By Juliet Mwangi
It is every writer’s dream to finally have their literary work on the shelves, either locally or internationally. Nothing beats the joy of launching your book; the pride, the relief from all you have gone through. For Ida Kemunto, her journey of filling our bookshelves just began with her recently launched book, Sins of My Father. Here ’s a brief interview we had with her.
Tell us a little about how this journey began
I had just finished class eight when I lost my mother. A few weeks after her burial, I had to join high school. I was so angry and lost. I did not know how to cope with the grief, so I wrote my feelings in this black diary I had. That turned into creating stories and writing them in an exercise book that my friends would read.
The first novel I ever wrote was about supernatural creatures during the time Twilight had just been published. Camp Massacre was about a high school girl looking for her birth parents. She drags her adoptive siblings to the last place her birth parents could be traced. The one thing they didn’t know was that once you got into Camp Massacre, there was no chance of getting out. I remember when I finished it, I took it to my father and told him I wanted to get published. I don’t know what happened to it after.
Sins of My Father was the second book I wrote. Back then, I called it ‘I Will Protect You.’ Over the years, I’ve written more stories in different genres but mostly romance. For me, writing is therapy. It is what gave me comfort when I didn’t have anyone else.
Your book, from the title itself to the cover page, is simply intriguing. Why should one get to turn the cover and start reading it?
Sins of My Father is a story about a young woman who has grown up under the control of her father, the Attorney General. He expects her to be who he didn’t have the opportunity to be while growing up because of society.
It is a story of love, duty, and choice. But more than that, it is a story about my people. Growing up, I read stories by brilliant writers from other countries. As much as I loved the Mills and Boons and the Pacesetters, they were not about Kenya. I never read a book that spoke of the diversity in Nairobi, the gorgeous tea fields in Kericho, the beauty in Nanyuki and the entrepreneurs that are thriving in Kenya. With Sins of My Father, this was my aim and I think I achieved that.
Is this it or should we expect other book (s) from you?
I am currently working on the Sins of My Father sequel and two other books that I plan on publishing in the coming years. I have some books under a pen name in writers’ apps like Wattpad, FicFun and Dreame that I haven’t decided what to do with.
God willing, I will have a portfolio of my stories, like Chimamanda.
What are some of the challenges you faced before getting published and how did you handle them?
Insecurities. For a long time, I didn’t believe that I was good enough to be a published author. So, I would write and hide my stories. I got the courage to join Wattpad as a reader then took a chance to post as a writer under a pen name. The more I wrote the more followers I got, people who acknowledged that my stories were a breath of fresh air and wanted more.
I’m still very insecure when it comes to my literature, but I am strong enough now to let everyone in, to be free.
I also struggled a lot with letting go of some of the things I wrote because the editors didn’t think they were necessary. I had to remind myself that they are reading it from a lens I didn’t have.
Writers Guild Kenya aims to be a home of writers to provide guidance and mentorship with a view to growth; do you think this is necessary?
For me, I will be forever grateful for Wattpad. The community of writers and readers nurtured my talent through support and criticism. I wouldn’t be where I am today if not for them. Writers Guild is doing the exact same thing to so many young talents in Kenya. They are more than just a publishing house, they are mentors, coaches, and teachers. I wish I had known about them sooner, but this is my journey and I am very grateful I know them now. I can’t begin to imagine how many lives they have changed.
As a writer, are you worried by the poor reading culture that Kenya is associated with?
And what can be done to encourage reading in your view?
I think the idea that Kenya still has a poor reading culture is a myth. A few years back, I might have agreed but we’re a changing society, realizing the importance of certain things especially the art of storytelling.
All our lives we’ve been wired to believe the best comes from the west and hence we spend our money supporting artists from everywhere else but home. That’s no longer true.
What I believe is that there is a demand for Kenyan books but there is no supply. Where are all the sci-fi writers? The horror junkies? The romance novelists? The Disney dreamers? Most writers are uneducated on how to go about publishing their work. That’s why an organization like Writers Guild Kenya is important. Imagine the revolution that would occur if fictional writing was prioritized in our country?
Other than writing, what else do you do to keep your mind fresh?
I have a library of books. It’s very rare you find me anywhere without a book in my bag. I am also taking my Master’s Degree in Information Systems at the USIU. To quote Jeffery from Sins of My Father, “I drown myself in books. Behind words lies other things: motivation, value, nuance, hope.”
If you were to meet an author (dead or alive) who would they be? Why would you want to meet them so much?
That’s a very hard question. I admire a lot of writers. The two at the top of my list are Chimamanda Adichie and Vladimir Nabokov. If I had to just pick one, it would be Vladimir Nabokov. If you’ve already read Sins of My Father, you have an inkling of my obsession with his book Lolita. Lolita kicked off my love affair with his writing.
Vladimir Nabokov once wrote, ‘The good, the admirable reader identifies himself not with the boy or the girl in the book, but with the mind that conceived and composed that book.’
Vladimir is one of the very few writers I cannot identify with the characters in the story but whose work I am obsessed with. I try and understand his mind. Every time I read his work, I can’t help but wonder what exactly he was thinking at the exact moment he wrote even just a sentence. That’s profound.
What is a typical Monday for you?
I love Mondays. Most Mondays, especially the good days, I’m up at 5:30 and get a workout till around 6:30. While I take a shower and make breakfast, I listen to the Garry Vee podcast. I am trying to find podcasts in Kenya about entrepreneurship. Maybe you could suggest something for me? I spend the morning hours writing, editing and finishing up on school assignments. If I am lucky, I can get time to catch up on an episode of my favourite show before I head to school for my classes.
Sometimes, I wake up at 8 and spend the entire morning wasting time on Instagram while I pretend that I’m doing my assignments. I’m really trying to do better. Any tips?
To digress a bit, what is your favourite chill spot and food?
That would be my sister’s place with my nieces. I spend a lot of time out of the house, mostly in school. So, when I have the time to just sit back and enjoy the company of my family, I take it. I cannot wait to graduate.
Right now, my favourite food would be the honey-glazed ribs at Big Square. They are to die for, don’t judge me. Oh, and onion rings, especially those from Spur.
To get your copy of ‘Sins of my Father’ contact Writers Guild Kenya through- +254751562750. To get your story told through our eyes, contact us through: firstname.lastname@example.org