By Pelu Awofeso (@PeluAwofeso)

I walked into the Port Harcourt World Book Capital 2014 (22-26 April) event when novelist Elechi Amadi, 80, was talking about his writing and then fielding questions from a panel of three. At some point the author of the famed ‘The Concubine’, published some 50 years ago, described the circumstance that led him to write his memoirs on the Nigeria civil war (1967-70), ‘Sunset in Biafra’, published in 1973.

“After the Biafra war, I was traumatised. I had nightmares and the only way I could think of was to write about it [my experiences in the frontline],” he said, describing his capture and imprisonment in the same breathe. “After I published something on Biafra, I found peace. It was catharsis for me.”

Shortly, he made passing references to other published accounts of the civil war and made it clear that no individual narrative could possibly capture all aspects of it.

“There is no single history of the war; you can only write your own version, and the more the merrier,” he said. ‘Sunset in Biafra’ was my own perspective. I was in the war and came close to death. To be blindfolded for 24 hours is a nightmare.”

Amadi also let his audience –made up largely of aspiring writers—in on a fact that most contemporary writers seem not to realise: that the art of the novel was introduced centuries ago as a way to entertain the public in much the same way movies do, and not a platform to vent about the ills in society or lament about corruption.

“From the word go, the novel was meant for sheer entertainment. What about writers focusing on the beauty of society? The writer should just write his art and let the reader enjoy it. Don’t bore your reader; people go to the theatre and watch plays to relax, not to be assaulted by the ills of society. In writing you have to put your reader first. Forget your cleverness or erudition. Is your reader enjoying himself?”

The task of running commentary on society’s day-to-day challenges, he added, belongs to the journalist. “Journalists are in the best position to correct rulers and keep them on their toes with daily commentary and reports.”

During the Q & A, a budding writer asked to know the secret of good writing. Amadi smiled and answered good-humoredly: “Register for my creative writing workshop,” he said. Then he got serious: “One of the secrets to good writing is reading widely. If you don’t read voraciously, you have no hope of ever writing well.”

After the “Meet the Author” session with Captain Amadi ended, I walked over to the International Literary Exhibition of the Port Harcourt World Book Festival 2014 and bought a copy of ‘Sunset in Biafra’ (published in 1973).

 PS: Next Article: Meeting Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka at the Port Harcourt World Book Capital 2014