Kukogho Iruesiri Samson is the Founder/CEO of popular educational and publishing firm, Words Rhymes & Rhythm Publishers Ltd. He is an award-winning author of 4 books What Can Words Do?, I Said These Words, Words of Eros & We Who Sowed Hurt and Beaded Pains, all of which are available on OkadaBooks.
The Abuja-based writer is also a multimedia journalist and youth mentor. He is known for his work with young Nigerian writers and the promotion of Nigerian writing through his platforms.
Kukogho Iruesiri Samson has won several accolades for his writing, including the Orange Crush 1st Prize for Poetry in 2012, the Nigerian Writers Award (NWA) for ‘Best Poet in Nigeria 2015’, the 2017 ANA Prize for Fiction (First-Runner-Up), for Devil’s Pawn. He was also listed as one of the 100 Most Influential Nigerian Writers Under 40 in 2016 and 2017.
Most recent of Samson’s feats is winning the inaugural edition of the Dusty Manuscript Contest, an initiative of OkadaBooks in association with Farafina which was sponsored by Guarantee Trust Bank PLC.
The OkadaBooks team had a chance to chat with Kukogho Iruesiri Samson, and below is the conversation went.
OkBs: Hi Samson. Good to have you here. Please tell us a little about yourself.
Samson: This is one of the most difficult things to do. Well, I am an introverted-extrovert, meaning that I am very loud and friendly with people, but I often prefer to be alone. I love to cook, write, read and do some sports – Arsenal fan forever. I am a humanist and I do not practice any religion.
OkBs: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
Samson: I never really decided at any point that I wanted to be a writer. My writing started way back during my senior secondary school days. My earliest writings are from 2001. Writing was only an escape from the realities around me then – living with an abusive stepmother of the Lady Tremaine kind (Cinderella), had more downs than ups.
OkBs: What does your family think of your writing? Do they support and encourage you?
Samson: Well, well, well. My mother is the only person I would say has taken any serious interest in my writing. She has been generally supportive of my creative tendencies. My father introduced me to books at a very early age. He had tons of them and encouraged me to read them. But he has never really been interested in my own writing.
OkBs: What is the title of your first book?
Samson: What Can Words Do is my first published book, although I have others in the works.
OkBs: What prompted you to write it and how long did it take?
Samson: Like I said before I started writing as an escape. I was looking for an outlet for my emotions, thoughts, and opinions. Writing came as the only escape from my prison. I collected a number of poems and published What Can Words Do in 2013 after failing to get a publisher for Devil’s Pawn. The poems were not written specifically for the book.
OkBs: Which other books have you written?
Samson: I have published three other books, all poetry collections – I Said These Words, Words of Eros & We Who Sowed Hurt and Beaded Pains. I have two other unpublished novels, a play and quite some volumes of poetry.
OkBs: Now to the Dusty Manuscript Contest, how did winning make you feel?
Samson: It is an amazing feeling to be declared the winner of such a prestigious contest as the Dusty Manuscript Contest, especially because the manuscript I submitted is 9 years old. It is a good feeling knowing that such reputable personalities in the literary space – Eghosa Imasuen, Toni Kan, Yejide Kilanko and Ainehi Edoro-Glines unanimously selected my work, Devil’s Pawn. I spent most of the last eight years focusing on writing and publishing four of my poetry collections, but winning the contest has now given me sufficient motivation to continue working on my next novel.
OkBs: Please tell us more about Devil’s Pawn
Samson: It’s so hard to talk about the Devil’s Pawn because of the way it is written – fast paced with a lot of subplots. The entire story happens within a couple of days. It revolves around Simon, an unwilling cultist who finds his world turned upside when he participates in the rape and murder of a seemingly harmless woman. He eventually becomes her immortal weapon of revenge pitting him against the entire the world. You will definitely love Simon’s innocence and cringe at his bloodcurdling brutality as he seeks redemption. Devil’s Pawn is a long read, and you will find so many characters that will delight and disgust you. Most importantly, you will find the stories very relatable. It is Nigerian to the core.
It is important to note that Devil’s Pawn was finished in 2010. Between then and now, a lot happened –Apart from winning the Dusty Manuscript Contest, it was 1st Runner Up of the ANA Prize for fiction in 2017, it was part-published as a hit serial on Pulse.ng, in 2013 it was shortlisted for the Parresia Publishers’ book prize and was accepted for publishing by a US publishing firm but the terms were unacceptable so we didn’t go ahead with that, in 2012 it was longlisted for the Farafina Trust Creative Workshop, in the same year it was partially serialized on Facebook, while in 2011, it was partially serialized on Naijastories.com.
OkBs: Are the experiences in Devil’s Pawn based on true life stories?
Samson: Devil’s Pawn is a collection of so many experiences that have some degree of realness. The story is told from the perspective of the ordinary man, the real-life experiences of real people. This is where reading and research comes in for a writer. A lot of the experiences are therefore borrowed experiences interwoven with mine. Like with every work I have written, there are snippets of me embedded in the dialogues, narrations, and actions. I’m afraid my life has not been that interesting to have all that action. The characters, however, are named after real people in my life, even though the stories are not real.
OkBs: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in The Devil’s Pawn?
Samson: Names of a few characters perhaps.
OkBs: Since you’re into publishing, why didn’t you consider publishing Devil’s Pawn long ago?
Samson: The thing is, Devil’s Pawn could have become a book a long time ago. In 2016 I had completed all arrangements to self-publish it, but I had this strong desire to have it traditionally published. I felt I had put in enough work to have it validated by publishers other than myself. So when the Dusty Manuscript contest came along, I entered simply because of the prospect of winning the ‘publishing contract’ prizes, not just the money. I saw an opportunity to get the attention of an independent publisher I wouldn’t have to pay.
OkBs: Outside of writing, what’s your day job and how do you manage it alongside writing?
Samson: I have two day jobs actually. I work with a pension fund administrator in Abuja as my 8-5, but I also run my own educational and publishing firm, Words Rhymes & Rhythm Publishers Ltd., which I founded in 2012. Through WRR, we execute a number of youth-oriented literary initiatives including an annual book prize, a literary festival, and poetry competitions.
OkBs: We are in an age when social media plays a major role in everything including writing. While a lot of people complain about the negative effects, some say it is an effective marketing tool. What’s your take?
Samson: This fear for social media has always left me baffled. While I appreciate the fact that there are attendant risks to using social media, I feel the benefits far outweigh any risk. The web, not only social media, has been the main fuel for my successes in every aspect of my life. For example, as an undergraduate who couldn’t afford to buy textbooks, I did all my research using tools like Wikipedia, as far back as 2002. As a writer, I do all my research online and build the following for my writing using social media. Even more amazing is that my publishing company started as a Facebook page in 2012. Despite all this, I believe I have been too busy in the ‘real’ world to even harness up to 10% of the potentials of social media. What I am saying in effect, is that people (writers in particular), should not be afraid of using social media and other web resources.
OkBs: What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
Samson: I hardly schedule time for writing. I just use any free time to work on it. Even when I am not inspired, I write, delete, write, delete until it clicks. But I prefer to write at night with loud music and no human being around.
OkBs: Some people see writing as unserious, and because of that, they are reluctant to assist or collaborate with key players in the literary space. What has been your experience as regards that?
Samson: It is true that many people do not like to support writers. This is the same reason I have said repeatedly that GT Bank has opened the floodgates of blessing for Nigerian writing by sponsoring the Dusty Manuscript Contest. For years, the literary community has tried to break into the corporate world for support, largely without result. It is good to see that more brands are now recognizing supporting the craft as a viable CSR point.
I have had a few people support my writing. Interestingly, they are writers as well. I didn’t get a lot of support when I started out, mostly because there wasn’t any avenue for connecting with others – unlike now with the resources of the internet. It was this same lack of support that led to the creation of Words Rhymes & Rhythm in 2012 as a support platform for young writers.
OkBs: Do you see writing as a career?
Samson: Yes, but not for everyone. Writing in Nigeria has not developed enough to be a sustaining career yet. So writing, for me, is still a second career. This does not make it any less important.
OkBs: They say Africans don’t read. As such, our local publishers have their interests more in school books. After all, children are compelled to buy them. Now, you write genre fiction – thriller and poetry, not school books. How has been your personal encounter with local publishers?
Samson: My experience with local publishers has been largely positive. Even though I failed a couple of times in the past to get a deal, I must say each encounter was rewarding in a way – good feedback that shows I have something good.
OkBs: Tell us one thing you’ve learnt in writing.
Samson: That stories can own you. You set out to write ‘A’ and in the course of doing this, you find yourself at ‘Z’. This happens a lot.
OkBs: As a publisher, which of eBook sales and hard copy sales will you consider as the better option, and why?
Samson: This is tricky. Where the author/publisher does proper marketing, I would say both are equal. The eBook market in Nigeria is still forming, so sales are a bit harder, especially as the reader does not physically interface with the seller. However, eBooks are more cost effective when compared to physical books, which on the other hand, leave you with distribution and cost to grapple with.
OkBs: Do you have any tips to help other writers become better?
Samson: The role of reading and research should not be disregarded. A well-researched book leaves room for fewer errors. Learn to use social media to test what you have written.
OkBs: Any words to other upcoming writers?
Samson: Simply keep pushing. A finished work is not a finished work until it gets published as a book – so research and edit. If you get rejected, keep writing. Devil’s Pawn took nine years to find salvation.
OkBs: How do you interact with your audience?
Samson: I am very active on social media, so I get a lot of feedback. Thankfully my feedback is always mostly positive. People like what I write and that is a gift.
OkBs: Final words?
Samson: I will keep writing our stories, whether in poetry or in prose.
OkBs: Thank you so much for your time, Samson.
Samson: It’s been my pleasure.
You can connect with Samson on: (https://www.facebook.com/Brainypoet)
(Twitter Handle) @Brainypoet