Interview with Saah Millimono

Where and when did the idea for One Day I Will Write About This War come from?

I can’t remember where the idea for this story came from, except that I wrote it as a short story back in 2009 when I was working as a freelance fiction writer for the Liberian Observer Corporation, or the Daily Observer. At that time I was writing a new story every week, and had to think up something to meet my weekly deadline - like a man looking for the chink in the armour.

Can you tell us a bit about place or places you wrote One Day I Will Write About This War from?

I began writing the story at the Daily Observer offices. I was free to use the computers and had been given the privilege to stay overnight and work on my writing.  Alone in the offices at night, with a few people who worked in the printing press downstairs in the basement, I would sit in front of a computer, typing, deleting paragraphs and sentences I had before written at a painful and plodding pace, and rewriting.  Sometimes I left the offices in the middle of the night, went for a stroll along the streets, and waited for inspiration. Then I came back and wrote until the journalists were back in the morning. 

Later I got a contract job with USAID and after seven years of working at the Daily Observer, I left. At USAID I did not have as much freedom to write fiction as I had at the Daily Observer.  

And so I took the writing home.  On Sundays and Saturdays, when I did not have to go to work, I woke early in the morning and took a hot bath – a ritual I had begun to adopt after reading an article by the British writer Salman Rushdie.  I sat at a low table to write, using a notebook and pencil. And then on Monday I went to the USAID offices and typed whatever I had written (but not without first making sure my boss was nowhere around!).

What inspires you to write?

I love the idea of being famous, and would love to be the poor young man in the neighborhood who rose to fame and has got his name in everyone’s mouth. And this brings to mind Okonkwo, the major character in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, who rose from a poor background to become one of the lords of the clan.

Tell us about three writers you admire, and why?

I admire the Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, because when he was writing about the authorities and its crimes he did so fearlessly, and with passion. Read the Gulag Archipelago and you will understand why the Russian authorities went to great pains to ban the book.

I admire Leo Tolstoy. He is voluminous and untiring and strives for perfection; so much so that whatever he writes about is given significance. Read Anna Karenina and you will see that a drinking glass not only is a drinking glass but gives some importance to the story.

Last of all is Ernest Hemingway; his writing is simple and clear - like air coming through an open window.

How did you hear about the Kwani? Manuscript Project?

My fellow Liberian writer, Robtel Pailey, told me about the Kwani? Manuscript Project in an email. We got to know each other back in 2007, after she saw one of my stories in the paper and thought it was good.

If you had to describe One Day I Will Write About This War as a cross between two other novels, what would they be?

Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist, for its representation of child suffering, and Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, for its portrait of love and war.

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