Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Morning Star School: Early Writing Roots

thanks to Adwoa Nketia who kept her (1974) photo safe. I'm the little one in the second row, standing between the teacher in the black dress and the head mistress in the middle.

On the morning of my Common Entrance Examination 1n 1974, my dad strapped his watch on my wrist and wished me well. I cannot remember in which hall the exam was held but I think it was in an Accra school, perhaps Christ the King. I can still remember the black strap and the face of the watch that he continued to wear for many years.
My dad was old fashioned, the kind of man who wore age and wisdom graciously. He was a good storyteller, converting every day activities of meetings, conferences and travel into highly descriptive and engaging stories of wit, plot and resolution. Just like many daughters, nobody impressed me more than my dad.
After Common Entrance, there was nothing much to do except to wait for results. In Morning Star School, our headmistress, Mrs. Siriboe decided to expose us to Ghanaian Cultural Dance taught by practitioners from the University of Ghana. I remember those afternoons learning Adowa and Kpanlogo. Later on I performed Adowa in our class rendition of an Ananse story adapted for stage. Apart from performing for our school and parents, we also performed the play at the Accra Arts Centre in competition with other schools.
I can still remember our teacher, Mrs. Fabin directing me to put more vehemence in my words, "If that Okyeame ever comes back, which is highly improbable, almost impossible, Executioner!!..."
I guess I was not angry enough and so I lost the part of Ananse to Kwame Binfo.
Another afternoon in the week was filled with Good News Club activities. The rest of the afternoons, I played rounders with my friends or read more Enid Blyton books. Someone introduced me to Mills and Boon books.
My uncle gave me a notebook, a reject from his stationery printing press and then I had the idea to write my father's biography. I proceeded to interview him every evening and then I wrote. I filled many pages, night after night. And when I was done I gave him my notes in my not so beautiful handwriting to read.
My dad was thrilled. He showed my work to his best friend, Professor L.H. Ofosu-Appiah, whom we affectionately called, "Negro Uncle." I think that the subject of the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade was important to him, and along the way someone gave him the name 'Negro-Uncle.'
Professor Ofosu Appiah, had published several Ghanaian biographies and some works in translation from original Greek classics into Twi, a major Ghanaian language. My Negro-Uncle, gave me my first author signed book, in recognition of my effort. It was a biography, "The Life of Lieutenant General Emmanuel Kwasi Kotoka," which I read at least twice. In the inside cover he had written something like, "From one author to another." I have long lost the book but I can't help thinking just how thoughtful he was to recognize and affirm a small effort by a child.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Thunder clapped.....

In grade five, I began to taste the words in sentences. In geography we did a section on Canada, and I so loved the rhythm of my notes that I knew whole sentences by heart. I can still remember some of the phrases. We read a lot, but mainly Enid Blyton's adventure and mystery series. Later on, we went on to enjoy the Nancy Drew adventures and Enid Blyton's boarding school series- Mallory Towers and O'Sullivan Twins.

In grade six at Morning Star School, our teacher Miss Quao, loved songs and poetry. We learned many English songs and poems which we recited with great expression. In grade seven we went into active preparation for our Common Entrance exams for secondary school. Apart from "Lomond's English", and "Queen's English", the books we used for comprehension and grammar, we studied English phrases from two books, "First Aid in English" and "The Student's Companion." From the latter two, we learned sayings like: as cool as a cucumber, as deaf as a door post, as innocent as a dove, as proud as a peacock as well as synonyms, antonyms and homonyms.

Apart from quantitative and qualitative aptitude tests, the main thrust of our Common Entrance exams was 'Composition.' This accounted for creative writing. In this section we wrote under titles like, "How I spent my holidays,", "My family" etc.

I remember a class exercise in which I described a storm. I must have internalized some of Enid Blyton's prose, for while I have no recollection of the essay or its title, I remember writing a particular phrase, which so thrilled my teacher that she read my essay in class. "The thunder clapped and lightning seemed to tear the sky to pieces..."

Many years later as I learn and practice the craft of writing, what do I discover?
Forget the omniescient point of view. Adverbs are out of fashion and my editors pull them out like weeds. All those desriptive English sayings that I proudly committed to memory are now collectively termed, cliché and tossed out with the garbage.

English goes out of fashion. It's time to refresh and I'm thinking about attending the CANSCAIP workshops for writers and illustrators.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Early Writing Roots: Achimota

photo by Akora Suzette Ayensu (my room mate at UST)

I was in form four (grade 10), 1978 when our English teacher Mrs Adu fell ill and left. She was such a robust, firm and fun teacher and I missed her. She had taught me in Form 2A and while she would take no nonsense from us, she had also bought the whole class a basket full of BOFLOT (round donuts) to enjoy. Some time later Mrs Watts joined us. My vague memory of her suggests that she was from Chicago, USA and possibly a diplomat's wife. Mrs Watts called me aside one day and said to me that I had a talent for writing, which I ought to nurse. Her advice was to buy a notebook and begin to write poetry or whatever else I felt like writing. So I bought a blue exercise book and wrote. Mostly, I wrote poetry and often it was about love because I had a dashing teen boyfriend in Aggrey House. From time to time, she asked for my notebook and read it. She never made any suggestions or criticisms except to say, "Well done, keep writing." She had her eye on me. She would choose me to debate on topics in class, something I would not have opted to do. I was quite shy and it was only much later I discovered the joy of public speaking. These small whispers have guided me in my creativity, even though most of my formal education was geared toward the application of science.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Early Writing Roots-WGHS

I am the person on your extreme right, with a nice afro...1981 WGHS

Facebook has renewed long lost contacts since my youthful highschool days. Recently an old friend of mine RA posted a photo taken during my last days in highschool, with my classmates and our Chemistry teacher. For sixth form I attended Wesley Girls High School, Cape Coast, and was imersed in an all girls boarding school for the first time. For two years from 1979-1981, I enjoyed everything about being born female and living with girls. It was also in Wesley Girls that Mr. Offei, who taught us the literature/language section of General Studies advised me to join the Ghana Writers Association on the basis of two essays that I had written for class projects. I think there might have been a junior writers group. He imagined that I might someday be a published writer of fiction even though I was a science student hoping to study medicine in university. My other memory of Mr Offei was my small part in a laborious play on Pan Africanism, which he directed. At that age we needed more colorful fare, but he seemed totally oblivious to that fact. Still, I cherished his suggestion that I could become a writer someday.

Friday, October 8, 2010

An Old Photo Surfaces

photo: Maureen Madill

In May, I attended a book sellers' event in Missisauga. I was on my way from a memorial service in Whitby, and I hitched a ride with my brother-in-law. My publishers, Groundwood Books, House of Anansi Press had a display at the market place, three months before the official publishing of my book. I found the large room where all the publishers were showing their books, attracting book sellers with free copies. And there, on our table was a pile of advance copies of "Between Sisters" bordered in white--a diminished appearance of her fully formed look. I was there to sign and promote, lend my charm to the business of selling and greet the soon to be published work of art. All this said, to show a photograph taken with a cellphone camera to mark the day. ENJOY!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Kitchener Record Review of Between Sisters

I was sitting at my favorite coffee place having breakfast with DA when Maureen came in for tea. What did she have in hand but a cutting from the Kitchener Record of a review of Between Sisters. It was the sort of review that makes one glow all day and I slipped the cutting between the pages of my copy of the book. Later on, my husband Fule found the URL of the article and posted it on Facebook. Not only is the review beautifully written, it is very complimentary and the article has a picture of the book cover. I try not to get blown over by good reviews so that I can resist the temptation to keel over from not so great ones. But this one was a delight; like dessert after a great meal. Here is the link to Catherine Thompson's review:

Saturday, October 2, 2010

A New Business Card

I am watching the horse Zenyatta win her ninteenth race and I'm not a horse racing fan. I just got lucky watching TV to see a star horse who has never lost a race.
I'm thinking about my new business card. It is my author/speaker card, imprinted with the cover art of my new book, "Between Sisters." For the first time in Canada I have appended Dr. before my name from my medical degree received in Ghana in 1988. I do not have a PhD in literature. My husband says it looks good on a card. In the book "Between Sisters", Gloria becomes a nanny to Dr. Christine Ossei's son, Sam. That's when all the adventures begin. Imagine, everytime I give out a card, I'll be telling someone about Between Sisters.