My Fashion S/ash life is very excited to have caught up with Chichi J– a medical doctor (specialising in Neuromuscular medicine and physiatry) to discuss her debut novel, ‘Tales of Fantasy and Reality’, which comes out this May 2012.

Front cover illustration of, 'Tales of Fantasy & Reality'. Courtesy of James Browne.

My Fashion S/ash Life: Tell us a little bit about your background?

Chichi: I was born in California and by the time I was a teenager I had lived on four continents; North America, Western Europe, Asia and Africa.  As a child growing up in Nigeria I was further exposed to various cultures through my interest in literature, music and film.  I am a practicing Physician as I have a passion for the sciences as well.

Author, Chichi J

Pretty in Fuschia Pink

My Fashion S/ash Life: When you were growing up, did you ever write stories?

Chichi: I have been writing stories for as long as I have memory of myself!

My Fashion S/ash Life: What became of those stories, did you ever try publishing them?

Chichi: I fortunately still have a few of the short stories and novels I wrote at about the age of sixteen when I was in Nigeria.  I did try to publish my work around the same time but had no access to publishers or the internet.  Due to the set up of the educational system and cultural issues pertaining to women in the arts, I was unable to pursue my art fully at the time.

My Fashion S/ash Life: Who were your favourite authors growing up and who are your favourite authors now?

Chichi: I was weaned on Enid Blyton! Shakespeare, J.M Barrie, Charles Kingsley, C.S Lewis, Charles Dickens, Onuora Nzekwu, Kola Onadipe, Road Dahl, Oscar Wilde [one of my greatest adolescent discoveries], Sidney Sheldon, Umberto Eco and the writers of “Mad magazine”! Then and now I love almost all the writers of Classic English literature.  My favourite author currently is Dana Gioia.

My Fashion S/ash Life: Tell us a little about ‘Tales of Fantasy and Reality’; what inspired you to write the novel?

Chichi: “Tales of Fantasy and Reality” is filled with poetic stories that are a balanced combination of original fantasy tales and social commentary.  With themes ranging from the eerie to the humorous and topics such as child neglect, these tales are a journey through provocative landscapes-often with quite unexpected endings.  Rhythm and verse create a lyrical narrative that will transport you to other worlds.

My inspiration came first from the realisation that I needed to develop and pursue the artistic part of my being in order to have a chance at a happy and fulfilling life.   Next I was inspired by Jeff Buckley’s “Grace” album and his absolute devotion to his craft; he showed me what it was possible to achieve through understanding one’s gift and using it in the purest and most honest way possible.

My Fashion S/ash Life: Are you collaborating with any illustrators for this novel?

Chichi: Yes, the illustrations in “Tales of Fantasy and Reality” were done by the incredibly talented and amazing James Browne. I first met him at an art fair one afternoon over 10 years ago!  His display reminded me of the art I had seen in my favourite childhood books and I bought a painting from him which still hangs on my wall.  A few months ago when I was trying to find an illustrator I looked up at the painting and thought to myself “what if?” I had no idea where he was or if he was still at his craft.  I did a Google search of his name and the rest as they say is history!

Illustration of a poem in the book titled, 'The River King'. Courtesy of James Browne.

 My Fashion S/ash Life: Your novel is a combination of 2 genre’s-short stories and poetry.  What will surprise people about this novel?

Chichi: The poetic stories in this book could easily be fleshed out into full novels or movie scripts! I have written original fantasy tales which will have people who do not typically read poetry engrossed in the story lines.  I also tackle very daunting social justice issues such as slavery and child abuse in a fresh way that avoids any gratuitous imagery and yet is still poignant, disturbing and memorable.

 My Fashion S/ash Life: Is there a short story or poem in your book that you resonate with in particular or stands out for you the most?  If so, for what reason does it do so?

Chichi: Yes, “The Muse” because it was one of the first poems I wrote when I realised that I had to pursue my writing once again after a long hiatus.  The line which formed the foundation of the poem came to me about four years earlier and I had no idea what it meant at the time.  Every time I read the poem I am reminded of the incredible creative journey I am on.  The poem talks about the need for a balance in an artist’s life so it is especially poignant.

 My Fashion S/ash Life: The short stories and poems in your novel  span from medieval times through the present day, and the poetic stories include hard hitting topics like child trafficking, the dangers of children living unsupervised lives and the evils of slavery.  How difficult was it for you to research such sensitive and complex subject matters?

Chichi: Unfortunately it was not hard at all.  Daily I am bombarded with horrible stories in the news detailing acts of inhumanity, and the exploitation of the vulnerable.  I am a keen observer of my surroundings and have always been aware of the negative consequences of greed, ignorance and misplaced value systems.

My Fashion S/ash Life: How long did it take you to write the novel , from the conception of the idea to sending it to be printed?

Chichi: About one year.

My Fashion S/ash Life: ‘Tales of Fantasy and Reality’ is your debut novel, giving that this is your first novel; I imagine that you had a lot to learn about the business and legal ramifications of writing a novel.  Could you tell us of any mistakes you made that you have learnt from in these areas, so others can learn from your learning curve?

Chichi: I am still very new to the world of self publishing but I would say the decision to self publish rather than wait endlessly for a traditional publishing house to get my work out to my readers is a decision I would recommend to other new authors.

My Fashion S/ash Life: Did you have a ‘writing process or routine’ when you wrote this novel?  For example, did you tend to write on a particular day or time.

Chichi: There was no fixed routine, but I found that words came easier when I was in motion e.g in a train or car.

My Fashion S/ash Life: Personally when I am working on a project, I use music as a way to come up with creative ideas or to relax me.  For e.g. my last styling project had a 70’s Glamour theme and I found myself listening and watching a lot of Diana Ross live videos from the 70’s.  What type of music did you listen to when writing this novel?

Chichi: Jeff Buckley, The Smiths, Leonard Cohen, Gary Lucas, Jann Klose, Pete Pidgeon, Danielle De Luca, Sting with Edin Karamazov, My 80’s favourites, Classical music, World music and my own compositions.

My Fashion S/ash Life: In writing this novel, what have been your highlights?

Chichi: The moment in November 2008 when I came to the realization that I had to write no matter what.  March 14th 2009, the day I first heard Jeff Buckley’s “Grace” and became inspired.  Performing my poems at various open mics and concerts on the East coast.  Meeting and working with phenomenal people who I otherwise would have no access to. Finally holding the first copy of my book and seeing all my tears, joys and dreams etched out on a white sheet, words destined to take flight into the clear endless sky.

To hear some of the stories and poems featured in ‘Tales from Fantasy and Reality’ please click on- www.facebook.com/LyricalGroove