Once upon a time comes alive in Abuja

Once upon a time, the familiar phrase made popular by its use at the beginning of folk tales the world over, acquired new meaning as the theme of Abuja Writers Forum’s free one-day workshop for aspiring writers, which was held recently.

The workshop attracted many budding writers from diverse backgrounds, with some even coming from neighbouring states, while others had to give up important engagements to participate because it was just what they needed to get their writing off the ground.

Hauwa Gambo, a journalist from Kaduna, bitten by the writing bug, likened her journey down to Abuja to participate in the workshop to Mohammed’s proverbial trip to the mountain because the mountain would not go to him.

“I had been yearning to attend a programme like this but there has been none in Kaduna, so when I heard of this one in Abuja, I could not afford to miss it,” she said.

The visibly exited lady was only expressing the thoughts of most of the participants.

The workshop, a brainchild of the Abuja Writers Forum (AWF), is one of the programmes the forum organises regularly to provide authors, dramatists, poets, playwrights, screenwriters and performing artistes a platform to hone their skills and air their talents. Others include the monthly Guest Writer Session which features the work of published authors, poets and playwrights; and the weekly critique sessions that affords writers the opportunity to have their works-in-progress reviewed by their peers.

The workshop, the first AWF free writing workshop since the forum started its regular subsidised version, initially drew over 40 interested writers, but the number had to be pruned down as some late entrants failed to meet up with the pre-event reading list. In spite of this, the turnout was impressive. When the programme started at 9.00 a.m., the usual stiffness associated with a group of unfamiliar people meeting for the first time pervaded the air, but the informal setting and Dr. Emman Shehu’s unique teaching style, in the words of Ohepo Ali, soon made the workshop “great fun and challenging.”

Built round the familiar “Once Upon A Time” start of fairy and folktales, the workshop, according to  Shehu, was organised primarily “to unlock the budding writers’ creativity by leading participants to realise that everyone has a story to tell.”

Starting from, ‘Once upon a time’, he led the participants to develop the phrase into two short story outlines in a few minutes, surprising them with the realisation that each already had a story that just needed a little more effort to complete. With this story – the first for many participants – many excitedly discovered that their struggle to write had ended and that they could write after all.

Said Roselyn Jeremiah, another participant, “it was the magical key we needed to unlock our creativity in writing.”

At noon, when the first session ended, the workshop participants had learnt how to develop their techniques and various ways to improve their writing.

In a short interview after the first session, Shehu disclosed that the workshop only covered short story writing because of its short duration. After the coffee break at noon, veteran broadcaster, Edith Yassin, took over with a short lecture on general media etiquette. Once again, an invaluable lecture prepared participants for challenges ahead. Questions came thick and fast at the end of her lecture, a clear indication of the interest it generated.

In the concluding session, which focused on plot development and principles for organising stories, Dr. Shehu revealed innovative ways to create characters that enhance plots and strengthen stories, novels and plays.

Speaking at the end of the progamme, Shehu, the President of AWF, who is also the Director of the International Institute for Journalism (IIJ) Abuja, revealed that as a follow up to the preliminary workshop, the forum would soon host a full introductory writers’ workshop that would teach in-depth writing skills for drama, novel and poetry.

Abuja-based magazine publisher, Humphrey Onyima, could not hold back his praises for AWF, which he says has had tremendous impact on his literary development. He was so appreciative of the preliminary workshop that he admitted he would be attending the forthcoming introductory writing workshop, while also inviting other literary lovers.

“I want to thank the founder and President of this noble forum for what he and the AWF have done to develop the creativity of aspiring writers. He has started a movement that is as innovative as any I have known or heard of anywhere else, and it deserves all the support. I know that my writing will improve with these workshops,” he said.

Onyima was not alone in heaping encomiums on the organisers of the workshop, as another participant, Hauwa Gambo, said she was glad she came.

“It has turned out to be much more than I expected. If I am in such a workshop for four weeks, there will be no stopping me afterwards,” she added.

Indeed, AWF’s writers’ workshops and programmes have become the defining factor in Abuja’s literary circles. In addition to its monthly Guest Writer Sessions, the forum holds three critique sessions every month to afford members the opportunity to have their works in progress reviewed by peers, a practice that has been of tremendous importance in the literary development of her members. Over the years, some of her members have won literary contests in Nigeria and abroad.

Ezenwa Ogochukwu from Anambra State, a writer and business developer, feels the forum has done more than enough to blow its own trumpet. Olu Omoniyi, a student, agreed, adding that he found the workshop creative, educative and innovative and was surprised that attendance was not in much larger numbers. He encouraged AWF leadership to keep up the good work as it was helping many people to achieve their ambitions.

For Plateau born Haruna Yabzai, a quantity surveyor, the forum has been a revelation. “Shehu is the type of person who inspires and encourages you, and carries you along in his presentations. The workshop today is exciting. It gives one the prompts to keep on writing, especially when you face a blank sheet of paper.”