Guest reviewer on Classic FM 97.3’s Book On Review, Chiedozie Dike, got together with Othuke Ominiabohs, writer of recently released crime thriller, A Conspiracy of Ravens, to talk about everything concerning his book.
Check below for the illuminating interview.
Dike: A Conspiracy of Ravens is your second novel and it’s a political thriller. How did the writing process differ from that of Odufa?
Othuke: Unlike Odufa, while writing A Conspiracy of Ravens, I had access to a great team of critics, editors and friends who served as extra pair of eyes. I also felt more confident as a writer, especially after sieving through the mountain of feedback I got from those who read Odufa. Let’s just say, I learnt from my mistakes. Lastly, I didn’t pay a hundred percent attention to writing rules and conventional structure as much as I did the first book. All that drove me was the need to tell a great story. I stepped away from my comfort zone and pushed the limits irrespective of literary consequence.
Dike: Your novel, though fiction, is based on true events. How difficult was the research process, and what obstacles, if any, did you have to surmount?
Othuke: I needed materials I didn’t have access to. For instance, the internet had very little information regarding how the DSS works, chain of command and all that. I needed to get on a rig to place scenes of my story in one, but that didn’t happen, despite the number of times I tried. Information gathered on Boko Haram was not specific and I could tell the Internet had more speculations than fact. There were a lot of cases where I needed hard fact, but owing to the sensitive nature of the research in question, I couldn’t get access to such information. To surmount these challenges however, I did what writers do: I improvised, hence the disclaimer at the beginning of my book.
Dike: The women in your novel aren’t paper-thin. They are vibrant and crucial to the conclusion of the novel. Is that deliberate social commentary on your part?
Othuke: Yes, it is deliberate. I think women are the bedrock of society. They are strong and vibrant, and I couldn’t help showing them in that light despite the challenges and obstacles they each had to surmount in the novel.
Dike: Apropos to the last question, one of the novel’s major characters, Alex Randa, is a lesbian. Why is that important to have in this novel?
Othuke: It’s not important at all. It was just used to portray the flaw or imperfection of her almost flawless character. In reality, no one is perfect, not even the saintly preacher you admire. We all have skeletons in our cupboards. I try to draw a close semblance between reality and my fictional works. Alex is just one of such prototypes. She has all the great qualities any man or woman would want. But like everyone else, she has a skeleton she keeps safely hidden, so much so that the reader doesn’t come across it till the end of the novel.
Dike: Who are your biggest literary influences?
Othuke: I grew up reading a lot of Western literature. Some of those greats for me were James Hadley Chase, Robert Ludlum, Jeffery Archer, Sydney Sheldon, Dean Koontz, Stephen King and a host of other suspense writers. The above mentioned have been my biggest literary influences over the years.
Dike: You’re from the Niger-Delta, so the presumption is the subject-matter of the novel holds some personal interest. In the novel, you did remarkable work balancing the narrative of the crisis in the region: from the perspectives of the local people to those of militants, the government and even the expatriates – and by extension, the oil companies. Now, shelving authorial distance, do you think there’s any justification for the way the Nigerian government and these multinationals have conducted business in the Niger-Delta?
Othuke: The pen is my voice. My voice is my opinion. I am the pen. Asking me to shelve authorial distance is asking me to lose myself. My thoughts on the issue in question are generously represented in my novel.
Dike: There’s a very key quote on page 251 of your novel by John Stuart Mill on the necessity of war in the face of unrelenting oppression. In the light of that powerful quote, what’s your opinion on the approach of the Niger-Delta Avengers in fighting the exploitation of their native lands and the continued impoverishment of the Niger-Delta people?
Othuke: My opinion is in my novel. It is fiction, so that also means it isn’t my opinion at all… Maybe I don’t have any or maybe I’ve created the right pictures with my characters to shed some light into my thoughts on the subject matter.
Dike: You touched on several hot-button subjects in your novel, and it makes me curious about your relationship with this particular novel. Was the novel born out of agency as a writer to document and reflect on the times, or were you only looking to write a page-turner?
Othuke: Being born in the Niger Delta has opened my eyes to a lot of anomalies in the region. My community for instance, a small ‘city’ called AVIARA, hasn’t had electricity for over a year. There are others worse than mine. So was I writing to ‘document and reflect on the times’? Yes of course, I was. But at the same time, I wanted to tell a gripping tale, a page-turner that’ll outlive me.
Dike: What has the reception of this novel been like, and how has it differed from that of Odufa?
Dike: As a writer, what do you want to be recognised for?
Othuke: My dream is to someday ask an African child what he/she wishes to become in future and to hear the response: “A writer”. I want to be recognized and remembered as one of the few who not only cleared a path for this dream, but who held out a ladder and a torch to all those who sought this lonesome path.
Dike: What are you working on right now and what should your readers expect?
Othuke: I am currently working on my third book. It’s also a sequel to Odufa. I hope to release it sometime in 2017. My readers should expect another great read.
Dike: The end of ACOR suggests it would have a sequel. When do we expect that and can we count on more homoerotic scenes?
Othuke: There might or might not be a sequel to ACOR. And if a sequel does come, it won’t be for another five to ten years.
Dike: Liz Parker, one of the most vital characters in your novel, is a housewife. She proves throughout the book to be incredibly smart and resourceful. Is it safe to assume she doesn’t belong to the kitchen, the living room, and the other room?
Othuke: You can assume anything you like. You are the reader and it’s in your hands to deduce both what I said in my book or didn’t say. But like you’ve rightly said, in my novel, Liz Parker is a housewife.