Calaba Town

by Foday Mannah

As a school teacher who dabbles with creative writing, the summer holidays represent a fertile period, a time within which one can strive to produce the odd piece. This is especially relevant because I am a master of procrastination and as such struggle to write.

Within this context, I have come to realise that the only thing that compels me to write is the metaphorical gun to the head; a deadline. The task therefore became a case of finding deadlines against which to produce pieces. Cursory investigation online revealed a plethora of short story competitions which ran through the year. Of further convenience was the fact that said competitions had staggered deadlines which were perfect in the sense that they would ensure that I was constantly writing.

I realistically do not hope to win any of these competitions, but my thinking ran along the lines of producing a different short story for every competition would result in me having a collection of stories.

The foundation for these pieces predominantly seeks to draw on experiences from my childhood. My late parents who had studied in London, moved the family back home to Sierra Leone in 1979 as was the norm back then. We lived in a place called Calaba Town, a bustling settlement located approximately ten miles from the centre of the capital city, Freetown. I was six at the time and lived in Calaba Town till I was eleven, by which time my parents’ marriage had disintegrated.

Calaba Town though remains vivid and engrossing, a place of unforgettable personalities and riveting experiences. This location has provided inspiration for one short story which I submitted at the end of July. Since then I have taken to writing down random memories from that period in my life, stockpiling them in a manner mentioned in a previous blogpost. Below are a few random musings which may not necessarily flow since they are detached from the context of a wider experience:


Morton’s Puppies:

Care for Morton’s puppies became the responsibility of Amie Samba who would count them every morning in the kitchen where they lay before returning to her atlas under the tree. The relationship between the dogs and Amie was cemented after she boiled a couple of ripe paw-paws and squashed them into an orange paste which she fed to the mother and her offspring. As the puppies grew and Morton’s teats dried up, Amie would use the crumpled money she kept in her bra to occasionally buy teaspoons of dried non-fat milk which she would dilute in a knocked-in aluminium bowl. The puppies would slurp up the dull white mixture noisily, their tales wagging in appreciation. They had by this time graduated from their mother’s fastidious attention and instead spent days frolicking around Mama Fatu’s yard under the eyes of Amie who would reprimand them with sharp commands if they strayed or transgressed.

Mama Fatu’s second dog was named Tourist, a brown and white specimen who no one liked because she left dark splotches wherever she sat. With time, Tourist learnt to obey her name, and stayed wandering…

Bees on a Sunday

The bees had first attacked Amadu Palaver as he returned from church in his customary white safari suit.  I didn’t see the bees waylay Amadu Palaver, but heard it dripped down as one of the numerous anecdotes that were narrated with gusto after the bees had departed. Amadu Palaver was what we called a bluff-man, a strident show-off whose voice and opinions always had to dominate. In our time, he had fallen out with almost all the other adults of the area, hence the word “palaver” being appended to his name. The bees had alighted on Amadu Palaver who had fled down Alusine Street, one of his white shoes left abandoned upside down in the dust. Mama Fatu who had witnessed the attack on Amadu Palaver had likened his distressed movements to a frenetic gumbay dance, a description that everyone found hilarious. Then again everyone agreed that Amadu Palaver deserved to be served a dose of comeuppance by bees.

The resistance to the bees took the form of a giant bonfire that was lit in Mama Fatu’s yard. From the windows of our place we could see her five sons gathering large pieces of firewood and a couple of oversized cartoons that had once housed powdered Nido milk. Using a couple of slender cutlasses, Ali and Abdul sliced down thick sheaths of dried elephant grass which were added to the pile of wood. Soon, a ferocious fire was in full flow, acrid smoke climbing into the air. It was only then that us neighbourhood children ventured out, flocking to her yard, anxious to feed the fire with more grass, pieces of scrap paper and any other object considered fuel-worthy…


Dealing with Devils

The devils in this case were the Ariogbos, terrifying figures that regularly patrolled Calaba Town seeking out “witches.” Ariogbos moved about in clusters of threes and fours, clad from head to toe in searing red.  Small mirrors, porcupine quills, sea shells and other accoutrements adorned their costumes, adding further mystique. The Ariogbos had huge rectangular heads and narrow feet sheathed in red socks. You at times worried that the disparity in their physical structure would one day cause them to topple over, but this never happened. The fact that we knew that people were inside these frightening costumes did little to allay the fears of us kids. The chief concern of course was the possibility of the Ariogbos arbitrarily identifying one of us as a witch, a fate which sent us fleeing indoors whenever they descended on the area. Theses devils were always accompanied by retinues of men clad in ronko gowns, brandishing sturdy sticks which they used to guide and direct the Ariogbos. Clutched in the Ariogbos’ hands were ugly squat hammers, which were used to strike down witches and other malevolent forces. We once heard a story of how these devils had struck the trunk of a tree at Wellington Fields, after being called to investigate a spate of infant deaths in the area. Blood had allegedly gushed from the tree, evidence of the Ariogbos killing the dark force that had been preying on the infants… 


Having managed to get a few of these experiences down in short paragraphs, the plan is to see if I can perhaps build entire short stories around some of these individual memories. I have found writing in these short bursts quite fulfilling and rewarding. Inspiration usually takes the form of texting my older brother who currently lives in Ghana, bandying our memories of these experiences. Real life regularly conditions and influences creative writing, and reaching thirty-five years into the past has been fun!

Thanks for reading and have a nice day.

Ta da! It’s my novel’s cover reveal

Until fairly recently, the whole idea of making a big deal of the unveiling of a novel’s cover was a new one on me. I appreciated that a cover was an important part of the overall package but I suppose I imagined that covers simply got uploaded, or went to print, along with the rest of the book. So, over the last few months I’ve watched with interest as publishers reveal covers on social media. I’ve found myself getting caught up in the excitement of being amongst the first to see the artwork and get a flavour of what the novel is all about. With my marketing head on, I began to see that it makes perfect sense to use the cover to build excitement and anticipation of the upcoming publication.

I’m really very taken with my cover, and I’ve found it a challenge to keep the artwork to myself. So for it to finally be ‘out there’ came as a relief. But the reveal was more than just a sharing exercise. It has helped me to begin the conversation with potential readers and book bloggers as well as other authors. There was plenty of chat and excitement about it on social media, admittedly a lot of it was mine, culminating in my phone overheating and presenting me with a blank screen at about 11pm. As I tried frantically to restart the phone, I began to wonder if it was pointing me towards a metaphor of some sort that I needed to interpret and heed. So, I went to bed and hoped that ‘get some sleep’ was the silent message being transmitted.

Waking up today it seemed as though the reveal had been a success and, I’m happy to report, my phone switched on at the first time of asking. Pre-orders had been placed and the Amazon ranking had risen, and most exciting of all, I could now hear the whir of the machinery; the countdown to the launch is underway. Next stop 2nd October.

And here it is….

The Lido Girls_FINAL

The Lido Girls is available to pre-order from Amazon.

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Time to promote

By Deana Luchia

Marketing…publicity…promotion…whatever you call it, getting your finished book out there, so that an audience knows it actually exists, is just as essential a part of the job description for an author as the writing itself.

While it’s an amazing feat to have written a book and you definitely want to celebrate this (writing a book is the stuff of dreams for many, many people, so celebrate away), you need to move swiftly to the next stage: finding readers.

I’ve never thought of my writing as something to put in a drawer with me the only reader. I write because I love creating characters and worlds, but I also want to share what I’ve written. I want readers. I want to make them smile. Or move them in some way. And because writing is also my job, I want to make a living from it. It’s what I do.

And so promotion is vital. Without it, it’s almost impossible to find your audience. And without readers there’s no recompense for all your hard work – your job. You may as well keep your work in that drawer, unread by anyone but you.

Now some of you will be totally fine with self-promotion (I applaud you and admire you. Please share your tips!). But some of you, like me, will find it hard. Partly due to being English (we’re often brought up to downplay any success we’ve worked for) partly due to my character, the whole idea of self-promotion has been quite tricky for me. In my twenties I had interviews where I was told to self-promote to get the job. ‘Self yourself, Deana,’ said several loud, pumped up interviewers and I just squirmed, blushed, muttered something about being quite adequate at something or other, then felt guilty and mortified for saying I was quite adequate. (I actually though this was showing off!) Unsurprisingly, I did not get any of these jobs.

My older, more confident self feels beyond relieved that I am not as shy as I once was (and also happy to know that interview techniques have moved on a bit), but I still do find the idea of marketing my own work a bit daunting.

When I self-published by novel (several years ago now), I felt very uncomfortable promoting it. Would people get sick of hearing about my book and me? Would they be scrolling down my FB newsfeed, rolling their eyes at another plug from me? So I did almost nothing. Told a few people, shared a few links. Printed off a few fliers that I was then too scared to hand out to people. (A friend of mine eventually took them from me and distributed them in her own city. Thank you, Emma!). Continue reading

Old Poetry for New Prose

I am not a poet. Nor am I an avid reader of poetry, although I like to infer that I am. There are, however, several poets and poems that inspire me. Ted Hughes: The Hawk in the Rain, Gary Snyder: Old Bones, and Galway Kinnell: The Bear, to name but a few.

When I began writing The Ice Star, I intended to pin the story to the 1902-1904 Danish Literary Expedition in Greenland, led by Ludvig Mylius-Erichsen (1872-1907), inspired as I was by Erichsen. He was an author, ethnologist, and an explorer. He died on the 1906-1908 Denmark Expedition, in the barren wastes of Greenland’s high Arctic. He was 35 years old.

In 1904, he published Isblink, a collection of poems inspired by his experience in Greenland. Isblink can be translated as an ice glare or glares – the glare of the ice. You can read it in Danish here, in the public domain. I always wanted The Ice Star to be bigger than me, and I thought Erichsen could help me with that. Continue reading

Diary of a Poet Hunter

heath 5Journal entry: Wednesday 19th June

by Sarah Acton

Week 7 of the Jurassic Coast poetry residency, this month hosted by Fairlynch Museum in Budleigh Salterton, East Devon. A day of research in the wider Lower Otter Valley.

The day after the thunder and lightening.

In the middle of the night we silently debated whether of not to throw open the curtains, which were electrically charged and flashing with the rain-less storm outside. A temper without tears of release.

When I awoke I checked my phone every half an hour to see if my appointments were cancelled due to the fog of grey that seemed to be closing in on the village here.

I left home early to go to an appointment in Seaton with another visitor centre to see if they would like to host some poetry workshops next year. All was going swimmingly until I mentioned a fee. Could I make a grant application instead? Memories of an unfinished grant application looms in my mind hazing the long view, and I just know this conversation is over before my friend stands up and and I finish my tea quickly and follow her to the door.

So this is the way of things. And there is a slight feeling that I could have done better, that I can be more positive about funding my own events, and a hope that it will happen even so.

Then it time to drive through the fog to collect my poet-friend from Bath who works with stone. We drive into the white-smothered fog and wait in a pub car park for a professor of archaeology and anthropology. What if he doesn’t come? I didn’t get his number and…

He comes.

We leave my car at the car park and head up tiny winding lanes with full-bodied hedges towards the heath. We park and follow our professor up a track opening out into the wild and open magnificence of space that is heath. Like a sea it stretches out with purple heather and dry bleached grasses. We tramp over the desire lines to cairns and through ferns and bramble. We bounce and spring through gorse and fall and stumble into slip-trenches designed to give the marines an even harder time.

On the pebblebed heath is an ancient warmth of love shown by settlers of the bronze age by the cairns so carefully placed, and the imagined camp over in the field beyond the heath boundary looks like home even without a trace over the wheat fields.

Sun heats our shirts and we traipse through hidden waist-high paths back to the car.

A pasty from the bakery and my friend back to the train station and Bath. Now here I am and there is so much work to be done, for I am the heath hunter roving and loving the land, with wild poems to track down before night. Sniffing the sweet summer air for scent. Taking only what I need of the day to feed my pen and paying gratitude for the rest in prayer.

heath 2

Inspiration: Then, Now, and for the Next-Gen

by Alexa Padgett

We were eating dinner outside last night. The breeze cooled my skin, softening the heat of the setting summer sun. I’d just taken a bite of grilled chicken when my daughter asked, “What book made you decide to write?”

In that moment, I chewed with deliberation, taking my time, readying an answer I’d never really considered before. That seems silly, still, today—why didn’t I know the answer to that question?

I swallowed and said, “E.B. White. Charlotte’s Web. Or maybe the Narnia series. Hmm, Gone with the Wind?

She went back to poking at her food, satisfied.

I pondered her question and my answer throughout dinner. I wasn’t pleased with my answer because I think the answer is all those books, plus Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series and A Wrinkle in Time, which scared the crap out of me when I read it in third grade, maybe Dave Duncan’s and David Eddings’ fantasy series—you mean I create whole new worlds?—or maybe Kathleen E. Woodiwiss’ Shana, the first romance I ever read. Or, later, as I discovered mysteries by Agatha Christie or Grisham’s legal thrillers or Stephen King’s Mercy. That book showed me how scary a transcript could be! Or maybe my love of historical fiction, especially through Sharon Kay Penman’s British history lessons. Continue reading

The Secret Life of Minor Characters

By Lu Anne Stewart

I’ve reached a point in the novel I’m writing where one of my minor characters is starting to assert himself in ways I hadn’t planned. It’s as though he’s waving at me as I write, saying “Give me a chance! I could be much more than a bit player here!”

I’ve heard other writers describe this phenomenon. They create characters, set them into motion and then, sometimes, a character will take the story in another direction or do something the author didn’t plan originally.

In my case, the supporting character grabbing the steering wheel is Lt. Armand Pelletier, a police detective in the small town where my protagonist, Meg Sullivan, is an investigative reporter probing a series of mysterious mill fires.

At first, I saw Lt. Pelletier as mainly a functional character, an obstacle in Meg’s way as she makes her rounds at the police station trying to root out information. Then a strange thing happened. I wrote a scene in which Meg has dinner with her father in a local restaurant. For some reason unknown to me, I ended the scene with Meg looking across the dining room and suddenly seeing Pelletier sitting alone. He tips his wine glass toward her and smiles.

“Is that a friend?” her father asks.

Well, I asked myself, is he?

I had planned on him being a foe, but now I had a more intriguing thought. What if Pelletier might instead become an anonymous source who helps Meg uncover the conspiracy woven through this town?

All of this started me thinking about the role of minor or secondary characters in novels. Looking back at novels that I’ve loved, I have a hard time remembering the supporting cast in any detail.  Maybe it’s because great novels have such a strong leading character that their names are the only ones that linger in our memory. I can still visualize Sethe many years after reading Beloved, but not the others swirling around that saga. I can still feel the desperation of Kathy Nicolo and Colonel Behrani, co-protagonists in House of Sand and Fog, but not much about the role others played in that tragic tale of loss.

I had to reach back to Miss Havisham in Great Expectations and to the cold, broken mother, Beth, in Ordinary People, to come up with supporting characters who were particularly memorable. Maybe that’s because each of them played a pivotal role in creating the challenge that the main character struggled to overcome. They were minor, but essential.

As writers, we can use minor characters in many ways: to advance the plot, give our protagonist an ally or adversary, add comic relief or just to populate the worlds we create in a believable way. My challenge with Lt. Pelletier and a few other supporting characters who have begun to jockey for more page-time is to figure out how to best use each of them to advance my story.

We’ll see what Lt. Pelletier has in mind for Meg as the next chapters unfold. But meanwhile, what about you? Can you recall a minor character who captivated you? Comment below with your favorites!