Behind the Scenes of Young Adult Writing
By Andrew Manyuru
Today the guest I interviewed is the renowned Hillary Namunyu . He is the author of a wide range of books that are both available in the English and Kiswahili language. Some of the titles are “The Heroine Of Muwanza”, “Uamuzi Wa Wanyama” and “Faults Voids Fixes” just to name a few.
When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?
I am one of the few people who realized very early on in life, one way or another, I’ll end up being a writer. Only that I did not know the type of writing. I knew I wanted to do writing when I was probably in Standard One ; because I loved reading storybooks so much. I wanted something that would enable me to make and say similar stories. By the time I was choosing to pursue writing in college, it was something I had already set my mind on.
How long does it typically take you to write a book?
I don’t have a particular timeline for writing a book. I have written more than fifteen books ,and all these books took me different timelines to write. There are some books that took me a week, others took one to four months and others took more than two years. When I set out to write, sometimes it flows so smoothly I come up with a complete manuscript within the shortest time possible. Sometimes the story flows in a very slow way. Like my first book ,“Teddy Mapesa and the Missing Cash” took me two years to write. Its not a very big book but it was shortlisted for a Continental Prize. My book “Heroine of Muwanza” which I credit as one of my spectacular works, took me around a week to write.
What inspires you to keep on writing despite the current culture of Kenyans not wanting to read?
I think the notion that Kenyans don’t want to read is an old notion and it has been overtaken with time. Kenyans do read . Just because you like watching television does not mean everybody watches it. People say they love watching football but it doesn’t mean everybody is a football fan. So there is a constituency for everything. The constituency for reading is there. Writers Guild Kenya has been doing a phenomenal job ;this is because Kenyans read. There also has been a revolution of bookshops coming up all over the country. These are people selling books and doing business because there is a market. I believe we should stop saying Kenyans don’t read; we should start saying the constituency of readership in Kenya is expanding exponentially. People are also understanding there are so many books by Kenyans apart from those that are produced outside of Kenya . That is inspiration enough for me . There are people reading not because they are required but because they just love reading . I write mostly for children and young adults. Surprisingly most of the recommendations I have had from my work; have come from adults who have read my books. It opened up my eyes to realize that in as much I’m writing for children there are adults who enjoy reading these children stories. They immerse themselves in the children’s shoes and enjoy the story. Nowadays I write books that target children but also target anyone that likes such stories. Some of my stories have been told in other countries like South Africa. This truly amazed me! So indeed we are starting to go international!
When did you write your first book and how old were you?
I wrote my first book in 2003, which was “Teddy Mapesa and the Missing Cash”. I had just finished my Form Four and was still waiting to join campus. In my room I would take some foolscaps and start writing this story . I told myself that I must write a story that will be published. I was probably 19 years old at that time. It took me about two years to write that story. In 2010 I participated in a story telling competition by “Kwani?” and was amazed to finished in the top 50 and also invited thereafter for a workshop. That was the first time I wrote a story that was read by the outside world .
Of all the books you have written, which one is your favorite or stands out to you?
All my books are my favorites! But now if you look at these stories are from a particular perspective. Like the Heroine of Muwanza, I wrote it to address a specific issue ; how abled children perceive and treat other children who are disabled and also vice versa. This book is the one that comes to mind if I was to recommend a book.
If you had a dream destination to anywhere in the world to write your next book ;where would it be and why?
Oh wow! What comes to mind are these nations made up of small islands for example Comoros, Seychelles and Tonga. Places where you are surrounded by water and there are forests nearby filled with wildlife such as birds. Those are the kind of scenic and picturesque environments that I would really love to relax in and jot down my stories while experiencing the nature.
What are the best qualities of your writing style?
I am a storyteller. When I write I usually want my real self in the story; if I told myself this story would I be enthusiastic to hear it? Would I want to buy that book if I found it on the shelf? The story itself is what matters to me. The other qualities I believe is being an effective and smooth storyteller.
Do you have any suggestions to help other upcoming writers?
For someone who has never published a book, I know its frustrating due to the barriers you face from publishers. If you believe that you are a story teller who can do great storytelling but have never broken that barrier in the publishing world ;it boils down to -do you know exactly what you’re supposed to do to break that barrier. An upcoming writer should talk to people who have published their books and get to know what someone can do overcome such a barrier. The mistake that new writers do is to send their scripts to all publishing houses; different publishers have their own different specialties. They should do adequate research to know what type of books do certain publishers follow through on. Once you publish your first book, the inspiration will be there to continue. Never give up; in 2014 I published my first book after almost 8 years had passed. From then on I have published between 10-20 titles. Keep knocking. Every story that you find exciting won’t be exciting to everybody else; you don’t have to publish all the stories you have written. And finally be a reader!