Celebrating East African Writing!

The Red Bindi on Diwali

After the Storymoja Hay Festival, I almost feel that there is really very little new information that I can present to you. After all you, well those of you who went to the festival, brushed shoulders with some of the greatest creative minds this side of the Sahara and beyond.

But as I realise that the festival has likely inspired you to become better and more creative writers, and to finally bring that piece of work you have been working on to light,  I figured a few reminders will do no harm.

So about that novel you are just about to complete:

A great opening will pull readers into your novel and not let them put it down. As novel writers, you have only a few pages to grab your readers’ attention. When you can hook them with the first paragraph, it’s even better.


This is your chance to hook your reader with a single, bold statement, usually one that has some shock value. Whether your readers laugh or gasp or worry, it usually makes them say “Uh-oh” and need to read more to find out what happens.

“The second time Ian Dunne came into my life, I was trapped under a pile of bodies, behind a sheet of plate glass.” (Lee Nichols, Hand Me Down)

  1. 2. THE PROBLEM:

This opening takes more than a single sentence, but sets up the story’s problem immediately. You may develop the setting, character, or mood at the same time, but the main thrust is to show a character in trouble, pulling your reader in for more.

“He hardly felt the hit, but he heard it. The muffled roar shook the stick slightly, and he looked out to see the end of his right wing shatter and flake away.” (William Diehl, Thai Horse)


If your story doesn’t lend itself to starting in the middle of the action, try setting up the situation while leaving your reader with unspoken questions.

“I woke this morning with a stranger in my bed. The head of blond hair beside me was decidedly not my husband’s. I did not know whether to be shocked or amused.” (Tracy Chevalier, Falling Angels)
Take a look at the opening lines of Chimamanda Adichie’s Cell One ((Part of the collection of short stories titled The Thing Around Your Neck). Which of the above hooks did she use? Comment below.

The first time our house was robbed, it was our neighbor Osita who climbed in through the dining room window and stole our TV, our VCR, and the Purple Rain and Thriller videotapes my father had brought back from America.

The second time our house was robbed, it was my brother Nnamabia who faked a break-in and stole my mother’s jewelry. It happened on a Sunday. My parents had traveled to our hometown, Mbaise, to visit our grandparents, so Nnamabia and I went to church alone. He drove my mother’s green Peugeot 504. We sat together in church as we usually did, but we did not nudge each other and stifle giggles about somebody’s ugly hat or threadbare caftan, because Nnamabia left without a word after about ten minutes.

He came back just before the priest said, “The Mass is ended. Go in peace.” I was a little piqued. I imagined he had gone off to smoke and to see some girl, since he had the car to himself for once, but he could at least have told me where he was going. We drove home in silence and, when he parked in our long driveway, I stopped to pluck some ixora flowers while Nnamabia unlocked the front door. I went inside to find him standing still in the middle of the parlor.

“We’ve been robbed!” he said in English.

So we are back to our weekly story exhibitions. You are probably wondering why this note was titled The Red Bindi on Diwali.

Well, from now on when you send in your short stories, I will pick out one of them to feature throughout the week. For me to be interested in your piece, it has to be unique, well written, and it must surprise me in some way.

This week’s editor’s surprise was elicited by Claudette Oduor’s Red Bindi on Diwali: Mami and the aunts were outraged. At first they hadn’t liked Namunyak because she did not own a sari. When I bought Namunyak a choli, sari, and salwar kameej, they didn’t like her because I placed a red bindi on her forehead.

You can still vote on all the other stories.

Reminders of Women: He has propped his elbows on my desk. I find his manners sickening, his ignorance frightening but there is something alluring about the essence of a married man who has children…

Little Lusagu: ‘I think my brain is immature for two opposing schools to accommodate. I must drop one,’ says Lusagu, as he picks up bar of Lifebuoy soap on the stool.

In The Ghetto: No sooner had I started feeling the cool afternoon breeze than other bad news gets posted in. My best pal is dead!

Fifth Street: I will neither join those who rushed so early to come and pitch tent at the matatu stage and wait for fares to go south, nor pay a visit to the busy and smiling shoe-shiners at the other end.

Can this be Real?: Those eyes… they were mesmerising – their colour matched that of his shirt and they were so deep that I could stare into them until the end of time. Ok, so maybe I was being a little too over-dramatic …

Alright, that is all for this week’s reading. You can vote and comment on the stories this week, and if you wish to be part of this weekly show, please go through the submission guidelines and then send us your work.

Surprise me! I might surprise you too!

–Let your writing rule with the scepter of creativity, the signet ring of your unique style, the crown of excellence, upon the throne of the African spirit of strength and resilience!

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