This light-skinned lady isn’t just a natural story teller who knows her roots like Alex Haley. She is one intellectual beauty who had a unique childhood. Having grown up with her father as an only child, in a fine house, right up the hill, the number one female literary icon in Akwa Ibom found herself reading a lot of books quite early in life. Books kept her company when her Medical Doctor father was at work because her lovely home didn’t have a television in it, and all the kids her age lived far down the hill. It was a thrilling experience because at school, while other kids talked about TV shows like Starsky and Hutch, she told tales from the books she had read and stunned her peers out of their wits.
She doesn’t block out the voices which occasionally drop nuggets and ideas in her head; they are her literary licenses, her source of inspiration. In other words, her inspiration comes from everywhere and in different ways. Like most writers, she writes down these nuggets in a book, ruminates over them, and forms them in her mind before she starts to write. In the long run, she says, ‘the story tells itself’.
Contrary to popular opinion, she disputes the speculation that the widely acclaimed ‘Perfect Mother’ is about her life. The NLNG literary awards nominated book is neither based on her life nor on her father’s; it just started as a nugget, an idea in her head: ‘an African man marries and his wife doesn’t have the all important son. What will she do?’ And so she started to weave other stories around that theme. The writing of Perfect Mother started in 1997, but it got tucked under her bed for a while, before she returned to it and finished it in 2008. Interestingly, she considered taking it to Nollywood but later decided to make it a book first: ‘books last forever but a movie could be forgotten after a while.’ She said emphatically.
The favorable reception which Perfect Mother has gotten, gives her a warm sense of gratitude. She feels excited to be part of this revolution to bring Akwa Ibom to be duly represented at the National level. Although she feels sad about the gross underrepresentation of Akwa Ibomites at the general National Awards, she is happy to be a trailblazer, having broken the jinx. ‘God has given me a talent and I’m doing a lot with It.’ she says.
Sitting in a blue chair, she rolls her large bright eyes as she talks about the new works which may follow Perfect Mother. Her chiffon shirt which matches her jeans says she knows fashion but her answers say she is beyond superstition. Unlike most people who think that it is bad luck to talk about work in progress, Uduak Akpabio lets us sneak a peek into her craftsroom. ‘I’m working on a new drama called Little Devils, which will be out this year.’ She says in her upper class English accent.
Her mannerisms are captivating: the polite smile which never leaves her lips. While speaking, she could be caught continuously pulling out her ring and interchanging it from her left little finger to her index finger yet communicating effectively. This mannerism, I think she is quite unconscious of.
With unflinching frankness, she advises upcoming writers to work hard at creative writing. ‘If people can labor at the farm then, with determination, you can write.’
She is only worried about the quality of the grammar of most young Nigerians.
‘The grammar is horrible: all the Nigerianisms we speak: ‘borrow me your book and all that.’ She said this with creased brows.
‘And when you write a story, please, please have someone proofread it before you send it to the publishers.’ She further advised.
Though she would love to say that foreign-based Nigerian writers do not have an edge over Nigerian-based writers, a part of her believes that the argument is true. While the foreign-based writers will most likely be exposed to better English, their Nigerian counterparts might not. Adequate electric power supply available to foreign-based writers is another advantage which the Nigerian might not have. But she also considers that the Nigerian has more time at their disposal than their foreign-based counterparts. She also adds that Nigerians have easier access to materials should they be writing about Nigeria.
Having trained as a nurse in the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital, she summarizes with decent pride, her accomplishments in that field of endeavour in one sentence: ‘I was a very good nurse.’ And she definitely isn’t one known for blowing her trumpet. She has worked in the Ukana Ikot Ituen, Essien Udim, her hometown: she has also worked in Lagos, Owerri as well as in the United Kingdom (UK). Though she is still in nursing practice, writing is still a part of her life. She ensures that she writes at least 2000 words every single day. This, no doubt will enable her meet her one-book-per-year target. Ten years from now, ten of her published books will join Perfect Mother on the bookshelves in major bookshops. And like most writers, she hopes to stun the world so much that people can walk into a bookshop and buy her book just because she authored it.
Her primary goals of telling stories are simple: to pick up common stories and tell them in the most amazing way and with a new twist. Amusingly, she is delighted to introduce characters bearing Akwa Ibom names such as Ubong, Anietie and Mfon; especially since she has rarely seen any such names in literature.
Her tone dropped when she spoke about her favorite authors: ‘there aren’t many Nigerian authors on her top-ten list.’ Although her preferences in authors have changed with time, Agatha Christie and Nancy Drew still remain on the list. She is currently reading a lot of literature by Nigerian authors and she can’t stop talking about how much she enjoys reading Uwem Akpan’s works. And like most people, she finds Wole Soyinka’s works poetic and requiring a lot of patience and intellectual energy to grasp.