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


How to do a fabulous wedding on a small budget

Sage magazine shows you 5 ways to cut corners and still have your dream wedding.

Affluent Kenyans spare no expense in making their children’s nuptials a once in a lifetime affair (see separate story on wedding planners). One business mogul spent Ksh28 million on his son’s wedding. The event was held at the Windsor Golf Hotel and Country Club but what really drove up the cost was the traditional ceremonies held at the bride’s and groom’s homes, which were catered by Sarova Hotels.

At the traditional Itaara ceremony where the bride’s family visits the groom’s home to see where she will be living, everything was shipped in from Nairobi, including DJ, sound, flowers and there was even a bar where alcoholic drinks of every description were available to the guests, who comprised the crème de la crème of Kenyan society.

For us ordinary mortals who cannot afford such lavish spending, there are a few tricks you can employ to cut costs and still have a fabulous wedding. Continue reading


Encounter with the GSU

I went to great lengths to avoid the GSU during my 4 years at the University of Nairobi’s Lower Kabete Campus. We called them the ‘fanya fujo uone’ squad because of the damage they could inflict on your body, and the enthusiasm with which they went about their task of breaking up demonstrations, leaving broken and bloody bodies in their wake.

While many students prepared for demonstrations by collecting stones and other missives to hurl at the cops, my preparations were of an entirely different sort – to facilitate immediate flight should the need arise, by the shortest and most direct route out of the campus.

The official policy was that the police engage rioting students outside the gate with the primary goal of driving them back into the school compound and clear the road to facilitate traffic flow. The first responders, the Administration (APs) and regular police, usually adhered to this rule. But after a few hours of battle on the road, the GSU would be called in and then all bets were off. The fanya fujo uone squad chased their quarry right into the university hostels, determined to beat them to a pulp. The administration couldn’t stop the GSU from entering the premises and everyone knew it.

Well not everyone. A few geeks who spent most of their time in the library clearly never got the memo. They were always caught napping when the mayhem found them. I’m all for chopping, but for Pete’s sake, books never protected anyone against teargas.

For the rest of us, the minute we got wind of a riot – half the time we didn’t even know what it was about, having been decided by the student leaders at the main campus – we started by dressing appropriately. T-shirt, jeans, ngomas. Comfortable for running and with no laces to get entangled in weeds or trip us up if they got loose. No handbag. Your national ID and some cash in the back pocket. A handkerchief or tissue went into the other back pocket. A tube of lip gloss or Vaseline tucked into the front pocket. Hey, a girl needs to maintain her appearance. Getting caught in the middle of a riot is no excuse for chapped lips. Hair wrapped securely in a ponytail. Perhaps a light sweater tied around the waist in case it got cold.

Preparations complete, it was now just a matter of monitoring the situation on the front line and getting ready to flee at a moment’s notice. We called it kukaa radar, chonjo. We passed time playing cards or just horsing around in the dorms. Then a war cry would rent the air. “GSU wameingia. Run!”

The light hearted play ended instantly and the exodus began. Like rats from a sinking ship, everyone headed for the exits and from there, the quickest route out of the campus. Those on the ground floor didn’t bother using the door, just jumped out of the window and took off like a rocket. The main gate was a no go zone at this point. As any university student will tell you, one of the first things you must do when you join campus is find the panya routes out of the premises should the need arise.

My friends and I just followed Moses Mbugua, who was raised in Wangige and knew all the back routes out of the campus. We fanned out like grasshoppers into the maize fields of the surrounding farmers, making a bee line to Mwimuto, the nearest road where we could catch a mathree to the city centre and safety. Continue reading


Stop telling writers NEVER to give away their work

Ever noticed that the writers who tell other writers never to give away their work for free are usually established, successful writers who earn lots from their craft?

I get it. At that level, you’re already well known unlike the rest of us who are still struggling to get our work in front of the right people. I would never suggest that writers continuously give away their sweat. If someone keeps asking you to write for free beyond a sample article or two, that’s clearly exploitative behaviour.

With millions of writers and billions of blogs, it’s hard to break through the clutter even when your articles are smoking. A well placed article on a high traffic website, newspaper or magazine could just be the ticket to helping more people find you.

And it happens in other industries too. I interviewed Jua Cali for the November issue of Sage magazine and he told me he pounded the pavements for 2 years, giving his CD to DJs in radio stations just to get airplay. That was followed by a few gigs for which he wasn’t paid. But it was important to put his music out there and build his brand.

Even established companies have promotions where they have free giveaways to help promote awareness of their brands. Why should it be any different for writers? Some of the most successful have promotions where they bundle a best seller with a new release or vice versa in a buy-1-get-1-free deal for readers.

I read somewhere that you can have the best product or service, but if people don’t know about it; it may as well not exist. There’s a reason we call them best-selling books. It’s not about how well they’re written but whether they are selling. There are millions of shoddy titles out there earning a pretty penny, while well written books gather dust on bookshelves.

Marketing your work is a key part of the job and putting your stories in front of the target audience, especially in the early years when you don’t have a large platform, is part of the process.


Bikozulu: The man behind the mask

His blog is the most popular in Kenya with thousands of subscribers. His influence is such that a single blog post helped raise millions for a perfect stranger to get cancer treatment. Yet few know who Jackson Biko really is. Magunga Williams takes a stab at unravelling the mysterious man.

The first time I asked Biko for an interview, he turned me down. He said he does not take interviews, which I found rather paradoxical given that one of his fortes is conducting interviews. I figured out that he was scared of the boot being on the other foot. He has been conducting interviews in this city, talking to business moguls and industry leaders, undressing them, making them shed their corporate veils and opening them up to the world. And now here I was, asking to do to him the same thing he does to other people. He cringed, understandably.

However, when I finally got him to agree to talk to me and asked him about this, he said it is because he does not like photos. Imagine that! Photos! I had to swear by my honour not to make him take any pictures of himself. And therein lies the allure of this man, Jackson Biko. He is known by many. Loved and criticised with the same fiery passion. Yet if we were to line him up at a parade and ask his readers to pick him out, very few would be able to.

He likes it that way, this Biko. He likes to be at the centre of events without being the centrepiece. Meaning, he wants to be a fly on the wall so that he can watch people and occurrences unspool and later capture them in words. His exact words were, “I do not like to be the eye of the storm even though sometimes I create a storm.”

He tells me that when he is talking to someone at, say a bar, and this person does not know who he is, the said individual will be more open. They will have a free conversation. However, the moment he mentions his name and the guy recognises he is that writer, then everything changes. No more candid conversations. All you get is smoke and mirrors. Continue reading


Wordsmith: Wangethi’s Second Act

Wangethi Mwangi, former Editorial Director at Nation Media Group, and now Senior Advisor at African Media Initiative, shares insights on the biggest stories of the last three decades, his personal interactions with two Kenyan presidents and how the Internet is shaping the future of media in Africa.

By Wanjiru Waithaka

Photography: Emma Nzioka, AMI, Wangethi family

It was a bitter cold day with sheets of rain pouring down relentlessly. Warm air from the car’s interior fogged up the windows, matching the fog outside that had reduced visibility to just a few metres. The rain was a steady drumbeat on the roof as the car sped towards the coffee farms of Limuru, making good time on a road devoid of traffic, which had been cleared to allow passage of the president’s motorcade.

The late Juvénal Habyarimana, third President of the Republic of Rwanda, was in Nairobi on an official visit. Wangethi Mwangi, a trainee sub-editor with the Standard newspaper, was in a vehicle a few metres behind him, together with photographer Frank Wanjohi.

The motorcade had just passed the shopping centre at Banana when the storm felled a tree which hit electric cables, sending them crashing to the ground where school children waved miniature flags as they cheered the president. Three died on the spot. The Standard driver brought the car to a screeching halt at Wangethi’s urging as the rest of the motorcade sped on. Wanjohi leaped out of the car and began taking pictures, cupping the lens with his hands to shield the camera from the rain.

Wangethi started interviewing onlookers while taking down details of the scene. The police arrived soon after and the dead and injured were taken to Nazareth Hospital.

Back in the newsroom, he banged out his copy on an ancient type writer on six sheets of paper separated by carbon paper. The copies usually went to the news editor, chief sub-editor and the editor-in-chief among others. He pulled the sheets out of the typewriter, pleased with his handiwork.

His editor wasn’t impressed. He immediately put fresh sheets of paper into his own typewriter and taught Wangethi his first crucial lesson in journalism – how to write an intro. Wangethi had started the story thus: ‘Three school children were electrocuted yesterday…’. The editor typed: ‘Tragedy struck deep in the heart of Kiambu yesterday…’ and rewrote the entire first paragraph.

The story went to the front page giving Wangethi his first byline in the paper. A person unfamiliar with the workings of a newsroom would expect that Wangethi would be reprimanded for abandoning the Habyarimana assignment but instead he received praise for spotting a breaking story and following his instincts. After all, the paper could always use copy from the Kenya News Agency (KNA) for the Habyarimana story.


This was one of two incidents early in his career that shaped the way he approaches journalism even today. The other also involved a dignitary, but was the complete opposite of the stellar performance he displayed on the Habyarimana assignment.

The UN had just opened its Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat) office in Nairobi and Arcot Ramachandran, Under-Secretary General had been appointed its first Executive Director. The late Mitch Odero, news editor at the Standard, asked Wangethi to go to the airport and cover his arrival.

“Obviously, it was a big thing and yet I had no idea about Habitat and no time to research. He just gave me a car and photographer and asked me to go and report the story.” Wangethi racked his brain wondering how he was going to pull off the assignment.

“Calestous Juma, a reporter for the Nation, saved the day,” Wangethi recalls. Juma, now a respected professor at Harvard University, knew his subject. “He had studied a lot about the environment and was already acquainted with Ramachandran, so he fired all the questions while the rest of us took notes.” Juma wrote an excellent story for the Nation.

Wangethi describes his own story as passable. “I promised myself I would never go to an assignment unprepared, and would ensure anyone working under me was properly briefed before going out on assignment,” he says.

Meeting Wangethi for the first time is a confusing experience. His ability to smell a breaking story from miles away is legendary but he has a reputation for being a ruthless taskmaster who thunders when angry, is intimidating to his juniors and flat out arrogant even with superiors.

Managing editors who walked around the newsroom like they owned it, inspiring fear in juniors themselves, were said to be reduced to stuttering wrecks in Wangethi’s presence, almost as if their brains had been lobotomised or cloned such that they were unable to communicate in anything more than a mumble.

Kwamchetsi Makokha, a Nation columnist and communications consultant puts it thus: “With Wangethi, you have 60 seconds to make a good impression. If you don’t earn his respect when he first meets you, you’ll never earn it, no matter what you do in subsequent weeks, months or years.”

My first impression of him is a friendly social gentleman with a mild personality and not the least bit intimidating. Where is the monster I was warned about?

Wangethi laughs at this saying that is not his management style but when pressed, he admits there is some truth to it. “I was very demanding, very authoritative and also very impatient. That’s what I would call the extreme side of me, but if I liked you, I could be very patient, understanding and accommodating.”

He shouted when upset especially when someone goofed on a story. What is that common refrain ‘Lawyers jail their mistakes, doctors bury theirs, but journalists publish theirs for the entire world to see’? In such a high pressure environment where deadlines are critical, and reporters have only hours to put stories together, it’s perhaps understandable that an Editorial Director would lose his cool when errors slipped into the page.

After all, he was responsible for everything that went into the paper and was the one people sued when unhappy about a story. This sometimes extended to advertising where he was blamed when readers considered an ad offensive, never mind that ads were the preserve of the advertising department.

Wangethi also concedes that he can be very dismissive and has in the past denied someone a job in the newsroom or a promotion within a few minutes of meeting them. He says he goes with his gut and has no apologies about it. This confidence in himself, which has thrust him into leadership positions in his journalism career, has its roots in his childhood. Continue reading