Interviewed by Rachel Wild

Read Ola W. Halim’s fiction piece, Running

Rachel: This is a lovely story about a young man who is gay and the ramifications this has for him. What was the starting point for the story?

Ola: Thank you so much. The starting point was the title. I think it was in 2019, when I was obsessed with single-word titles, especially ambiguous ones which, in the eventual turn of things, are able to heft all the messages in the stories. In particular, I loved “Running” as a title, and I wanted to write a story that could examine and even interpret it in all sense of the word. I actively thought about it for days but nothing came, save for the actual sport, and I’m not a sports person and so I wasn’t intrigued by it. By the time I let the desperation settle, Lucky came into my mind. At first he was someone else, an unnamed entity who was running from unnamed problems. In the following days, he unravelled. He was a recluse. He talked very sparingly. He was a compulsive runner. He was always running even though nothing posed any immediate danger to him. And all these boiled down to a single point: his sexuality.

From there, the story took off. Very, very rough drafts they were—the first, second, third. I remember once entering an earlier version for a contest and not getting surprised when I didn’t get any mail afterwards. It took a year for this final version to form, for its style to reveal itself, for its language to solidify (although it had come with some poetic essence right from the first time).

The style of writing is experimental. What made you decide to write Luckys story in this way?

I love experimental writing. Whenever I write, my subconscious wonders how “we” can make this piece of work stand out as there’s no story under the sun that has not, in one version or the other, been told before. So, after producing first drafts (some stories come with their style though), I let them settle, then begin to try methods. It’s really a slow, hectic process, but if I’m able to find what works, it really makes me feel good.

For “Running”, after three drafts and one weak edit, I realised the traditional punctuation was somewhat hindering the story from achieving its full poetic freedom. So, in essence, the language of the story made me rewrite it that way: ditch the capitalisation, dump the quotations, trim the trimmable sentences really hard. As for the language itself, I’d say it came naturally, because, even from the first stage, it was a story I felt more than I wrote. I resonate with Lucky in so many ways it was easy to let things flow.

Lucky is a runner, which seems to be a metaphor for how he deals with his sexuality. Would you agree with that?

I agree, hundred percent. In fact, that was what I was thinking about when I was writing it: running as a metaphor, running in a literal sense also, running as an activity that semantically bleeds into other forms of running. Even the fact that he mostly runs at night, when he’s not even seen, from where nothing seems to be chasing him—all metaphors that I thought could in their little ways outstretch the dynamics of the title.

I wanted it to reflect the situation here in Nigeria. If you’re queer, you must be a good runner or you’d be killed, maimed, rejected by family, rendered homeless, arrested. Lucky, like many of us here, runs in other different, not-so-obvious ways too: by lying to his mother, by fantasising realities with club girls, by playing silent almost all the time, by agreeing, despite how emotionally limiting it is, to meet Luqmon only at night, behind the shadows of clubbers.

What are you working on now?

I’m always working on multiple shorts at a time, but most importantly, I’m writing a novel. For now, I’d describe it as the reincarnation of homosexuality across two generations.

Thank you so much for the interview Ola, and congratulations on getting published by The Forge.