Three sisters, all under age 15, have successfully debuted as authors under Hill-Top Creative Art Foundation’s Teen Authorship Scheme in Minna, Niger State. Bookshelf takes a look at their writing journey.
Three sisters, Sa’adatu, Ramatu and Salamatu Abdullahi became authors through the Hill-Top Creative Art Foundation’s Teen Authorship Scheme. Founded by BM Dzukogi, a former National Secretary of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), the foundation aims at broadening children’s imagination and developing their writing skills. The sisters are some of this year’s fortunate recipients of the scheme.
Titled ‘Little Trophy’, Sa’adatu’s novelette is about Suleiman and Salma, a couple who longed to have a child. The 12-year-old author said she wanted to show children why they should have faith in God’s provision and the consequence of disobeying school rules.
Overtime, Sa’adatu realised childlessness was one of the major issues women sometimes struggle with in her society. “I chose the name Salma because I have a sister and many cousins who bear it. They are all named after my grandmother. As for Suleiman, I simply wanted the couple to have the same initials.
But Sa’adatu didn’t simply wake up one day writing tales. She read a lot. “Whenever my sister, Salma, finishes reading a book, I go next, followed by my younger sister Ramatu who eagerly waits in line. In this way, I read a lot, especially since Salma loves reading,” she said.
Sa’adatu was in Primary Three when she started reading, and remembers favourites like William Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, ‘The Merchant of Venice’, and ‘Macbeth’. Also, Chinua Achebe’s ‘Chike and the River,’ and several more.
At Hill Top Arts Centre, Sa’adatu developed the skill of creative writing. “We are encouraged to ask a lot of questions. In this way, I learned how to shape my story,” she explained, adding that her writing journey began at age 10. “My first story was about a King who later became a slave of his ex-slave.”
Sa’adatu is presently working on her second book entitled ‘Unseen Minor God’ and also a play.
‘Destined’, Salamatu’s novelette, tells the story of Safina whose life takes a sharp turn at the death of her parents. Now 14, and the eldest among her siblings, she felt the need to draw attention to the plight of orphans in the society.
Salamatu’s research work included talking to her classmates, teachers, friends and relations. “Also, whenever the Art Centre features a guest writer, I ask questions,” she said, adding that reading books and newspapers and watching films played important roles. She also attended the 2017 ANA convention in Makurdi, Benue State, as a teenage author. There, she met many other “big authors” and returned home with several books. “I enjoyed the experience and have recorded it in my diary.”
At Hill Top Arts Centre, Salamatu was inspired to become a writer. She was given a mentor and guides. “We got to read aloud whatever we write on Saturdays and members made comments,” she said. “It is fun being a member of the Centre. Uncle Dzukogi, Uncle MC Yunusa and others are always there to look at one’s work. The Art Centre also invites big writers from different parts of Nigeria to share their experiences with us.”
Presently, Salamatu is a junior mentor and mentors another writer. Her favourite books include William Shakespeare’s ‘Merchant of Venice’, Dul Johnson’s ‘Across the Gulf’, Yahaya Dangana’s ‘The Emir’s Secret’, BM Dzukogi’s ‘Teacher Dangana is a Cheat’, and several more.
Salamatu began to develop an interest in writing by reading her father’s newspapers. “I also read my grandfather’s newspapers when he was alive,” she added. “Unlike my father, he arranges them according to their dates and months.” Salamatu also read a lot of story books.
“I have finished another book, titled ‘Pains and Pills’, and presently waiting for a sponsor. I also have a collection of poems which my mentors at the Hilltop Arts Centre are still studying,” Salamatu said.
Ten-year-old Ramatu started writing at age eight. Her first story was titled ‘The Wicked Tiger and His Crown’. Like her sisters, it all started with a passion for reading. The more books she read, the more her interest in becoming a writer developed. “When I enjoy a story, I always wish I am the author,” Ramatu said, adding that her favourites are Hadiza Mohammed’s ‘The Life of an Almajiri’ and many of William Shakespeare’s works. But she says, “I keep changing my list of favourites.
The ‘Last Word’ is a touching story with the title inspired by a particular scene – “When the mother of the primary characters said her dying word to the children: ‘complete your education’,” Ramatu said.
Also, one central lesson spurred Ramatu on, “to let people know the reward of hard work and the consequences of greed, selfishness and laziness.”
While writing ‘Last Word’, Ramatu found it difficult to settle on a particular theme. “I kept changing my stories before I settled for this one,” she narrated. But then, her mentor, Sister Priscilla, helped a great deal, as well as her father who bought books for them to read.
“At Hill Top Art Centre, we usually read our stories in stages and others comment on it. After my story was accepted, a flash programme was held for me in July 2017 where I talked to invited guests and presented my story. The story was well accepted, and I was told it would be published like the novels I used to read. My father later told me that Dr. Egbako accepted to sponsor the publication of my book. Later, we learnt another sponsor, Alhaji Yakubu and Galadiman Katsina would sponsor my sisters’ books too and we were happy.”
Lessons Ramatu long for children to take away from her story are the danger of selfishness and the need to be patient and hardworking. She doesn’t stop there, but quickly expresses a deep desire for “parents and government to support children to write books.”
The children’s father, Dr. Abdullahi Bala Isa, said his daughters take after their bookworm grandfather, late Alhaji Isa Agaie, author of ‘Nupe Customary Marriage’. He also described himself as a newspaper man who always brings the news home. “I immediately noticed their interest and encouraged them to read,” he said. “It started with their eldest, Salamatu, who motivated her siblings subsequently.”
Dr. Isa later enrolled his daughters at Hilltop Arts and Creative Centre Minna for mentoring and the results were positive, he narrated. “Presently, the eldest has two unpublished works, while the others are working on theirs. I’m really proud of them.”