Toni Kan in conversation with Sylvia Ofili who says – “Ideas for my stories come from everywhere.”
Toni Kan: Tell us your name and what you’ve written. Not checks, not emails, just books.
Sylvia Ofili: My name is Sylvia Ofili and I am the author of ‘German Calendar No December’, a graphic novel.
TK: Are you comfortable being called a writer?
SO: Am I comfortable? Yeah, because I’ve been writing for a very long time. But this is the first book that has been published. So, yeah.
TK: So, at what age or at what stage of your life did you decidethat you wanted to be a writer, ?
SO: Well, I was one of those kids. Every year my father always gave me an empty diary and a calendar to record stuff and because I went to boarding house quite early, I always had to write a diary and what I did. I wrote a lot of letters to my father, and then I’ve moved around a lot. So I’ve always had journals, I’ve always had diaries. So it just became a part of who I am.
TK: So, as a writer, where do your stories come from? Is it an idea, a song, a phrase conversation, a smell? What makes them come?
SO: It’s from everywhere. For example, those two people dancing there now. ( Laughs). It’s from seeing somebody eat a certain way that reminds you of somebody else. Like the picture you just took of this lady. It is seeing you and remembering her childhood of reading hints. So, you can get a story from everywhere, even a sound or music can remind you or take you somewhere else and you start thinking of palm trees and imagining you’re there.
TK: When the idea comes to you right? How do you process it? Do you write in the mornings, at night? Do you go somewhere quiet? What is your process for writing?
SO: My process for writing it is to first enjoy it as long as I can. So, first of all, I just imagine things and go to different places with it. And when I feel like this is something that I might want to write down, then I do it. Otherwise many times the ideas are just there. Yes, they’re there and then maybe another time you remember that, oh, I had this idea once. For example, in my book, the second part was about immigrants that work in the toilets in Berlin, but originally, that idea was called the toilet mafia. And the idea came about because I saw a guy that was in charge of taking care of the toilets in the train station, and he was so arrogant and rude, you know, he was like the gatekeeper and I found him to be a fascinating character because he took his work very seriously. Yeah, and anytime I went there, I was just, you know, amazed by how serious he was. He was controlling, telling people to line up. And I kept on saying this na ordinary toilet o and so the idea came from him. And then I said, I would like to know his relationship with other people that work around him. And later on when I started working on the graphic novel, I said, Okay, I can do two things, because a lot of immigrants work on that level. And then we can also have this tyrant there. So, the idea can be there, and then you can use it for something else.
TK: So, be specific now. The German Calendar No December, what was the spark?
SO: The spark for this book was, my father, because we had this greeting where he would always call me German Calendar, and my answer was always, no December, right from when I was a kid. That’s why when you called me that, I was shocked. Yeah, so we’ve had this all the time. And I’ve always wanted to write something about the 80s about you know, that era of growing up with New Masquerade and the NTA news. He always had newspapers at home and music and it’s something I wanted to do. And then at the same time, I had the boarding house idea in my head that I’ve always wanted to explore. Because when I went to boarding house, I didn’t have any real friends. So, I had some sick fantasy that it was going to be like Enid Blighton and I was going to have picnics, you know, so I had those two ideas and then it was just natural that I could do both at once and at the same time. I always felt that I wanted that reference, German Calendar, No December. It’s like a phrase that is always in my head and then I was like, I’ll just put it as the title and get it over with.
SO: It was published almost two years ago, first in Germany by a German publisher and then Cassava Republic published it late last year.
TK: This is the point at which we ask when is the next one coming?
SO: Well there are many, many, many manuscripts in my laptop that have never seen the light of day and I’m hoping that with this book, you know, because I would like to do many other things. So, this book for me is just a way of saying, I have so many ideas, here I am, Somebody help