There’s ink swimming around in my blood undetected. I’m sure of it. When my head is on fire, I search for my notepad and pen. If my flat were engulfed in flames, they’re the first items I’d grab, followed by my passport, then my purse. Writing is a form of escape; something magical occurs when all the elements of character, plot and pace come together. The reason I write shifts depending on where I am or what I’m going through. Sometimes, I write because there’s so much wonder and bleakness around and writing is a great space to unpick that. I write if I’m joyous, sad, frustrated, angry; I write because I have a lot to say yet, occasionally, I’m forced to walk around silently. I reach for it as a life raft, a weapon, a comfort. There is power in the pen. I write to make sense of the world I inhabit, peeling back layers of this weird, malleable beast called life. I love finding the strangeness in the everyday, playing with language until it seems like a form of contortionism and I can mould my characters’ lives into unexpected shapes that feel knowable, vivid, sly. That’s part of the fun. The aspect of surprise, not quite knowing how things will form but being certain that if I keep writing they will, they’ll assemble in their rightful place.
Writing is a constant in my life. When I moved to England as a child, I poured my heart out in diaries, detailing accounts of my new surroundings, trying to write the cold out of my bones. On renting my first flat, I struggled with insomnia some nights so I sat up scribbling, my only company a candle flame in a purple Chinese lantern, flickering in the dark. A couple of years later, while my mother was receiving treatment at the hospital after losing sight in her right eye, I wrote a poem in the waiting room I’ve never actually read to her. Through writing, I’ve had some wonderful people come into my life, leaving their mark when we had to go our separate ways. Writing also brings anxiety, insecurity, rejection and loss. It forces you to steel yourself, to learn how to cope.
I find myself writing internally when I’m interacting with people. On a trip to Portugal my money got stolen. All I could think about while the police officer interviewed me was how I’d describe the dent in his head. One morning in the hotel, when the cleaner wandered into my room too early, I felt like I knew her face, maybe from a past life. I grappled with the feeling of familiarity from a complete stranger. And days later, when I caught trains to Tavira, the way the landscape changed, got redder, dustier, wider. Feeling that some seed had been planted during that journey which would bloom between my organs, growing from the little successes and disappointments yet to come, dragging an old suitcase to meet a boyfriend who said he had a surfboard made of wood and white water waiting for me.
Writing is like being an actor in a way. I get to create and explore different characters. I wander the city drawing scenes; give them breath and blood. When there’s static coming my way, my hand hovers over the mouths of my characters.
God is probably a woman I think. Her choice of drug is writing. She probably has to support her habit juggling unfulfilling jobs she has to tolerate whilst doling out the odd extraordinary occurrence now and again. Like me, when she’s feeling good about it, she loves to entertain and challenge an audience. This is why I write; I am a reader too and because every now and again, I experience the joy of producing small miracles on the page.
Irenosen Okojie was born in Nigeria and moved to England aged eight. A freelance Arts Project Manager, she has previously worked at Apples & Snakes as the National Development Coordinator and for The Caine Prize as a Publicity Officer for their 10th Anniversary Tour. Her short stories have been published in the US, Africa and the UK. Her first novel, Butterfly Fish, is published by Jacaranda Books.