Sat. Apr 13th, 2024

Author Questions & Answers Session With Ali Mamman Lawan

Khadijah: Good evening Ali and welcome!

Thank you for accepting this invitation. We are honoured and excited to have you in our space tonight; our members are so happy to learn and hear from you.

I have ten questions for you today for the interview session. I hope you are also glad to be in our midst today.

Ali: Good evening Khadijah. Good evening, NWF! I am honoured to be here amongst you, and I hope to learn from you, too. Thank you for inviting me and extending the undeserved privilege of being on the hot seat. Ten questions… all right (rubs hands) I think I’m ready.

Khadijah: That’s great🥰

I am feeling the thrill of this interview already😁.

Let’s begin!

So Ali, our first question to you goes on your debut novel “Tears on a Red Rose.” can you tell us what inspired you to write it?

Ali: Sure! 

Writing a novel is something I have dreamt of doing since I was a kid. For those who know me as a poet, this might sound new. But I have been writing prose practically since I could write and string words together. 

It was my first published work. But it was not my first book. As a child, I wrote stories in exercise books, some of which I still remember. 

Knowledge and Power’, ‘Ring of Faith’, etc. 

As for TOARR specifically, it was inspired by a moment with my family. We were in Abuja, and it was New Year’s 2017. We could see the fireworks from our apartment window, and we stayed up late just chatting and eating. 

I started writing the book in a school exercise book immediately.

Think of writing as a cloud. There are days you cannot force it to rain.

Ali Mamman Lawan

Khadijah: “Ring of Faith” that’s an exciting title.

So it has been a childhood dream turned into 

reality ✨

Ali: Yes 😊

Khadijah: That’s amazing!

Ali: Thank you!

Khadijah: Our pleasure❤️

Moving on to our next question, Ali, 

How did your experiences in Nigeria and the UK influence your writing?

Ali: I was first shaped by the UK, as I only hear stories of who I was and what happened before we left. I was only 3.

We stayed in Coventry, a five-minute walk from my school, John Gulson. It was an environment where I felt loved. My teachers were very warm, and I remember my class teacher, Mrs. Waters, being absent on the day I left four years later because she “couldn’t say goodbye to me.” 

In John Gulson, we sat on the carpeted floor and got awarded stars for good behaviour. We also found ourselves surrounded by many books, which I would get my hands on every chance. 

My mother would take us to the library at City Center on weekends, and we would just read stories. I also watched a lot of TV with my sister. That must’ve been where I got my wild imagination for stories like *Ring of Faith*. 

Nigeria was a huge change, but I was too young to notice. By the time I did, I had already started adapting. There was a massive gap in my writing journey during those years. I didn’t fully resume writing till a few years later. By then, I had learned to speak Hausa and knew or remembered many things about our culture. 

My mother kept up the tradition of reading to us. But this time, it became stories like Ruwan Bagaja in candlelight whenever NEPA decided to be unkind. 

I learned the beauty of our customs and our literature. For a while, I was still holding onto the foreign ones. But I am now a firm believer that ours are enough.

Khadijah: Wow

This is beautiful ✨

Ali: Thank you 😊✨

Khadijah: What you learned as a child, surrounded by books, had significantly impacted you. 

And your mom is a great woman, above all. She is taking you to the library, exposing you to positive content, and above all, showing you the beauty of our culture and tradition through ancient stories and myths! 

It’s great to see that ours are enough” has a sense of nationalistic spirit that runs through your writing as a Nigerian writer✨

Ali: She’s my number one person (reminded me to eat twice during the short span of this interview). 

And I’m very proud of my roots 😊

Khadijah: She is😂❤️

Extend our regards to her☺️❤️

Ali: In Shaa Allah ✨

Khadijah: Could you describe your creative process when writing a novel versus crafting poetry?

Ali: I’ll start with poetry. 

For me, poetry is very spontaneous. Most of my poems have been penned down within a few minutes, in one sitting, spoken words included. I flow with the right mood, or the ‘spark’, as we often call it. Then I return to do some edits, and that’s pretty much all. I mostly trained myself in the idea of imperfection; otherwise, those edits would take hours, days, or months. Some mistakes can be beautiful, too. 

Sometimes, it’s a line—an opener. But I need a concept upon which to build the poem. For example, I recently wrote about depression using the idea of a laundromat. The first line is, “They say depression is like sorting through a pile of laundry.” 

For prose, it takes a lot more than that to get me started. I need a more powerful push, more intriguing characters, and a storyline that stays in my head, buzzing like that stubborn mosquito while you’re trying to sleep. It also needs to excite me a lot. 

The fuel is different. The push for poetry can take you to the finish line. The motivation for prose cannot. Motivating yourself through your story and constantly jumping over your doubts would be best. 

I am a joint-the-dotter in prose, which is to say that I am between a plotter and a pantser. I do not need to plan everything like a Nigerian wedding. I only need a few significant happenings; the major events are usually in the beginning, middle, and end. And off I go. I allow myself to be surprised by my story while fitting it into the original blueprint.

Khadijah: The idea of imperfection

“No work of art is ever complete; we just have to let it go at some point.”- Su’eddie V Agema. 

From what I understood from you, the prose is more complex and requires more drive. It’s interesting to see that what differentiates you from most people who want to write a prose work is that you push yourself to it and give yourself the excitement. That is nice☺️❤️

It seems our members here are already taking away lots of golden points😁❤️

Ali: A quote that deserves a frame and a wall. I would love to meet him someday. 

It is, indeed. Thank you!

Khadijah: Indeed❤️

I trust you will one day be in the creative field!

There have been lots of debates in the past on writer’s block. Have you ever experienced it before?

If you do, how do you handle writer’s block or moments of creative stagnation?

Ali: Think of writing as a cloud. There are days you cannot force it to rain. 

It’s a terrible metaphor, but I believe in writer’s block, although I think ‘block’ may be a bit too harsh. But words are powerful, and they do not appear from thin air. They come from a particular place inside of us, as it reflects the outside. There are days when the mirror is dusty or splattered, and we must clean it. Or simply days when the objects in the mirror have a bad hair day. 

I do not force it. When it’s poetry, I could stop in the middle of a poem, sometimes at the very beginning, the moment I feel I am forcing it. The prose is a bit more complicated than prose, as you could grow old and wither if you keep ‘waiting’. But even then, there are days when words don’t come, and we must learn to be patient. It is also a reminder to clean the house; our words and creativity are lodgings. Go outside, get some air and sunlight, hang out with friends, have chocolate (this is Chimamanda’s advice) etc. 

The inspiration will hit soon enough. No matter how long, I believe you can always maintain your writing ability. And as the famous saying goes, “You can never use up your creativity. The more you use it, the more you get it.”

Khadijah: “They come from a special place inside of us.” amazing!✨

So the key to it is that you let it flow when it flows and go on with the tides when the inspiration comes back again.

  It’s great to see that this is how you deal with your moment of stagnation.

After all, poetry is a world of joy, and we should write every word with happiness.

Ali: Yes 😊

Khadijah: Amazing 🤩

So, for our next question 

Can you share a memorable experience from performing your spoken word pieces?

Ali: I have so many of them! 

It would sound sense to say that the ‘memorable’ ones are the ones on the big stage, and although part of that is genuine, I hold dearer to my heart the pieces I perform to small crowds. Friends and family during a poetry evening in the sunset with chirping birds. There is a sense of freedom, beauty and belonging, which I struggle to connect with in large crowds. 

I have many of these evenings, so I’ll share a memorable on a big stage. I was invited to be interviewed at a Government Primary School near my home. The interviewer was my friend, and the platform was called Fidelity Foundation. Most of the people in attendance were youngsters from the locality. I was nervous because I thought they didn’t know me and would not relate to what I would perform, but at my friend’s insistence, I completed a piece called 3 am. 

The response was heartwarming. One boy in the audience wrote me a letter saying how inspired he was and how he would like to start his writing journey. I still have the letter, and I still cherish the performance.

Khadijah: The ending part made me smile😄✨

This is amazing; for you, your piece’s impact and your ability to connect with your audience make it much more memorable. 

I love this✨

Ali: Thank you 😊

Khadijah: Our pleasure. After telling us about the drive and passion you need to gather to write your prose work, this brings us to the question: How do you approach character development in your novels?

Ali: First of all, thank you for asking this question. 

Because characters are the story, and that is not even slightly hyperbolic. We remember the story through their lenses, actions, and what occurs to them. 

Character development is much more than what happens while writers type away on their keyboard. All of those diverse people come from one source: You. So it begs the question, “How well do you know yourself? And how well do you know others? Enough to build characters around them?” 

Let me explain. In science, I heard that all the people we see in our dreams are people we have met before. This is because our brains can’t make up new faces. It sounds true enough, but I haven’t confirmed it. The fact I have more confidence about is the one about falling. We wake up after a falling dream because our brains don’t know what happens after death. 

Similarly, as a writer, you can’t make up characters you haven’t met. Your characters will always be people you have associated with, whether in the natural or fictional world. So, the strength of character development is directly proportionate to the power of how well we interact and relate to and understand others. This is why it is good to be social as a writer. At the very least, if you don’t want to relate deeply with people, try to understand them deeply. How they think, feel, respond. See the world from their paradigm. 

I enjoy character development more than anything. Sometimes, writing is so difficult. 

I would exchange my talent for football or painting. But the ability to build such people, who talk and laugh and feel and think differently and so profoundly that they shape other people, is a gift I wouldn’t exchange for anything.

Khadijah: You are welcome.

This is intriguing. You established the definite relationship between characters in novels and real-life people we encounter as a vital tool in our character development to give more meaning to the overall work. 

I also love the enthusiasm with which you speak about this; it clearly shows your passion for what you do. 

Incredible, I must say😁!

Ali: Thanks a million 😊✨

Khadijah: What role does travel play in your writing style or subject matter?

Ali: I love travelling. Hold on one second; let me write that in caps. I LOVE TRAVELING. 

It’s one of my favourite things to do. And it is a big dream of mine. Exploring new places, cultures and food. Waking up to different views is just about as magical as it sounds. 

For someone who loves travelling so much, I do not, or hardly ever, connect it with my writing style. It sounds sad, but the whole point of being a writer is to travel and explore places you have never been. There’s also the fact that I want to enjoy both activities without tying them to one another. When I’m writing, I’m writing. When I’m travelling, I’m travelling. 

The imagination is almost limitless. This is why we have fantasy stories, wizards, dragons and places that never existed. A writer must remove any boundaries to their imaginative capacity. 

That being said, travelling can influence writing positively. Because sometimes it’s not about how a place looks but how it feels. Sure, one can write about Saudi from imagination. But believe me when I say being there is a whole other level. It also helps make the facts in the story more accurate and believable. 

My writing stands at length from my travelling. In the future, the two can meet up and have dinner. It would be nice to visit some places and write about them or build fictional books around them. But for now, I am letting my imagination do the travelling.

Poetry is the gold of literature. Its value has been tested repeatedly across the ages and has been trusted. No matter how far buried, poetry will always sparkle. 

Ali Mamman Lawan

Khadijah: Even from afar, I can sense that you LOVE travelling 😂❤️

So you learn to enjoy both activities differently. 

Yes, the accuracy helps in giving it more meaning and detail.

I am sure that when they meet at dinner one day, it will be a great feast😁❤️. 

“I am letting my imagination do the travelling.” ✨

Whether in your mind or physically, you still travel 😁❤️

It’s amazing

Ali: Yes. I hope it’s going to be 😄 Thank you! ✨

Khadijah: How do you see the future of literature and poetry, especially in the digital age?

Ali: forces are pulling them from both sides, a step forward and step back kind of thing. 

On one side, I am amazed by the talents I come across and the richness of the produce we get from the gardens of our imagination. And these are the young people. 

On the other hand, so many people are yet to tap into their talents because of the nature of the digital world. Distractions, comparisons, people feeling like they ‘can’t’ read anymore. Nothing bothers me more than this statement: “I’m just not a reader.” 

This is the area of deficiency. To write, you have to read. To give, you have to receive. 

In my little experience in the literary circle, travelling and interacting with people, I am forced to be optimistic. I generally like to be an optimist, but literature is in safe hands.

Poetry is the gold of literature. Its value has been tested repeatedly across the ages and has been trusted. No matter how far buried, poetry will always sparkle. 

I want to be a part of this future and possibly contribute and live it with the people I have started this journey with.

Khadijah: So amidst all the distractions that come with the digital age, creative writers should be more focused on tapping on their talents and using the positive side of the digital age to their use. 

You will be, In Sha Allah ❤️

Ali: Exactly. In Shaa Allah, thank you 😊

Khadijah: Moving on to the penultimate part of our questions. Are there any upcoming projects or books you’re currently working on?

Ali: Oh yes! 

For poetry, publishing a collection is still on the dream board. In the not-so-distant future, I could join the ranks of Ibraheem and Zakiyyah. Most of the time, I enjoy poetry too much to share it, like a little boy with his favourite toy. “No, you can’t have this. Take something else.” So I give out prose as the ‘something else’. That’s not to say I do not value it, but because it is often written to be shared. 

I am currently working on a novel. It is untitled, underneath which lies a body of more than one hundred and forty pages of a university campus story. Undergraduates who have found themselves alone on campus on a night, victims of a prankster taking his games too far. 

I have always wanted to explore thrillers from a Nigerian perspective, and writing this manuscript has been a ‘thrilling’ experience. I cannot promise it will be ready or out soon, as I am a final year student hoping to graduate with good grades (don’t mistake me for a serious student), but I can be a very patient writer and a private one. The manuscript might get buried, hidden from the public eye, but I hope I complete it. 

Wish me luck!

Khadijah: This is great!

Thrillers are my most exciting read. Please complete it and give it to us to tap into its creativity.

I and all the members of NWF wish you luck!

Ali: Thank you so much 😊

Khadijah: Our pleasure ☺️

Our last question, before we call is a wrap.

How do you envision your growth and evolution as a writer in the coming years?

Ali: This is typically what people call a sad answer. 

I am a dreamer. Yet, regarding my writing, I am okay with the possibility that it will not take me to big stages or win me awards. As I have mentioned, I would like to travel, yet I am fine if my writing differs from why I am travelling. 

I might not take writing as a career. I understand it is perfectly fine to merge passion with occupation, recommended even. Still, I fear that if I mix writing with other factors, external factors such as publishing, selling, recognition, etc., it will dabble with the magic. 

Whenever I think of how impactful writing can be, I have had weird dreams of writing under a pseudonym. I want to inspire to be a source of change. But I am okay with that stopping at work and not necessarily finding its way back to me. 

So, I guess the appropriate answer to this question would be that I don’t know. Like the writer I am, I would like to be surprised by how my writing goes and where it takes me. I know I never want to stop, and hopefully, I won’t find a reason to stop. And another thing is that I want to get better at it. Write words so sharp they can cut through air and shadows. 

I have mostly thought of the writing evolution as a general concept, not mine. So, when I think of the coming years, I think of richer books, more significant events, etc. 

As for me, I want to be a part of that. I want to hold onto the joys I have experienced, reciting poetry to loved ones in the sunset, whether in the Maldives or Zuma Rock resort in Abuja. I want to keep writing.

Khadijah: This is beautiful🤧❤️.

It’s more of you writing for yourself and the joy than the fame. Holding onto the meaning you give your writing, it’s so beautiful for real. I am sure you will keep writing, no matter where!

We’ve all heard and learned from you in this beautiful session tonight. To wrap this up, can you please advise NWF members?

Ali: The advice I have is going to sound very anti-literary. 

As young people striving to take our places and make a difference, we get absorbed into our passions, be it writing, sports, music, etc. Writing can take up so much space, so much of our identity. 

“So my advice is: Be a writer, or whatever you want to be. But remember that you are human first. Do not allow yourself to be defined and confined within the boundaries of something else. 

You are a writer. You are also a son, a daughter, a colleague, a friend, and a classmate. Take care of the people around you and be kind. In the end, all we have is each other, and when you make it to that finish line, you want to have them there to celebrate with you. Live broadly. Try new things. Smile a lot. Be grateful. Be generous.”

Khadijah: ❤️

To learn to balance between goals and personal life.

Thank you for such excellent advice, Ali☺️✨

Ali: Thank you so much! And for being patient with my slow typing 😂

Zakiyyah: Thank you so much for this, Alee❣️

Ali: Zakiyyah, you are most welcome! Thank you for having me 😊✨

Khadijah: Thank you so much for your time. We enjoyed today’s session, and I am sure it greatly impacted our members.

It’s our pleasure to have you with us😁❤️

Ali: It was an absolute pleasure being here. This has been a memorable night, and I thank you all for having me 😊🤍

Khadijah: It’s our gratitude ☺️❤️

Have a fantastic night!

Ali: YOU TOO!


Ali Mamman Lawan was born in Nigeria, Kano state, but his origin is from Yusufari, Yobe State. He attended John Gulson Primary School in Coventry, UK and was later enrolled in Musa Iliasu College, Kano, after his return to Nigeria. He emerged as the best-graduating student and successfully launched his first novel, “Tears on a Red Rose” on his graduation day. He is an accounting student who likes to read, write, travel, and play video games in his free time. Besides being a young published author, Ali is a poet and a spoken word artist who likes to take the stage. He is a member of several poetry and writing platforms, such as For the Love of Poetry (FLP), Young Creative Writers (YCW), Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Poetic Wednesdays, and Poetic Echoes, amongst others.

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