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Win a copy of Dr Nat Tanoh's powerful book The Day of the Orphan (£10.99, Acorn Press) in our competition. The text is a fictional novel based on the experiences of Dr Tanoh and his friends, family and colleagues during Ghana's opposition to dictatorship. Ideal for young adults studying African history or politics, and for those with an interest in social struggle, The Day of the Orphan is a novel which will open the reader's eyes to life in Africa in times of political instability.
Here, Dr Tanoh discusses his reasons for writing the book and what he hopes the novel will achieve…
When did you first move to England and what were the circumstances of your move from Ghana?
I first came to England on 22 July, 1964 at the age of three. Ghana was the first Sub-Saharan African country to attain independence from the British. After a few years the government in power declared a one-party state with a President for life thrown into the undemocratic mix. My father, who was politically very active, was part of the opposition to the creation of a dictatorship via the instrumentality of a single-party state. Government then proceeded to arrest and detain vocal opposition luminaries under the Preventive Detention Act (PDA) which provided for detention without trial for up to 10 years. Word came from friendly quarters within the regime that it was very necessary to flee as our family had been directly targeted and that was how we ended up in London.
When did you first start writing and what inspired you to keep writing?
I started writing last year. I wrote a lengthy WhatsApp message to a cousin of mine describing a particular incident. She replied saying she found the message quite gripping and thought I ought to try my hand at writing. Work was slow at the time so I said, 'Why not give it a go' and I did. And once I started, it all began pouring out. And the more I wrote, the more I felt the inspiration to share the stories that I had in me. My sister, who is an avid reader, then read the first few chapters and gave me an encouraging thumbs-up. I have been writing ever since. ￼
The Day of the Orphan is a fictional, contemporary novel set in Africa, how much of the vivid descriptions and situations included within the book, are based on your own experiences and time in Africa?
Indeed a source of inspiration for writing 'The Day Of The Orphan' was the thought to share a few coming of age experiences I had together with those of friends, family and colleagues and weave these into an exciting fictional collage with contemporary relevance. Thus, it is true that I personally experienced some of the things I wrote or variations of it. As examples, both my father and elder brother were at various times arrested and detained for opposition to military dictatorship. As a student leader I was also once very badly beaten up by government agents posing as students. On student demonstrations we were sometimes assaulted with police batons and also with thick leather belts by horse-mounted policemen. And the police always arrived with guns. But such is not at all the current situation in Ghana. Sadly enough, the same cannot be said for the citizens of other African countries experiencing stark state oppression.
What do you love most about Ghana – and perhaps miss the most when you’re away?
What I love most about Ghana is the vibrancy and friendliness of its people. Its a vibrancy based on an endless optimism that, come what may, things will always get better. Ghana is also a very colourful place with a colourful people who have an ingrained ability to view adversity and hardship with some sense of equanimity as they dip into their endless reserves of optimism to carry on. As a consequence of such positive forbearance, many tend to have an engaging and positive sense of humour. These, among other things, such as friends and family, I certainly miss when I am away.
Political instability, democracy and bureaucracy, violence and aggression, societal challenges such as poverty, homelessness – these are issues that impact both the UK and Ghana, albeit it can be in different ways. Why did you choose to write a book that tackles these issues head on?
As the question itself suggests – these issues are of contemporary relevance. These are issues that matter and ought to be recognised as such with the ultimate aim of addressing them. I believe Contemporary Literary Fiction is an excellent medium for such recognition to be gained even if through the instrumentality of a pleasing novel. There is indeed much to be said for gaining knowledge through entertainment such as the reading of exciting novels. I learnt about the historical Irish Question through the Leon Uris novel, Trinity. I also learnt about traditional Japanese culture from reading James Clavells Shogun. In terms of contemporary relevance, connections can be made with many hot spots in Africa such as Zimbabwe, the Congo, Togo, Ethiopia, Burundi and other areas around the world such as the persecution of the Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar.
The protagonist in The Day of the Orphan is a teenage boy – why did you choose him? How much of your teenage-self did you pack into the character?
In truth I chose to use teenage representation as the main protagonist for two main reasons. Firstly, teenagers are in the true bloom of youth. They are at that spectacular coming of age period. In a sense they are at a crossroads. That is when they are best poised to liberate the better angels within themselves. Saga and Zara in my novel were decidedly privileged. Zara's family was actually stratospheric within the highest echelons of wealth and power. And yet they both chose not to simply relax, wallow and remain ensconced in their privileged existence. Rather, they stood up and worked against what that kind of inimical stratospheric power represented. My second reason was because of some of the experiences I went through as a teenager with many of my contemporary teenage compatriots. In our own manner we protested against military dictatorship and some of us got into serious trouble for our efforts.
Who do you hope will read The Day of the Orphan and what feelings/thoughts/emotions do you hope it leaves them with once theyve finished reading?
I wish for adults, young adults, lovers of contemporary fiction in general and fans of African fiction to read my novel. I would like for my readers to become more aware of what transpires in many parts of Africa and elsewhere in the world regarding the righteous struggles of adults and young adults to better their lives through standing up for what is right. I would like my readers to feel hopeful in the belief that with focus and dedication, and with the conscious liberation of the better angels within ourselves, there's a lot that can be achieved even in the face of harrowing adversity.
If you could change anything about what you’ve done in your life, what would it be and how would you change it?
Though I am reasonably well educated I wish I could have paid more attention in school. I wish I had been more focused. I believe there was I lot I missed out on in terms of my own potential development by initially having a very cavalier attitude towards education as a teenager. For example, I could have been multilingual and could have also garnered a lot more knowledge than I possess now. Such knowledge would certainly come in handy with my efforts to reach out and inspire through writing. But I guess it's never too late to learn as life itself is indeed a learning curve. Thus we soldier on.
You don’t have to be African, or even have visited Africa, to be swept away and transported to the country through your beautiful writing – how easy was it to recall and recreate Africa through your writing? Would you consider writing a book set in England?
Thank you for describing my writing as beautiful. I am both humbled and gratified by such an appellation. Truthfully, it was not too difficult due to the fact I am blessed with quite a good memory. In addition to this, old friends, former school mates and family members often tend to indulge in reminiscences whenever they come together and that helps to reinforce the memories one might have. Contemporary occurrences also tend to reinforce such memories. I was, for example, quite astounded when the prescription I devised in the novel for Saga and others to be rid of tyranny was almost exactly what happened in Zimbabwe last year to restore democracy. It literally happened just as I had written, prior to its actual occurrence in real life.
What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on a Science Fiction / Fantasy novel in which the world, or what remains of it after a nuclear holocaust, is given a chance to create a new world order devoid of the gravest mistakes of Erstwhile Earth. In honour of the #MeToo movement, my superhero and leading protagonists are mainly female, representing the principles of creation, life and its everlasting continuity. Thus, we have a predominantly female leadership ruling significant parts of the New World and calling the shots in an effort to establish a blissful, egalitarian and happy commonwealth. But will they find it easy or must they struggle heroically against dark and uniquely sinister forces, who seek to restore what was essentially the dehumanised old world order of unbridled greed, terror, domination and war? We remain to see what happens. Hopefully, we will know before autumn.
If you could give just one piece of advice to teenagers who want to make a difference today, what would it be?
My advice would be for them to find a way to liberate the better angels I speak of within themselves. This, I believe, can, to some extent, be achieved by being sensitive to what goes on around you in your own environment and having a healthy interest in current affairs. Ultimately, it is more of selflessness and less of the prevalent culture of personal 'instant gratification' that can help achieve the aforementioned liberation of said angels. Once these good angels are out and about the place - love for yourself, love for your neighbour, love for your environment, love for people and love for humanity - could very well prevail for the realisation of transformative triumphs towards a better world for us all.
To enter our competition to win a copy of The Day of the Orphan (£10.99, Acorn Press), click here:
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