KUKOGHO, THE DEVIL’S PAWN & THE DUSTY MANUSCRIPT CONTEST: THE UNTOLD 9-YEAR JOURNEY OF MY BOOK


You know, when good things happen, it is always easy to forget about the journey that led to that good thing – the thorny paths walked, the hurdles surmounted, the sacrifices, the failures and the discouragements. All these things are part of the ingredients of the celebrated ‘good thing’. But we often forget them.

So on Wednesday I was announced the winner of Guaranty Trust Bank’s inaugural Dusty Manuscript Contest. This came with a N1 million cash prize and a publishing contract with Farafina Books.

As expected, people – even those who have never communicated with me, and those who have ignored me for ages, congratulated me. Good. Thank you. Some immediately asked for their share of the cash. Dem go wait tire.

But a lot happened before this winning point. I will try to talk about it. It is a long story.

From 2004 – 2006, as an undergraduate at Ahmadu Bello University, I hand-wrote a full length novel titled the Black Cats. I haven’t typed it yet, even as I write this. It was my first attempt at a novel.

In 2010, I picked a part of that novel and wrote the Devil’s Pawn, based on one character in the Black Cats. The story came to me in a deluge. So, I wrote this novel every day and night.

Me (circa 2011)

One day, while I was typing in the open compound of the self-contain apartment I shared with my older brother and a cousin – I was outside because there was no power and I couldn’t see inside the house – my neighbour threw a shoe at her son and missed, hitting my laptop screen instead. The laptop was given to me on hire purchase by my then employer, Daily Trust Newspaper). I would sleep at the office most days of the week, and some weekends, to work on the book. So I had to shower in the toilet and eat junk food at the Jabi garage motor park for supper. The office had constant power and it was quiet enough for thinking straight and writing at night.

I finished the second draft of Devil’s Pawn around December 2010 – three months after I started. It was 95,000 words. The project literally landed me in the hospital because the right half of my head was on fire. Interestingly I only took it serious after finishing the book.  Eventually, I had to go for x-ray and brain scan and my doctor told me I had to slow down. My brain was stressed and I risked having seizures. So I stopped working on my book.

My X-ray (2010 or 2011)

In 2011, I published some bits of it on Naijastories.com and got a lot of feedback (some of them are still there). A year later Judd-Leonard, my Daily Trust colleague and fellow writer read the manuscript and gave me some notes. I did minor edits on the book.

That year, I submitted an excerpt for the 2012 FARAFINA TRUST CREATIVE WORKSHOP. In a reply signed by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, I was told:
“Your entry was one of the final shortlist of fifty from about nine hundred entries received. All fifty showed immense promise. Sadly, we had to select only twenty two because we don't have the resources to accommodate every writer on the shortlist. I want to let you know how much I enjoyed reading your entry- and to send my best wishes for your continued writing.”
Little did they (Farafina) know that they would be publishing this same book 6 years later.

Me, after publishing my first book (2013)

That same year I entered the manuscript for the Parresia Publishers’ book prize. I got this reply later from them:
“We have enjoyed reading your story and would like to read more of it before making a decision. Please send in a detailed [chapter-by-chapter where applicable] synopsis designed to persuade us to publish your work by showing off its best qualities in terms of theme and craft. Please send in the full manuscript, which will be assessed over a period of eight to ten weeks before our choice of two authors for the traditional publishing model imprint, Parresia Books, will be selected and announced.”
After their assessment, their editors gave me a very nice input about what they think I needed to do with the manuscript to make it better. Some of the inputs meant a total rewrite of the book and I didn’t agree with it, so I just abandoned the manuscript. But Parresia’s response was nice enough to convince me to self-publish my first book WHAT CAN WORDS DO with them.
Me at the Dusty Manuscript Contest award ceremony

In the same 2012 I serialized DEVIL’s PAWN on Facebook as notes. Then, notes were very popular on Facebook. They were like blog posts. I published about 12 episodes before I stopped (check my notes section). I focused on my poetry which was gaining much ground then.

In 2013, I contacted a US publishing firm - DORRANCE PUBLISHING for self-publishing and, after gushing over the book they responded: “I want to make sure you are aware that all of our authors pay to finance the publication of their work and our average proposal is between $6,000-$10,000. Is that range within your publishing budget?”

At the time, my salary was around N60,000 a month. How could I have afforded that? So, again, Devil’s Pawn when to sleep.

In 2014 I started working for Pulse.ng. There I published half of Devil’s Pawn as a serial. There were about 54 episodes before I left. It was a hit. People loved it and were really disappointed when I stopped. 

Devils Pawn promo poster (Pulse.ng, 2014)

In 2015, Brigitte Poirson edited the manuscript again for grammar and other fine details without tampering with the story. I immediately effected all her suggestions. This was a very important input that improved the quality of the writing.

In 2016 I changed a few things in the book. By then it was over 97,000 words.

In 2017 Kolade, my co-worker at my company Words Rhymes & Rhythm Publishers, literally forced me to submit the book for the ANA Prize for fiction 2017. Thank God I did. The book was announced 1st Runner-Up, beaten to 1st Prize by a former lecturer of mine, Dr. Dul Johnson – he had taught me a short course on Film Making the National Film Institute, Jos, in year 2006.

In early 2018, I send the manuscript to about 50 people to read and give me input. I got the same feedback as before: people love the fast-paced action. I decided to publish the book by myself this year.

The thing is, Devil’s Pawn could have become a book long time ago. In 2016 I had completed all arrangements for self-publishing it through my own publishing company. But I had this strong desire to have it traditionally published. I felt I had put in enough work to have it validated by a publisher other than myself.

So when the Dusty Manuscript contest came along I entered, simply because of the ‘publishing contracts’ prizes, not the money. I saw an opportunity to get attention of an independent publisher I wouldn’t have to pay.

When the shortlist was announced – the fourth shortlist for Devil’s Pawn, I prayed for any of the first three spots which were guaranteed contracts. And….you know the rest.

Interestingly though, on the 28th of May, one of the many publishers I had submitted the manuscript to replied thus:
“This will now be passed to the Board of Editors for their consideration. We will be in touch with you once a decision has been reached - this usually takes about six weeks.”
Interesting! 
Receiving the 1st Prize award for the 2018 Dusty Manuscript Contest from the Managing Director of GTBank, Segun Agbaje
So why did I write this?

Well, I simply did this to encourage those who are presently in one of the corners I found myself in this journey. Refused to let go. Keep working …and, most importantly, develop.

I developed other sides of my craft. I published four poetry collections between 2013 and 2017. I finished two plays, half a novel and several other short stories. I started my own publishing firm – now almost four years old, and I progressed in my career, real progress.

You too can do it and even have a much more glorious story than mine.

Just do it!



Comments

  1. Literally speaking, this story is a hint for me not to give up on writing. Thanks sir for inspiring me. Congratulations once again. Cheers!

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  2. I'm encouraged! Congratulations once again. Soar higher!

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  3. A deserved win Sir Kukogho Samson, Congratulations! It has been an interesting journey, your success story is epic. I wish you more success Sir.

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  4. Thank you for writing this. The truth you told me in 2016 has kept me going - to put in the work

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  5. Nice one. We live in a world where the pressure is on a very high level and instead of taking life a step at a time, going through all the processes, the ups and downs, people just want to mellow their way to the top. Thank you for this write up. For reminding us that, even success takes time.

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  6. Congratulations!
    Your tenacity to make loud statements for poetry and literary matters in general keeps you on and going. I rejoice with. More to come.

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    Replies
    1. You have been there with me through it all and I appreciate that. Thank you.

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  7. This was such a timely read. Thank you for pushing through and not giving up. I'm definitely inspired.
    Keep soaring, sir.

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