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‘Why my novel is about women with amnesia’

Oreva Ode Irri is author of a novel titled ‘Absolution’. Here, she talks about the trigger for the story, the research process, her creative writing journey, and more. Excerpts:

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Bookshelf: Your novel, ‘Absolution’, is a story about three friends and their journey through the unknown. When and how did this tale begin to take root in your mind?

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Oreva Ode Irri: When the idea came, the name in my head was ‘oblivion’ and it was to centre on Tamuno, one of the three women characters. In my head, I had the story of a woman with memory loss and so I began to do a research on amnesia. In the course of that, I found myself among a group of people who had amnesia and who assumed I did too. Overtime it became a community, a place where I would go and listen to women tell stories about their experiences. Initially, the other two women in my novel, Sheila and Ella, were sub characters. But as I went deeper, I realised that their stories needed to be highlighted some more. This happened one night in my room and I decided to write about three women. Their stories were of the loss of a loved one, but I hadn’t lost my husband or ever been married. So I had to learn about that. There was also that of rape. I realised that I had to do more research, and I knew doing so would be worth it.

Bookshelf: Why was it important to tell the stories of women with amnesia?

Irri: I was looking to tell a good story, but the story came from a message I understand. I was in my room and had an understanding, of the past being the past and the future. I was meditating on Second Corinthians, chapter five, verse seventeen in the Bible which said, ‘Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new’. It occurred to me that this is like memory loss, like God has memory loss when you come to him afresh. As much as I wanted to tell a good story, the person’s story that best explained what I wanted to pass across was Tamuno. 

I want people to be encouraged, that it doesn’t matter what is happening to you right now or the place you are coming from, the past isn’t as powerful as you make it seem. These three women went through certain experiences and I really wanted the story to have a happy ending. The past doesn’t matter as much as we make it matter. It’s what you do with the present that determines the future. The whole idea of absolution is starting afresh. 

Bookshelf: You published your first book when you were sixteen. How did your writing journey begin?

Irri: In Junior Secondary School, I had this teacher who upset me a lot, so I started a series where I wrote about her and changed the names and my friends liked to read it. It was I and two others and we used to call ourselves star writers. I didn’t think then that I could write, it’s just something I did. In Senior Secondary One, there was this essay I wrote and my teacher accused me of stealing from a book. At that point in my life, I didn’t know there were books with essays in them. There were a lot of teachers around and I cried and said I didn’t do it. So, she told me to write again, and I did, but she still didn’t believe me. She asked me to come to her office and told me to write about an accident that happened. Everyone was looking at me. When I finished she told me I had a gift. That was the first time I realised that maybe there was something about my writing and it wasn’t just a random thing. That was when I started being more intentional about what I wrote. 

Bookshelf: What was your first book, ‘Through the Storm’, about?

Irri: It’s about two people who met in various circumstances in Secondary School and later had to part ways. When they later met, things were different.  

Bookshelf: What are you working on at the moment?

Irri: I’m working on a story about a Hausa autistic child. I have gotten really interested in the Hausa culture. At first I thought I was going to write about child marriage, but then, I am still in the research stage.

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