. But the industry like every other thing is tied to the economy. If the economy booms, the industry will benefit from it and we can see positive changes in years to come.
LIBRETTO: Do you have a specific time for writing?
SYLVA NZE IFEDIGBO: Because I hold down what we call a 9 to 5, I do much of my writing at night and the early hours of the morning. That is when I can get the peace to unleash. But all through the day as I go about my normal activities, I am gathering the stories, I am building up the characters, I am composing the lines, I am reviewing the plot, I am coming across new ideas worth exploring and where possible, I am jotting down ideas which will be revisited when I sit before the laptop screen.
LIBRETTO: If you were to write a story for a Writer/Author who would that be? And why?
SYLVA NZE IFEDIGBO: I am not sure I will enjoy writing a story for a writer. I mean, this is what they do right? So half the time I will be worrying on how they will judge the plot, the characters, the dialogue etc, instead of telling the story.
LIBRETTO: If peradventure all social media(s) decide to go on vacation till further notice, give us three things you will be doing?
SYLVA NZE IFEDIGBO: Oh, as long as Television survives, I am good. I will watch TV all day, from News & current affairs to Sports, football in particular and Documentaries.
LIBRETTO: Drop your social media handles so your readers can get in touch with you anytime, and links where they can get copies of your book.
SYLVA NZE IFEDIGBO: I am active on Twitter, Instagram, and facebook. On
LIBRETTO: In less than sixty seconds please describe your handsomeness/identity to your readers.
SYLVA NZE IFEDIGBO: Proud Brown skin guy. Card carrying member of the Beard gang.
LIBRETTO: Sylva Nze Ifedigbo, thank you for your time. Blessings!