The author of Men Don’t Die, Ever Obi is an expert in risk management and a prolific writer whose enthusiasm for art and culture through writing has enabled him to share some thought-provoking stories about Africa and man’s struggles against the unfairness of life. Beyond his professional life as the Managing Director of one of Nigeria’s leading consumer lending firms, Zedvance Finance Limited, he uses writing to express himself on societal concerns. Obi, in this interview spoke about his journey into writing and his latest book, Some Angels Don’t See God.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
Probably at the age of ten. Growing up, I began reading some of my mother’s old books: The Mayor of Casterbridge, The Jero plays, Things Fall Apart; books by Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, that generation of writers. But I never wanted to be a writer, I never thought that I could be one until my sister introduced me to the works of Adaeze Atuegwu (The Adventures of Nnanna, Tears, Fate, Chalet 9 and The Bina Serie). Because Atuegwu was quite young then, her works made me realise that young people could write too. I began to write into my imaginations.
How long does it take you to write a book?
It is tough to say, there is nothing hard and fast. Now, because I have always held a day job, as a financial risk manager and then as a business executive in a leading financial institution – day jobs that are extremely demanding – I just learn patience. I write at my pace, whenever I can make out time. It took me four years to write Men Don’t Die and my new book took six years of my natural life. Writing teaches patience.
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
Work schedule is always going to be work schedule. Here, you have two things fighting over you. First, it’s your day job that pays the bills. Because you are being paid for it, you need to be good at it, be a good professional. On the other hand, its writing and literature, where your heart lies; something you know that you cannot live without doing. If something holds that sort of importance in your life, you have to make out time for it, even when it does not hold any solid promise of financial stability. You just need to always strike that balance.
Every writer is different, and sometimes we have certain rituals or quirks that help us write. Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
I write literary fiction, which means that I am essentially writing about life. I get my ideas from my experiences and experiences of others, and sometimes, stories just come to you, totally from the boundlessness of your imagination. I write about life and because we are all students of life, it is easy to get these ideas. Turning them into a book is what makes you an artist, trying to colour life experiences with beautiful words and metaphors.
When did you write your first book and how old were you?
My first published work was Men Don’t Die; I wrote it between 2010 and 2014. It eventually got published in 2019. But when I was a boy, discovering myself and literature, I wrote a lot, some of them were ridiculous scribblings. I can still remember all the titles that I gave them, plays and novels. The first full-length novel manuscript that I ever wrote was one that I titled Touching the Leopard’s Tail. I ended up misplacing it, just like every other thing I wrote back then.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
When I am not writing or getting overwhelmed by life, I am reading a book or watching Mixed Martial Arts. It is surprising that watching prizefighters pummel one another helps me relax.
What does your family think of your writing?
My family has always known me to be like this, right from when I turned my mother into a human dictionary; I was paying too much attention to words, right from when I started scribbling stories. They have always been supportive and are always asking about the next project I am working on. I am blessed to have them in my corner, to have people who have, over all these years, tolerated all my idiosyncrasies.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
That writing isn’t a hobby. It is intense and it is huge work on its own. It is not like playing football or watching TV, not one of those things you occupy your leisure time with because you want to have fun. Writing requires dedication and patience. People misunderstand this; they think you are having fun when you are writing. You are actually working. The physical and mental efforts that go into writing form an investment that needs to be respected. I feel that because a lot of people don’t understand this, they don’t respect these efforts; that is why they don’t expect writers to make money from their art.
Your debut novel “Men Don’t Die” is a melancholic story about death and spiritualism; money and love. What inspired the story?
Life. My life and the lives of other people. It is a story born out of the need to reiterate that life actually owes us nothing. It does not matter what you think you deserve. Life deals us whatever card it wants; we just need to keep going and keep doing our best. And it was also a way for me to raise more questions about spiritualism and the notions we hold about the afterlife.
Can you tell us about your new book “Some Angels Don’t See God”? What’s the story about?
The book is about so many things. But in the most basic form of it, I would say it is about incest and the ramifications of it in the lives of some of the main characters. I will leave it at that, allow people purchase their copies.
Where can we find your books?
My books can be found in major book stores across the country. You can also get them online or on Amazon. Google does the magic. Just go on Google and get all the options available.
Do you have any suggestions to help aspiring writers? If yes, what are they?
Read, read to learn. It is easier when you know the kind of writer you want to be; that means you know the kind of books you should be reading. Then write. You cannot be a writer without actually writing. Write and be patient. It is the patience that keeps you going when it does not make sense to continue.
Do you hear from your readers much? What kind of things do they say?
Yes, yes, I do hear from my readers. The world is increasingly getting smaller and smaller; anybody can connect with you on social media, with questions or criticisms about your work. When you write fiction, you are creating your own world. And when you publish, you are inviting people into this world. That means that you should expect it all, praises and criticisms; some of them constructive, others shockingly ridiculous. But it is part of the process of becoming an artist, accepting that your work is going to be received by different people in different ways.
As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
I wanted to be many things. There was a time when I wanted to be an engineer, and time when I wanted to be a medical doctor. Despite the fact that I had started writing at a young age, always knew I wanted to be a writer, but I was a science student. You know back in the day when those lazy guidance counsellors see that you are a little brilliant, they just mark you for science. I wanted to be so many things, but most importantly, in the midst of all that confusion, one thing never changed. I always knew that I also wanted to be a writer.
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
It doesn’t really matter to me. If your story leads you down that path where you need to write multiple books to do justice to the demands it has on your heart, why not? It depends on how the story has come, on what you are trying to say. Whether you say it in one book or in three books, it does not matter.
If you could tell your younger writing-self anything, what would it be?
Write more. Be more selfish about chasing your goals. Immerse yourself in literature and maximize all the fulfilment it holds.
What does literary success look like to you?
The undeniable truth is that creatives enjoy getting paid for their works. There is that financial angle to it, selling enough books, your works opening other doors and creating a solid economic place for you. But most importantly, having copies of your book in the hands of people who do justice to literature by reading books well, getting the story and connecting with you to discuss how the book speaks to them, brings an indescribable feeling. It is just amazing. That is the feeling of success.