Saturday, 15 March 2014

Inspired by the Past



Today we have a wonderful guest post from Jeff Gardiner, who tells us how he came to write his latest novel.

My new novel, IGBOLAND, is a tale of passion and conflict set in Nigeria during the Biafran War. I was born out in Nigeria in Jos, and even though I haven’t had a chance to go back and visit my country of birth, I still consider Nigeria my spiritual home.

The stories and photographs of my parents, who lived out there for six years, inspired the novel. My Mum’s diary was an essential resource for context, background and interesting details. I’ve made it very clear in my introduction that the novel’s protagonists, Lydia and Clem are NOT my parents. 

My parents lived in Idoma, not Igboland, and neither of my made up characters reflect the personalities of my wonderful parents. The basic premise comes from the idea of a young couple whose first home together is in a bush village in West Africa, but any other similarity ends there. There are some episodes clearly inspired by their anecdotes and particularly by my Mum’s diary, but each event or occurrence is changed to create a different dynamic or made to become far more dramatic than the reality. My characters respond to those events very differently.

With my Mum’s generous permission, I can now reveal – for the first time – excerpts from her journal, to give you a taste of some of the inspiration behind IGBOLAND. These are some of Mum’s early responses to living in a strange new country, and moving into a house that hadn’t been lived in for months.

Excerpts from the diary of Janet Gardiner (1964 -70)
“The people are very friendly and smiling – the custom is to ask about your family greeting you. We saw a dancing display to rhythms made by drums and instruments – dressing up with head dresses and masks, with some on stilts.”

“I’m finding it hard to get used to being continually hot and sticky, damp with perspiration ... We are having to get used to sweating all the time with any physical effort. It’s an effort to walk any distance, especially in the afternoon. It’s even an effort just to bend down. Insects are all over the walls. We have seen a praying mantis, there are lizards and geckoes, which eat insects and moths, and all sorts of flying insects around the lamps in the evenings.”

 “Our house is made of plastered blocks, and the roof is corrugated aluminium. The inside is a frightful mess! Dust, damage to soft furnishings, back bedroom ceiling down – sitting room floor needs re-cementing. Scorpions nests and lizard eggs are scattered liberally around … We are alone in our bungalow, the only white people for 9 miles … We have a small bathroom with a bath, but of course no running water. The hand basin drainage is through a bicycle inner tube out through a hole in the base of the wall into a drainage pit. No shower but we can hoist a bucket with holes in the base if we desperately want a shower. Baths consist of a large bowl of water heated up on the wood stove with cold added – and shared.”

“I’m finding that people have started coming to the manse asking for medical help – I feel very unsure about this as I’m not trained, but have decided to just do what I can. I do have access to simple medicines, which they do not, after all. The nearest national authority clinic is about 10 miles away.”

“Villages are motley collections of huts and often miles from anywhere out in the bush. All roads here are unmade and after heavy rain get flooded and very muddy. Bridges over streams and rivers are often very rickety and made of branches lashed together – scary to cross, especially if you have to carry your own bike, but the locals are quick to help carry your loads however heavy and nip across any bridge as if it were the widest and firmest bridge in existence.”

When the Biafran War broke out in July 1967, my parents were living in Oturkpo and had a one-year-old boy (my brother) to look after. The country was in turmoil after a number of military coups and counter-coups. But that is another story … 

For further updates follow my blog tour and ‘like’ my Igboland Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Igboland/595879100465696
Jeff’s website: http://jeffgardiner.com/

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1 comment:

Jeff Gardiner said...

Thank you so much for hosting my blog. All the best with your writing projects,Lorraine.