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Author Interview: Chidiebere J Anumudu

31 January 21 interview: Kate Hewett

Author Chidiebere J Anumudu talks to Literature Editor Kate Hewett about children's book Chuka and The Arusi

Can you talk about why you were driven to write this book, and why you chose to aim for an audience aged nine and up?
Simply stated, I wrote the book I wish I had read when I was eleven. Back then, I was overweight as a result of an unhealthy lifestyle and I knew next to nothing about African history.

Chuka And The Arusi addresses those two themes: that living a healthy lifestyle and knowledge of African History are essential for African-origin children to reach their full potential in life. This comes from my equation: Health + Education + African History + Financial Knowledge = An African-origin child reaching their full potential. It could just as easily read: Health + Education + History + Financial Knowledge = Any child reaching their full potential.

The book entertains and educates on the themes of Health and History because I know that they are key ingredients to a person's success in life. Without good health you may not be around long enough to reach your full potential and without knowledge of history, you will be doomed to repeat the same mistakes of your ancestors. I wrote the book for children around the age of nine and above because I believe that at that age children can grasp these concepts in a way that allows them to take the positive action needed to achieve them. I knew that it is important to provide readers with a fun story whilst furnishing them with facts so I created a story about magic and time-travel to entertain while I educate.

How have you found the publishing process?
It took me the best part of a year and about eight drafts and countless editing sessions (I lose count) to write the book so publishing wasn't that difficult a process after that. What I learned along the way was that there is a big difference between writing a story and creating a product that you want someone to spend their hard earned money on. I self-published on Amazon and it took a lot of trial and error to create the book, especially the paperback. Getting the 'look' of the book correct was a long process but I learnt a lot on the way that I can carry through to my next projects.

What has the reaction to your book been?
The reaction has been very positive. My family and friends knew that this had been a goal of mine for a long time so they were very supportive and pleased for me. What was important for me, and I guess for any writer, was that the message I was trying to convey came across well in the book. From the responses, I can see that that was indeed the case. All the feedback I have received commented specifically on the themes I was seeking to highlight.  

Also as a father, I wrote the book particularly for my two children who are seven and ten and they really enjoyed it. So I am happy.

You mentioned that Nottingham Emmanuel School is using your book, can you talk more about this, please?
I emailed info about Chuka And The Arusi to local schools as it is a book for school children (that being said, I know of some pensioners who really enjoyed the book and learnt a lot along the way) and the school librarian contacted me about using the book for Black History Month and helping the students in their English class who were doing a project on self-publishing a book. I agreed to provide them with a copy of the book and do a short video where I read a chapter from the book and spoke about my experience of self-publishing and also shared some writing tips. Also three local libraries have decided to buy copies which is great.

Has the lockdown impacted you in terms of your writing or reading?
I started writing the book prior to lockdown but when it came I can't say that it had much effect on my writing. Writing essentially 'occurs in self-isolation' so not being able to go here and there due to government restrictions was not that different from the restrictions I had to place upon myself in order to complete the book.

Thankfully, the discipline I needed to write the book was already a part of me before the pandemic struck. The forced isolation perhaps helped my imagination in that, since I could not travel (like a lot of people, I had to cancel travel plans abroad) my mind did the 'travelling' for me. There were many times that I found myself in an Ancient African kingdom with Chuka and his Arusi guides.

Can you tell us about your way into writing? Did you enjoy reading as a child yourself? Or is this a new interest of yours?I started writing my first novel way back in 2004 but I only ended up writing the first chapter because I lacked the discipline at the time to complete it. In 2006 I completed what I believed was a film script but in hindsight it was more like the pilot for a TV series. The idea behind it, I believe, is still an original one and I intend to convert it into a novel in the near future. It seems that ideas are not the problem for me, it's finding the time to 'flesh them out'.

I read a lot as a child. I was an early reader according to my mum. I remember reading a lot of 'teen novels' and comics, particularly Marvel. My favourite character was The Silver Surfer. I am currently reading Natives by Akala.

What would you like readers to take away from your latest book, upon reading it?
I believe they will come away with the feeling that they have been entertained by an original story and I am confident that they will have learnt something they never knew along the way. Also an understanding of what is possible with determination and discipline.

I would say to all: "Create Your Reality". We all have it within us. Every one of us

Can you take us through prominent moments of your life?
I am originally from Igbo Land which is in southern Nigeria. Igbo people are known for their creativity and entrepreneurial spirit. Famous Igbo people include the authors, Olaudah Equiano, Chinua Achebe, Cyprian Ekwensi and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and the actors, Forest Whitaker, Danny Glover and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

 A song that I feel makes a statement about the Igbo people is Igbo Kwenu by Lord Colonel feat. Zoro. This is because Igbo Kwenu is like a rallying cry to Igbo people when they meet together in groups. 

I felt that I was treated differently because of my skin colour when as a young single man living in London, a couple of my friends and I decided to take a trip 'up north' for the weekend. We travelled up to Derby and I remember the feeling when we entered the night club. It felt like we were being stared at by the entire club. Once we ordered our drinks and found a place to sit several ladies made their way over to us and began chatting to us. To this day I'm not sure whether it was because of our melanated skin or because of my friend Alrick who’s always been catnip to the ladies. Perhaps it was a bit of both. The whole experience and the trip as a whole was very pleasing.

Your book covers healthy eating, do you have any favorite foods?
An easy African-origin meal to try would be yam and plantain. These are staple foods in the Igbo culture, especially yam. Yam is like a massive potato. Plantain, like a large banana. Both can be eaten boiled, fried or roasted. I particularly like fried yam, plantain and scrambled eggs. Delicious! Although roasted/boiled is much better for you - just not as tasty.

What are your future plans?
My short term plan is writing another children's book for a slightly younger age group and I have another two children's books ready to be written after that.Once they are done I have two books for adults to complete.

My long term plans are immortality! But seriously, did you know that the Kemethu (Ancient Egyptians) considered writing to be a sacred act and believed that writers lived on through their works. There is an ancient manuscript thought to be over 3000 years old called 'The immortality of Writers' that speaks about how writing was more important, and would ultimately last longer, than the pyramids themselves. Considering how long the pyramids have stood, I find this a fascinating concept.

In this month of African re-discovery, I leave you with the words of Akala's Fire In The Booth: "So read, read, read! Stuck on the block, read, read! Sittin' in the box, read, read!" 

In conclusion, I would say to all: "Create Your Reality". We all have it within us. Every one of us.

Chuka and The Arusi is available on Amazon now

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