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  • Lynne Shelby

A Sense of Place #9 - Jeff Gardiner - Nigeria

Today, I'm joined by fellow Accent Press author, Jeff Gardiner, to talk about two of his novels, Igboland and Pica.

Me: Hi Jeff, and welcome to ‘Shelby Writes.’ What would be the ‘elevator pitch’ for Igboland?

Jeff: Hi Lynne, Igboland is a romantic novel about a young English lady struggling as a missionary’s wife in a Nigerian bush village during the 1960s Biafran War. Her passionate feelings for Igbo doctor, Kwemto, test her marriage and faith to breaking point.

Me: How important is the location of Nigeria to the story, and to you as a writer?

Jeff: I was born in Jos, Nigeria, and Igboland is a fond and sympathetic look at the country that I consider my spiritual home. I left as a child and have never had a chance to return, but the place holds a very special meaning for me.

While Igboland (pronounced Eebo-land) is a work of fiction, it is inspired by the diary, photos and stories of my parents who lived out in Nigeria for six years. Dad was out there as a Methodist Minister, and Mum kept a journal, which was incredibly useful for contextual detail such as prices, food and weather. Whilst Lydia and Clem in the novel are definitely NOT my parents, some of the events in Igboland are related to anecdotes my parents told me. Mum did start a small dispensary to help locals with minor medical issues, and Dad was stopped by soldiers suspected of being a mercenary. They often went to places where people had never seen a white person before. They may as well have been a million miles away from their lives and families back in England.

My parents had to cope with a very different lifestyle in West Africa. Each day threw up new challenges: fevers; tribal conflicts; transport and communication problems; the difficulty of procuring clean water and edible food; plus the worrying onset of civil war. Lydia faces those same difficulties.

My brother and I used to love looking at the slides of Nigeria and my parents would tell us the stories again and again. My parents still support the Omafu family who built and still run a mother and baby clinic in their local community in Nigeria.

In the late 1960s, the Biafran War broke out – a brutal civil war that claimed three million lives. The hunger and genocide became world news. For the next few years Igbo villages and farms were bombed on a daily basis. The pogroms, massacres, and starvation continued until 1970. Meanwhile, millions of Igbos were displaced, losing their homes and forced to travel south as refugees. They had been attempting to create their own independent Biafran state, but the government had other ideas.

Martin Luther King, Jean-Paul Satre and even John Lennon spoke out against the atrocities. John Lennon sent back his MBE in anger at the government’s support of the Nigerian federal government.

Nigeria is a much misunderstood place today. It’s a messy place, politically, and yet it is also an inspiring place of beauty with a rich cultural heritage. Chinua Achebe – himself an Igbo – is recognised as the father of African literature. His wonderful novel Things Fall Apart is a terrific book that even inspired Nelson Mandela. Many world famous actors and singers are Nigerian; for example, Chiwetel Ejiofor (star of 12 Years A Slave).

Igbo philosophy and cultural beliefs are known as ‘Odinani’, which literally means ‘It is anchored on the Earth goddess’. Igbos care for the natural world and environment. Each individual possesses a ‘chi’, or spiritual guardian who remains with you for your entire life. A person’s success or failure is determined by their chi.

In Igboland Lydia is a young, naive English lady who becomes curious about Igbo beliefs, and the more she learns about Odinani, the more she questions her own beliefs and upbringing. Is it possible for an English, Christian girl to really understand and think like an Igbo?

As Lydia becomes close to Kwemto, and Grace – a victim of the civil war – she also learns a great deal about herself and who she can truly become. In our world of differing cultures and faiths, it is vital that we listen to each other with a willingness to change, whilst becoming increasingly tolerant and accepting of ‘others’.

Me: Thank you, Jeff, for giving us an extremely interesting insight into a fascinating location for a novel. Are you working on your next book? And can you tell us anything about it?

Jeff: My latest novel, Pica has just been published by Accent Press, and is the first in the Gaia trilogy. It is a YA fantasy that explores environmental issues. Luke reluctantly makes friends with a new boy at his school called Guy. However, Guy has the amazing power to attract animals to him, and he begins to show Luke some of the incredible things in our natural world. When Luke begins to learn how to manipulate the ancient magical powers of nature, his life will never be the same again.

Bestselling author Michael Moorcock has read it and he described it as, “An engrossing and original story, beautifully told.”

I’m working on book 2 – Falco – which takes the issue to a more global scale.

Me: It sounds wonderful – and very topical. I’ll look forward to reading it. Thank you, Jeff, for visiting my blog.

Jeff: Thank you, Lynne, for inviting me.

Jeff Gardiner is the author of four novels (Pica, Igboland, Myopia and Treading On Dreams), a collection of short stories, and a work of non-fiction. Many of his short stories have appeared in anthologies, magazines and websites.

Pica is the first in the Gaia trilogy – a fantasy of transformation and ancient magic, which Michael Moorcock described as “An engrossing and original story, beautifully told. Wonderful!”

“Reading is a form of escapism, and in Gardiner’s fiction, we escape to places we’d never imagine journeying to.” (A.J. Kirby, ‘The New Short Review’)

For more information, please see Jeff's website at

To purchase Jeff's books please follow the links below (or copy and paste into your browser):

Buy Igboland on Amazon (UK)

Buy Igboland on Amazon (US)

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