In conversation with author Samuel Ugoh

Samuel Ugoh was born in Kaduna, Nigeria and has lived in Ghana since 2005. He writes fiction, specifically adventure and self-published his first book ‘Turbulent Seas’ in 2012.

He has been actively writing since then. He self-published a second book – a sequel to the first – ‘Facing The Mighty Waves’ and is hopeful that his stories will help inspire other people to live their dreams and not give up on their passions.

Samuel Ugoh. Picture credit: Lockdown Images

Who or what inspired you to write?

I didn’t set out to write my first book. It was a story I’d written in some exercise books which my mother saw, liked, and said we had to publish.

My mother was and is so supportive. She single-handedly sponsored my first publication and made sure it was launched. She got it into bookshops and sold it at schools. Aside her, my friends and some family members have also shown support.

It was after publishing that I took interest in writers as actual people I could look up to. Currently, I am inspired by the writings, writing styles and artistic personalities of Dale Carnegie, Jackie Collins, Chimamanda Adichie, Stephen King, John Grisham, and Dan Brown, and favourite novelists John Connolly and Stephen Leather.

Tell us how you go about starting to develop your first novel?

My first novel was primarily an escape from boredom. My economics classes were initially very boring. And I would be reprimanded every time I tried to read a novel in the lectures. So, I embarked on writing my own story during the classes.

It was a rebellious move and I got a kick out of it at the time. I had to imagine a desperate situation, something I’d also like to read if someone else had written it. So, looking around me, I would adopt the names of my friends as names of characters. And next I planned each chapter on sheets of paper.

Writing is a relaxing experience for me, and after so much stress in the day I just want to be in a corner and write something.

Does your other profession influence your craft?

I am a part-time writer and my other fields are marketing and law. They find a way to get into my work and I find that they enrich the substance of what I am trying to relay to the reader.

Tell us about your books and which is your favourite and why?

Turbulent Seas is a story of love and loss and the eventual triumph of love. It details the relationship between Ana and George. At the time of meeting, Ana is a seamstress whose father is at an mental institution battling mental illness. George is an ambitious young man with lots of dreams and little cash who will do just about anything to get himself out there. The story is mostly about their meeting, their affection, his greed and years spent in a German prison for drug trafficking. 

‘Facing The Mighty Waves’ is the sequel to ‘Turbulent Seas’ and is my favourite because it was intentionally written compared to my debut novel. It was also more mature, and I could track my development with it. This novel is set years after the first book when George and Ana are married and have difficulty having their own children. It becomes metaphysical with the introduction of devils and seers and a trip to hell. It is a story of desperation and the many uncertainties that make up our very lives. 

Turbulent Seas

What are the challenges and benefits of being a writer, in your opinion?

I think the major challenge is the fact that in this part of the world, people don’t see writing as an art or give writers as much recognition as other artists. Also, the poor reading culture is a very weighty challenge. Getting a good publisher, and getting your work recognised are very major challenges as well. Benefits? Well, researching for a story makes the artist as lot more knowledgeable. A few people think you are super intelligent when you tell them you are an author.

What lengths are you prepared to go to research a book?

Well, in my unpublished work, ‘Chronicle of Joseph Idris’, I needed information about prison life in Ghana.  I believe that going the whole length to get authentic information and being as factual as possible helps to better inform the reader.

So I went to Nsawam prisons and asked if I could look around for research purposes. I was given directions to the main prison. I walked for a while, the sun was out, and I made mental notes of all I saw on the way.

The main prison is very fortified. Very high walls, and a thick door that leads inside. At the main prison, I met an officer who had just come out. I told him I was there to research my book, which he showed an interest. He explained that I needed written approval from the HQ in Accra but let me in to look around anyway.

We walked to the main prison door, he knocked, a metal bolt was pushed back and we were observed from a hole. Then we were let in. I was searched, and a guard was assigned to me. I had to leave my phone with them and walk behind the guard at all times.

I actually wasn’t allowed to talk to any prisoners, though I saw them doing different things. A lot of them were playing a football game on the pitch, guarded as expected. 

What are you working on now and when will it be available to the public?

I am currently working on a collection of stories. I am almost done and I think it should be out before September 2020. The collection of stories was inspired by the lockdown. Being stuck at home for a while seemed to stir up my creative juices and it was hard to allow myself to be unproductive.

The lockdown also inspired me to re-evaluate how I market and publish my works in the future, especially being how very fragile the economy and scheme of business have become during this pandemic. I am also working with a traditional publishing on school books and I am in the process of publishing the first one.

Facing the Mighty Waves

What is your view on the labels that are given to writers – ie African writer/ sci-fi writer – are they a help or hindrance?

I think labels help to give a clear understanding of what exists and the segments to what exists. They help with recognition. I am a writer, or an African writer. But I am a still a writer in both, and I don’t feel any of the prefixing, or lack of, diminishes my worth as a writer.

There is a perception among some of us that Ghanaians do not read enough for pleasure – is that true/ false in your opinion?

I think the perception that many Ghanaians don’t read for pleasure is true. Absolutely. The average Ghanaian seems to believe that reading ends after school. And if anything must be read it must be something one has to write a test or an exam on. It is a perception we need to change, and fast. Because reading the way we do now does not make for an intellectual society.

I have heard complaints from some in the industry that the Ghanaian market looks for books that are 180 pages in length which some are saying is restrictive. What is your experience?

Well, audaciously, I wrote an 800-page book. And it taught me hard lessons. It is still not yet published and I’ve been advised to segment it. A book of 100 pages is actually too big for many people. For my current collection of stories, I am intent on making it not more than 130 pages, for fear that it will not be as successful. It is restrictive because you have to condense so much and leave so much out that could have improved the quality of the book. And when you condense so much a lot of things fly over the reader’s head. It is a tough balancing act and it is extremely exhausting.

Below, Samuel shares some tips designed to help fellow writers perfect their writing skills.

TIPS

  • Connect with writing group – Ghana Association of Writers is working on a program for interested or emerging writers/authors.
  • Practice makes perfect – As a practical step, one must practice consistently, intentionally. Writing is an art, and like a muscle, it needs to be flexed as often as possible to give it tone and strength.
  • Build your knowledge – I believe if a person uses Google, one will find many masterclasses online that could help.
  • Be authentic – Find your own style, but make sure to obey the fundamental rules.
  • Success isn’t overnight – You have to be intentional about it and work at it by becoming a better writer and smarter at marketing your work.
  • Read more – Read the biographies and works of great authors.

Samuel’s books are available at The Shop Accra and EPP books Legon Mall. You can also follow him on Instagram @samueloscar_ugoh

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