18 November, 2011

YA Author Interview + Free Book Giveaway: Elizabeth-Irene Baitie

Last year, Fiction Writers of West Africa (FWoWA) posted an announcement of the 2010 Burt Award for African Literature, so I'm especially excited to welcome the winner of that competition, Elizabeth-Irene Baitie, to the blog today. 
Elizabeth at the launch of
The Twelfth Heart
Elizabeth writes books for young adult (YA) readers. Her titles include: A Saint in Brown Sandals (winner of the 2006 Macmillan Writer’s Prize for Africa)(Macmillan Education, 2010), and The Twelfth Heart (winner of the 2010 Burt Award for African Literature, Ghana) (Kwadwoan Publishing, 2006); In 2002, her novel, Lea’s Christmas, was short-listed for the Macmillan Writers Prize for Africa (Senior readers). The most surprising thing about Elizabeth isn't how successful she’s been in writing competitions, but that she juggles writing with a full-time job as a Clinical Biochemist, running a medical laboratory practice in Adabraka, Accra, Ghana, and a full-time job as a wife and mother! She lives in Accra with her husband and three children.

Elizabeth has graciously agreed to give away, not one, but TWO autographed copies of her YA novel, The Twelfth Heart. All you have to do is leave a comment or question on this blog post between now and mid-night on 27th November, 2011! Two lucky winners will be selected by Elizabeth and announced both on this blog and FWoWA's Facebook page on 30th November, 2011. Winners will have to send their contact details to fictionwritersofwestafrica@... to arrange for picking up/dropping off/postage of the book.

Hi Elizabeth, thank you for taking this interview with FWoWA.
Always a pleasure!

To kick off things, tells us how come you write fiction. As a clinical biochemist, we’d expect textbooks or magazine/newspaper articles, certainly not literary fiction. So tell us, why fiction? And why Young Adult fiction?
I thoroughly enjoy my day job, but my first love has always been fiction writing. I couldn’t have been older than seven years when I began dreaming of writing the kind of stories that I enjoyed reading. My interest is not just in young adult fiction, but in stories for middle-grade readers as well (the nine to twelve year olds). The period spanning nine to eighteen years old is a time of great discovery (both of oneself and others) and evolution. There’s a great number of exciting issues to deal with in characters of that age range.  

You work full-time and you have a family. How in the world do you find time to write?
An elderly aunt told me a few years ago: “My dear – you cannot do everything singlehandedly. At the end of the month, sacrifice a part of your salary, and pay someone to share your chores. That way, you’ll buy yourself time to do what you love.” I took her advice and hired two house-girls instead of one. I also hired a driver, which, considering that I have a total minimum commute of three hours daily, means a great deal of time saved. At the end of the day that doesn’t leave me with much extra by way of cash, but it means when I get home with my family at the close of day, I don’t need to stand behind a stove. Or do my washing or ironing. I cook only on weekends. Daily, I do about 90 minutes writing in traffic. I do another hour after supper – I sit and write at table with my kids while they’re doing their homework. Over the weekends I’m not as regimented, and may put in more or (usually!) less writing.

That’s pretty impressive (note to self: learn from Elizabeth). What are some of the greatest challenges West African writers have in breaking into the fiction market? And how did you break out of that mould?
Empi, this is a hard one; I don’t think I’ve got the facts to adequately address this question. Can I pass please J

Well...I'll let you off the hook this time, because I have a more important question. I just finished reading your latest novel, The Twelfth Heart, and thoroughly enjoyed it. While reading, it took me back to Secondary School days when I read Enid Blyton’s Mallory Towers and St Clare’s series.  What triggered the plot for this novel?
I went to Achimota School, and enjoyed the best seven years of my life there. It was the most exciting place to be as a teenager. There was always some drama going on. Being in that kind of environment is extremely stimulating to a budding writer. Years after I left school, the memories remained. Though everything in The Twelfth Heart was pure fiction, it was easy to write the story, because I could remember what it was like to be fifteen again. However I wanted my teenage readers to have a sense of how fleeting and precious life is. When you’re young, you tend to think you’re immortal. You take things for granted. But the rules are the same for young and old – we live, we love, we die.

"We live, we love, we die." I like that--actually, no. It's morbid, depending on how you look at it, but it's true. J 

To be honest, in the beginning of the story, your main character doesn’t appear to be nice at all. She’s mean and pretentious, yet you still manage to make her likeable. How did you mould her into being?
I think despite her glaring character flaws, the reader can identify with her. We’ve all been mean to other people(to varying degrees of course). Most of us have been untruthful before.  We’ve secretly envied other people (or thought we were better than others) – particularly when we were younger. But like most of us, Mercy also has a conscience, and she suffers fear, doubt, guilt and remorse; when those begin to crowd in on her, it’s not hard to feel sympathy towards her.

Now the big one. Mercy and her friends have just entered Year one of secondary school. Can we expect a sequel?
Yes, there’s certainly going to be a sequel to The Twelfth Heart. There’ll be a total of three books, in fact. The second year in St Felice has a lot in store for the students!

Tell us about the Burt Award. How did you hear about it? Did you already have a story that fit the criteria or did you develop the idea after you heard about the competition?
I was SO excited to see the call for submissions for the Burt Award in the Daily Graphic in October 2009. You see, I had actually begun a story about a group of girls in boarding school. It was great to have a clear target to work towards and to hope that maybe, just maybe I could write it well enough to snag the prize.

How did it feel when you were informed that your book had won?
Exhilarating. I’d had a series of setbacks and challenges while I was writing it: in January 2010, my computer crashed after I’d written my first draft (after 2 months of writing) and believe it or not, I didn’t have a back-up - my computer had never crashed before! I began to re-write – and then my husband fell gravely ill in February. That set me back another 6 weeks. I picked up again in mid-April, but by the end of April I didn’t think I would make the deadline. I was overworked, disillusioned and tired. My wonderful father began to encourage me – he would NOT let go. "You can do it," he kept saying. So I stepped up the pace and submitted it an hour before the 4pm deadline on  31st May2010. I’m glad I didn’t give up. It was worth pushing myself for!

You’re a multi-award-winning author, and before you laugh it off with a casual wave of your hand, remember I’ve already tooted your horn in the intro. Does winning get old?
Are you kidding?!

LOL. I just had to ask. What is your secret? Or better still, what does it take to write a story that stands a chance of winning a writing competition?
Desire. Determination. Discipline.
Desire – really wanting to write a book that people will enjoy reading.
The determination to stick with it even when I begin to develop doubts as to whether the story is worth writing – or reading.
The  discipline to put in the hours - even when I’m tired, or have had a hectic day. I get cross with myself when I miss my scheduled writing time. I do skive off more than I should, but I always make an effort to get back on track. Of course it goes without saying that to write well you must have a love of books and reading.
I have a stack of books that provide very (and I mean VERY) helpful tips on writing. They’ve been invaluable. I’ve never been able to go on a writing course or join a writers’ circle, so these books are my tutors. They help me hone my craft.

Let’s talk about the writing process. How do you write? Are you a plotter (plan before you writer) or a pantser (decide the plot as you go along)?
A bit of both. More of a plotter, but not strictly so. I have an idea of where I want my story to go, and I usually plan an outline, but I don’t stick to it rigidly; I allow my characters to reveal themselves and have some input as to what happens in the story. It’s very important for me to have a clear picture and good knowledge of my main character(s) before the story starts (i.e. looks, age, family background, character traits, likes, dislikes etc).Once I know my characters well, the rest is easy, and the story never flounders.

Many Ghanaian writers go the self-publishing route, and so very few have experienced the editing process of publishing, contracts, etc. In your case, you didn’t have to pay for the publication of either of your two published books. What was the process like?
Pretty easy. In both cases a publisher was ready to pick up the winning titles. The publishers do have their own editors, but one must always look through your edited manuscript very carefully before it goes to print. In both cases, the contract was bog-standard. Royalties were 10% of profits.

What would you like to say to aspiring writers who are reading this interview and wondering if the whole writing business is worth it, or worry they aren’t good enough, or fear that their voices and visions don’t matter enough to share?
There’s a terrifying amount of uncertainty in the world of writing. I certainly go through phases when I wonder if all the hard work is worth it. But if you were born to write, you will be even more unhappy when you’re not writing. I say write through your fears and your insecurities and your hang-ups. Write about them. The things that make your heart quail and the things that make you angry. The things that make you cry. Write down your heart.

Keep polishing your writing; do your best to make your work excellent. Keep pushing. Look out for opportunities and platforms to get your name and your work out there. You will get noticed.

Which of your books tested your skills as a writer the most and why? 
I just finished a full-length novel for young adults, and that’s been the most challenging so far. It’s got a pretty complex story line as the main character inhabits both earth and a plane of existence above earth. Making it entertaining and believable has been a challenge, but I think I pulled it off.

You're giving away two copies of The Twelfth Heart. What would you like readers to take away from it?
People are special, and life is fragile. Live with care.

Are you an avid reader? What genres do you enjoy reading and what are you reading right now?
I am quite a reader, though I don’t have the opportunity to read anywhere as much as I would like to, what with the pressures of work, family and writing. It takes me longer to finish a book now. My tastes are eclectic, and I will read both adult and children’s fiction. I love a good thriller or stories with exploratory themes. Right now I’m reading ‘Speak’ by Laurie Halse Anderson.

Who is your favourite author, and what is it that really strikes you about his/her work?
I can’t tell you who my favourite author is – I’ve enjoyed so many. But I read Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women as a twelve-year-old, and it is a story that has stayed in my heart ever since. It was humorous, witty, touching, and oh so tragic. I laughed and wept and never forgot those special girls, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy.

What’s next? Are you working on anything at the moment?
I just finished a full-length novel for young adults – fantasy fiction. I’m doing some tweaking after the final edit and hope to find a literary agent for it.

Ah, the search for a literary agent - that's a whole other ballgame. We won't talk about it here. But I will say this: fantasy fiction is very 'in' nowadays, so it seems your new novel has been written at just the right time. I'm certainly interested in reading a fantasy fiction from an African writer (hint, hint) ;-)

Elizabeth, once again, thanks so much for the interview. Good luck with the promotion of The Twelfth Heart and on your next projects. 

As previously announced, Elizabeth is giving away two autographed copies of The Twelfth Heart. Just say hello, leave a comment or question for Elizabeth and check back after the 27th to see if you won yourself a free book. Easy as that!
And later on, you can always find Elizabeth on Facebook.


(Book cover pic credit: Mary Martha Booksellers)


  1. A great interview. Congratulations to Elizabeth on your new book release. Wishing you loads of success.

  2. Interesting conversation. Boarding school, largely, engendered a discovery of self, and I believe this book would resonate with lots of people in Ghana, especially.Would love to read.

  3. Congratulations Elizabeth on this one! i remember reading 'A Saint in Brown Sandals' sometime ago! very interesting indeed. will be a pleasure to meet you Irene.

  4. Wow, this is fascinating Elizabeth. I am not a so much into reading stories but I like the way you managed to go into writing as another profession. I admire the way you have combined activities and situations to make things work out well for you. keep up the good work and God will flood you with His blessings. Congratulations.

  5. Elizabeth, I would love to review your book or others from Africa if listed on amazon, if you will visit my blog and post your title there at http://fiction-authors.blogspot.com. There is a requirement though that you too have to review one of the listed titles in that blog.

  6. Hi all, thanks for the comments and the good wishes. I appreciate your interest.
    Thanks Kiru, the new book won't be out for a while though.Kofi, you're spot-on about discovering self in boarding school, and what a journey of discovery it is! Amankwah, I do believe I have a fan in you :-)Sarah your prayer means a lot to me. God bless you too . I hear you Ashok; will visit your blog. And my book's on Amazon too. Cheers all! Will release names of the two winners of free copies after tonight.

  7. Now this was a hard one and choosing is never easy, but the two autographed books go to Kofi Assante and Sarah.
    Sarah, I'm hoping that the Twelfth Heart will get you into reading :-) and Kofi - well now here's your chance to read!
    Thanks everyone and much appreciation for taking time to write a comment!

  8. CONGRATULATIONS to Kofi and Sarah! I hope you enjoy the book and will let Elizabeth-Irene know what you think of it after you've read it too.

    Now here's what you need to do: Send your email address via the "Contact FWOWA" form (tab on top of page) to arrange for delivery of your prize.

    Enjoy your week.

  9. OMG, I just cannot believe my eyes. Thanks a lot for this opportunity. I hope that too Elizabeth. I have even started liking it already. I really appreciate this.