Celebrating East African Writing!

Love in a Kenyan Jiko

I had intended to make a little note about writing Kenyan Romance sometime next month. But then I stumbled upon an absolutely delightful little gem which shall be part of this week’s exhibition. So here we go…

I think the reason Kenyan Romance Fiction just doesn’t happen is because a lot of would-be romance writers overthink it.

Firstly, ideas of what romance novels should be, are marred by the Mills & Boons, Harlequins and blah blah blahs of this world. No, not one Kenyan teen girl who loved reading and who passed through high school was left ungrazed by those cheesy books with bare-chested male models on the cover. The focus of most pulp fiction romance novels is on the physical, with a little mystery, sometimes an overdose of mystery. It doesn’t feel right in the Kenyan context. Not quite.

Secondly, writers tend to over-think the ‘reality’. For the past several decades, the reputation of the Kenyan man has been pegged into the ‘not romantic, not chivalrous, not kind to women, not honest’ category. Well, I must admit, a good number of them men I have come across DO fall into this category, but there are good men out there. Wait, that’s not my topic, is it?

The Kenyan woman’s reputation has also been shredded to pieces, leaving the gold digger option vs the spoilt rich girl option. Truth is there are women out there who are strong, independent as individuals, and kind and honest as part of a couple. Still not my topic is it?

Add the above ‘reality’ to issues of poverty, corruption and so on, and the writer stops seeing how his story can possibly be a romance fiction story.

When you take up a topic with apprehension and scepticism, it can be really hard to see how you can build it and drive it to creative excellence.

So I thought it might be a good idea for us to take a look at some of the classic romance stories ever told. Later we can try and see what options we have with regards to Kenyan Romance Fiction.

  1. The Tale of Genji (written sometime between 1002 and 1020 CE by Japanese noblewoman Murasaki Shikibu) – The work recounts the life of a son of a Japanese emperor, known to readers as Hikaru Genji, or “Shining Genji”. For political reasons, Genji is relegated to commoner status (by being given the surname Minamoto) and begins a career as an imperial officer. The tale concentrates on Genji’s romantic life and describes the customs of the aristocratic society of the time. Rather than focus on just one period and one relationship in the life of Genji, the tale follows realistically the meanderings of Genji’s life and his forbidden love, his wives and extramarital lovers.
  2. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte – Jane Eyre is a first-person narrative of the title character which was published in London, England in 1847.

The novel goes through five distinct stages: Jane’s childhood at Gateshead, where she is emotionally and physically abused by her aunt and cousins; her education at Lowood School, where she acquires friends and role models but also suffers the lack of basic needs; her time as the governess of Thornfield Hall, where she falls in love with her Byronic employer, Edward Rochester; her time with the Rivers family at Marsh’s End (or Moor House) and Morton, where her cold clergyman-cousin St John Rivers proposes to her; and her reunion with and marriage to her beloved Rochester.

Jane Eyre also combines Gothicism [gothic fiction is a genre of fiction characterized by mystery and supernatural horror, often set in a dark castle or other medieval setting] with romanticism to create a distinctive Victorian novel. Jane and Rochester are attracted to each other, but there are impediments to their love. The conflicting personalities of the two lead characters and the norms of society are an obstacle to their love, as often occurs in romance novels, but so also is Rochester’s secret marriage to Bertha, the main Gothic element of the story.

  1. El amor en los tiempos del cólera. Oh, I just had to do that.

Love in the Time of Cholera is a novel by Nobel Prize winning Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez that was first published in Spanish in 1985, with an English translation released in 1988 by Alfred A. Knopf.

The story takes place in an unnamed port city somewhere in the Caribbean, near the Magdalena River. The novel encompasses the half century roughly between 1880 and 1930.The city’s “steamy and sleepy streets, rat-infested sewers, old slave quarter, decaying colonial architecture, and multifarious inhabitants” dot the text and mingle amid the lives of the characters.

Love in the Time of Cholera follows the life of Fermina Daza, who chooses to marry the rational, stable, seemingly faithful Juvenal Urbino over the hot headed and wild Florentino Ariza. But then she finds that Urbino is not as true as he seems.

By the end of the book, Fermina has recognized a change in Ariza and their love is allowed to blossom in their old age. For most of the novel, their communication is limited to occasional public niceties or uncertain correspondence by letter; not until the end of the book do Fermina and Florentino converse at length.

As you can see, each of these stories succeeded in telling the journey as well as showing the environment of the character. You may have noticed that each story reflects the social norms of the time as well the character’s deviations from it and the effect that has on their lives. But the essence of it is, is the journey the character takes to find true love. Thus these stories do fall into the romance category, but the strength of the story makes it a classic.

The social norms of this decade are inundated with oversexualised images in the media, the fast changing face of technology and confused cultural expectations.

If you will dare to write a romance story, don’t be tied down by overthinking. It is quite simple actually.

A romance story is just a character’s quest for love, companionship and family.
The environment presents obstacles in the form of economic limitations, disease, cultural expectations, technological unpredictability, and the age old survival for the fittest hurdles.
The romance story is really not about these obstacles, the story is about the character’s journey to find what he or she wants.

That said, let’s go on now to see this week’s Urban Narratives

  1. Earth Days: Earth Day 256, somewhere in the land between two rivers. He drifted into a deep sleep. When he awoke, he felt like he had been asleep for a hundred years. Something was different in his body. It felt as if he’d been torn apart and sewn back together again.
  2. Radio Cassette: Phillip stared at the therapist’s thin caramel legs. They reminded him of dry twigs. She wore orange stiletto heels that took his mind to the stove in his mother’s kitchen.
  3. For the Principle: He looked at the big one in awe for he always knew what to do in such hazardous situations. The big one seemed to be lost in thought as he moved sideways perhaps to stir his body, get good circulation to his head and a bright idea.
  4. Passerby: He was always smart usually in black jacket and trousers and blue or white shirt. His long shoes were magical to me. I long yearned to see his eyes but not once did he pass by without his dark glasses. It wasn’t infatuation really, was it?

Just a reminder:

February’s writing Contest is titled Fan Fiction. The Fan Fiction genre is described in various ways. It could be described as fiction written about a fan of a certain fictional story. For example; someone could write about the effect that watching the CSI Franchise TV series has had on my thinking. (I think I could commit the perfect crime. Ha!)

It could also be a fictional story written by a fan of a fictional story, perhaps highlighting on a character in said story aside from the main protagonist and anatagonist. For example; After reading The Last of the Breed by Louis L’Amour I would really have liked to know the mystery of the character names Yakev. He only appeared briefly, wearing ragged clothes and carrying an AK-47, to give the main character in the story directions to a hidden village in the woods somewhere between Siberia and the Beiring Strait . So perhaps I would write Yakev’s story.

Your job is to choose a fictional story in film or in literature, and choose a character on whom you will base your short story. Alternatively, you can describe the life of a fan of the chosen story. If you choose this latter option, you must clearly show how the chosen story plays a part in the plot of your fan fiction.

There are 5 other rules for both choices.

  1. Keep your WORD COUNT to a minimum of 1000 words and a maximum of 1500 words.
  2. Your story MUST be set in KENYA.
  3. Include a short description of the book that forms the basis of the story. Like this: This story is based on The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, a story about a young Latina girl, Esperanza Cordero, growing up in the Chicago Chicano ghetto.
  4. Please make sure you title your work, and include your author name under that title. Double check for typos and spelling mistakes.
  5. 5. You must submit your story before the DEADLINE which is SUNDAY, 13th February 2011 by emailing your story to with a clearly marked Subject line reading FAN FICTION:[title of your work]


1st Place: KES 1000 Airtime and a Storymoja Book of your choice.

2nd Place KES 500 Airtime

3rd Plce KES 200 Airtime

Have a wonderful week!



This entry was posted on February 7, 2011 by in Writer's Blog.
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