On Inspiration – by Foday Mannah

The question as to where writers get inspiration from  naturally differs depending on individual circumstances; suffice to say that real life usually significantly impacts what’s produced creatively.

Now for a little story: when I graduated university back in the nineties, I was employed for six months as a high school teacher of English. Rather ironically, teaching in Sierra Leone was a profession often treated with derision and disrespect; something you settled for until something more lucrative came along. Salaries were patchy and light whilst new teachers often received nothing for their first few months of employment. Indeed the school bursar often declared that new teachers could not be paid because “the computer had not come with our names!” Now you must remember that at this time, an understanding  of the capabilities of computers  was limited, and as such this excuse for non-payment of salaries to new teachers was accepted with resigned grace. In essence the Ministry of Education and indeed the school authorities could not be blamed if the computer failed to come with our names! Which formed the basis of a short story that I once wrote – a teacher who quits after “the computer did not come with her name,” to find a questionable form of employment as a means of providing for her disabled husband and twin daughters.

In fact my time as a teacher in the home country provided further rich pickings for another piece I am in the process of drafting. The narrative addresses the relative nature of poverty and deprivation and how this affects characters. Back in Sierra Leone, only TWO members of the teaching staff had cars – the headteacher, a deceptively avuncular fellow who lost his job whilst I was there, and a Physics teacher who had studied in America and as such considered his talents wasted as a mere high school teacher.

On migrating to Scotland in the late nineties, I took up employment for a temp agency which involved working as a waiter or labourer or waiter depending on the circumstances. Imagine my surprise therefore when after a mere month in the country, a pastry chef offered me his banger of a car for free? The car was a typical jalopy which had an amicable relationship with rust; however I was over the moon and could not understand how one person could give a whole car to another person for free. This forms the foundation for a short story, the climax of which involves the car being stolen by yobs before being wrecked and abandoned in a gratuitous act of vandalism.

Living away from home also means that I draw massive inspiration from social media, especially Facebook. The sheer volume of experiences and circumstances faced by people on a daily basis is fertile ground for creative writing. Themes that have been worth exploring recently include political intolerance, religious conflict, gender inequality, natural disasters, epidemics etc. Facebook is akin to a giant plenary session where burning issues are discussed with passion and engagement. Another advantage of social media is it times simply provides a forum for reminiscing on shared experiences from the past. A recent thread for instance saw me asking people to list superstitions and beliefs from the home country and the end product was a poem that simply listed some of my favourites: washing your face with coconut water grants you intelligence; if a millipede walks across your palm you’ll be blessed with lovely handwriting; you should not look into a mirror during a funeral procession as you’ll see a reflection of the deceased etc.

The writer’s mind typically always wanders and you often find yourself thinking about scenarios worth exploring in fiction: with so much political violence and ethnic conflict in parts of Africa, how about a dystopian society within which all political parties are banned and Western education is no longer the determining factor to holding political office? Perhaps in this story, all schools are closed down with education the exclusive responsibility of chiefs and the elders of different ethnic groups as was the case in the pre-colonial era.

Inspiration is at times a mere chunk or titbit of human existence that develops into something much more far-reaching and significant. A task whilst studying at Falmouth University asked us to experiment with an “unreliable narrator.” My take on this task was simply a boy who does not tell the truth. This then developed into a boy who pretends to be a child soldier as a means of gaining access to the care and comfort afforded to child combatants as a means of rehabilitating them. The ramifications of this lie then ends up driving the rest of the plot.

And so it continues. Thanks for reading and happy writing! 😊





2 thoughts on “On Inspiration – by Foday Mannah

  1. Foday, what an abundance of wonderful ideas! I want to read every one of these stories. As a reader I am always looking to be transported to places I’ve never been, and your Sierra Leone would be fascinating to visit, through your stories. I love your humor, too. (“The car was a typical jalopy which had an amicable relationship with rust”) and the unusual advice inherent in beliefs from the home country (“washing your face with coconut water grants you intelligence”–you can bet I’ll be trying that!).
    How interesting to hear about all the sources of your inspiration. All we need to do as writers is keep our eyes wide open, be as curious as children, and the ideas are there.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fascinating reading about how your travels and life experiences are providing rich material for your writing. Looking forward to reading the stories you have in the works.


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