The My Boy Chronicles Part 2| Interlude

The Consequences Of Loving Joan

When she followed you on Twitter, you were ecstatic. It wasn’t everyday that a Coke writing shortlistee-to-be followed an anonymous account from the back waters of the Niger Delta. Modesty was key, one didn’t want to seem crude or ill-mannered. At your desk, you shrieked and danced; online you tweeted : Thanks for following back.

At first you worried that it wouldn’t last. What on earth had made such a popular, pretty lady follow a nonentity like you? It did last though, longer than you thought it would. You were hard to love and sometimes your strong minded views on christian affairs made your tweets sting the eyes of some would be followers. From time to time you checked to see if she was still there; still following you. It was never a small consolation to discover that indeed she was.

You had met her once, at a book reading in Lagos for Eghosa Imasuen’s Fine Boys. She walked past you. Her elegant curves flattered by the simple pink blouse and black trousers she wore. She had a vacant look on her face and you wondered what it would be like to walk up to her and say,

“Hi, I am Saint, you follow me, on Twitter.”

You imagined her burnt tobacco brown face breaking into a smile and the lovely conversation that would ensue,

“Wow! That’s lovely! I never knew you looked so nice. So handsome…”

You charm her with the attention you pay to every word. The evening ends too soon, but not before you can coax her phone number unto your phone. You memorise it too. One can not expect such good fortune to occur again very soon.

Instead you stand by as the more famous, workshop-affiliated Tolu takes her hand. They hug like teenagers and she is giggling at something he says. Jealousy like hot okro soup sears your eyes. You look away but the imprint of their happiness has been stamped on your memory forever.

Nothing else matters that day. Not the lovely African curios in the well furnished bookshop, not Efe Paul’s souls stirring poems, not even Honey Adum’s mischievously delightful rendition of his song Olofofo. You sit in the crowd but you wish you were home; in your little hut beside the river Niger’s Delta, where you didn’t feel so invisible, so powerless….

The pain passes with time. Soon you are your usual ebullient self LOLing, Mchewing and ROTFL. You get bold enough to send her a DM after you learn her writing is getting national recognition. She replies without delay. You wish her well and smile through out the day like a drunk gorilla.

You read all her tweets and pray for her, she needs to get closer to God, to relent from this Someone-In-The Highest business. It doesn’t seem to change much but you aren’t bothered, there is no harm in hope. You love her in the way only a secret online friend can–with unbridled loyalty and blind affection.

When her story gets on the Coke shortlist you can feel your feet drift off the street. You levitate home and download the stories tweeting beat by beat. You download her’s first and despite its flaws anoint yourself its champion. Persecution comes, as it always does. This time through well meaning friends. They say you are ‘biased’, ‘blind’, ‘bribed’, a buffoon!. You shake your smiling head at them.

The Coke Prize comes and goes and she doesn’t win. It hurts a lot but you suck it in and tweet your undying support.

The matter would have passed and life gone on if it wasn’t for Chiemeka. Chiemeka had to call Joan ‘his girl’ and cause an international literary scandal.

Joan wasn’t the sort of girl to let the matter go by. Her retort was designed to kill. With it’s erotic imagery and culinary pictorials it left readers in no doubt that she was not Chiemeka’s girl at all. You took her side through the war that followed. The numbers, where in you favour and soon Chiemeka’s folks called for a truce. There was none forthcoming.

In between the satire and fine writing the raging controversy produced, you began to think that Joan’s retort, left a bad taste in the mouth.

Back at your hut that night, the images danced on your bamboo ceiling: Cocoyam chasing man-boobs, re-inflated manhood, and a workshop apprentice. After some thought, you decided to ask Joan if her retort could be removed. After all her point had been made and the message delivered. Everyone knew she wasn’t Chiemeka’s girl, why stir bad blood over the dude? Keeping the offending article up seemed in bad taste. It shocked many elders in the literary elite. Off colour jokes about her needing to grow a member or burn a bra were beginning to surface. Yes, taking the post down was the thing to do, you hoped you could convince Joan of this.

You took three deep breaths and prepared to word your DM with care. God forbid, that in your conciliatory mission, you ended up offending her.
Squaring your shoulders, you typed a conversation starter.

When you tried sending it though, you discovered that Joan was no longer following you.

The My Boy Chronicles. Part 1

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[To be read in your best ‘T.D. Jakes voice.]

Now these begin the chronicles of the My Boy Saga. A story of great moral value to those who desire fame or are at risk of falling prey to it.

1. It came to pass that a certain Ngozi wrote a book called Amerikana which was widely talked about around the whole world. Many regarded it with awe and some with exasperation. As a service to the Bostonrearview, a great teacher of African literature, AB did interview Ngozi about the book. Their interview went most amicably until it happened upon the subject of new African writing and the Caine Prize.

To which, in part, Ngozi replied

“Eli was one of my boys in my workshop.”

“What’s this over-privileging of the Caine Prize anyway… it is not the arbiter of the best fiction in Africa. It’s never been. I know that Chinelo is on the short list too, But I haven’t even read the stories–I am just not very interested.”

“I don’t go to the Caine Prize to look for the best in African Literature. I go to my mailbox. where my workshop people send me their stories.”

3. Eli did read of Ngozi’s comments and he was sore displeased. For he was a Man who had by much hard work and practice, attained his place on the stage of New African writing.

4. In the throes of this displeasure he did tweet most forcibly his pain. His displeasure remained so he proceeded to write on his blog, a post which in part, read thus.

“You imagined [Ngozi’s] skin in terms of taste. You thought it could have the consistency of small cocoyams, the ones that overcook a little in between the big hard ones, the ones that slide out of their skins when held with some pressure at ones fingertips…. Your man boobs would not even let you entertain the thought of eating small cocoyams….”

“Some words of congratulation(s) feel like warm spit in the face instead of a gentle pat on the back.”
“You would have sent her an email to ask why. Or even joked about it, But she no longer replies your emails. There is no palm oil left for this cocoyam. It dries in your mouth.”

“…you think of how silly this cocoyam analogy is. You spit it out, the cocoyam. This is the consequence of loving Ngozi: you get free publicity in the Boston Review.” [ Edited in some fashion for clarity and decorum]

5. The blogpost was shared on Twitter and the Nigerian Twitter Litterati were up in arms.

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6. For though Eli hath not many prizes, fellowships and genius grants to his name, he was well loved by many upcoming Nigerian writers who saw him as a symbol of what one could achieve without famous mentor, godfather or mother. He was their man. They took his insult as theirs.

7. Then the war of words began, with lines drawn across the length and breadth of the Twitterverse.

8. In minutes, a tweet from Kenya emerged calling for “All Men To Unite Against Ngozi.”

9. JJ tweeted that Ngozi made a mistake.

10. Some notable feminine handles began a great debate on the lack of tact, pride, condescension and disdain contained in Ngozi’s words. While some did defend Ngozi with great might and conviction, others remained unimpressed.

11. TheSheOfBoki opined that the term ‘My Boy’ was appropriate.

12. Familoni sought means to send his writing to Ngozi’s email whilst stating his undying love and a desire to be her boy.

13.MsW noted that Ngozi resented being called anyone’s girl hence her attempt at ‘boying’ El was unacceptable.

14. Many unknown, unrecognized writers cried out “Mummy Ngozi! Mummy Ngozi! Make me your boy!”

15. Their cries were not heard, for Ngozi dwelt not on Twitter. She had ‘de-internetised’ herself. She was probably at LIB. But no one could be certain of that.

16. LaraWood applauded the discourse. ‘No one should be so big as to render their ideas incontestable.” She tweeted. And for that, gat many retweets.

17. The Twitter Igbo Writers Association frowned upon the post Eli wrote. They asked

“Was Ngozi thinking like an Amerikana or a Nigeriana?”

“Did our sister drink a little palm wine?”

And declared

“She is our daughter and we stand firmly behind her.”

18. At the borders of the Litteratti, confusion reigned for many had no clue what the hulabaloo pertaineth to.

19. Self appointed counsel arose both to prosecute Ngozi and to acquit her.

20. The defence failed, Ngozi’s prosecutors drew blood with every stab.

21. Other ‘Fine Boys’ previously known to be friends of Ngozi were called upon to intervene. They were unable to take the stand, under the circumstances.

22. Another post appeared, this time from South Africa: @BooksLIVESA Shortlistees React To Ngozi’s Disregard For @CainePrize.

23. An attempt was made to launch an #Adoptaboy campaign. It went not well with it.

24. All the while the haroldwrote handle chanted #Cocoyam #Cocoyam #Cocoyam. #MyBoy #My Boy #MyBoy

25. Rants concerning Eli’s post rent the air. It was called ‘Tasteless’ ‘Epic’ ‘Fabulous’ and ‘Unnecessary’.

26. Various tweeps tried to get a word in sideways about many happenings around the world. They were ignored like wall geckos.

27. By now the war had been running for 6 hours straight.

28. Some boys sought Pa Kwam’s coverage and were told ‘Pay For Workshop Before You Call Yourself My Boy!”

29. As fire from the prosecuting handles got more intense, Ngozi’s supporters retired, preferring to call it a day.

30. No mention was made of this year’s Caine Prize winner.

31. Much blood flowed on the streets of Naija twitter, many followers were lost and gained.

32. Many who were off Twitter joined in as they arrived. The nays overtook the ayes and it was decided:

That Ngozi had spoken unwisely… or perhaps it was an error of the interviewer.

The beginning…

10 Ways Miracle Stood Out & 7 Questions For Readers

Congratulations to Mr Tope Folarin on his winning the 2013 Caine Prize. He won it for his story Miracle, an excerpt from his forthcoming novel ‘The Proximity Of Distance’. Just for fun, we listed some things that made Miracle unique. Enjoy.

1. It was an excerpt from a larger work.

2. It was set entirely in America.

3. It has just one scene.

4. It shows “imaginative use of the pronoun ‘we'”.

5. It has no ‘cousins’ in the past Caine Prize winners list.

6. It treats its subject with tyrannical certainty.

7. It had flashes of ‘brilliant writing’ and excellent editing.

8. It used the ordinary to entertain.

9. It mocks faith.

10. It is written in mature language.

You can read it for yourself here.

QUESTIONS

1. Was it an interesting read? Did it grip you like Olufemi Terry’s Stick Fighting Days? Delight you like ‘In The Spirit Of McPhineas Lata? Sear you like NoViolet Bulawayo’s ‘Hitting Budapest’?

2. Should a novel excerpt be judged alongside stand alone stories?

3. Is it ‘New’ ‘African’ writing?

4. Will you read the story again?

5. Will you recommend it to your friends?

6.If the narrator had been healed, would this story be on the shortlist?

Please Read, Comment, Share.

Caine Prize Blogging : Foreign Aid By Pede Hollist, Finds Home-based Fan

A review of the story:  FOREIGN AID by PEDE HOLLIST

By @kelechixyz on Twitter.

“Balogun arrived in America as a wiry-thin young man in his mid-twenties,
toting one small suitcase and brimful of hope of becoming an economist.”
There is a welcoming feeling about the opening lines of this short story by Hollist, inviting the reader by its straight and earnest tone, to come along with Balogun in his journey to make a success of the American experience. For Africans who live in Africa, this is always an interesting, somewhat familiar journey, for many and varied are the fates that have come to those who from this continent have set foot upon the American one. Hollist transports us with roller-coaster rapidity, for if the opening lines gave us the possibilities ahead of Balogun, the subsequent paragraphs delineate without sympathy, what became of him and his lofty hopes. 
“Two marriages, one to a White woman, and three child-supports payments later,
Logan, in his early forties, emerged from inner-city America—documented,
Pot-bellied, and with an American twang. His aspiration to become an economist had halted at
16 community-college credit hours;”
And further down
“And he approached life as his machines did—banging, crushing, and hauling.”
   But of course we understand Logan, failure has always made interesting chronicling,it is a tool in the hands of the skilled writer, for failure is an adjective that with a little twisting can be used in description of quite anyone. One always finds something reminiscent of oneself in such a narration. In the roughly twenty years that passed, Balogun had become Logan, an outward change, matching that which of had taken place inwardly and more subtly; his Americanization. He had found a space for himself in this civilization different from his own, had got himself a wife and a house suitable to his station, but that longing to return home, suppressed in all his years of turmoil, reawaken in him, and in a picture so familiar , a little heroic too, Hollist portrays him;
“A piece of America in his name and the subtlety of heavy-duty machinery in his veins,
              Logan was now returning to his native Sierra Leone, three super-sized Samsonite suitcases in
              tow, jam-packed with Dollar-Store and generic brand items.”

And thus, his mind and heart on his long neglected family, the story begins proper.

*
  Now the reader must permit me a useful digression. When I was younger I suddenly developed an interest in chess. I spent many hours playing against myself, other people and a computer. In time I became a proficient player, but I never quite made the leap into mastery. I remember that I was very passionate and did not take my defeats in a sportsman-like way. A defeat pained me more than perhaps it did other people, and surely i was never lacking in resolve to win, for I took up games with my betters with-even if without avail- a fierce, almost war-like spirit. But gradually I lost much of my interest in the game. In my natural compulsion to analysis however, I took away a valuable lesson from my failures at a game in which I genuinely aspired to be extraordinary at, and I have always tried to apply it at other occupations in which I suffer the same strivings. The lesson was an understanding of strategy and tactics, the difference between them, the necessity of harnessing them to work together, and my own handicap in doing so. what is your game plan? How well can u achieve it with? Translated into other disciplines, their names might change but the essential idea remained the same. In making decisions upon the field of life, they may be thought of as the long run and short run; in the battle field and among generals, they retain their names, and in the field of literature, they reinvent themselves in my understanding as theme and plot. What I want to say and how I will  say it so that at the end, I would feel certain I said what I meant. Whether I have applied them to myself remains to be seen, but all great stories have posessed this harmony of theme and plot. We will return to this idea shortly.
*     
Logan’s welcoming begins at the airport, the hassling by the immigration officer and the loss of his luggage. He neither understands the significance of the passivity of those around him nor the haughty hostility of the officials. He is still heavy with a sense of justice and morality and fairness. But much of his anger is quickly buried by the rush of new impressions that confront him. In somewhat unrealistic conversations with his family and other people, entertaining them with clearly redemptory, almost bombastic generosity, he tries to transmit to them the American way of life and he finds himself in the position of a defender of American values. His sister Ayo, who had been on his mind even in his early days in America, now appears in the flesh. He remembered her as being unremarkable, and he now sees that she had become a remarkable sexual object, already pregnant and at the mercy of men. She rejects his escape offer.
“I’m pregnant,” she caressed her tummy.
“Congratulations,” Logan manufactured a smile. “When are you due?”
“Five months.”
“No problem. The ticket is open. You can come after you give birth.
Leave the baby with Mama and Papa.”
“They can’t afford to take care of him. I’m supporting them right now.”
“Let the baby daddy take care of him.”
She has become a woman, independent, but more significantly, she no longer hopes or expects anything of him.
His attempts at meeting with the minister come to nothing, and his family secrets are shown up to him in his conversations with Ali, his sister’s lover. But one must not give all the story away.
Perhaps his relations with Tima may stand as a symbol of his entire homecoming foray. He is nice to her, gives her gifts, she should look up to him. He takes it in his stride that he will sleep with her, it is an urge that is really an attempt to make something out of the trip back home, a trip that has shown itself to be quite useless, but tima does not keep to their appointment and causes him great vexation.
He goes away then, back to america, his savings exhausted, with an unpleasant feeling in his heart, and the final words of the story are apt,
“Logan hissed”
This story by onipede hollist is one of five nominated for the 2013 caine prize for african literature. Reading the opening lines of each of the stories, I expected the most from this one. However, it failed me in the end. But that is precisely the cause of my attraction to this story. Why did it fail? The first part, concerned with Balogun and his American experience, amused and entertained me. The second part of the story, concerned with his time in Sierra Leone, grew less and less believable, so that it became a labor to finish the story. His general theme was clear to me; disappointment, a poke at the idea of the returning hero. But his plotting, his tactics, the little details, they undid the story. Of course, taken seperately, there was nothing wrong with the events as they happened, nor was there any artificiality about the conversations, but once the theme is borne in mind by the discerning reader, every event, detail, conversation, description in the story is unconsciously tested under the light of the theme, and everything contrary gathers itself into a discontent felt and made known at the end of the story-if the reader gets to the end indeed. I felt this discontent too. I liked the story because of my discontent at the wide gulf between what it might have become, and what it ultimately became. Hollist is a proficient writer. This story will likely not win the caine prize, but it wins my own prize.  

When There Is No Reply.

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What do you do, when your favourite African writer, rejects your workshop application without a word?  You’ll want to whip out your pen, pencil or keyboard and begin a total annihilation of their Caine prize shortlisted stories while copying the entire Twitterverse. Better still you might want to sponsor some hideous reviews and tweet them directly at their respective handles with unsuspecting titles such as:

1. How to find Nigerian food in London

2. How to sound good on a BBC interview

3. How to avoid losing your way in British cities.

You might also be tempted to go the opposite way. Throw away your pen , and bury your talent in an unmarked grave. Burn the work in progress and remove yourself from the torture forever. There will also be the allure of other less demanding hobbies, football, knitting, gossip, TV. These temptations you must resist knowing that there has never been anything of value placed on shallow sand. Diamonds must be mined. No matter what your cheerleaders say, it hurts, but you must be strong and look past the pain.

You must remember why you began writing. Why you spent hours working on a story when you could easily be shopping or watching a Nigerian movie. You must remember your successes so far. Even if all you have is one reader that visits your blog as faithfully as the office canteen. You must remember the progress you have made. That now, you know the difference between a story and a fragment, a showing and a telling, a comma and a colon. You no longer submit first drafts. You are weeding out your adverbs. You are getting better, creating better, writing better.

You must remember that Shakespeare never attended a workshop. And neither did Chinua Achebe. That the gift for words inside you predates any venture designed to ‘discover new talent’ or make a buck for old. You must remain true to yourself and to your gift. Reaffirming to yourself the reasons why you do this. Reminding yourself that no one else has your voice. That even if they tried, they could not be you and could not tell your stories the way you do.

This is when you must forgive and forget. You must move on to new stories ,articles, blog posts and poems. You must keep telling your stories . Keep reading, keep asking the hard questions and letting your search take you deeper than devils dare to go. Knowing that no matter what anyone else says or thinks about your work, in the end you only write for yourself and for those who love reading your writing. No one else can judge the talent you were given and how well you have honed it. No one else can say if what you have done is your best. You can. So you must and while you are at it, save this somewhere to encourage someone else.

*+*+*+*+*+*

There, so now you know what to do if it happens to you. I trust that you will put hat thought to good use; even as I pray you won’t need to.

For the past month or so, I have struggled with writing reviews for the Caine prize stories. Part of me feels that the How To Write A Caine Prize Storyseries were the zenith and anything else I say will be drivel sliding into a pool of mud. Another part feels repressed, after all, there is still so much to say about those Caine prize stories, so much to discuss, highlight and question. There is also the small matter of having given my word –informally at least to be a part of this years blogathon. Aaron Bady might not believe in God but I am sure he appreciates reliable, God-fearing people. 😛

So, I will put up my reviews right here over the next few days. Thankfully I have been spared the task of reviewing some of the stories I didn’t like by some talented writers–@Kelechixyz and others. Follow the blog or drop your Twitter handle in the comment section for alerts. There’s a saying in my place that the last morsels in the pot are the tastiest. Makes sense, they’ve had time to mature and ‘marinate’ . I hope our thoughts will add to the debate. I pray they aren’t too late. More importantly I hope they will encourage you to read the short list and to push your own boundaries, as a reader, a writer, a critic or all three.

How To Write A Caine Prize Story (Whatever That Is) Part 2

As promised, you are about to receive the second part of your instructions on this treatise. Heed them well and very soon, your name shall join those being celebrated in print,on air and online. It has been noted that some of you have already begun applying these nuggets in earnest . This is most commendable, the shortlist seeker must be a person with their wits about them. Time is of the essence. Now to business.

7. Avoid Technology .

When crafting such an important story, you might be tempted to mention some of the latest communication gadgets: mobile phones, laptops, Ipads,Tablets and the like . This temptation you must resist. However the mistake you must never make is to mention the internet! You are also not permitted any hint of the Social Media world, space may not permit to list them all but surely you understand. Yes, Facebook and Twitter are not allowed. This is an absolute. So when you feel the need to have characters sending email,pinging on blackberries, and skyping remember–you have been warned. Telephones are allowed though, provided their connections crackle with static. Also no guns, you can use sticks, stones and occasionally a machete for your violent scenes. Don’t mention any of the anti-aircraft guns possessed by insurgents. Be silent on the sophisticated assault riffles used for election violence. Don’t even let a character wish for them. Care less about how this might hinder the plausibility of your story, or render your narrative unauthentic. Ignore this at your peril.

8. Never Write A Heterosexual Romance

The quick learner you are , you must have read through the shortlists of as many years as are on the internet. You must have found that any kind of love is well received except the old fashioned type that exists between a man and a woman. (i mentioned this in a in 5 above but it bears repeating)
So let ladies touch jambullas or get caught by their mothers or men face trials for love. Just make sure it is not a man-woman thing. You will be on prize story ground.
If you must include any heterosexual romantic liaisons it must be in the context of a Fable or an affair. Forbidden love like forbidden fruit always sells.
You would better off without it though. This is to assist, if you insist.

9. Use Your Story To Highlight Political Issues

Here corruption is an instant winner. Crude oil spillage, bad governance, inefficient civil servants will come handy, arm yourself with a lot of them.. You must be quite expansive here, ensure no one is innocent. Everyone must have a trace of corrupt even the expatriate embassy staff. It is a guaranteed winner. Political issues create a resonance in your readers. It reminds them vividly of the Africa they see on television. Don’t you dare enlighten them. Take a clue from the stories shortlisted in the past. Never mind the “new” African focus. The new is silent.

10. Get Your Story Published Overseas

Of course there is a 20% chance of making it on the shortlist by getting published by a home based outfit. This you can in no way guarantee. The easier matter is to be in the 80%. That should be quite self explanatory. Besides it would be quite the task to convince a local publisher that children’s bodies are black with crude oil in Port Harcourt or that you need 3000 words to describe a fictitious healing. Western publishers however would be delighted. Besides where exactly would you find a publisher to accept just a short story from you ? Not in Nigeria definitely and not in Serria Leone. Simple statistics, get the story published overseas.

11. Be Blind To Other Races.

You might have observed first-hand some fascinating yarn that involves Indians, Chinese and Lebanese living on the continent. You might even have gotten a fast moving authentic story written and under the word count too. Unfortunately this you would have to discard. A shortlist story must not feature any of these, ever. There is a picture of Africa in your reader’s mind, your duty is just to highlight it. Zoom on it if you will. Any attempts at radical,rebellious,experimental, what-if thinking will meet the fate of the 92. And like them your story will languish in the endless literary cosmos, unread and un-appreciated, soon to be forgotten…. A most unbearable thought.

12. Limit Infrastructure.

This point you know already so it will be brief. Write only of the kind of infrastructure all the other writers have written of. Again this is reminiscent of
7 above but a slightly different matter. Transport for instance. Your story must never feature aeroplanes. Private jets are anathema as are any air conditioned vehicle. Bicycles,canoes, leg breaking motorcycles and rickety buses with smelling women are allowed though, so make good use of them. Note that the roads must always be bumpy, “sandy and brown ” and bumpy.
Also any mention of the following in your stories will be deeply frowned upon : fast food outlets, universities, cinema theatres,shopping malls, picnics, carnivals and parties. Forget your ambitious entertainment industry and their like. You must stay within the boundaries set from old. As in E.C.Osondu’s Waiting, Monica Arac De Nyeko’s Jambulla Tree, Noviolet Bulawayo’s Hitting Budapest, you must paint a bleak picture and do that deftly.

At this point you are ready to produce a shortlist story. Of course you would not attempt to set your story in a futuristic context. What? This is not genre fiction! There are other concerns like the liberal use of mosquitoes, nauseating smells and the ubiquitous eye disorders and the absence of banks. These you will discover in time and be all the more shortlist worthy when you do. There are other matters of course, punctuation, continuation, omissions ( now known as typos). These are minor matters that the help of a first rate editor can easily solve, another reason to examine with care where you send your story. It feels bad to let you go now, but all good things must end. Go, put your name on the Caine Prize shortlist roll call, 2014 is just months away. Best wishes. Adieu.

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How To Write A Caine Prize Story ( Whatever That Is) Part 1

Nta Bassey

First you must know, that this is not a guide on how to win the Caine Prize. Rotimi Babatunde, Noviolet Bulawayo or Olufemi Terry and co would do well to write that. This is merely concerned with getting you on the shortlist , and for that you must be grateful. For if Sir Michael Caine never did have a prize, your name would still be deeply ensconced in Africa’s jungles known only by your town crier. Now, back to business.

1. Choose Your Title Carefully, Two Words Max.

You might love a long title like Romie Scott’s ” A Robot Walks Into A Bar And Says” or Laurie Kubuitsile’s “In The Spirit Of McPhineas Lata” ( She made the shortlist in 2011 but that’s old school now). Those might get you gung-ho fans and instant interest; but remember it is global recognition you crave. Make your title simple and to the point- Bayan Layi, Miracle, America, Whispering Trees, Foriegn Aid.
You see? Two words max. Forget all those editors that insist that a short fiction title must not be a summary but a revelation. Forget anything that would arrest a reader’s attention. Think economy, think simple-minded, think bland.

2.Renounce Your Faith

As a African it is very likely that you believe in God, gods or goddesses. Well,that has to stop now. As a Caine prize hopeful, you are only allowed to believe in ghosts. If your writings show any respect for things that can not be explained and experimented, woe betide you. Islam is only to be mentioned to justify man’s inhumanity to man or to declare one’s independence from it. Christianity can feature but only to show how deceptive and manipulative its clerics are. You may also mention it while alluding to homophobic parents,nothing else. Don’t venture into Traditional religion. Ghosts though are welcome, witches and wizards too. Yeah, they love Harry Potter that much. An utterance should suffice for the shortlist seeker.

3.Bring Out All Africa’s Dirty Linen.

Pa Ikhide and Binavanga Wainaina have spoken extensively about this. ( C’mon, don’t be lazy,google it!) Don’t dare to present Africa in anything but her shabbiest. And if though shabbily dressed she attempts to stun with her wit ,courage or resilience then slap her, better still hack her with a sharp machete or shove on the forehead –DOWN! Dig out the most depraved and contrived of her vices. Turn your hungry cousins to urchins, your broke friends to beggars, your street kids to mafia men. Whatever you do, keep the propaganda pumping–Africa, is a country,one of poverty,stupidity,ignorance, corruption, bigotry and disease.

4. Break EVERY Short Fiction Rule You Ever Heard Or Read.

This is one is simple. Dawdle your words, triple your adverbs, let adjectives litter your prose like confetti. If you can tell a scene with four words use forty. Tell everything as if you are writing for prehistoric preschool children that can’t google broom or slum or snow. Pour in Simile and Metaphor by the handfuls, make sure everything is like something.  Leave all your fillers in as well. Take this qoute from this year’s shortlist for instance “an orange tree grew,and a guava tree, and a mango tree…” see? You are three words closer to three thousand ,for free! If that fails then just vacillate, give people titles like Saint, use that to get a ten word bonus. If you are stuck , just imagine camera crew on a Nollywood film site and describe the same scene through each of their lenses. Yeah, that should do it, works best for church scenes though. Good, now you know.

5.Find The Western Angle, Flog It Till Your Readers Faint.

Again this works best when you are reffering to religion. The judges can not have enough about a character’s crimes being passed on as the will of Allah. They go wild when you tell them how you faked a miracle you didn’t get. Allude to it, at least in the parents of your gay partner, or better still let your main character do it Jonah style–one man against his Maker. If that isn’t your style you could go for second best which is homosexuality. Glamourise it, romanticize it, fantacisize it , demonise it, just do it. Every major global  literary prize has had healthy doses of queerness in it from the 2012 common wealth pacific region winner–Two Girls In A Boat , to the 2012 Caine Prize shortlist tale– S. Kenani’s Love On Trial . The odds are in your favour, write with them.
If you are still squirming about those, at least, this should be doable– Glorify the immigration experience. You can do it obliquely, directly, subtley, or glaringly( remember peppering your work with adverbs as stated in 4 above), but make it count. Turn America into a bank where a hundred dollar bill is mistaken for two twenties. Make her a Snow Wonderland where even “fruits glisten”. Paint her as a  generous haven of broke African Charlatans. The choice is yours. If you can’t do any of these, then perhaps you are on the wrong web page. Log out now, time is money.

6. Write In The First Person.

Forget what your writing workshop teacher said or what you read, the Caine prize short list is serious business and you must do drastic things to get on it. So throw away all those works in the third person limited or the All Seeing Eye Of God (eww! how religious!). Discover your voice. Afterall isn’t this all about you and your winning story? Exactly! So even if you’ve never attempted walking around with a blindfold you can become quite the authority on counting footsteps from your house to the nearest bus stop. Moreso, you can tell us about road trips form Port Harcourt to Lagos that last just eight hours done on your visa interview day. You can also speak of miracles forced on the unbelieving, afterall, its not like the judges read their bibles. In the first person you can also let your author’s voice roam free. Instead of a street child thinking of survival, he can calmly philosophise on Allah and his strange ways. Even a final year medical student’s mind can be reset to avoid nightmares on differential diagnosis, prognosis, probable opthalmology surgery or anything like that. You are the boss remember? Now go and act like it! Don’t forget to mention me in your BBC interview though. That would really hurt.

At time of posting I was visited by my muses, they whispered various other secrets to writting a Caine Prize story, so keep a date with us on this blog. We promise new content everyday, who knows tomorrow part two may be out. This enough for your first draft though , so go!

Naijawriter warns that heeding any of the above advice can prove harmful to your writing career. The statements made are the sole preserve of the author. 😉