Celebrating East African Writing!
Tiffany Murray, Igoni Barrett, Martin Njaga, Emmanuel Kariuki and Barassa sat at the British Council Marquee and talked about their writing and what inspires them.
Tiffany grew up in a musical family and most of her childhood was spent in the studio. This was the root of her inspiration to write her book which is based in a studio. She grew up reading authors like Jane Austen and Emily Bronte. Her advice to any writer is “Be an excited reader.” Tiffany read an excerpt from her book and her talent and skill were quite transparent. Makes one wonder how much more power the rest of her book holds. Now, that you’ve wondered enough, go ahead and get one of her books and be an excited reader.
Igoni Barrett also goes back to his childhood sometimes. When he was 14 years old he decided that he was going to be a writer and went ahead to write a play. He took his literary task so seriously that he didn’t take a bath for three days. The play had a Shakespearean vibe to it. Very impressive considering he was only fourteen. How many fourteen year olds understand Shakespeare well enough to even have traces of him in a little phrase? Anyway the play was abandoned and so was the effort to become a writer. Instead a learning process began that involved a lot of reading. Igoni read books, yes, and the dictionary too! Self help books were not left out either. It is only logical to believe and/or assume that the learning process contributed immensely to the content in his book From Caves of Rotten Teeth. His stories involve humor and tragedy. That is a mean fit to manage because as he rightly put it, it is hard to write tragedy in a way that affirms positive life. Humor is positive and tragedy as we all know is, well, just tragedy. It sucks. But laughing in times of grief makes it somewhat bearable. This form of writing, Igoni advises, most times needs the writer to step away from the material. When he said that the image that came to my head was that of a big mean faced policewoman wearing ankle length pants and red socks with a loud speaker screaming, “Step away from the crime scene!.” Igoni read a short story: Letters.” Impressively potent”, that’s what I’d write if I were to do a review.
Martin Njaga, the author of Brethren of Ngondu read Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and Secret Seven when he was a child. He even admitted having a crash on Nancy back then. I had one on Frank Hardy, so I guess I understand the feeling that goes into ‘adoring’ a fictional character. Thanks to the reading, he was very good at composition writing in school. Njaga tells a story of how when he decided to be a serious writer (truth be told some of us are not serious) he went to Sarit Centre’s notice board and was lucky enough to find an ad for an electronic type writer. He bought it at Kshs. 4000 and the rest as they say, is a book titled Brethren of Ngondu. The book revolves around abortion and the demons that it carries along with it. He also read an excerpt that was skillfully vivid and descriptive; I saw the woman and the drunken man that he read about very clearly.
Emmanuel Kariuki also read Hardy Boys. He prefers to write in first person. Writing in first person brings the reader closer to the character in the story and sometimes even closer to the writer. His main theme is crime. However in writing about crime, one has to do a lot of research and reading. According to Emmanuel it would be disastrous to write a story on crime and have lawyers and policemen pounding at your door because you got the facts wrong. I am a lawyer and as much as we are a bit twisted and tangled, we don’t appreciate anyone who misinterprets our sly web. Just call a spade a spade and a big spoon a big spoon. Emmanuel also makes an effort to get close to young adults and understand everything about them including the language that they speak. A hardworking writer he is. He read from his book too. The excerpt was set in a police station, and the character had gone to report a burglary. The reaction he got from the two policemen at the station is heart breaking, to say the least.
Finally, Barassa: the youngest of the bunch. She is a Rwandese author who is inspired by Danielle Steele. The genocide that hit her country also inspires her to write. She mentioned a situation where the effects of the genocide were even felt in people’s love lives. For instance it was almost taboo for a Hutu to marry a Tutsi. The circumstances made it very hard for lovers to express their feelings openly simply because of ethnic differences. She also read an excerpt from her book. Barassa brought to the fore the fact that the publishing industry in Rwanda is non existent and people there do not read as much. I pray this changes soon because there has to be talent as good as Barassa’s in Rwanda that needs to be read and recognized by their own.