African Loft Interview

Pamela Stitch

The Romance novel as a genre has existed for several hundred of years. One of the earliest novels was Samuel Richardson’s “Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded”, which came out in 1740 and grew to become a major household staple. The romance novel is mostly read by women who read these books for entertainment, escape and to learn more about other parts of the world. I remember reading a romance novel at elementary school; romance novel has remained one of my most read novel genres.

I was excited when I heard of Myne Whitman’s novel, “A heart to mend”. Written by a Nigerian — under the pan name “Myne Whitman”, with Nigerian characters and setting, “A heart to mend” is a fun and fast read. Myne Whitman was happy to talk to us about her book during the Christmas season. Enjoy the interview!

Who is Myne Whitman?
Myne Whitman is also known as Nkem Okotcha. I grew up during the 1980’s in Enugu, Nigeria. I 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 sometimes come across as quiet and laid-back but do like a good loud debate at regular intervals, LOL. In three words, I will describe myself as friendly, caring and fun-loving. I have been a teacher, NGO consultant, banker, skate-hire attendant, researcher and Scottish government worker. After a postgrad degree and a few years in Edinburgh, Scotland, I now live in the United States with my husband.

Can you give us a brief synopsis about your book, “A heart to mend”?
A heart to mend tells the story of Gladys. Gladys is a young woman who is trying to find her feet in the world. She meets this guy, Edward and they fall in love. The book talks about the obstacles they face, how they over come it and how they eventually live happily ever after.

So this is like your typical romance novel?
Yes, in that sense, it is your typical romance novel. But, this is coached in a subplot that makes the book a suspense.

What situations informed your need to write this book?
From when I was young, I have always wanted to write an engrossing story. I also felt that there were not enough romance novels set in contemporary Nigeria, and that I could do something to address that situation.

What makes this book different from romantic fictional work that comes from different parts of Nigeria, Africa or the world?
Well, it stands out for several reasons. One is my style of writing which is very simple and direct. There isn’t a lot of beating around the bush – you see the plot taking place and you are able to follow the characters, get in tune with the characters and you start to feel as though you know them personally as you identify with them.

Why fiction?
I have been writing for a very long time and I have mostly written fiction. I have done some poetry too as well. Why fiction? Well, I believe we are all living the real life , so fiction takes you away from the day to day grind of life. So you are able to see life through another person’s eyes, you are able to visit another country, another period of time , you can do anything with fiction and your imagination.

Some people might say that as Nigerians we tend to escape reality a little bit too easily and that by working within this genre – you are actually supporting some form of escapism?
I do not necessarily agree. You can tell fictional stories and pass a very deep message through your fiction. My novel passes several messages through the themes it handles. It deals with themes of legitimacy, social class, improper marriages where women are treated like chattel and controlled by a domineering husband. These are issues that I feel that are topics within the Nigerian culture.

That’s quite true. How long did it take you to write this book?
It took me roughly less than a year. But, the truth was that I already had a short story of about a thousand words before 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.

When did you start writing and how did that interest develop?
I started writing when I was still in primary school. I started reading a lot around that time too, so one could say it was a natural progression. I wrote children’s adventures because I read more books like that. In my secondary school, I stopped writing for a bit but during my years in University, I restarted writing and got people to read my books and they loved it.

Are all characters fictional?
Yes they all are. None of my characters is based on myself or any one I know but on a cumulative of my world view and experience. Other than that, they’re just people of my imaginings and 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.

You mentioned earlier that there are a couple of themes in the book. What message do you have for readers out there particularly during this season?
There is a message of forgiveness, love, togetherness, family reunion – these are messages that people will relate to particularly during this period. There was a Christmas scene in the book, in which Gladys had run back to her mother in Enugu after a fight with Edward and Edward had gone to meet her in Enugu and he was invited to stay for dinner. I remember when I ran this excerpt on my blog – a lot of people responded to it because they could relate.

One of the ideas that I found very interesting was the intercultural relationship that took place between the main characters (one Yoruba and one Igbo) – do you think intercultural relationship is still a big deal in today’s Nigeria?
Yes, I think it is still a big deal and that was why I explored this theme, it still is the source of tension and conflict, and these are important elements of an engaging story.

The relationship between Edward and Gladys’ stand out because of the obstacles they face and of course, it challenges the norms of the Nigerian society; especially where cross-cultural relationships are concerned. That was an element of Nigerian society and the world at large that I wanted to question. I also think that cross-cultural relationships 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.

How did the book deal come about?
I was self published so there was no book deal per se. 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. Authorhouse is seen as one of the best in the market and they have not disappointed me in any way.

The way you choose to market your book is definitely different? Can you tell us your process of marketing?
The book is a paper back novel, in which people can actually buy it but I am running a virtual tour because I live in the United States but a lot of my readers are spread all over the world. I know that I do not have the budget to travel around the world to market the book, so the best alternative is to meet my readers online, where I actually meet some of them. So the virtual tour is the best way, so I am going from blog to blog, some of my blog readers have been gracious enough to invite me for interviews or to show case my book on their sites. I also reached out to print magazines too as well, some have been open to writing reviews on the book.

How has the response been so far?
I have been overwhelmed. I did not expect it to be so good. A few bloggers — once they knew my book was out, wanted to run interviews. The response has been very good.

What is the message you want them to get from this book?
The fact of our past should not dictate your present or your future. We should open up ourselves to other people and let them try to be with us. People should really work on their relationship to have a happy balance.

Do you have any other book in the pipeline?
Yes I have a couple of books I hope to follow this one. Both are already in the short story phase and I intend to have them ready, one for each of the next two years.

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