Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Interview with Elsie O. Oghenekaro

It's an honour to bring an interview with Nigerian children's book author, Elsie Oghenekaro. Elsie has written numerous short stories, children's books and biographies. She is also a travel agent, a mother of 5 young children and active in her local church.

When did you first realise that you wanted to be a writer?
I have always had the desire to write. I wrote my first story when I was eleven years old, although I didn’t do anything with it. I just loved reading and writing. When I was nine years old, I had to leave my parents and go live with an older sister and her family to help out with her kids. Her husband was quite abusive to me, but he had a large library of books and these became my succor. I read everything available and signed up as a member of the local public library. I had few friends because of the restrictive environment at home, so I started “talking” to my books. I would write down my thoughts, hopes, dreams and would imagine myself living in happier times and surroundings. I would create characters in my head and whenever things got out of hand at home, I would retreat into the happier world in my head.

I kept diaries all through my high school years and continued reading. I read romance, thrillers, mysteries, biographies, sci-fi; anything and everything. I even read mystical books about Eastern religions and such stuff.
It was no surprise when my first real job was as a newspaper reporter. I loved digging for news but my real love was writing features for my newspaper. Much as I loved the job though, the pay was very poor and the newsroom politics was even worse. I left journalism and joined the International Committee of the Red Cross as a Field officer. My job included media and government liaison, administration, operation and everything in between. After seven years, I resigned to start my own travel business and look after my young family.

Eventually I found my way back to writing almost fulltime. The plan was not to write for children, but I found myself doing so and loving it. My kids love a good story and we have days of the week when we would sit down and just tell stories; many of these stories form the basis of my children’s books.

You’ve written about 7 books, most for children. Why? And what do u find being the challenges for writing for one demographic over the other?
It has been an awesome journey writing for kids. I have five children ranging from seven to eighteen years and they are usually my first readers. The Bible is full of stories that hold a lot of appeal for young people and I constantly try to write Bible stories that appeal to children and at the same time teach applicable life lessons.

I have written several children’s books in the past four years and have a lot more I am working on. I am looking forward to releasing four children’s books this year. I have three unpublished novels, a book of random articles, and three uncompleted Bible- based novels. I have other works which do not necessarily fall into any classification and I am working on my third Biography, which is the story of my late Pastor, Ina Omakwu, of Family Worship Centre, Abuja in Nigeria.

Writing for me, is a calling as well as a profession. I love to write, it gives me pleasure and one genre is not necessarily easier than another or more difficult. Writing for kids though, is more fun because my kids critique as I write and children don’t hide their opinions. Kids are also more appreciative, I love to see the joy in their faces when they pick a good well written and illustrated book. I find novels more relaxing because it’s like travelling to fun places and living the lives of my characters. I also enjoy the whole process of creating them and making them do my bidding! A biography sometimes pays the bills and gives me a peep into people’s lives that I find intriguing. Whenever I write, I learn something new and that is my biggest satisfaction.

Describe the route to publication in Nigeria. What have been some if your biggest challenges?
The major challenge with writing and publishing in my country is the scarcity of traditional publishers willing to take a chance on an “unknown” author. The number of book buyers is not very encouraging and publishers are not willing to spend their money on struggling authors. This leaves the option of self-publishing which is both expensive and cumbersome. You have to source for a good printer, pay the costs and do the marketing yourself. This can have a dampening effect on the joys of writing. It also adds to the frustration, because you end up spending a lot of money and not getting the financial rewards you feel entitled to. I write primarily because I want to, otherwise, I would not be able to cope.

You have 5 children, a couple of businesses and a home to maintain. How does this affect your writing? What's a typical day like?
My typical day starts at 4am with my morning devotion, then I get the kids ready for school (I have 3 of them at home, ages 13, 11 and 7. My first son is away at University, and my 15year old daughter is in the boarding school). Then I take a bath, and write for about four hours. I would also check my emails, respond or write, browse for industry news or do some form of online research or the other. Then I face household chores which could include laundry, shopping or cooking and cleaning. With a houseful of kids, there is always something waiting for your attention! Three evenings a week I’m at church for fellowship or meetings and weekends are taken up with church and family events.

My non-typical but very frequent day sees me running out of the house at 6:30am to catch a bus into the city centre where I go for meetings with clients, interviews for biographies or such projects, dealing with printers, bookstores and or attending to any of the things I do to stay afloat financially while waiting for my writing to pay off. Such days, I do as much as I can for the kids and my husband fills in the gap. I usually get back exhausted with just enough energy left for quick hugs and half an ear for each kid to fill me in on their day before I fall into bed.

Christian themes run through some of your books. How important is that to you?
My parents were Christians and they led me to believe that the Christian life was the best option for me. I gave my life to Christ 19 years ago and since then my biggest desire has been to serve God with all of me. Naturally, I recognize my love for writing for what it is; a gift, and I have given this gift back to the Lord to use as it pleases Him. I do not write anything the Holy Spirit does not approve of; I am not ashamed of what I am and do not see a separation between my craft and my faith.

Describe your latest book "Tales my Mama told me".

My latest book, “Tales my Mama told me”, is a collection of folktales. Folktales used to be a big form of entertainment in Africa before the television took over and I find that children still enjoy a good story. The book tells four different stories from long ago that teach social and moral values. These are some of the values on which the original African society was based; some of these values are being lost gradually and I want to do my bit to help us hold on to them.

What's next for Elsie Oghenekaro?
I believe that I am just starting out as a writer. As the kids grow and leave home, I will concentrate more on my craft. I am currently trusting God to do an Ecclesiastical history of Nigeria. I am also working on a geographical and historical book about my country. I have several uncompleted works. I have been working with children and adults who feel the urge to write but lack the confidence to do so. I encourage people to write and get their works published. I am also adding consulting and motivational speaking to my To-do list, and if the LORD tarries, I will do much more as He leads me!

Ufuoma Daniella Ojo is a Senior Technical Author and Software Trainer. She lives in London. She is working on some new stories about relationships and is trusting God for connections leading to publication.


  1. Job well done! Thank you Ma'am. ACFW is a huge encouragement

  2. When you mentioned to me you write, I did not realise it is this awesome...nice one!

  3. Thank you, Ufuoma and Elsie--a very inspiring and challenging interview. God bless.

  4. What an amazing lady! She deserves fr her books to be read by children all over the world!

  5. Lovely to meet you, Elsie, and thanks Ufuoma. What great encouragement to us all.

  6. WOW! What an inspiring interview. Thank you, Elsie, for your willing heart. And thank you, Ufuoma, for this great interview.

  7. Daniella and Elsie, thanks for your fascinating interview :) I also hope your culture doesn't lose its traditional of telling folktales because electronic media is becoming more common. It can be hard to convince children to prioritise reading when there are so many other types of entertainment readily available.

  8. Congratulations Elsie. You are a source of encouragement and inspiration. May the Lord bless the work of your hands.