Pamela, how long have you been writing and how did you get started?
I’ve been writing creative non-fiction since 2008, but before that I wrote and published some academic articles in public health journals.
African Pearl records personal details of your own journey into discovering and understanding more about your identity – how did you find writing about these things?
I wanted to use African Pearl to explore the complexity of identity as I experienced it. Being a multicultural person, I wanted to invite readers into that journey with me. I’m glad I did it but it meant stretching myself to be very vulnerable.
You are an Irish-Nigerian who blends African, European and North American cultures – how have these distinct and rich elements of your heritage influenced you?
My ‘triple heritage’ has meant that I’m never fully in a single culture. Though that reality can often be painful and isolating, it makes me a bridge person between different cultures and that can be a very vital space to be in. I think we need more of these kinds of ‘bridging’ voices in Christian literature.
You describe yourself as ‘an African returning to Africa and experiencing it as an outsider’ – were there particular difficulties or benefits associated with this?
Yes, I touch on this in the previous question. Never quite fully belonging and being on the margins can be lonely especially when you see yourself as an insider and others don’t view you as one of their own. I explore this dilemma for me in African Pearl. On the other hand, sometimes you can be more embraced by the local community than those who are even more ‘outside’ that culture.
During your time in Uganda, you experienced an Ebola epidemic first-hand – how does that experience compare with what we are all facing today with the coronavirus pandemic?
With the Covid-19 pandemic, we’re all experiencing so much loss: our freedom, physical contact, jobs, and of course the tragic loss of so many lives. African Pearl is a story of loss and death too, but it is ultimately a story of hope. Loss and death, when considered from within the larger story of what Jesus has done, has the power to change us deeply, and my story offers a hopeful glimpse of how God did that for one woman.
Has the process of writing and publishing African Pearl changed you?
Publishing African Pearl has been so affirming! Even though my launch was a virtual one due to the Covid-19 pandemic, I was able to reach many more people. As a result, I’ve found myself connecting with old and dear friends across continents, a lovely unexpected gift of this process.
What do you hope readers will take away from African Pearl?
I hope they will appreciate the transformative nature of community. I’d love for them to learn to cling to hope even in the midst of great difficulties, and that they’ll be inspired to take risks and be open to the deep change that God desires to do in them.
I also hope they’ll have more appreciation for the complexities of the missionary experience for Africans. By this I mean Africans are increasingly serving as missionaries to places other than their countries of origin, as we’re seeing in ‘reverse missions’. This was the case for me in going to Uganda.
It also has to be said missionaries, though well intentioned, can at times be patronising, insensitive or even unaware of the less positive impacts they are having on the communities in which they serve. That was also true for me, even though I was an African myself. Furthermore, missionaries have much to gain from the host cultures in which they enter – it’s not just a one-way street – and this became apparent as my journey unfolded. So, in African Pearl, through my story, I’ve tried to offer greater nuance into the conversation about missionaries, writing from the unique perspective of being both an ‘insider’ and an ‘outsider’.
How did you find the publication process?
I’ve discovered that publishing is quite different from writing!
Once your work is accepted for publication, publishing is the business end that comes together to encourage people to spend money to buy your book. It’s much more collaborative, involving a whole team of editors, designers and marketing people. That’s been great but it’s also meant letting go of the control I’m used to having over my words, my story!
Did you get input from friends and family for the book, or was it something you felt best to work on alone?
I took creative non-fiction as well as fiction classes while writing African Pearl. In fact, it was during the non-fiction classes, while sharing my stories and getting positive feedback, that I began to realise I could turn my stories into a book and explore some important themes through them.
What one piece of advice would you want to give to a new writer?
Be courageous and be persistent. It takes courage (and discipline) to write, and then it takes patience and perseverance to get your writing published. Take heart and carry on.
What are you working on now?
Well, my book launched recently, so I’m still working on getting the word out which is great fun but not so good for pursuing new writing projects. That said, I have a new exciting idea percolating for a second book but it’s too early to say more about it.
Finally, what is your favourite book and why?
Fiction: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by CS Lewis, because it presents the gospel story in such a compelling, inviting and subversive way.
Non-fiction: When the Heart Waits, by Sue Monk Kidd, because it so beautifully describes one woman’s transformation from spiritual depression to becoming her true self.