Chimeka Garricks is on the Writer’s Block
They call me a writer
Sometimes, I’m not sure what that means.
In Nigeria, being a writer somehow implies that I am urbane, an intellectual, and an aje butter. In the West, it also almost implies that I am profound, have read ‘The Brothers Karamazov’; think Ayn Rand is God; and use words like ‘quinquagenarian’ in everyday conversation.
I am not a writer. I am a storyteller.
Yes, I’ve written a book, but it all started with stories: ‘Tales by Moonlight’ on NTA (before it became criminally bad and before cable TV); bedtime folktales (particularly of the wily tortoise and his tricks); comics; fables and fairy tales (from Aesop, Mother Goose, the Brothers Grimm, and Greek mythology); Bible stories (David trash-talked and killed Goliath, Samson kicked Philistine butts and made me ponder the greatest question of life to a 6-year old – who would win a fight between Samson and Hercules?
As a child, stories made me flip pages, breathlessly eager to find out what happened next (while my chores were neglected). I went time-travelling to faraway worlds: I was with Jonah in the fish’s belly, and with Ali Baba (no, not the comedian,) when he found the thieves’ treasure. And stories opened my mind and eyes to see things as they really ought to be (so when I rolled tyres on the streets, I was actually riding horses , and the towel round my neck was really a cloak which turned me invisible).
As a child, I rated books by simple standard – did it tell a good story, and was I entertained?
Let me tell you a story about storytelling.
Once upon a time, there was this psychotic king in Persia. He had a fragile ego, an obsession with vendetta, and a fondness for stories. He also wasn’t quite sure if he loved women or hated them. One day, it was alleged that his wife had been unfaithful. So, being the vindictive bastard he was, he executed her. But he didn’t stop there. Convinced that all women were the same, he formed the peculiar habit of marrying virgins and executing them the morning after the wedding, before they had a chance to be unfaithful to him. Anyway, naturally, there was soon a shortage of virgins willing to marry the king. Then, a crazy girl offered herself.
On the wedding night, she told the king a story. But she paused it at a cliffhanger, and didn’t end it (years later, the makers of the TV series, ‘24’ would copy and over-flog the concept). The king, eager to hear the end of the story, postponed her execution. The next night, she ended the story, started another one and again paused at a cliffhanger. Again, the king postponed her execution. Her stories ranged from tragedies to comedies to love stories; and even had stories within stories. Most importantly, her stories were all entertaining.
Legend has it that she did this for 1001 nights. Or till the king pardoned her.
This is obviously the back-story for ‘The Arabian Nights’.
Yes it’s a fable, but my fascination has always been in the ability to tell a succession of interesting stories. It’s a gift I covet.
Now I’m grown, I hear people say that the story isn’t that important anymore. What is important is words, well-turned phrases and beautiful prose. They say it’s okay for a book to be without a plot, but filled with angst, tortured souls and longing: an adult book, a serious book. Such books, they say, are worth more, and are appreciated by all the über- intelligent people who love to luxuriate in the sumptuous words.
When I hear these people, I do either of two things: I imagine them reading such a book to the psychotic king, and smirk; or I give them the same pitiful look I reserve for vegetarians.
There’s too much Peter Pan in me. I’ve never really grown old. Books still have to entertain me. I don’t care if it’s literary or genre fiction – there has to be a story. Life is too short to waste it reading a dreary book, just so I can validate my intelligence or stupidity.
But I’d like to think that I’ve done some growing up. It’s no longer just about entertainment. It’s also about stories that enlighten, that make me feel, think and question. Stories, shouldn’t be just about mindless escapism; they also have to be bold enough to tackle some of the issues of everyday life, and controversial enough to advocate change.
Stories: action and reaction, heroes and villains, hopes and dashed dreams, winners and losers, morals and vice. There is an incredible power in them. They entertain, enlighten, and emote. So, let us keep telling and enjoying them.
Chimeka Garricks is the author of ‘Tomorrow Died Yesterday’. He is working on his second novel.