Life in Lagos. Interview with Isaac Newton Akah.

Isaac Newton Akah is the author of Living in Gidi, a humorous account of what it is like to live in the city of Lagos. The book has done well on the Nigerian reading and publishing platforms Okadabooks and Mybuuk.com. Akah has since its publication gone on to write and produce two audiobooks.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background. Where are you from? Where did you school? What have you published so far? How have your books been received?

Isaac Newton Akah is a Nigerian. I was born in Owerri, Imo State, and I lived there until my early teenage years. I moved to Lagos in an interesting manner. I had traveled to Lagos for a holiday when our school exam back in Owerri was postponed. While I was there, the exam was quickly scheduled. I couldn’t return early enough to partake, so I chose not to return altogether. I transferred to a private school and became a Lagosian. It was a good decision, as the new school helped me build both my vocabulary and my ability to study.

Eventually, I returned to the eastern part of the country for my tertiary education. At the University of Nigeria, I studied computer science and became a programmer. When I started writing while trying to get a job after the university, I realized I enjoyed it. Also, I realized a lot of other people enjoyed the things I wrote. It spurred me on. The thought of creating, imagining things and bringing them to life through writing, pleased me. I stuck to it.

Sticking to writing hasn’t been bad at all. At least, you know about me now, right? Haha. My first book was Living In Gidi. It’s a mischievous portrayal of the life in Lagos, especially the mainland part of the state. I like to think it’s a humorous book, and I’ve been told so by others. It was published in 2016 as an ebook, and later printed in 2018.

Women We Know, my next book, was published in 2017. It has now been acquired by Worldreader and can be viewed on their platform.

I’ve also delved into audio storytelling, and I believe I make one of the best audio books you’d find around. Here in Nigeria, and possibly around the world, it’s a storytelling style that has been gravely ignored. I’m surprised by that, given audio storytelling is so entertaining. The title of my audio book is Bathsheba. I really hope you get to listen to it. I’m currently working on another audio book.

I’m pleased with the reception for Living In Gidi, Women We Know and Bathsheba. A few people have dubbed Living In Gidi the Lagos bible, a must-read for visitors of the city. My audio story journey has gained a following, too, and it’s all thanks to Bathsheba.

Where do you reside and what do you do beside writing/recording audio books?

I am currently in Jos, Plateau State. I teach screenwriting at the basic level in a private film academy here. I ghostwrite, too.

It seems to me that the coming-to-Lagos-story has become a bit of a sub-genre in itself. Do you agree and if so, why do you think this is?

Yes, certainly. It has earned that—a sub-genre. I didn’t start it though. Right from the early days of Nollywood, coming-to-Lagos has always featured. But Nollywood is all about drama (mostly) and most books about coming-to-Lagos are pretty serious books. Living In Gidi, to the best of my knowledge, is the first that ignored the above and went for all out humour. The book was not written to follow a character’s life or storyline. It was written in episodes. You don’t need to know what happened in Episodes 1 & 2 to enjoy Episode 10. I hope to make it into an audio book in the future.

Who did the pictures for Living in Gidi?

I found an old schoolmate on Facebook. He had a different name, so he had to [reintroduce] himself to me. We chatted a few times. I checked his wall out and saw the photos he took. He’s a street photographer. I was blown away. I loved every one of them. They told my Lagos stories in pictures. Around that time, I was editing Living In Gidi, getting ready for publishing. So, I started working out the possibility of having some of his photos in the book. I wrote him and told him about it. He liked the idea. We signed an MoU and I published the book. People call me from time to time to ask to be directed to the photographer. He sells his works, and also shoots professional photos on contract.

I suppose some years back, people would write stories to get them published as books or ebooks first and then hope that they will get a good reception so that they can later be turned into audio books, but do you write stories now to become audio books immediately? If so, how does it differ from writing a traditional printed book?

Honestly, I can’t tell if people have always hoped that their books get turned into audio books. I can say I’m certain a lot hope their books get made into motion pictures. I was surprised when a company approached me to make Living In Gidi, my Lagos story, into an audio book. We signed a deal. That book never got made into an audio book.

I started thinking of making an audio book on my own. I thought of a book that could portray all the elements of a movie (without the visuals) and I wrote one, bearing this in mind. This is how Bathsheba was birthed. It was such a rave. It was never published as a book in text. I think the ease of assessing the audio—a simple download-and-listen and you’re totally launched in—helped make it a sensation.

When I thought of writing a book on sexual violence with the hope of creating awareness and help for victims, I thought audio stories would be the best medium. People can share it easily and listen on the go, and they can feel what I want them to feel. The book is titled AT YOUR PERIL.

So, yeah, my books go straight into audio when I wish to make it so.

It is not so different from writing the traditional way. Here, however, the more the story is able to utilize audio effects—like strong emotions, violence or drama—the better for the audio book.

Are Nigerian readers more prone to listen to an audio book than to go out and buy traditional books do you think?

I can’t say this with utmost certainty, as I have not carried out a research on this. But we live in a world where people want to assess things easily and online. They want to do stuff while also doing other stuff. Audio books work in these times. I mean, you could listen to it on your way to work or while making dinner. And, when well done like my audio books, it is irresistible. My audio books have had more reach than my books in text format.

Has Okadabooks been a more useful platform than MyBuuk and other platforms?

They all play their roles. With Living In Gidi, Okadabooks got interesting with the volume of sales it was making, and they befriended me. They wrote a review for the book, and had it published on Bellanaija. It was huge for me. With Women We Know, my second book, they did the same.

But Okadabooks has a limitation MyBuuk corrected. With MyBuuk, you don’t have to sign up and become a user before you access books. You simply pay up and read up. When people started complaining about hating to sign up or forgetting their Okadabooks username, MyBuuk was there for them. These are the two platforms that have been instrumental with the success on my books.

What is your next project?

I just published AT YOUR PERIL on the 6th of February, 2020. Although the book was self-funded, it is still available for free. I see it as a social construction/reconstruction tool. AT YOUR PERIL consists of three short audio stories—Lubabh, Uloma and Ayomide. Please find them on mybuuk.com

It’s a bit too early to be thinking of my next project. However, I wouldn’t say no if a publishing house picks up one of my manuscripts or a film producer asks for a screenplay. I’m here and always working. I do not know for certain the next work I’ll publish.

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