Femme Lounge - Shola Adu-Okubute
She is bold, she is brilliant, she is pretty, and we call her the Heart Mender! Myne Whitman is a young Nigerian woman and the author of A Heart to Mend, an exciting first novel that tells a powerful story of how love doesn’t strut, never gives up, never looks back and keeps going to the end.
She talks to Femme Lounge on her book and her journey so far.
Tell us a bit about your background?
I grew up during the 1980’s and remember as a child studying a lot, reading everything I could lay my hands on, and then trying to play the rest of the time. I attended Ekulu Primary School and Queens School in Enugu, and Loretto Science School and Nnamdi Azikiwe University in Anambra. I am from Asaba, Delta State and that is where my parents live now. I also lived and worked in Abuja for a few years. Now I live in the United States after some years in the UK where I obtained my masters degree.
Myne Whitman and Nkem Okotcha, how different are they?
They are one and the same person. Myne Whitman is a name I coined myself when I began to write seriously while still in secondary school. Most of the books I read were in English, and since I was writing in English too, I decided my name would be the same. So the pseudonym is a play on the transliterated words of my maiden name, Nkem Okotcha.
How much of A Heart to Mend is inspired by real life stories?
A lot of the themes handled in the book are motivated by events or stories I’ve heard or read about in real life. However, none of my characters is based on me or anyone I know but on a cumulative of my experience. They’re just people of my imaginings and are therefore may seem free from some of the usual constraints we real persons face. However, since I try to make my stories as real as possible, they also share our fears and hopes, our victories and our pain. If you look closely, you may even recognize one or more of them.
How has been readers’ response to the book so far?
I got overwhelming response to the Gladys and Edward story which is now a Heart to Mend on my blog and again when I decided to self-publish. Since the book debuted, the response has also been very good. I really did not expect it to be so well received. A few bloggers — once they knew my book was out, wanted to run interviews. I want to point out at this point that apart from the commercial success, there’s that deep satisfaction of knowing your creative work is out there making and contributing to conversation.
What lesson would you want readers to take away from the book?
The novel details how Edward and Gladys were affected by their past and how it limited their opportunities in the present especially in the area of love and relationships. Gladys obsesses over the divide between her and Edward, while he had barricaded his heart and was not letting anyone in, man or woman. The lesson is that none of us is perfect but we should be able to keep our heart open for that (sometimes one) person who has enough masking tape to cover our imperfections and make us complete.
Another major theme I explored as a source of tension and conflict is that of cross-cultural relationships which I think will continue to be a source of drama as long as human beings feel more comfortable associating with people of the same culture and social class. Lesser issues are that of premarital sex, illegitimacy, crooked business dealings and improper marriages where women are treated like chattel and controlled by a domineering husband.
How long did it take you to put this together?
It took me roughly about a year. But the truth was that I already had a short story of around a few thousand words before I started. I decided to make it a full length novel and publish it. So, I already had the story but what took a year was making it a full length novel and polishing it up. In the process though, most of the original script had to be let go.
Is writing a full time job for you or do you have to find time on the side to do your writing?
For now, writing is a full-time job for me and that is why I’m able to concentrate fully on my books. I have heard writing described as a lonely career and I agree, it’s also a tasking process. I spend nothing less than five hours a day writing though sometimes I can’t go to sleep and write through the night. On certain days however, I can’t write one sentence to save my life, or I spend most of the time trawling the web for information that’ll make the books as real as possible. It does help to have a very supportive partner, who is not only understanding but also very helpful.
Most successful women have had to climb on the shoulders of others to have a clearer view of the road ahead them, who are your own mentors?
The issue you bring up is very valid. In my case, I was fortunate to have the help of my husband who provided suggestions as to how the story plots might be developed, and who also helped me proof read the work. I also had the support of my local writers group who provided different perspectives on the storyline, especially from the viewpoint of non-Nigerians. In less tangible ways however, I looked up to other upcoming authors like Chimamanda Adichie and Sefi Attah.
What are the challenges you encountered in writing and publishing the book.
A Heart to Mend is a romance in the suspense category, some may call it romantic fiction. It was challenging to write especially in the setting I chose. The story is set in Lagos, a city I have not lived in for more than a few weeks at a stretch. Also the stock market forms the backdrop and again, I’m a novice in the industry. Creative writing is not child’s play as I realized when I compared some of my short stories and scripts with what was already available. The excuse that I did not study English or Literature could not suffice.
To prepare, I took some free online courses and workshops for Creative Writing and Fiction from the University of Utah, MIT, Open University UK and Suite 101. I’m still taking these trainings and they’re an on-going project. I also became a member of a writing meetup group in my area which includes traditionally and self published authors and gifted writers and editors. The members were a great help in the course of writing “A Heart to Mend”.
What significant life lessons have you learnt on this journey?
The major lesson for me was perseverance. I have been writing for a very long time, ever since I was a child and always dreamed of holding a book in my hands with my name on the cover as the author. I was discouraged earlier on when I tried to pursue a writing career after my first degree. I was rejected by a couple of the publishers we had in Nigeria then.
This time also I started sending out queries to a few literary agents and publishers when I had the chapter one to three ready and continued doing this up till chapter ten. At the same time, I was reading other authors comments and ideas on other ways of publishing and in the end I decided to try the self-publishing route.
Your greatest strengths and skills that has been particularly been of help in achieving this.
This would include discipline, the quest for personal development and being able to pursue my goals up to the end. This hasn’t been easy like when I had some writer’s block or when my critics will point to a passage and say that doesn’t make sense. I felt like giving up but now it was worth it.
Your most fulfilling moment from inception of the idea till now.
That must be when I held the paperback copy in my hands. It felt almost unreal. I had to read it again to be sure it was my book, the same one I had written. It was a very exciting and gratifying moment.
What’s the future beckoning you to?
I definitely plan on writing more books. A sequel to “A Heart to Mend” is not on the books right now but who knows what will happen? LOL. I am currently working on another romantic suspense manuscript and a couple of short stories, one of which I hope will be published before the end of the coming year. Also co-ordinating the Blogsville Interactive Story has shown me so much talent and given me some ideas that I’m still playing with.
What do you think are the success essentials for today’s young women?
One of the most important is being able to outline your goals. What is your dream and vision of your future? Once you know this, then a lot of discipline and perseverance is necessary to achieve them.