Celebrating East African Writing!
Ciku Kimeria is the author of Of Goats and Poisoned Oranges. She lives and works in Kenya as a consultant focusing on international development issues at Dalberg Global Development Advisors. In her free time, she enjoys writing and traveling. The Storymoja Writers’ Blog recently had a chat with Ciku about her writing life.
How and when did you start writing?
I have been writing for as long as I can remember. When I was around 6 years old I recall a long letter I wrote to my parents telling them of my intentions to wed my preunit classmate and detailed explanations of what our wedding would look like, who would be in the lineup, who would not make the cut for various reasons …(she lied to me her juice had medicine so she wouldn’t have to share it with me, he pinched me the other day etc.) Fast forward to almost a decade later and I filled books with words of despair when I grieved the loss of my father who had been such a kind, gentle and loving father. The fifteen year old me wrote letters to him in heaven asking him why he had to die, asking him if it was true he was watching us from heaven, telling him how miserable I was in boarding school and how much the whole family including all our cats really felt alone without him. I honed my writing skills crying at my desk during night prep, writing letters to a dead man because I had pain inside me that I could not express in other ways except in written word.
Writing has always been cathartic for me. In my early 20s I remember writing a 10 page breakup letter to someone I once loved who hurt me terribly – a letter which unfortunately he lost in his university cafeteria – a letter that did the rounds and had people wondering who this crazy woman was who broke off relationships with a 10 page letter! I should have told them I am a woman who is best able to express herself in words on a paper. When I moved to the US to study and when I spent summers working in Munich, I wrote long long emails to my friends and family about anything and everything and recall being told several times “You should write as a living” and “Please start using paragraphs in emails. That was one long dense email.” 🙂
The first time I realized that I should write for an audience larger than living (and deceased) friends, family and loved ones was when I watched Chimamanda’s speech on “The danger of a single story.” As she spoke of an Africa that people only read about in the context of Poverty, AIDS, Famine, War and all other manner of human suffering, she talked about the need to not ignore these dark realities of our continent, but to also have a diversity of stories that show the different facets of life in Africa. That was the first time I thought, “Yes, stories coming from my middle class Kenyan perspective and a life that I might consider “not the typical African story” still merits being shared with a larger audience.” Realizing that there is no “single story” of Africa, but instead many stories which make up the sum total of African living, I was empowered to write stories from my own African perspective and from my own reality.
Tell us about your writing routine?
I work full time as a strategy consultant at Dalberg Global Development Advisors – a strategy consulting firm that focuses on development issues. As such I don’t write much during weekdays (except when I have insomnia, and know I must write or else stories and characters will keep running through my mind till sunrise.) I do most of my writing on weekends. I sit on the couch, might play some music to get me in the mood (usually something to take me to a certain place and time – e.g. if I am writing a scene set in Ivory Coast in 2013, I might listen to a DJ Arafat playlist on repeat as I write.) When I am writing a novel I tend to be much better organized in structuring my story than when writing a short story. I realized that with a lot of my short stories from my younger days I wrote myself into a dead end not having planned the story from the beginning. I am focusing right now on writing novels though every now and then I do write a short story or two. I start off writing with an unformed idea, but one that won’t get out of my mind till I start writing. I usually have more questions than answers and when working on a book I get very obsessive about my story. As I drive I think about my characters, “But why does she make that decision? How does she end up attending her own funeral – is she a ghost? Did she fake her death? How does no one recognize her?” As such even though I mostly write on weekends, I think about my writing all the time.
How has writing affected your life in general?
Writing has given me peace. I know I cannot solve every problem in life, but as long as I can write I feel a weight lifted off my shoulders. Writing also lets me think of any situation as inspiration for a new book. When something unusual happens in my life I always think of it as the universe giving me material for my next book. Though I am a fiction writer, my fiction is inspired by life – by things I see, by things I hear, by things I imagine. I am miserable when I can’t write.
Tell us about your book.
Last year I published my first novel titled “Of goats and poisoned oranges.” It is a tantalizing tale of betrayal, deceit, greed, corruption, love and revenge that will take you from the foothills of Mt. Kenya to the hectic streets of Nairobi and leave you reeling. Readers have described it as “Wicked, funny, poignant,wacky, human, a big ball of fun and danger”, “A unique and captivating book”, “Fun and intriguing”, “Impossible to put down once you start reading.”
I particularly like one way that my book was described in a Saturday Nation review by literature lecturer and book reviewer, Dr. Joyce Nyairo.
“Ciku Kimeria’s novel captures you from the first sentence with a woman who is attending her own funeral. She is outraged by the hideous red colour decorating the church and she laments the lazy choice of hymns. From her corner in the underworld, she wittily reminds us that things are very rarely what we expect them to be.
“In reality, your funeral program will have typos, villagers will scramble for a copy to display on their walls, the professional mourner might put up a good show, but it will all fall through when in the midst of her pretend-sorrow, she howls out the wrong name.”
The sorrow of the characters in this book is very real. But there is also a lot of pretence since the lives of her characters are shrouded in secrets and deceit.”
I also write a travel blog that chronicles my adventures traveling round the world. I love traveling and have been to 35 countries so far with hopes of going to all 196 countries and 61 territories in the world during my lifetime!
What is the one piece of advice you would give to any writer?
Do not believe that there is anything such as a “typical writer.” The myth that there is only a certain type of personality that can write keeps many people from pursuing their dream of writing. Writers write. If that is what you do, you are a writer and you have a moral obligation to tell your stories and share them with others. Keep writing, even if you are not sure why you are writing or you who are writing for!