An Interview with Ndifreke George

What inspired your book, Stories People Don’t Tell, and what did you intend to achieve with the book?

I wanted to explore those seemingly ‘common’ human experiences that we are either afraid or ashamed to tell. I wanted to mirror our humanness in our face – to talk about our ‘dirty linen’ boldly – the human greed, foolishness, mistakes, hypocrisy, rage, lust, sex, etc. I wanted to ‘undress’ this skin of humanness so we could see ourselves unclad.

How is the feedback on the book coming, owing to the topical issues discussed?

First of all, getting that book published was a hard decision for me. I know the critics and ‘Sadducees’ would come for me. I knew I was sailing on a ‘forbidden’ zone, so I was already in the dock waiting for them to hurl stones at me. But most of the comments and reviews I have received only show that people have owned up to those stories. Every reader sees himself in either one of two stories in the book, even more. Feedback have been overwhelming – a mix of emotions. I sure had troubled some waters.

What do you want to achieve with your writing?

I want to impact and influence people with my writing. I learned some years ago that ‘a good writing should make a reader think something to do something’. I want to make people see things in other ways and do something – think deep, act, and change. I want to connect people to themselves, their source, environment, reality, strength, faith, and true selves. I want people to think something and do something – something good!

How did you become a writer, and what has kept you consistent in writing for long?

I became a writer by loving writing, and loving it even more has kept me consistent. Realising the amazing power that every word wields, and how words can become a tool of either positive transformation or destruction have kept me here. I want to master the right use of that ‘power’.

What book are you reading at the moment, and what are you learning from it?

I’m reading A Tender Reed by Teresa Slack. I’ve learnt what I call, the fluidity of stories – it’s how to write in a way that makes reading interesting; without artificial encumbrances from bogus styles, verbosity, and all.

How do you measure growth in your writing career?

I look at where I was yesterday and where I am today. I compare the depth, vastness, professionalism, and standard of my works every day and I can trace every inch of growth I make.

How do you balance being a Writer and an Editor?

It’s about being conscious of the difference, just like being a man (for yourself), a husband (to your wife), and a father (to your children) – one man! You just have to find a way around it. So, in being a writer, I know I’m expressing myself, sharing my thoughts, and writing. After the writing phase, I put on the red cap – to prune my biases, trim my personality, and caution the work to fit into a professional formwork.

How has writing affected/influenced you as a person?

Writing is my identity. I used to be a conservative person, but writing said, ‘No way!’ Writing has made me vulnerable; I mean, so vulnerable. Writing has taught me to think differently, to step out, to have interest in the world around me, and many other things. Writing has become my voice – it is my voice. Writing has made me like this (Laughs).

How much longer do you want to keep writing, Ndifreke?

No one who finds love ever wants to let it go (Laughs). Writing is one of the things I want to do with my life, but what I cannot say exactly if it’s going to be the main thing or a hobby/passion. But writing has become a part of me because it’s now about the fulfilment it gives.

What would you say is your greatest achievement in your writing career?

It’s having someone say,’ Your book (or story) changed my life’. I have heard that before but I would like to hear it again a million times and over. That’s the very essence of writing, for me – to impact and to influence. In whatever ways my writing has triggered something good in anyone – that’s it. The writing prizes, mentions, publications, interviews, and all, are by-the-side thumbs-up!

Any writing project on your table at the moment?

Yes. My table always has something – there are a lot of things to write about. Events and people keep hurling inspiration at us, and we just have to make stories out of them. I’m currently writing a novel about politics in Nigeria, a short story for a writing contest, and also coordinating an anthology with about nine contributors from Nigeria, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and different parts of Africa.

What does it mean to you to survive pain and survival?

Pain is a rite of passage for us, humans, and an important part of life’s curriculum. Surviving pain means being transformed, renewed, reshaped, and ‘born again’ from a rigorous pruning. While nobody wants pain, it comes, and when it does, we have no choice but to ask what it has for us.
I think ‘Survival’ is keeping fit, staying alive and afloat. It is grinding and not giving up on life. When pain comes to us, it leaves us either as survivors or broken souls whispering dead songs.

What is the biggest crime your favourite antagonist has committed in your book, Stories People Don’t Tell?

For a Nigerian who has better woe tales from uncaring and ineptitude politicians, I’ll permit Senator Sani Akinwole in the story, ‘Dumbprint’, to be my favourite antagonist. He’s the politician who maximised the masses’ folly to get them to vote for him. It’s a ritual I see every four years; a sad reality that doesn’t want to end.

What are your definitions of sin, happiness, Lagosian life, and what inspired them in your book, Stories People Don’t Tell?

For me, sin is anything – both actions and intentions that transgress divinity and humanity. It’s a perfect word for anything wrong, ungodly, and inhumane.

Happiness is the measure of peace and satisfaction you derive from something or someone. The whole concept of happiness depends on you – you choose to either create it or not. That’s why Joyce Meyer said, ‘My happiness is my responsibility’.

Lagosian life – I like to think that Lagos is one place in the world that should be in a category of its own because I don’t think that what’s happening in this city is happening anywhere else in the world – maybe that I haven’t travelled the world enough. Lagosian life is a realm that one needs to be inducted or initiated into – it’s all shades of the good, bad, and the ugly.

My book, Stories People Don’t Tell, reflects sin, happiness, and Lagosian life because they are my everyday reality, and a writer draws from what he sees, hears, knows, perceives, and believes. I’ve seen sin – every day, everywhere. I see happiness rise on people’s faces and dissolve in the hands of cruel events. For Lagos, the formative part of what has become of my life, began there.

Do you find Writing Workshops helpful?

As a writing tutor, I would say that writing workshops and training are good. However, workshops alone don’t make good writers because writing goes beyond what you are told to do; it’s more of what you do and how you do it. That’s why I tell people I train that I can’t teach them how to write, but all I do is teach them to think like a writer. That’s more like teaching them how to fish than giving them fish. However, how helpful writing workshops are, depends on the trainer and the trainee. The two must sync! The teacher must teach, the learner must learn.

Name 6 books you think every aspiring writer and poet should read, and who is your favourite writer and book?

I’ve read some good books, most of which I’ve forgotten the authors, but here are a few that I can hold for now:

  1. On Writing – Stephen King
  2. Eight Letters to a Young Writer – Teju Cole
  3. Gay Girl, Good God – Jackie Perry Hill
  4. Her Mother’s Daughter – Francine Rivers
  5. Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  6. Not a Day Goes By – E Lynns Harris

I love Francine Rivers for her writing style and the theme her stories explores.

Finally, What’s your word for upcoming writers?

Be consistent, be focused, and be hungry for learning and open to learning.

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