Posted in On Writing

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 “Life as a writer”

Posted in On Writing

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 “So many books, so little time”

Posted in On Writing

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.

Posted in On Writing


Whoever said age is just a number should be shot. Or boiled in hot oil. Or made to walk barefoot on sharp rocks until his feet bleed. You get the drift.

It’s taken me 43 years to finally get why people (especially women) lie about their age. It’s taken this long because as a writer, I’ve often wished I was older simply because most people with stories worth telling (in book form) are my father’s age or older. And their natural preference when it comes to putting their stories to paper is to deal with a peer, usually a professor of literature. Thinning grey hair, pot-bellied, perhaps walking with a slight stoop, fading eyesight and who vividly remembers Jomo Kenyatta. Continue reading “Age”

Posted in On Writing

Why I love books

I generally love bikozulu’s writing but this post really spoke to me. Felt like he was talking about me.

Even though I’m a kindle guy I sometimes walk into Bookstop at Yaya Center, and just stand in the midst of the shelves and smell the books. Smell knowledge. Smell great minds. Smell nights that these writers sat up under burning lights, battling plots. Walk up and down the aisles of books and you smell the insecurity that abounds writing. The smell of conflict. And passion. And failed literary dreams. The smell of books that didn’t do well, and dreams that died with it. The smell of lovely writers who remain undiscovered and discovered writers who remain overrated. You smell words. And you smell how they line up behind other words, forming long sentences that run like a belching train that carries imagination to a faraway land.

You can read the rest of the article here.

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Posted in On Writing

“Nobody cares about your book” Why this statement struck a nerve with writers

Laura Miller, a senior writer for Salon makes some good points in this article.

The para that really spoke to me is “…but the one thing they definitely won’t learn is how their work will be read once it appears in the outside world. There, it will most likely be entirely ignored. There, even close friends will have to be wheedled into giving it a shot. Traditional publication is an improbability that, if achieved, will almost certainly not result in the reviews or sales the author fantasizes about. Most books get lost in the deluge published every week. Forget about the world hating your book — chances are it won’t even notice it.”

That is the struggle fiction writers go through every day.

Posted in On Writing

I am broke and I don’t care

I should be worried, stressed, panicked even, but a strange calm fills me. A serenity that the reality of my financial situation cannot penetrate. I am chasing leads on a number of writing projects, none of which seem to be in a hurry to materialise.

Meanwhile, my dwindling bank balance flashes like a neon light, which a year ago would have had me teetering on the edge of panic. I wonder why I am so calm. Then it hits me. Continue reading “I am broke and I don’t care”