Books·How I Wrote It

Adwoa Badoe draws upon university memories in Ghana for novel about 1981 coup

Aluta follows the story of a university student whose life is altered during a military coup in Ghana in 1981.
Adwoa Badoe is the author of the young adult novel Aluta. (Groundwood Books/Eden Mills Writers' Festival)

Aluta, Adwoa Badoe's new young adult novel, follows the life of a young university student whose life is upended by a military coup in Ghana in 1981. Badoe was attending university in Ghana herself during this time, and draws upon her school memories in the vibrant country to paint her protagonist Charlotte's story.

Badoe, who now lives in Guelph, Ont., tells us about her impetus for writing about this period of tension and instability in Ghana.

Hidden corners of history

"I grew up in Ghana and lived through that season in Ghana's history. I was in university and I know some of the things that happened there. The story of the protagonist is fiction, but is situated in cultural historical context. I have always been concerned that the history of that time has been very oppressed because we had a dictatorship that was managing the news. As a result, this dictatorship was on for so many years and afterwards that the dictator converted himself into a democratic person and stood elections, but it was still, in my opinion, rather authoritarian. To me, they have oppressed history for a period of 20 years.

"My great concern was that all the young people who grew up in that period can only have one perspective, because the news itself was oppressed and pushed down and told in alignment with the dictator and his government. I've been concerned about that and then on Facebook, as I've gotten to know some of the younger artists in Ghana, their opinions and perspectives, I was a little bit shocked and a little bit disappointed. I started thinking somebody has to deal with the history of this time and in a way that young people will want to engage with. I thought I must tell this story and I must lay it out so the young people can see it, ask questions and they will be better informed, as opposed to being fed a certain kind of news for so long."

Kicking out a first draft

"When I think I have a story, I just really go for it as best as I can for as many number of hours I can. I want the story out. The first draft, I let it come out, any which way it wants to come out. I don't edit myself. The writing can go from first person to third person. It can do anything it wants. At a certain point I think, "OK, this is the story." After that I try to craft a story out of it.

"A lot of people talk about outlines. I try, but somehow it doesn't really work for me. I just need to kick the story out. Keep at it until it comes out. Once it comes out, I have a story."

Memories

"University was great for me. I loved being away from home because our parents were really rather strict. I loved the freedom of getting to be an adult, making your own decisions. I did a lot of my growing up in university, in the middle of all of these things happening. For example, [shortly after the coup, universities were shut down for three weeks] and students were sent to gather cocoa from the Hinterland. They had to bag cocoa and stuff like that. I did that.

"I didn't do much student activism. I wasn't involved in that. I was a more passive person in that sense; I didn't engage in politics at the time. In retrospect I wish I had, but in those heady days of growing up, it just seemed a little bit boring. Later on, we found out that other people had taken the momentum because we were not interested.

"To me it's a real honour to have your voice out in a community and to be able to give your perspective on something. I don't take it lightly and I really hope that my writing makes a difference to the way people see the world and engage with other ideas. I particularly like to write for young people because they are the present and the future."

Adwoa Badoe's comments have been edited and condensed.

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