Thursday, April 16, 2009

Author Interview: Nduka Onwuegbute

Joining me today is author Nduka Onwuegbute. He wrote the book “Drums That Dance in the Dark.” It’s a fascinating book and I enjoyed reading it.

Actually, it’s not your typical novel. It’s a play and written in that language.

I found the book very intense, but that’s also what I liked about it.

Utse has just realized her son’s fate because he danced, violating the taboo of dancing (the third to meet such mysterious circumstances). History is about to repeat itself and the tragedy to come is all too familiar.

Her daughter, Gada, sets loose the emotions that come to the fore. But while Utse and her husband, Malleah, fight against the odds, the seeds of betrayal know no bounds. Utse and her husband put the wheels in motion to reinforce the ban, but then behind their every turn, sedition prevails. Utse’s is the cry of war, war with the family she loves, war on the home front. And when all is done, the men walk free, leaving Utse to come to terms with her innocent daughter.

Welcome, Nduka. Please tell us a little about yourself.

There’s hardly much I can say that’s not been said already. I was the fifth child in a family of 16, maybe 17, brothers and sisters. I never seem to remember. I spent a lot of my growing up in Nigeria, even though I was born in England where I live with my wife and three children. I am a writer, actor and I suppose I could use the word director to describe some of the things that I do. But mostly, I spend a lot of my time writing.

What made you decide to become a writer?

I did not decide; it just came to me. Growing up in Nigeria as I did, I was subjected to countless storytelling experiences. So as far back as I was 7, I was retelling these stories in school, weekly. I guess it was only a matter of time before I started making up my own, which I did. I mean, there was this day when I was standing in front of the class, I was in primary four at the time and with no one else coming forth to spin a yarn, there I was, totally blank in my head. So, I began with “Once upon a time” and it rolled on from there. Don’t ask me what the story was. As time went on, I wanted to become an actor, then director. I suppose I still do. But writing is something you can do on your own, you know, the lazy man’s approach to directing a great epic. You start with the script and with a little bit of luck, everything else falls into place.

Are there any authors in particular who influence your writing?

Not really, but I treat writers and their works like a pick-and-mix buffet. I love anything that gives me a good twist. But it doesn’t mean I would then read everything that such author has written. I mean, I can understand why the British refuse to drop Shakespeare and I wish Soyinka was treated with equal respect, if at all to make his work more accessible. But then again, I would like readers to go along with the so-called best sellers, like Sidney Sheldon and Jeffery Archer. It is with writers like this that the younger readers can break into reading before even thinking of sculpting a storyline.

However, people have said my writing is cynical and sarcastic and I do like Ocol p'Bitek’s Song of Lawino, but I also love the twists and turns of your typical crime thriller. One writer who has never failed me is Bertholt Brecht.

What is the most rewarding part of writing for you?

I am by nature very reserved, so when people see my work, they have the opportunity to get into my head, so to speak, and therefore, understand a little bit about more me or my thinking. With the mass media taking control of most of our life thoughts, it is very hard getting a different opinion across.

What inspired you to write this book?

What inspired me to write Drums? I was living in Nigeria at the time and there was a lot of discontent in what was going on with the supposed transition from military to civil rule. There were so much rigging, which culminated in hidden reasons why winners were not allowed to take over from the then government. There was of one political thought, even though there was supposed to be “allowed” widespread political activity.

Well, I was a member of a drama group that consigned me to write a play for a festival. With all the ruminations going on in my head at the time and the turmoil the wider country was in, I suppose that’s what inspired me.

What do you want the reader to learn from your book?

When you put it that way, I shudder to think that my readers are forced to return to school against their will. But in terms of what I am trying to say, you only need to look at countries like Cuba, Zimbabwe and Libya. The leaders have tasted the luxury of power and refuse to pass on the mantle of leadership.

When I say, “Only God can remove me from office,” you immediately think of Mugabe. However, at the time, I was embittered by the refusal of the Nigerian self appointed President, Ibrahim Babangida. There are other political leaders throughout history who held on to power like there is no tomorrow for the rest of their citizenry. Drums That Dance in the Dark, became my metaphor. So, that is one message I would most like my readers to get from this. There are people out there who use power to dehumanize everyone else.

Where on the Web can readers find out more about you and your book?

Well, you can find something about me on, but all of my titles are available online worldwide. I am not a regular blogger but from my website you can link directly to Blog Street for my updates. If you want to read my short story Surviving the Confluence, in Rival Spring: A Collection of Short Stories, you can get it on Amazon, Blackwell and so on. Or you can get a signed copy from me directly through my website, My email address is

Thanks, Nduka, for visiting my blog. I hope my readers will add your book to their “must read” lists.

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