Jessica Ochuwa Abubakar was determined to publish her book of short stories when she reached out to me in June 2016. Later, she would detail the many challenges she faced to make that dream a reality. And years later, her story still comes to mind whenever I think about writers who have overcome obstacles to go on and become published authors. The Broken Hedge is a collection of four moving and powerful stories covering the themes of love, domestic violence, and betrayal. I interviewed Jessica via email to discuss her story of perseverance, what she’s doing now, and where she hopes to go from here.
Your manuscript was one I really enjoyed working on because you delved into some deep societal and relational issues. What inspired you to write these particular stories?
That is amazing to hear from you, Amma. Thank you so much. You know, the first time we talked, I was uncertain about what your reaction would be after going through the manuscript. I was elated when you said you liked the stories and would love to work with me and on it. One of the things I love about your work is that you did not drown my voice like some editors would do. You did it exactly the way I wanted and I thank you for that.
I understand that you wrote the entire manuscript (or was it parts of it) on a Blackberry. Why?
Well, I decided to just do it. There were many obstacles to writing The Broken Hedge. I am a working single mom to three energetic boys, and that comes with many worries, so I sort of pushed my writing to the back end. The most important thing to me for many years was ensuring that my children were well fed, clothed, emotionally secure and in school. There was no time for anything else. Then I read somewhere that apart from family, an individual also has a right to their own life. The article was titled "What About Me?” That got me thinking about making something of my own; something that will outlive me. Of course, my book was the first thing that came to mind. I was ready to give my writing life a chance, but I was faced with the challenge of how to do it. I had no computer and I did not want to write on paper and have to send it out to be typed later because that is how a lot of original works get stolen. There was only one option and that was to use the memo on my BlackBerry phone to do the typing. That is exactly what I did. Was it convenient? Not at all. My thumbs frowned throughout, but I kept at it and The Broken Hedge was born. The good thing about taking that first step is that when you do, everything else falls into place. After completing the manuscript on my phone, I copied everything and sent it to my email. One day, I was talking to a friend, Pere Benson, about what I was doing and she graciously loaned me her laptop to finish my work. I was able to collate everything on MS Word, and through another wonderful friend, Tolulope Popoola, I met you and the rest is history.
What was the writing process like? What were some of the challenges?
Like I mentioned earlier, I am the sole caregiver of my three boys, and I had an underpaid job. I also had a terrible marriage which I had to let go of. I was still trying to gain back my self-esteem and sanity. It was a lot in between the boys and my job, but I had decided to become more than just a stressed, underpaid mom. I wanted to be more than what I had become, so I just did it. It was one of the most difficult times in my life. Sometimes, I would be so overwhelmed by all the challenges that I would abandon my writing for a while. Thankfully, I went back each time.
Was there ever a point, during the writing process, where you felt like giving up? Why? And what inspired you to overcome those challenges?
Oh, yes! There were many times when I thought, "to what end? I don't have a laptop, I don't have the money to publish this book, even if I do, who will buy the book?" Such negative thoughts flew in and out of my mind on a daily basis, but I am someone with a lot of resilience, especially when I have made a decision to get something done.
Two of my favorite stories in the book are The Broken Hedge and A Price to Pay. Both stories tackle some very deep marital issues that are often overlooked as trivial in traditional societies; namely infidelity and domestic violence. And yet, you addressed these issues with deep insight that might cause many to reconsider the way they view these topics. What was your end-goal for writing these two stories? What message did you want readers to take away from them?
The Broken Hedge is filled with some of my own experiences, so I would say the book is not entirely fiction. I was in an abusive marriage where beatings and cheating were on the daily menu. Also, the daily experiences of people I know and sheer creativity are the condiments that make up The Broken Hedge. No one should accept to be less than they are. Sometimes, all we need is communication to fix what is broken, but when something is not working and you have talked about it and tried to fix it to no avail, just let it go before it devours you. Most of the time, our destiny is in our own hands. Other times, it is the intervention of God. These are the times when you have already done everything you can. In as much as you should never throw away something good because of a few fixable challenges, you should also never remain in a situation that is detrimental to your health. I always say that God loves marriage, but He loves the people in it more. Another thing is that we must make something of our lives. Excuses are delicious and valid most of the time, but we really should throw them out and become great.
What other creative pursuits do you have outside of writing?
Presently, I am working as a customer service consultant. My boys are growing right before my eyes and I am still writing. I hope to bring out my second book at the end of this year. I am also interested in script-writing, so I will be delving into that as well. I am intrigued by how scripts turn into great movies and I want to be a part of that.
Jessica Ochuwa Abubakar was raised in Benin City, Edo State in Nigeria and studied Theatre and Media Arts at Ambrose Alli University. She is the author of The Broken Hedge, a collection of short stories on overcoming infidelity, abuse, neglect, and heartbreak. She is also the mother of 3 energetic boys and is working on her second novel to be released later this year. The Broken Hedge is available for purchase on Amazon.