Writer, Ella Dein, lets us into her space in this interview. She is the author of And Then I Met You, a collection of narrative poetry and prose. Enjoy!
Interviewer: Nlebedim Nzube
NN: Hi, Ella. We are honoured to have you as guest for this issue.
ED: I’m very happy to be here right now. It is a privilege. Thank you very much.
NN: Where’s Ella from? Is Ella Dein Nigerian, and what part of Nigeria do you come from? Whats your origin?
ED: Yes, I’m Nigerian. I’m from the Western part, originally from Ogun state, but I was born and bred in Lagos, and I live in Lagos.
NN: The saying goes that literature mirrors the society. So the writer is in a sense a product of his society. Would you say that your tribal background has any influence on the works you produce?
ED: I won’t say it’s my tribal background. I’d say it’s the society in general. You know, I write about love, and love exists in all tribes and races. So, I wouldn’t say it’s my tribal background but the society as a whole.
NN: So you mean love is a universal factor, and it is not limited to a tribe but the whole society?
ED: Exactly. Love is universal. Love is not limited to a tribe. It exists in the society. Human beings from different parts of the world fall in love, grow in love, get broken by love, and then heal. Love is universal.
NN: Why the preponderance on love? There are a whole lot of things writers write about. Corruption, embezzlement, rape, war, etc. What appeal does love hold for you? What stems out that interest in love from all other things to write about?
ED: The thing is, I think people tend to underrate the effect of love. We know that love is a beautiful thing, we know that people fall in love. We all know that most people know what love is. But while other writers have their own niche which I really love and appreciate, my own niche is love. One of the reasons for this is that people go through a lot being in love, and these things affect their lives daily. For example, we all want to focus on having good jobs and doing well in life, but how about our own emotions? How about those things people go through? You know, some people tend to not function properly even in their work places because of a heart break or because someone is not treating them the way they deserve to be treated. Many people go through a lot in the hands of love, and I think that should be written about. Also, people who go through this need to know they are not alone, that they are strong, and that some of these things that happen are not their faults.
NN: Beautiful. What’s your perception and idea about art and literature? What does literature mean to you as a person?
ED: Literature helps us to express ourselves, our ideas, our own thoughts and also what we think about life as well as the stories that come up in our head. And I think it’s also a way of immortalising our work. It’s a way we can immortalise our own perception about life, our beautiful words. Literature is truly important in the world. It is an art which enables us some form of history from generations to generations. I mean, we still read about works from centuries before. I think literature is really beautiful, and it is a way of expressing ourselves and putting things out there which people can relate to. It also enables the society to grow. I mean people read, and they learn from what they read, they apply the things they read to their daily activities and they also apply some of these knowledge in the work they use to earn a living.
NN: You self-published your collection, And Then I Met You in November 2018. Whats your take on self-publishing these days? Is it the only or best option there is for up and coming writers to take?
ED: I think it’s about knowing what works for you. I’m not going to tell you that self-publishing is the best thing or that it isn’t. I think we are all different and should know what works for us. But I’m going to tell you some advantages of self-publishing as well as some disadvantages. Well, self-publishing gives you some creative control. I mean, it’s your own work, and you get to do whatever you really want to do with it. You get to edit whenever you want to. You don’t exactly have a deadline or a publisher or publishing company telling you to meet up with deadlines. You set your own dates and deadlines yourself, and you work with it. You get to choose who you want to work with, from the printers to the distributors. And you don’t get to split the pay with any company, well apart from some online platforms where you sell your books. You also get paid what you want to get paid. You dictate your own prices. You have full control over your work.
However, self publishing also has its own disadvantages. It is stressful, and you can mess things up. You might not have enough experience as the publishing companies. Also, getting the distribution right isn’t so much of an easy task, but once you do so, its beautiful. Books are there forever, and no matter how old they get, they are still relevant and you can still sell copies because people still want to read them. Even if you don’t get the distribution right in your first try, you can always do so later and this can still get you more readers.
NN: In your collection, there was no deliberate attempt to address any continental issue. We could say that the work is a racially-neutral one. Wouldn’t you say that is the writer excusing herself from the realities of her society in the sense that there was no deliberate attempt to specify Africanness, to bring up any African issue in the works?
ED: Well, like I said, I write about love, and I think we don’t always need to include societal issues when we talk about matters of the heart and the emotions that people are dealing with and the psychological impact that it has on their lives. The things going on in the society are things that need to be addressed, yes, but not really in this context. When we talk about reality, the reality here is not race, but emotions. And when it comes to love, skin colour doesn’t matter. After all, love cuts across all boundaries and everything. So whether someone is white or black, their feelings are not white or black. Their feelings are their feelings, and that is what I address: love.
NN: And thats perfectly understandable. But don’t you think there is a specific way Africans express their love that is different from how the white man shows his? Don’t you think Africans have their unique impressions of the concept of love?
ED: I agree with you to some extent. However, that is much more obvious in traditional settings and in the olden days. But in contemporary times, we mostly show love the same way. I mean, there are some differences here and there, but there are also many similarities, for instance, heartbreaks are not exclusive to a particular race and relationship problems are not exclusive to a particular set of people.
People from different parts of the world read my writings. Nigerians read my poems, Indians, Americans, Turkish, etc, and they tell me from time to time that they connect with my words, and that it feels like I write based on what they are going through.
NN: As a writer of African descent, in your next works, would you ever be willing to situate Africa in the realm of your art?
ED: Well, of course I would. I’m pretty sure that would come up in some of my future works. I’m an African lady, I’m very proud of that, and I dont have a problem showing it off.
NN: On the first reading of your work, your style stands out quite strongly. And that’s a good thing. What do you propose that young unpublished writers do in finding that niche of theirs?
ED: I think to find out your niche, you need to examine what you write and see the ones you enjoy writing more, the ones you write more effortlessly and the ones that touch your heart the most. Also, do not let anyone stop you from writing. The road is not always smooth. People would try to tell you your work is not good enough and talk you down. But you have that talent, and it needs to be nurtured. You need to keep doing what you can to grow. Find your niche, and just do you.
NN: What’s next for you? Are there any new publications or works you’re willing to give us a sneak peek into?
ED: I’m working on another book, and it’s going to be published soon. While we are waiting for that, you can read my book, And Then I Met You. Its available on Amazon, Konga, Roving Heights bookstore and Okada books. Also, you can get signed copies from me. I post some of my works on my Instagram page @ella_dein. You can also reach me on Twitter at @ella_dein.