Think you can live without art? Dream on

So I met this editor of a prominent business magazine who declared with relish that he doesn’t waste time reading novels. Far from being impressed, I felt sorry for him. He clearly doesn’t know what he’s missing.

I read novels primarily to entertain myself and also write them for the same reason. It’s never about teaching anyone anything although sometimes that does happen. After four years doing a B.Com degree guess when I really understood what debit and credit really means? From a novel. A Ken Follet I believe, something about banking, although the title escapes me since I’ve read so many of his books.

Follet does tons of research for his novels and yet, his books move at a fast clip. The technical details never slow down the narrative. That takes tremendous skill. Case in point? Pillars of the Earth. Who would have thought that a novel crafted around the building of a cathedral would be so captivating.

Anyway, this post isn’t about books but art in general. You can’t live without art. Don’t believe me? A few examples will suffice.

Let’s start with something most of us carry in our wallets. A business card. It defines what we do, who we are, where we spend the bulk of our time every day. Every business card has a logo, a symbol around which all branding is built. Some logos are so unique and famous, we know immediately which company it is even without seeing the name. Who designs logos? Artists. Graphic designers to be precise. We rely on artists to craft our corporate identities.

Source: http://evolutioncell.com

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A dream that refuses to die

Something that Wandia Njoya wrote the other day made me sit up and pay attention. Not just because it was so profound, it also articulated something I had been struggling for years to clarify to myself, not understanding the source of my angst.

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Farewell Dad

God broke our hearts on Thursday 26th April 2018 at 11:45am when he called my father home, just three months shy of his 74th birthday.

At the Requiem Mass, mum said he died on his own terms. Dad told stories, smiling and cracking jokes all through his 18-day hospital stay, trying to reassure us, even though the oxygen tube indicated his condition was serious.

Kajayni spoke about his terrible fashion sense, making us all laugh as she gave examples of the mismatched outfits he liked to wear. Just to illustrate, for his wedding, dad wore dark brown corduroy trousers, a cream turtleneck, green jacket and black shoes. Seriously? Continue reading

Silencing Anna

I completed writing my third novel Silencing Anna two months ago. Finishing a manuscript always feels great but it’s followed by a post writing phase that I call withdrawal stage. After months of immersion in a world of your creation where you control everything, coming up for air to face the real world is sobering.

I don’t know about other writers but once I complete a book, I miss hanging out with my characters every day, talking to them, sharing their pain, struggles and joy. When I’m writing a novel, I live in my head so long that I sometimes forget about the real world. I walk on the streets lost in that world, weaving conversations between characters in my head, sometimes aloud, totally unaware until people look at me strangely, probably wondering if I’m a loony talking to herself before moving on. In Nairobi, anything short of stripping naked will only attract a casual glance, thank goodness. Continue reading

Why is it so hard to accept failure?

I had coffee with a friend a couple of weeks ago. Things haven’t been going well for me for a while and this came out as we were catching up. Usually, when someone asks, “How are you doing?” I plaster a smile on my face and say, “Fine.” That’s usually the end of it and since most people love to talk about themselves, I steer the conversation back to them. But this guy insisted on knowing how things were, so I told him.

The surprise came when he wouldn’t let me label the stuff I had tried that hadn’t worked out as “failures.” He insisted that these were little bumps on the road to the smashing success that I will achieve. I’m sure he was trying to make me feel better. But his adamant insistence only made me feel worse and regret getting into the conversation in the first place.

Positivity warriors can be very irritating. Tossing out statements like “Winners never quit and quitters never win” rarely motivates the recipient. In fact, they end up diminishing other people’s feelings, to have their struggles dismissed so casually. It’s the reason I don’t read motivational books. Most are filled with cheap theatrics and prescriptions that don’t actually work in real life. They only benefit the author (through book sales) and make many readers wonder what is wrong with them that the author’s advice does not translate into similar success in their own lives.

The bible thumping brigade is just as bad. “God has a plan for your life and it’s wonderful.” I know God has a plan you nitwit. But right now – in this very second, minute or hour – that plan sucks. I feel like crap and want to wallow, even if it’s only for a short time. To acknowledge and recognise the pain that comes from knowing that you put your heart and soul into something and it didn’t work out the way you planned. Continue reading

Twilight: My take & idea for the next movie

I’m late to the Twilight party. A decade late actually. Although my friend Kui is a fan of the books and told me how much she loved them ages ago, I only got around to watching the movies and reading the books two weeks ago. And what a ride it’s been.

I fail to understand where all the vitriol about Twilight comes from. The books are a riveting read. True, a little editing would have reduced Bella’s endless descriptions of the minutiae of her life, but that doesn’t detract from the story. I watched the movies first – the first three, then read the books, finishing one each day. Yeah, I’m a binge reader. Once I’m hooked, I find it hard to put a book down till the story ends.

Since then I’ve been obsessed with all things Twilight. I’m not likely to read the books again; once was enough for me, unlike so many people who read them over and over. But I can’t get enough of the movies, which are way better than the books. That almost never happens as movies hardly do justice to the books they are based on. Case in point – Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, his best book in my opinion.

Twilight is pure fantasy so Stephenie Meyer can get away with a lot. I couldn’t wrap my head around a couple of things though, like Bella and Edward consummating their relationship. His skin is like marble so how on earth could they make love? She really should have left out that bit (stone skin) and still have the vamps every bit as unbreakable.

The pregnancy is another thing. In what universe is that possible? The kiss with Jacob, two days after Bella said yes to Edward’s proposal just pissed me off. Not to mention Jacob imprinting on Renesmee. Like seriously? Six billion people on the planet and he just had to fall for a baby? She probably needed a reason to ensure the wolves allied with the Cullens in the non-existent fight with the Volturi in book 4, but still, messy…very messy.

The idea of a 108-year old vampire attending high school beggars belief. If she wanted to create a setting where the two main characters meet, there are lots of alternatives in a small town like Forks. The mall, bookstore, even on the street.

Anyway, enough of the plot holes. Like most Twilight fans, I’d love to see another movie. So I started thinking about it and the plot started writing itself in my head. So here goes, my two cents…

Movie No 6

It all starts with something Aro said in that non-battle in the fifth movie. That humans have the technology to develop weapons that could kill vampires, hence the need for absolute secrecy about their existence.

The story picks up from there, a decade…or five…later when Aro’s worst fears have indeed come to pass and the humans discover the existence of vampires. Fuelled by fear about this hitherto unknown predator, whose awesome powers makes them difficult to capture, let alone kill, humans launch an all-out war to eradicate the vamps.

The war is kept top secret of course, to avoid triggering hysteria in the human population about this “new” threat. The top world powers (USA, Russia, UK, Germany, France and China) combine forces and create a secret army to launch attacks against the vamps. The army is led by a US marine, played by Theo James (who else? Did you see him in Divergent? Dude is a great actor and drop dead gorgeous).

Members of the black ops unit are recruited from the US marines, Britain’s Special Air Services (SAS) and Special Boat Services (SBS), as well as Israel’s lethal stealth warriors, the Sayeret Matkal. The unit also has intelligence sleuths recruited from the CIA, Mossad, Scotland Yard and the KGB.

The humans quickly discover just how flammable the venom in the vamps’ bodies is and design special hand held rocket launchers, which incinerate vampires on the spot, leaving a pile of ashes. The mini rocket launchers have a range of 5km and once they lock onto the target, the vampire is pretty much toast. Continue reading

Turning 45

I turned 45 several weeks ago. The day passed quietly just like any other. I’ve never made a big deal of birthdays. Then I thought, it might be fun to compile a list of what I’ve learnt about life so far. I’m single with no kids, but not your typical career driven woman either. So let’s dive right in.

1. You control nothing, so get used to it.

Picture this. I’m in the last few months at Precious Blood Girls, Riruta. Our class teacher Mrs Chege has brought university application forms, which the rest of the class is busy filling. Meanwhile, I’m doodling in my notebook, forms untouched.

“Where are your forms?” Mrs Chege asks, a frown creasing her face.

“I don’t need them.”

“You can’t get into university without them.”

“I’m not going to university.”

“What? Why not?”

“I’m going to Utalii College to do hotel management.” I lean back in my seat with a confident smile. Mrs Chege shakes her head in disbelief.

“Everyone wants to go to university,” she insists in a firm bossy tone, lent even more weight by a hand on each hip.

“Not me. I’m going to Utalii.”

I have nurtured that dream since I was a little girl. The day I watched my uncle Joseph Wanganga, an executive chef at Jadini Beach Hotel, bake a cake using a sufuria over a charcoal jiko (we were poor and didn’t have an oven), I was captivated. I decided then and there that I was going to work in a hotel. He always let us eat the dough mixture left in the plastic basin after pouring it in the sufuria. Licking that basin clean was the highlight of the baking session.

Mrs Chege and the headmistress tried to convince me not to do something foolish. Nothing doing. So I applied to Utalii and then the worst happened. I failed to get a place despite scoring a B-Plain in the KCSE exam. I moped around the house for weeks, barely talking to anyone.

One day, dad finally placed my university admission letter on the dining table and asked me to go check it out. A few weeks before the Utalii heartbreak, the minister of education announced an extension for university applications due to some irregularities in schools. Dad convinced me to apply in the new window. “Just as a back-up, Utalii is still our main focus,” he assured me.

So I did B.Com and by a very winding road ended up as a creative writer. Is that a 5-year plan I see you compiling so diligently? Just know the universe is about to piss all over it. Don’t tear it up yet. Keep it and look at it in a decade or two. It will provide a good laugh when you see how far you’ve strayed from it. Continue reading

Life as a writer

When people ask me what I do and I tell them I’m a writer, it elicits the funniest reactions sometimes. Like the time I visited my old employer MRM (Mabati Rolling Mills) and Eunice, a good friend, almost fell off her seat when she asked me who was in my book A Profile of Kenyan Entrepreneurs and I mentioned Manu Chandaria among others.

“You actually interviewed him?” I nodded. “Where?”

“His house.”

“You actually went to his house?” Her eyes opened wide and her voice was hushed as if stunned. From her reaction, one would have thought I said I visited State House.

It was understandable though. Manu, the chairman of Comcraft Group which owns MRM, has this larger than life image but he’s the humblest tycoon I’ve ever met, with the exception of the late Nelson Muguku. I don’t really like dealing with tycoons because most are so arrogant and dismissive, especially if you’re far below them on the economic ladder. There is one I’ve been introduced to three times but he still acts like he has no idea who I am, which is really funny.

Manu is so down to earth that on one or two visits to his home for our interviews, he went to the kitchen and brought tea and biscuits when the housekeeper wasn’t within earshot. On the last interview, he gave me a tour of the house, which I didn’t expect.

S.K. Macharia, founder of Royal Media Services was also in the book and later asked me to pen his autobiography. S.K. was interesting and a really good storyteller. His history was such a roller coaster of bizarre experiences that I always looked forward to our 7am interviews even though I’m not a morning person and getting up at 5am was a struggle. After I finished the draft manuscript, he said he wasn’t going to read it and instead proposed a trip where I would read the book aloud as he made changes and additions as necessary. “Where do you prefer to go, UK or Dubai?” he asked.

I was horrified. As any writer will tell you, by the time you submit a draft to the client, you have reread and rewritten it several times. I couldn’t imagine sitting for 5 days straight while someone (I was definitely not going to do it) read the lines I already knew by heart. I would be bored out of my mind. And why go outside the country to do it? Working from his office was out. We had discovered there were too many interruptions there. But going to the UK just to read a book? Seriously? That’s the day I concluded that S.K. has too much money. Continue reading

So many books, so little time

I finally got to read Dust, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor’s critically acclaimed debut novel. I bought it last year together with The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks and World Without End by Ken Follet.

I hate shopping, rarely wear makeup, hardly drink and so to reward myself when I get paid for a project, I buy books, usually 2 or 3 at a go. I’m a binge reader and once I start a novel, will read it in one sitting unless it’s a beast like Ken Follet’s Pillars of the Earth, which is over 1,000 pages. I read that in three days. I read The Notebook in one evening and was done with World Without End, the same week. For some reason, Dust stayed on my coffee table for months unread, which is pretty unusual for me.

I finally picked it up the other morning, sure I was in for a treat. After all, it won the Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature in 2015. I also loved her short story Weight of Whispers, which won the Caine Prize in 2003 and introduced her to the world.

I hate to say it, but I couldn’t get beyond page 13 of Dust. What is it with some of these critically acclaimed novels that makes them such a pain to read? It’s like slogging through mud with boots weighed down by cement. I had the same problem with Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. Despite several attempts, I haven’t made it past page 128 of the literally masterpiece. Continue reading

Kithaka wa Mberia: How a successful author became a publisher

Kithaka wa Mberia is arguably one of Kenya’s best-selling authors with eight of his books having been approved by Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) as study texts in schools. He narrates why he got into self-publishing, how to make money from books and how he’s helping fellow writers publish their works through his outfit, Marimba Publications.

Describe yourself and why you got into writing?

One element that humanises us and separates us from animals is our ability to change our environment. Creative writing is a way of chipping in or contributing in a modest way in improving society. You cannot divorce any form of art from entertainment, but entertainment cannot be the primary goal for my writing.

What is your favourite book and why?

That is very difficult to say. It’s like asking someone who has three children, “Who is your favourite child.” My books are written for different purposes. Natala (1997) which became a set book in 2005 until last year, is about gender issues. Kifo Kisimani (2001) which was also a set book for seven years, deals with dictatorship. Flowers in the Morning Sun (2011) is about political clashes and also tackles the land question which is a big issue in this country. None of these issues is more important than the other.

There have never been tribal clashes in this country by the way. If the clashes of 1992, 1997, 2002 and 2007 were tribal, then logic dictates that the fighting would continue in intervening years, which didn’t happen.

The most dominant variable in these clashes is politics. I call them political clashes because they happen around the time of elections. Negative ethnicity definitely plays a role in the suffering of Kenyans, but politicians use it as a trigger to create clashes. Continue reading