Author Suyi Davies Okungbowa recently took to Reddit’s r/fantasy to celebrate the release of his debut novel David Mogo, Godhunter with an AMA! Okungbowa introduced himself as a native of Benin City, Nigeria, and talked about his profession outside of writing for a bit, before answering questions about his inspirations, Nigerian science fiction and culture, and literary favorites . Check out the highlights below!
Fellow writer Luke Matthews of The Chronicler Saga, asked Okungbowa about good sources for Nigerian mythology and religions, as well as Nigerian history. Okungbowa responded as follows:
Yes, my book is based on real-world Yoruba mythology. In fact, “mythology” is more of a misnomer here, because many Yorubas pay homage to these orishas (gods), and therefore it would be considered more a cosmology/religion than myth.
Now, the most trusted sources of Nigerian (and lots of other African) histories/myths/pantheons, etc, would come from indigenous historians, curators, etc (who will likely have more oral than written histories) and maybe scholars focused on studying the histories of these groups. Going with the internet alone, or reaching for the nearest “The History Of…” book in your local library, is sadly not quite advisable. Most of what is out there is mixed up with colonialist narratives that have been perpetuated over time, and are not quite representative of the real situation.
Having grown up in Nigeria, I was able to sift through most of these and select those which were closest to the true representations of these stories. I even twisted some up a bit, but in a way that any knowledgeable person who reads them knows I did it on purpose, not erroneously. Also, contemporary Nigeria is a mashup of a ton of various histories, so that there’s only a colonial history of Nigeria, and not quite a cultural one (pre-colonization, the entity “Nigeria” didn’t exist, as you’ll find with lots of African countries). It’s a tricky line to tread, knowing exactly which story you’re telling.
Reddit user lost_chayote asked a few questions, the first one being,” If you had to choose just one, what would you say is your favorite thing about your book? A favorite character or aspect, or something you’re just proud of pulling off?”
If I had to choose, I’d say I’m most glad I got to bring godpocalyptic Lagos to the world. To be frank, I didn’t do much: Lagos is a very mad city, a city that vibes and hums on its own. Heck, there are some places I left untouched in the story that still ended up sounding post-apocalyptic, and therein lies the nature of the city: equal parts rad, equal parts mad. Some parts of the city are even on their way to becoming post-apocalyptic spaces themselves, even in 2019. So, I’d say I’m most glad I got to show Lagos’s past, present and (one possible) future, all in the same book.
They also asked about Okungbowa’s recent favorite reads, to which he listed the below:
The last 3 reads that have struck me most have been ALL SYSTEMS RED by Martha Wells, JADE CITY by Fonda Lee, and VICIOUS by Victoria Schwab.
Murderbot in ALL SYSTEMS RED is a character I expect we’ll remember for ages, despite being a robot. Having written a titular character myself, it was refreshing to see it done even better than I did.
Fonda Lee’s JADE CITY is what you get when you cross The Godfather with Kung Fu Hustle. I’ve never quite read anything like it, and it’s the kind of contemporary fantasy I aspire to write.
VICIOUS is Dexter x Marvel, which is basically having a whole novel filled with characters like Dexter, Hannibal Lecter, Loki and Thanos—all villains. It was not only an enjoyable read, but also played with story structure and chronology in an unexpected way.
While there were a few questions about Okungbowa’s writing, PurpledWater asked if audiobooks had impacted his writing in any way. “Do you consciously cut out dialogue tags or shorten paragraphs to make the narration easier?” Okungbowo responded:
Speech patterns where I come from are very, very different from the normative global majority, so I always have to decide whether to stay true to them, or to make it pretty for possible narration. Our Englishes are different, our languages are uncommon, but choosing to write them in any other way will definitely strip them of their originality and any Nigerian/West-African/African worth their salt will take one look and know it wasn’t written for them. That I have to make this decision at all is literally the bane of my existence, but it is what it is. However, as you may probably see from a lot of reviews and responses to David Mogo, I put verisimilitude first and represent the exact way of speaking, as unpalatable as it might be. Many will struggle with it—especially those from the global English majority—but I have to make a choice I can live with, whether it affects audio narrations or not.
As for dialogue tags, I just use “said” or cut them out. I read my work out loud to see how it sounds, most of the time.
User penwoman asked the deceptively simple question, “What inspired you to write?”
In general, I’d say I wasn’t quite “inspired” into writing. I read a lot as a child, grew up with three sisters whose interests differed from mine, and didn’t have a lot of interests that overlapped with most of the people in my primary communities like school and church. Writing was a natural progression of wanting to tell stories I thought were interesting (in my own head, of course, haha).
These days, I’m inspired by the thrill of finding a story in a nook I’ve never looked before, and the process of exploring it and all it could be. The writing, for me, is not as much fun as poking the story, trying to find out what it’s capable of saying, and the effect its capable of having on the people who read it.
Read more of Suyi Davies Okungbowa’a AMA here.