Celebrating East African Writing!
Ndiritu Wahome is the author of The Sad Artist and Other Fairy Tales. The Writers’ Blog had a chat with him about his writing and his newly published book.
How and when did you start writing?
I started writing as a young boy. At age 13, I was already writing poetry, short stories, and long essays. It is strange, perhaps, but I knew at that young age that I certainly wanted to be a writer when I grew up. When I started writing, I drew a lot of inspiration from nature, from the interactions I had with my friends, and the books I read also gave me a kick in the right direction, so to speak. I have to say that English was my favorite subject in school, and I would get very excited about writing compositions. I loved, and still do, telling stories through the written word.
I published my first collection of poetry, The Voice From A Young Man Under The Burning African Sun, when I was 19 years. Although that was a modest achievement, it aroused in me a dogged determination to communicate my thought, ideas, dreams, and fantasies through the written word. I am glad I pursued that path.
Tell us about your writing routine?
I work best at night. I start writing at about 10pm, and usually sleep around two in the morning. My schedule is very simple. I wake up at 9am, drink seven glasses of water, exercise, shower, write for an hour, then have breakfast at about 12. I spend the rest of the afternoon reading up to 4pm. After that, I enjoy my lunch, and then I either go to the gym, or take a swim in the deep ocean.
When I am looking for inspiration, I travel, meet interesting people, listen to good music, stare at the sea, dance, meditate, and read more. I do all these things in pursuit of a muse, which is crucial in the artistic process.
The most important thing, I would say about writing, is that you must make it a habit; otherwise, you will become lazy, and tend to procrastinate, which means you will not create anything. An artist should have the discipline to write every single day to perfect his craft. Even when you feel like slacking about, it is imperative that you do something to progress your writing.
How has writing affected your life in general?
Writing has had an impact in my life, in how I interact with friends, family, and how I perceive life in general. Writing pushes me to wake up in the morning, and face the world.
When I realized that I wanted to do nothing else in my life except writing, so many things changed in my life. I ditched most of my friends. In college when other young people were going out to clubs, chasing after girls, and drinking, I spent all my time in the library reading. In the end, I had no friends other than my family, especially my brother. Plus I became a vegan, and I have been for seven years now.
Yet as the years rolled on, I had no other desire but to become a successful writer, and I spent all my time perfecting my craft. I fancied myself wining the Nobel Prize of Literature, and worked diligently towards it. After I published my first volume of poetry at 19, after high school, I knew I could do nothing else with my life.
I prepared myself to take on the challenges that came on my way as a writer. I promised myself to live like an artist, dedicating all my will, intellect, and power to the growth, and development of writing and art in general.
I am merely a young man of 26 years, and may not say much about my life, as many more things are bound to happen. Like any other career path, writing can have monetary gains. However, if you are writing for the money, you just might be disappointed. I think a better approach is to concentrate on perfecting the craft (by writing and reading), and then later success, monetary and otherwise will follow.
Tell us about your book.
The Sad Artist and Other Fairy Tales, was birthed from a fascination with life’s diversities. In writing this book, which is deeply steeped in magical realism, I sought to look at the challenges people (including Artists, like me) face. Writing as an Art is itself redeeming, liberating, and can bring in the writer a deep sense of untold joy. Yet, like the diversities in life, the art of writing can be lonely, germane, and depressive sometimes. Even then, by telling stories in a magical fantasy setting, I sought to convey the message that even in the deep contrasts of life, there is some magic in the small things we do, and all we need is to look closer into ourselves to experience these things.
Magical fantasies are mostly perceived as childish, and anyone may be inclined to think this way. However, many of the stories in The Sad Artist and Other Fairy Tales are written not only for children and for the young adult, but even for the grown up. The moral that weaves through the series of these stories is the idea that your dreams are valid, and can be achieved, no matter how your present reality may look like. All of us will agree that this ideal is true for adults, as it is for children
What is the one piece of advice you would give to any writer?
I would say so many things to a writer. But, the most important is to perfect your skill, by writing consistently, and reading widely. The other piece of advice I would offer is to be ready to face and overcome rejection—you might be rejected many, many times, but this should not subdue your compulsion to get your message to the world.
I will be launching my book, The Sad Artist and Other Fairy Tales at the 2014 Storymoja Festival, which will be held from September 17-21. There will be readings and discussions during the session.
I am happy to see that the Kenyan literary scene is growing in leaps and bounds. It is certainly a step in the right direction that we are hosting such large gatherings as the Storymoja Festival in celebration of literature. I am optimistic that Kenyan writers will soon be as well known as writers in other regions such as West Africa, North, and South Africa.
I see that more and more young Kenyan writers are coming up with diverse and contemporary themes, away from the conventional themes that have for a long time dominated the literary landscape in the country. Every generation has its own story. It is absolutely remarkable that young writers are covering their own stories, in their own special way.
I look forward to the day when writers will enjoy as much publicity and space for expression as musicians, entertainers, and politicians do.