Author Interview: Eric Ngalle Charles

Hello everyone,

Welcome to our monthly feature for authors.

The author for the month of August 2022 is Eric Ngalle Charles, author of ‘I, Eric Ngalle’. I have read and reviewed his book on this website and you can check out my review (in “Book Reviews”) to see if you may be interested to read it.

Today’s interview will give us a sneak-peek into Eric’s life as a published author. I hope you enjoy reading his answers to these ten questions but first let’s begin with an introduction of the author.

So here we go…..

The Author:

Eric Ngalle Charles is a Cameroonian writer, poet and playwright, and human rights activist based in Wales. A Ph.D. researcher at King’s College London, he was awarded a Creative Wales Award in 2017 for his work on the topics of migration, trauma, and memory. His autobiography I, Eric Ngalle: One Man’s Journey Crossing Continents from Africa to Europe (2019) recounts his journey to Europe, spending years in Russia and elsewhere seeking refuge. He sits on boards at Literature Wales and Aberystwyth Arts Centre and edited Hiraeth Erzolirzoli: A Wales-Cameroon Anthology (2018). His poetry Collection Homelands Seren Books (2022) was published in April. His reaction to the war in Ukraine can be found at https://writersmosaic.org.uk/close-up/war-and-racism-blacks-in-ukraine


The Interview:

WHY WAS IT IMPORTANT FOR YOU TO WRITE YOUR RECENTLY PUBLISHED MEMOIR – I, ERIC NGALLE?

Eric: I knew I was going to write the memoir. It was a matter of when. You know, one day I was sitting outside my mother’s veranda, watching the clouds as they crossed mount Cameroon, and the next I was grinding, sludging in the streets of Russia. This is not just my story; it belongs to a lot of people. It is my mother’s story. A woman who sat by three stones crying for a child gone, knowing he will never return. After I was tortured in Pechatniki, this news reached my mother. But she was told that I had been killed and that my body was buried in the snow-filled terrains of Moscow, somewhere. I came out alive, many Cameroonians and Nigerians did not. It is a story about those who live, those who return, and those who never return. Hence, I owed it to my readers to be brutally honest and not hold back. I knew I will not make it out alive in Russia, you have read the circumstances. I had to unburden myself. I Eric Ngalle freed me. Now I can write without those memories of men with black coats, or Nataliya, and the son, or daughter I may or may not have in Metishi, south Moscow. Ah! These memories.  

WHO WOULD YOU SAY IS YOUR IDEAL READER? WHO DID YOU WRITE THIS MEMOIR FOR?

Eric: At the time, I did not have an audience in mind. The book works because of its universality. It deals with Place, Memory, Language, and trauma. But more importantly the use of Literature to overcome the blows, and punches life throws. I wrote it for us, those who still believe in that old lie, ‘’Whiteman’s land is paved with gold and silver.’’ Those who would risk all to cross the Mediterranean, and those parents who are only interested in asking their sons, and daughters, ‘You have returned, what did you bring.’’ The shame of not being able to answer this question is a strong reason our bodies float and disappear on the bottom seas, far, far away from the place we once called home.

WHAT IS THE MOST SURPRISING THING YOU DISCOVERED WHILE WRITING?

Eric: How memories can trigger. It was extremely difficult writing the court scenes with my father’s family. I loved them, I do. But I relieved every minute of their rejection and how the Judge shrunk in his chair. That was the day I died. The memories of counting dollars in the outskirts of Stavropol with men who could kill and bury us in shallow graves, memories of the women I never married. This is, was my life. A basic understanding of language can be a safety net. The Russian language saved me.

IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT ELEMENTS OF GOOD WRITING?

Eric: Now, I am learning how to write. I apply and spend a lot of time thinking about craft. At first, I found this discouraging. Felt like there was a shadow behind me, monitoring my ink on a page.    Remember, I am only learning these things now at a Ph.D. level. For any young writer out there, my advice would be for you to write, it needs to be regurgitated on the page. You have wonderful editors who would help you to cut a long story short. Don’t burden yourself, by overthinking. Write, leave it, go, and read other authors and get a feel for how they manipulate voices, and places. Ben Okri and Chigozie Obioma are my go-to writers, Godlike oratory. The books you read reflect on your writing.  I met a Cameroonian writer who wrote a poem in 2008, and in 2022, he sent me the same poem for editing. Boy oh, boy.   

DO YOU VIEW WRITING AS A SPIRITUAL PRACTICE AND IF YES, HOW?

Eric: I don’t understand this question, but I will try and give it my best shot. It depends. With a memoir like I, Eric Ngalle, there were a lot of things happening. I was a man possessed, through and within me, was a manifestation of all things good and all things evil. There was a time I could not control any of them. Whatever poked its head out, became my manifestation. ‘’The great Welsh writer, and poet, Dylan Thomas said, ‘’I hold a beast, an angel, and a mad man in me, and my enquiry is as to their workings, and my problem is their subjugation and victory, down throw and upheaval, and my effort is their self-expression.’’ I can bring out the goodness of God like Chukwu, of Yomadene, and equally, say, ‘’may Amadioha strike you.’’ As writers, we have these wells of spiritual excesses, we can jump in and out. 

WHAT WAS THE GREATEST CHALLENGE IN YOUR WRITING PROCESS AND HOW WERE YOU ABLE TO WRITE REGARDLESS?

Eric: Writing I, Eric Ngalle was simple.  I knew the story in and out. However, bringing it into public consumption I struggled. Then I stumbled on the writings of the great Kenyan sage Ngugi Wa Thiongo’o. In his book, ‘’Dreams in a Time of War: A Childhood Memoir, and In the House of the Interpreters: A Memoir. Ngugi navigates difficult subject matters, Britain occupying Kenya, the speech by Churchill, and the Mau Mau with such ease. And the technique was humour which he uses to a devasting effect.  Hence, I balance my childhood memories and brought them side by side with the intensity of what was happening in Russia. It worked.

WHAT WAS YOUR FAVOURITE PART AND LEAST FAVOURITE PART OF THE PUBLISHING PROCESS?

Eric: Publishing I, Eric ngalle was easy. However, I had anticipated the struggles it would take a Cameroonian, leaving in Wales to get their feet on the publishing ladder. You know, a lot of people wanted to talk on my behalf. But I quickly understood the power of my story and moved away from the gross generalization. I started publishing poetry anthologies, my first was ‘’Between a Mountain and a Sea, published by Hafan Books in 2003. Soft Touch, (2004). Nobody’s Perfect (2005), Festival of the Wolves (2006) Hiraeth Erzolirzoli: Welsh Cameroon anthology (2018) I Eric Ngalle (2019) Parthian Books. The 3 Molas 2020. Homelands April 2022, Seren Books.   https://www.poetrybooks.co.uk/products/homelands-by-eric-ngalle-charles

HOW DO YOU THINK BEING A WRITER HAS HELPED YOU AS A PERSON?

Eric: A great deal. I have developed a lot. I love getting lost in books.  I have been opportune to crisscross the continent, meet with wonderful writers, and platform on some of the biggest festivals in the world. It has not helped my daughter though. She avoids my friends as much as possible. They make her overthink her life. Hahahaha. The downside is that, as a writer, one gets bored easily, you are seeking that stimulation. A good book to read, watch a beautiful play, and listen to great poetry. ayaaaaaaaaai

WHAT BOOKS HAVE FORTIFIED YOU AS A WRITER?

Eric: The first book I read was written in Swahili and translated into English. It was a poetry book, I loved it. That book inspired me so much that when I turned nine years old, I decided to write a poem, dedicated to my mother. It went something like this, ‘’Dearest mother, you are as beautiful, as the snowflakes i=of Siberia. Everyone knows where you are, no one dares.’’ My mother kicked me out of her house. She thought I was making a mockery of her, that many men came and left her chambers. I learned the power of words in Ola Rotimi’s play, ‘’The Gods are not to Blame,’’ when Aderopo says to Odewlae, ‘’You are a butterfly thinking you are a bird.’’ These send Odewale on a spiral eventually fulfilling the prophecy of ‘’killing his father and marrying his mother.’’ I love ‘’A Single Swallow.’’ Horatio Clare. The audacity of his writing. ‘’I am Ikunjannnni, the bird that brings the rain.’’ In the writing of Nuruddin Farrah, currently reading ‘’Secrets’’ I cannot tell if the protagonist is dreaming, or they are experiencing reality. I have a great deal of admiration for Chigozie Obioma. Although in ‘’An Orchestra of Minorities.’’ The ending was anticlimactic, we can forgive him, he is great.

ARE YOU CURRENTLY WORKING ON ANYTHING YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE WITH YOUR READERS?

Eric: I am delving into the world of fiction. As part of my Ph.D. I am writing a novel: Fragments-Broken Stories. Cameroon (Africa in miniature) Literature-Culture through the prism of three child protagonists. Moving from first to third person narrator. Aiiiiieeeeee.
Also writing a screenplay based on a taxi driver in Abuja who sticks his head out in traffic shouting, acting as an extra noise amplifier.


Many thanks to the author for granting this interview and I hope you all enjoyed reading his responses to the questions as much as I did.

If you have any more questions for the author, please put them in the comments and he will respond accordingly.

Enjoy the rest of your day.


Copyright © Biyai Garricks
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Biyai Garricks, rovingbookwormng.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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