Sitting in the kitchen of Ifeoma Onyefulu's flat, near St John's church, you are instantly aware of two major strands of her life, photography and story telling. There are fantastic examples of her African images on the walls and listening to the story of her life makes you feel you are the audience of one at a special performance:
I was born in Biafra at the time of the conflict with Nigeria. I was very young, barely more than a baby, but I can remember having to flee suddenly in the middle of the night. There was a great confusion and the sound of people hunting for special belongings. I wasn't frightened but I realised that the adults were. We were lucky to get away and to survive that time; many people didn't.
Both my parents had been educated in Britain so they were very happy when I decided to come here to study. Not that I fulfilled their ideas of a formal education... I started studying business administration but it really wasn't for me. A friend gave me a camera and I realised almost at once at this is what I wanted to do.
I started studying photography part-time; a lucky chance made my tutor take notice of my work. I was photographing In the street when I happened to see Princess Diana draw up in a car. I rushed over but of course there was a huge crowd of people blocking the view. Instinctively, I made a noise which made the crowd turn round. Taking my chance, I slipped to the front and was able to get a fantastic close up. When I showed this work to my tutor, and he praised it, I realised that this was the life of me.
A good image often comes almost by accident - look at the girl on the wall [you can see her in the image of Ifeoma above] That beautiful girl was someone I saw when I was on a minibus journey in Northern Nigeria. We pulled into a petrol station and the driver decided to have a cigarette, which he held in one hand while holding the petrol nozzle in the other. I decided it would be a good idea to get as far away as possible - as I scrambled out of the vehicle, the girl came around the corner and allowed to take a photograph.
My books came about as a result of becoming a mother. I wanted to tell my first son about the place where I grew up. When I looked for children's books, I found that that they all portrayed Africa as a place where lions and tigers lived with nothing about the traditional culture or stories or the lives of the people at all. So I wrote my own. Using my photographs as illustrations I started writing stories about Africa; there are now over 20 of them. I am about to re-release the very first book - A is for Africa - because time moves on and the images have become outdated. After all, the little boy it was written for is now a fully grown adult! I was often asked to read from my books but this very quickly turned into storytelling sessions - telling the traditional tales I heard as a child.
Storytelling is something that runs deep in my family; one of my uncles was a novelist but it was my grandfather who was the really traditional storyteller and most of my tales come from him. He ran a shop but he would become so absorbed in the stories that he told customers that he would forget to look out for shoplifters. My grandmother was constantly furious with him but I now tell his stories as far away as the United States.
I came to Archway because it gave space to bring up my two sons. In the last 20 years or so it's changed a great deal, mostly wonderful things for a writer. I love the fact that there are now plenty of places to go and have coffee, the pool is a great place to relax and our fantastic local library is a great resource.
Ifeoma's website shows her photos and gives details of her books and storytelling sessions http://www.ifeomaonyefulu.co.uk