ANIETIE ISONG has worked as a journalist, speechwriter and public relations manager in the UK, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia. Anietie studied communication at the University of Ibadan and the University of Leicester, and holds a PhD in New Media and Writing from the School of Computer Science and Informatics, De Montfort University, Leicester. His first novel, Radio Sunrise, won the 2018 McKitterick Prize. Anietie Isong reflects on winning this prestigious prize – the first Nigerian to do so since the award was established by the UK’s Society of Authors in 1990 – and the bumpy ride on his journey to publication.
Looking back a year on, what impact do you think winning the McKitterick Prize has had on your work/career?
I believe that winning the McKitterick Prize has, in a way, bestowed external validation on my work, and attracted new readers to my novel. Being a small press, my publisher could only do so much to promote my book in the UK. The Society of Authors’ Awards ceremony helped draw much attention to Radio Sunrise, including significant media coverage.
As a debut author, winning any kind of prize must be overwhelming. What was the experience like for you, and how important do you think literary prizes and awards are for authors?
As a debut novelist, and in particular a late bloomer, being awarded a prestigious literary prize is extremely exciting. My writing style is a little different, and the setting perhaps a bit unfamiliar to many readers in the UK, so I was genuinely surprised to be shortlisted in the first place. I had no idea I was going to win until my name was announced during the awards ceremony. It was a most exhilarating experience, and I am deeply grateful to the Society of Authors and the judges for the honour. My previous awards in short story and poetry inspired me to consider writing a longer piece – even though my novel has been described as a slim volume! I think literary prizes are important for many reasons, including rewarding excellence, and promoting lesser-known authors.
Tell us about your journey to publication. Was it a relatively smooth process, or did you face any particular challenges as a new author?
My journey to publication wasn’t entirely a smooth process. I started writing Radio Sunrise around 2009, after I was offered a book deal by an independent press that had previously published my short story. Unfortunately, things didn’t quite go as planned, so I abandoned the novel for years to focus on my career in public relations. I revisited the manuscript in 2016, and Jacaranda Books offered to publish it immediately.
What or who are you most excited about in fiction at the moment?
I am excited about the diversity of voices and stories. It is great to see new novels addressing fascinating themes – from different parts of the world – with great plots and memorable characters, and written by established as well as emerging authors. I recently finished reading An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones – and was blown away by the plot.
Writing is a solitary profession – how do you try to look after your own mental health as an author?
As an author, looking after my mental health is critical to achieving a rewarding career. In recent times, I have started exercising more – running, walking, and occasionally working out at the gym. These physical activities have helped me feel more relaxed and positive about myself and my life. I also make it a point to not become too tied to technology and actually speak face-to-face to people every day. That said, thanks to new technologies, I am also able to easily interact with my friends and families who live in different parts of the world. I get involved in church activities too; reading the Bible and listening to inspirational sermons give me a great sense of well-being.
*This interview was first published by the Society of Authors.