Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Author Nina Darnton On How Her Book Came About

If you’re a frequent visitor here at Thoughts, you know I enjoy finding ‘new-to-me’ authors and then introducing them to you (just in case you haven‘t meet them either). Today I have such an author and she is a former reporter making her extra special in my book.

108282946A seasoned reporter before turning fiction writer, Nina Darnton has a gift for navigating the intricacies of life in foreign lands. AN AFRICAN AFFAIR, Nina’s debut novel, is set in Nigeria in the mid-1990’s flux of worldwide insurrections and war and presents an ambiance that’s as lushly exotic as it is fatally unstable.

Here’s a brief synopsis of AN AFRICAN AFFAIR, now available in paperback:
New York journalist Lindsay Cameron has been in Nigeria for only four months, and has already landed the most coveted of interviews . . . a rare exclusive with President-cum-Military Dictator, Michael Olumide. His promise to hold free elections is cast in doubt when two high-profile figures on opposite sides of the political spectrum are murdered in suspiciously quick succession.
As Lindsay races her competition to get to the bottom of both threads, her entanglements with a dealer in rare African art lead her into terrain that’s unfamiliar in every respect—from matters of the heart to matters of politics and trade that have enshrouded an entire nation in greed and corruption of deadly proportions. 

The more deeply Lindsay penetrates the intricate network of Nigerian government officials, Western diplomats and foreign correspondents, the more blurred are the lines between friend and foe. There’s art, passion, kidnapping, and murder. And, of course, there’s the CIA.

Nina joins us today to tell just how her book came about.

I got the idea for this book from P.D. James. 

I didn’t know her. I wasn’t related to her. And I didn’t get it from reading her books, though I am a lifelong admirer of her prose and have read all of them. So how was it that I was inspired to write my novel by an author I revered?

I was living in London with my husband who was the bureau chief for the New York Times. I was writing free-lance articles for the Times and other publications. We were invited to a dinner party and one of the guests was none other than P.D. James. 

Author Nina Darnton          Photo by John Darnton
In the pre-dinner cocktail hour, we drifted toward each other (well, I drifted toward her anyway) and started to chat. She was charming and gracious and, unlike many famous people, was actually interested in the people she met. So in response to her questions, I told her a bit about Lagos, Nigeria, where I had lived for almost two years. She seemed very interested in the world I described and the adventures I had there. Finally she said, “My dear, you must write about this.”

Now I had thought about that myself and had even started to play with a plot that might take place there. I knew that one way or the other I had to record the vivid, overwhelming impressions I had formed living in Lagos. I knew too that the city and the country would be as important to me as the characters, would become characters themselves in a way. And I felt that the only way to work in the heat, the frustrations, the colors, the poverty and the corruption would be through a story of intrigue and deception.
I was a reporter, as was my husband, and I suppose it seemed natural that my heroine would be a reporter. That was a world I knew. I told her I didn’t want to write a memoir but I had been thinking of finding a way to write about what I’d experienced. “No, she said. You should write it as a novel.”
I confessed that I’d been working on that idea. She asked me what plot I’d thought of and I told her. At that point, I had thought that my villain would be a member of the KGB. (This was in 1997). She pointed out that Glasnost and the changes in the then still Soviet Union made that questionable. “Why not make him an art dealer?” She suggested. “A mercenary.” I thought that was a wonderful idea. We then discussed the plot for a bit before our hostess called us in to dinner. Her parting words were “You have a best-selling idea there. It should take you two years to write it. Good luck.”

Well, it took me much longer—more than 10 years—to write it, but I thought about it for a long time before putting it aside for other obligations. When I picked it up again just 3 years ago, I remembered our conversation and it inspired me to finally write the book. As for her prediction that it would be a bestseller…well…even P.D. James doesn’t know everything.

Nina, thanks for guest blogging. I love have your story came together and the inspiration you received from P.D. James. You never know, she could be right about the bestseller.

Here’s a bit more about Nina. She lived in Africa for five years, two of them in Lagos where AN AFRICAN AFFAIR is set, and many of her heroine’s experiences in the novel are based on real-life events. She knew and became friends with the Afro Beat musician Fela Anikulapo Kuti, the subject of the recent Broadway hit musical, and based one of her characters on him. Nina has worked for The New York Times, Newsweek, and the New York Post and has appeared on McNeil Lehrer, the McLoughlin Report and NPR. Her freelance work has run in Elle, More, Mirabella, and Travel and Leisure, to name a few.

For more on Nina and her writing, find on Facebook.

Do you enjoy stories that are based in real-life events? Have you ever been to Africa or wanted to go? Thanks so much for stopping by today.


  1. Nina, thanks again for guest blogging. We never know who will inspire us do we? Wishing you continued success with your writing.

  2. Mason - Thanks for hosting Nina.

    Nina - What a fascinating story about P.D. James! And your novel sounds really intriguing. I wish you much success.

  3. Hi, Nina, I love hearing how writers go about their business. It inspires me. Your book sounds wonderful.

    Thanks, Mason,


  4. A very interesting post. I always enjoy hearing how stories come into being. Best of luck with An African Affair, Nina.

  5. Hi Mason .. great interview with Nina .. and what an inspiring author - how great she has had that opportunity to live in Africa, but also to meet P D James - I hope, Nina, you've sent PD James a copy of your book? and did you get any reaction ..

    The book sounds fascinating .. cheers Hilary

  6. I am so jealous. I would love to have a conversation like this with a writer I admired as much as PD James. Thanks for sharing your story.

  7. I love how her chance encounter inspired her to write a novel. This one sounds fascinating.


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