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One of 100 African writers of SFF!

Rafeeat Aliyu was part of the main wave of African SFF from the beginning. Her story “Ofe” was in the first volume of the AfroSF series, published in 2013. Her story “4:15 Appointment” was in the first issue of Omenana, back in 2014. When I asked her what story she wanted to kick off her interview, she chose this.

Rafeeat: “I really liked writing it and a lot of people have liked reading it. Chinelo [Onwualu] reached out to me. I really like that she actively reaches out to women who write SF—so she reached out to three of us and she’s like, ‘You need to write something for Omenana, it’s coming out, you need to put something up.’ I was like, ‘Sure, let me try to come up with something.’

“I wasn’t working on any story before she asked, so there was a bit of time, about six months, that I had to sit down and come up with one, and it’s weird, the story came up from a dream. The first part of the story where there’s a woman giving a massage and her hand slips through the skin of the person she’s massaging, I had a dream about that, and had a chance to develop it.”

It seems so long ago now, when I sat down with Geoff Ryman to talk writing and African science fiction and fantasy. That interview is now available to read on Strange Horizons. I’m thrilling to be part of Geoff’s 100 African writers of SFF, an ambitious project that has taken him across the African continent interviewing writers like me. If you’d like to know more about my writing journey and what motivates me to write SF, read it!

 

My year in reading 2017

I’m not one for New Year resolutions but this year I set out to read a new book each week…and failed miserably. I only managed to read 35 books, most of which I enjoyed and a few which I absolutely hated. My reading lessons for 2017 are; don’t believe the hype (the books I had difficulty reading/enjoying were heavily publicised) and read more SFF (I know! Surprisingly or not the majority of the books I read this year were “literary” fiction then romance).

It was actually hard narrowing down the number of books I enjoyed to these five.

Simbi and the Satyr of the Dark Jungle by Amos Tutuola

Simbi and the Satyre of the Dark Jungle follows Simbi, a girl from a wealthy home who sets out on an adventure after all of her friends go missing. In the process, she encounters different creatures and people, learns magic and kicks their asses and eventually saves her friends. I am a huge fan of Amos Tutuola, I adore how he saw the wisdom in writing a story that is woman-centric and with complex women characters in 1954.

Two things stand out to me, the mention of Simbi’s beauty and the fact that she married in the forbidden forest. First the latter, in the classic hunter tales, the (male) hunters get married in the years they spend in the forest. In Simbi’s case, she married, had kids then she ~left~ her husband. This was a first for me and it was such fun to read. As for the former, there’s a whole scene with Simbi putting on makeup before her epic battle!

A Mistaken Marriage Match: Mysteries in the Imperial Harem by Qian Lu

In March, I ventured into reading fan translated works of Chinese authors. My friend Julie recommended the Mistaken Marriage Match series and I started with this. The series is about the three Qing sisters who are sent as tribute to Qiong Yue. Qing Feng, the middle sister and the heroine of this novel is slighty crazy and can’t stand the thought of being given as a gift so she convinces her sisters to commit suicide. Of all the three, she’s the only one that survives and remains herself, the other two become hosts to women who have travelled back in time from modern day China.

How cool is that? Already I’m a fan of anything set in the imperial harem so here I was less interested in the romance between Qing Feng and the Emperor Yang Hong Tian and more interested in the intrigues going on in the palace. As usual the Empress is the arch villainess but in this one, her assistant Shin Qing is way scarier. The side characters were very interesting; Xiao Yu and her love for tea plus her flirtations with Ming Ze’s brother, Ming Ze himself, (why does he hate his brother and how does he come to love Fu Ling?). I’m also interested in Chen Zhen’s back story.

The Poison of Love by K.R. Meera

This is my first book by K.R. Meera and she is already an inspiration to me. It’s the way she writes her characters and weaves darkness into her stories. She writes in Malayalam and I can’t help but imagine what I am losing by reading the translated versions. Still the language in the English translations is gorgeous.

The Poison of Love, Tulsi has been hurt by love but she’s going to get her revenge first even at the cost of her own sanity. The way K.R. Meera writes, you feel all of Tulsi’s emotions, from the way she fell in love with Madhav (you’d actually want her to elope with him) to when she was hurt by his love (which he gave out freely as though he was doing women a favour). I highlighted so many lines from the book. Bits like,“My body was full of poison. Love’s poison. I did not desire to die. I wanted to survive. To live on, like a horrendous, festering wound. Those who saw me ought to feel this pain. Like Madhav’s love, I too should corrode everything around me”; and; “I loathe every love story except my own.”

Certain Dark Things by Silvia Morena-Garcia

Wow this book! It’s about vampires in Mexico City…a city where vampires technically aren’t allowed to be in. The world-building is amazing, it’s set in the world as we know it but where vampires were “revealed” in the 60s. There are different species of vampires and our heroine Atl is an Aztec vampire. The story follows Atl’s attempt to escape a rival vampire gang (of Necros, European vampires) and her budding romance with a human boy Domingo, a homeless kid.

So this book is actually YA, which I’m tired of but I liked the world-building enough to overlook this. I loved loved the tension as the climax approached and I’m happy with the way it ended (even though I have several thoughts on Ana). Will there be a sequel?

Unforgivable Love by Sophfornia Scott

Imagine Cruel Intentions (or should I say Dangerous Liaisons) but set in Harlem in the 40s and with African-Americans. I enjoyed reading this even though I kept my fingers crossed hoping that the ending would be different from Dangerous Liaisons. I find the premise of the story very interesting as even in its original format, the male player is redeemed. On the other hand, the woman is exposed in front of everyone for the fraud she is.

The character I actually liked best was Cecily, her growth was lovely to watch. I’m not sure how I feel about the book’s chapter alternating between each character. At a point it felt too much, I mean there was Mae, Vale, Elizabeth and Cecily.

Other books I liked

  • The Nagano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami
  • Black Widow Society by Angela Makholwa
  • When I Hit You, Or A Portrait Of The Writer As A Young Wife by Meena Kandasamy
  • Unforgivable Love by Sophfornia Scott
  • Haven: Beards & Bondage by Rebekkah Weatherspoon
  • The Moor’s Account by Laila Lalami

My #YALICHAT on career development

I’m (still surprised and) delighted to have participated in a #YALICHAT on career development. For those not in the know, YALI is the Young African Leadership Initiative launched by Former US President Obama in 2010. I spoke to the YALI network based on my experience as a writer and founder of a just-launched-this-year creative agency. Here’s YALI’s take on it;

Rafeeat Aliyu’s experience extends to both digital media consulting and writing, with additional skills in research and business development. She is currently working at her own business, AMDS Media, which provides research and communication assistance for individuals and startups. In a recent #YALICHAT, YALI Network members were given a chance to pose questions to Rafeeat about their own career development concerns. If you missed out on this #YALICHAT, don’t worry — here are her top five pieces of advice on career development we pulled from the session:

How can I tell if I am on the right career path?

It is important to acknowledge how much you are able to grow at your current position. Rafeeat reminds network members: “Your time and money are precious.” When you realize that you have more to offer than what you are able to achieve at your current position, it might be time to pick up and find a new place to invest your effort, where your talent could be better appreciated.

Read more…

 

Debug analysed by Zaynabtyty Quadri

OkadaBooks has been supportive of my writing and it’s both humbling and exciting. They reviewed my flash fiction “Debug” (published by Omenana) for their Literally…What’s Hot? series on Bella Naija. Here’s what Zaynabtyty had to say

This flash fiction about a Robin-hood house-girl who just happens to be a robot is a must read!

Debug is a sci-fi story that immediately establishes its author, Rafeeat Aliyu as eminently knowledgeable in using science fiction (aka sci-fi) to tell African stories.

Robot Mama Anuli has an unusual occupation. She was crafted and programmed to help mothers cope with the birth of their children. She was created by the system to cook centuries-old dishes, to bathe babies, to inoculate toddlers and register children on the CSN (the body in charge of human affairs).

Charged with raising baby Awele, Mama Anuli discovers that the baby was being abused and maltreated by her mother.

Knowing that the system will never punish the mother for its crimes, Anuli kidnaps the child and things go downhill from there.

The world the author Aliyu describes feels so close to where we are right now as a society and it just one small step further down the road we are currently travelling. Governments and big corporations run things with much greater control than they do now and the rich are allowed to do what they want while the poor are punished and isolated.

Debug is a laudable sci-fi afro-futuristic tale, it’s got style, wonderfully written characters and a great plot. Thoughtful flash fiction that is jam-packed with ideas and thoughts on motherhood, science, society and of course mankind itself. Easy reading, rewarding, un-missable fiction.

Aliyu’s writing is consistent and accurate, and I am eager to see more of her work.

A quick look behind the scenes

I believe the idea for “Debug” came about from a conversation with friend and editor Chinelo Onwualu. We were talking about the omu gwo and what it’d look like in a futuristic world. For those not in the know, omu gwo is the Igbo tradition of post-pregnancy care. Natural Nigerian writes that as part of the omu gwo tradition, her mother, ““bathed” me, cooked for me and helped care for my baby so as to give me some time to rest/recover and acclimatize myself to motherhood.”

I imagined a future where robot nannies perform omu gwo rites for wealthy families who no longer have the traditional relations as in the past but still want to maintain the tradition. In “Debug”, the robot nanny Mama Anuli believes the child she is caring for is being abused and pushes back against her wiring (hence, the debug) to save the child’s life.

Behind the scenes
Yoyin of the Captivating Form

One story of mine that seems to be quite popular is “Yoyin of the Captivating Form”. Published in Expound Magazine, “Yoyin of the Captivating Form” tells the love story of The Man Who Used to Be a Hunter and Yoyin. The reception and positive feedback this story has received really leads me to believe that my writing has improved.

This story is set in a time when hunting was the profession of choice. Everybody who could would send their sons and daughters to go and apprentice with the hunters, who were admired for the bravery they showed when they disappeared into the forest. Few hunters made it back from the forest alive, but when they did, they came back with wealth, both material and in the form of stories. The forest was a great equaliser; it did not care whether the hunter was the son of a king or the daughter of a farmer. Its creatures attacked at will and it was only the most skilled that survived to enjoy its riches. From a young age, children learned how to use the juju of the hunt and how to protect themselves when faced with creatures that were not human.

Hunting wasn’t simply venturing into the bush to find food; it was to return with tales of bravery and unimaginable riches.

So…what inspired this story? The Skull, that’s the answer.

The Skull

Amos Tutuola is a huge inspiration to me. His works haven’t just influenced me, they’ve also validated some ideas that I would have held on to because I thought they were “too weird”. While my favourite Tutuola books are those with badass heroines (Simbi and the Satyr of the Dark Jungle, The Brave African Huntress), it’s the story of The Skull from The Palm-Wine Drinkard that kept me up at night.

The tale of The Skull is about a young beautiful woman who falls in love with a monster. It’s a cautionary tale to women who are labelled vain, to me the moral of the story is; “be careful if you want to marry a handsome stranger because he could be a monster.” From the name, The Skull who the woman marries is just that (i.e. he’s only a head) but he appears to the maiden as a handsome man.

I didn’t like the original story and I wanted to do something about this folktale. It took years and countless discussions with friends over tea and coffee for the story to unravel.

Yoyin

What got the ball rolling was a comment I heard. IIRC, a friend wished she could remove and hang her breasts at the end of the day. Now I’ve typed that down, it seems bizarre (lol) There’s a scene in my story where this happens. Transforming The Skull to Yoyin satisfies my longing for women monsters in speculative fiction. There’s a fascinating spin to Yoyin’s name, it means “bring out sweetness” in Yoruba. Then months after the story was published, I found out that Yoyin has an entry in urbandictionary.com. It states, “yoyin is a word to describe an awesome, African girl who is great at everything.”

One day I will publish that collection of short stories retelling Nigerian folktales with women monsters as central figures. Till then, I’d like people to stop calling me Yoyin.

 

Behind the scenes
Awure Iferan

My story “Awure Iferan”, published in Queer Africa 2 – New Stories is an excerpt from my novella about the consequences of love potions gone “wrong”.

Growing up in Nigeria, you hear stories about juju. I don’t recall if the idea for this story came from a story I heard or a Nollywood movie I watched but the plot goes something like this; a woman goes to get a love consultation, she’s told that the first person she sees is the love of her life and this person turns out to be someone she wouldn’t typically go for. Usually, her one true love is poor, or ugly or just not her type.

I was fascinated by this idea and one day while mulling over it I thought, “what if the first person she sees is another woman?” And thus a story was born. The novella follows Noura as she struggles to come to terms with the fact that her love potion doesn’t go the way she planned and the consequences/impact of this on her life and family. “Awure Iferan” is basically the first chapter of the novella.