Reading the Ceiling

“How do you think your life would have been different if you had stayed in The Gambia?” This chance remark made by a friend and my interest in mathematics led me to thinking about how to conceive a novel around alternative lives.

I drew up a tree, which I vaguely based on Boolean logic, of a choice that could only have two outcomes. Then I devised a series of choices and picked out episodes in a life of a created character, Ayodele, which would meander to each choice and, sometimes be linked to another chapter further on. I also used an all-knowing voice, representing some higher-order intelligence, that would be able to see through the entire tree of her life, and intoned about the vagaries of fate at various points.

In a rush of energy I wrote the first draft in four months, each chapter being a day in the life of Ayodele, at the end of which she had to make a choice which would lead to one or the other branch of the Boolean tree. However, the structure only worked to a point. It was unwieldly and rather difficult to understand. A year later, I had abandoned it, not knowing how to improve it. I reworked the first chapter into a short story, which was accepted for publication.

Armed with new ideas and strongly supported by new found literary friends, I completely reworked the novel, and made the structure subject to the story. I simplified it to having a single choice at the beginning of the novel, and restricted myself to working with three lives, which had to tell individual yet complementary stories of the protagonist. I strung together various existing chapters into coherent lives but found huge gaps in each. As I shifted the focus to story telling, only a third of the original draft stayed … and the elaborate mathematical structure receded in the background.

Hopefully, some of the mathematical ambition is still retained in the final story, for readers to stumble into.

I started the novel in 2001 and finished it in 2005.

If you’d like to read it, here is the Amazon link »