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‘Inconveniences cannot compare with hope of actualising one’s dreams’

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Agbo

For Rev. Fr. Chikere Aloy Agbo, SJ, his journey to write fiction began a long time ago. Born into a typical Igbo society of Amachalla in Enugu-Ezike, Igbo-Eze North local council of Enugu State, listening to the folk tales was a regular pastime for his family. As such, he loved storytelling and reading fiction as a secondary school student to the extent that he registered for Literature in English in Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE) despite being a core science student. Today, his interest in the arts has paid off as he recently unveiled his novel, Joy Cut Short, But Dreams Fulfilled in Lagos. In this interview, he speaks on his journey into the league of Nigerian authors and his dreams.

What inspired you to author Joy Cut Short, But Dreams Fulfilled?
IT has been an interesting journey. A journey that was not less than epic. And of course, I believe that every human being is born with a story; in fact, some are born with stories. It depends on the person’s capacity to tell the story. But there comes a time when a man or woman just decides to tell stories. I think that is how I can describe the genesis of my journey into creative writing.

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I am grateful that it came at this moment; this is the right time. I can’t imagine a better time; not 10 years ago, not 20 years ago. Some people had wished that the work came out earlier than now but whenever a baby is born is the right time. So, I am very happy that this baby was eventually delivered and friends gathered from all walks of life to celebrate its birth with me.

One would have expected you to write books that have to do with the Scripture but you are writing fiction instead. Why?
Actually, I am not the first priest to write a novel. I am more or less doing what others in my field had done. Yes, it is true that generally, priests are not known to deal with fiction or creative writing. But we enjoy stories; we read novels. I read novels; I devour fiction. If we can devour fiction, what stops us from producing works of fiction? I believe that everybody has a voice. And I think a time just came when I had to tell a story regardless of my profession. Perhaps my profession even enabled me to discover my literary voice.

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Someone had asked me the lesson Joy Cut Short, But Dreams Fulfilled is out to teach. But generally, you don’t read a book of fiction to learn a lesson. Fictions are meant to entertain the reader. If along the line someone comes across a story line, plot or something that exposes him/her to the complexities of life, so be it. So, Joy Cut Short, But Dreams Fulfilled is just a story and people should enjoy it.

So, you didn’t set out to pass a message with the book?
No! I wrote the book to entertain. Surprisingly, I wrote for myself. I recall that when I was writing the novel, a few times I found myself laughing in my room. I was enjoying it. I know that I have severally gone back to particular plots and sections of the book to enjoy myself. So, may be, another person will pick it and get entertained.

How were you able to combine writing this book with your duties as a priest successfully?
It is true that priests are very busy just like many other professionals. It is also true that our calling inputs a peculiar pattern of life on us that makes us extremely busy. Like doctors, we are more or less offering essential services. But at the same time, we can also use any little time we have to do what we love doing. And people do things like listening to music, playing games or doing sports in their spare time. For me, I was just doing what I love doing – telling stories; it was a kind of pastime. But it got to a point when people said, ‘you can’t continue doing this as pastime. You can share your pastime works with the rest of the world’. That was how the story developed and I decided to put it together and it became a book. At first, the story was disjointed but as we began to get interesting feedbacks on the scripts, I chose to develop them into a single story line and turn it into a fiction.

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How would you equate the cost of writing this book?
We cannot speak in terms of cost, for it was more of doing what I love, engaging in an activity that makes one truly happy. Whatever inconvenience experienced along the way is not comparable to the hope of actualising one’s dreams.  It is like the birth pangs. Speaking of childbirth, my friend, John Ghansah, SJ, the deputy head of our organisation, Society of Jesus, compares authoring a book to child delivery, getting a baby born. So, yes, sacrifices were made, combining studies and writing required working doubly hard. In the end, we enjoy the fruits of the sacrifices.

Did you ever dream of becoming an author at any point in your life?
Well, I know that all my life, anytime I enter a library, I come alive. It does not matter what I am going through or the issues I am dealing with at that point. The moment I enter a library and look at the bookshelves, I naturally come alive. You might be surprised to hear that anytime I step out of this country, the first place I love to visit is a bookshop.

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Books just have a way of making my mood different. One cannot lead that kind of life and not imagine that one day, he/she would hold a book authored by him or her. So, did I think of becoming an author? May be it was just something that was hanging in the subconscious and waited for the right time to surface. But I am definitely happy that Joy Cut Short, But Dreams Fulfilled is out there.

With the way you talk about your love for books, you must have some role models in the literary world…

Well, I know that back in the high school at Community Secondary School, Amachalla, Enugu-Ezike in Igbo-Eze North local council of Enugu State, where it all started, I did enjoy Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. It was a recommended novel for SSCE for almost three or four years. I love the story; I love the characters, particularly Okonkwo. Of course, you cannot read Things Fall Apart and not be fascinated by the character of Okonkwo and others. So, I love the book, the story and Achebe’s style. His simple style makes Things Fall Apart a book that a university professor can enjoy likewise a high school student.

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Over the years, I have read many books of fiction, both local and foreign. But I must give it Chimamanda Adichie. The coming of Purple Hibiscus more or less regenerated my interest in fiction. Of course, you cannot read Purple Hibiscus and not see that influence of Chinua Achebe in it – the simple language style. I think these two people figure out for me prominently in terms of literature.

But over time, I am getting to know a lot of interesting authors. Eghosa Imasuen, the author of Fine Boys is someone who inspires me. Also, Odili Ujubuonu, who has four novels to his credit, some of which have won awards, also stand out for me.

What should those who will read Joy Cut Short, But Dreams Fulfilled expect from you going forward?
Well, I think I am in for the long run. As a matter of fact, the day the book was moved to the printer, I realised that more stories were coming to my mind. So, the readers should keep enjoying this first. Who knows if another book will be on the way before they get tired of Joy Cut Short, But Dreams Fulfilled. And how that will come I don’t know yet. I can’t tell whether it will be a prose, poem or collection of stories. But definitely, something is going to come up some day because I cannot leave Joy Cut Short, But Dreams Fulfilled as an orphan. It won’t be fair.

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