Authors are definitely a different lot. Penning books in different genres, such as sci-fi or fantasy, where the reins of the imagination are let loose, to get vivid storylines and lively characters is no small feat. There is also the issue of making the books in the fantasy genre in sync with contemporary times to get wider appeal. Zena Okoroafor, also known as Z. Oko is one such author. Born and brought up in the UK, she has Indian roots and loves to travel and learn about different cultures. She used to work full time in an office in the Publications Department, but left it to pursue her writing career. Presently, she lives in UK with her husband and two children. In our quest for bringing interviews of foreign authors for our esteemed readers so that they get an overview about the international literary scenario, Chirdeep Malhotra talks with the author in a candid conversation about what made her write books in the fantasy genre, her thoughts about India, her views about Indian fiction writing and her literary journey.
The author blurb mentions that you started to write when you were very young. Can you tell our readers more about your writing journey? What or who was the inspiration behind your writing?
I started writing stories, poems and songs from the age of five, maybe even younger. It felt natural and I never questioned why I enjoyed it so much, I was probably too young to understand. But looking back I see that it enabled me to use my imagination and strengthen it. In Primary School I was always asked to write a piece for School displays and I was happy to do so. The thought that I may actually be good at it never crossed my mind. When I was seven a new Superstore was being built in the town that I lived in. When building work started they discovered Anglo-Saxon remains, so to honour this we were asked to write an essay on Bedford (the town which I grew up in) and the chosen ones would be put into a time capsule which will be opened in 2088. I was one of the chosen ones.
Can you give a brief overview of your book “The Dream Keepers”?
It’s about a girl called Mona. She is a lucid dreamer and an astral traveller. She is unaware that her dreams hold power until her best friend, Krish, introduces her to her cousin Danny. Danny is a Dream Keeper too and together they unearth a sinister plot that poses a great threat to society. Mona must delve into the unknown to discover how and most importantly why this threat exists. She sees things and meets beings that she has never come across before. Meru is a guide who helps Mona, but she has many secrets too leaving Mona not knowing who she can trust in the real world and the astral realm.
Why have you chosen the sci-fi/ fantasy genre for your debut book?
I chose the science fiction, fantasy, mystery genre because that is exactly what dreams are and it’s something that we all do. I found it an interesting topic because it is something that we can all relate too, whether we remember our dreams or not. It’s all a mystery! I also wanted to convey the relationships that the characters have with one another and how important they are. Relationships are a huge part of life and I wanted that to come across. The feelings and emotions that Mona displays enables her to become more self-aware and it helps her a great deal.
The book mentions that your daughter dressed as the main character from “The Dream Keepers” for World Book Day and brought the character’s essence to life. Given the success of books in genres foraying into the imaginative and magical realm like the Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings series, what in your view makes such books so apt for film adaptations? Are there any plans for your book’s theatrical or movie adaptation?
I feel that it shows us a completely new world and a broader perspective of the mind and what we can create and share with others. It’s a gift to the world. New scenarios, possibilities and strange lands offer an entirely different view. The one thing that remains constant is the human value which we possess and that’s what shines through in these film adaptations. Most of us adore a dose of mystery in our lives. When I was a child I would watch Mr. India (with Anil Kapoor) over and over again, I loved it!
There are no plans as of yet for a theatrical or movie adaption. However, The Dream Keepers and the next installment, The Dream Keepers – Awake will both be featured at the LA Times Festival of Books in April of this year. The Dream Keepers – Awake is due for release in April and is available to pre-order now through my publisher’s website – Black Rose Writing. Readers can claim a 10% discount using PREORDER2018. It will be available on Amazon and in all good book shops from April.
Who are your favourite authors? Which genres do you like reading and please share some of your favourite books?
John Steinbeck is one of my favourite authors. I find his writing to be truthful and honest. He was not one to sugarcoat things and he told it like it was. I particularly enjoyed “The Grapes of Wrath”.
I enjoy all genres. I read many different styles of books from philosophy, quantum physics, mystery, science fiction and romance. It really is quite a varied range. The last book I read was “An exploration of consciousness” featuring The Dalai Lama.
This being our first interview with a foreign author (with Indian connections of course), our readers will be very keen to hear your views on the current Indian literary scenario. Do you read Indian authors? Can you please share some experiences that you have about India?
I am hugely interested in Indian literature. In fact, next on my reading list is Nikita Singh. There is so much talent in India that I just want to read as much as I can because it’s inspirational. It takes an author a lot of courage to share their thoughts with the world and I admire them deeply for that. It encourages me to be better too. I also have an interest in ancient and sacred texts; there is so much knowledge and wisdom in them.
I last visited India when I was 17. I loved it, especially the food! I have grown up watching Indian films, my Mum is a massive fan, and I was always amazed at the level of imagination and human emotion that was displayed.
What are your other interests apart from writing?
I enjoy reading, watching movies, eating at restaurants and enjoying quality time with my family.
Are there any new literary projects in the pipeline?
I am currently writing my next book. It’s called Oblivious. It’s a totally different story from The Dream Keepers. I would say it is more of a thriller.
Who is your biggest critic and how?
My family. They push me to do and to be better. I am lucky to have a strong family unit around me.
Can you provide some insightful advice for budding authors, especially those who want to delve into unconventional genres?
Read as much as you can, broaden your mind and see where it takes you. Every author has a different experience and their work conveys different ways of thinking. The most beneficial thing is to develop a writing habit that becomes a daily routine. Carry a pen and notepad with you if possible because you may hear something in a shop or on the street that gives you a great idea and if you have it written down you won’t forget it. Writing, just like any other art form, is something where you have to really apply yourself, so it’s useful to develop a routine. Just do as much as you can because you never know where it will take you. Life is a story in itself.
Written by Chirdeep Malhotra