By Juliet Mwangi
A teacher of Physics and Chemistry, Charles Okoth is what we call a man of many hats. He has a voice that speaks loudly against corruption and a heart that wants the best for his students.
He majored in Physics at Kenyata University, attended Kakamega and Nyang’ori High Schools. Born in Busia looooong ago and has so far written about 18 books(not in Physics though). To seal it all, he won the Burt Award 2015 and was shortlisted in 2018.
Here are some quick ten with Charles.
- What inspired you to start writing and how did you start?
I loved reading from an early age. I loved the stories I would read. I still remember ‘Audu’s Bicycle, Mundalo Tsia Manani (Luhya for ‘In the days of Dragons’), and the like. I would then ask myself whether I could write something equally good, or even better. That is how my journey of being a writer started.
- Of all the books you have published, what is the running theme that you try to share with your readers?
I am not ‘mono-thematic’. I tackle any theme I feel needs tackling. But as a teacher, I have had some bias for school-related themes: Discipline, exam cheating, premarital sex and pregnancies, drugs etc.
One theme I have also felt compelled to address is corruption; something I loathe with a passion.
- What is your take on the rates of circulation of e-books being higher than the purchase of hard copy?
We have to change with the times. E-books are a reality. Publishers have to get involved in this phenomenon. They must look for a way of staying in the business by both e-books and hard copy books. What I do not like is the free access to books. There should be a provision for accessing e-books after paying. Just to be fair to the hardworking authors.
- 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?
I admire what Writers Guild Kenya is doing. It was well thought out; a timely idea. It’s necessary to have a group that is dedicated to providing mentorship. New writers need encouragement; nurturing. But I have constantly challenged them to do what my former mentor, Writers’ Bureau, Manchester, does. They train writers for a specific fee, paid in installments, module by module. I have also challenged them to double up as a literary publishing agent. WHY NOT?? It’s time we stopped being shy about this. We have paid elsewhere. We can also be paid. I have more than 10 thick manuscripts people want me to read and make comments. I have my regular job. I also have writing assignments. Is it too much to attach a price tag to my time, m’ssieurs?
- If you were to recommend a book to a 24-year old, which ones would they be?
One of mine? Why I would recommend all of them! I don’t see the essence of idolizing others when I also write. That is an African malady: lack of confidence in our own products.
- Many writers wait for inspiration to write, others just have routines which they follow. Where do you stand?
Those who wait for inspiration are useless writers. Those who follow routines are slightly better. But I simply make time to write when I have a story that needs to get told. Believe me, at times I can type 5000 words a day. At others, 200. Various factors come into play
- 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?
We seem to pride in that animal called poor reading culture. It’s become some dubious distinction Kenyans seem to want to be ascribed with. We should aim at the young reader. But when the ministry of education BANS the buying of class readers by schools, we cannot talk about poor reading culture. We should blame the so-called policy makers. The Publishers’ association, under Njagi, is also a disaster. They could be reasoning with the CS. They don’t.
- Briefly tell us about the different books you have published.
I have been lucky to publish several books. Amongst them is the award-winning novella, High Tide at Shibale. Not now, Jimmy Boy is also doing very well. Others are Shiundu and the Strange Sect, Shiundu and the Drugs Syndicate, Mwene’s Rough Day, Adventures of Thunder, Thunder in Love, Fools Express, Brave little Wildebeest, The Eagle’s Trick, The Lion and the Vulture, The Trickster and his friend, A Girl called Gifty, Gifty and the little Dog, Gifty and the Robbers, The Woman from the East… I may have forgotten some. By God’s grace, I may add to this list soon. Anthologies of poetry include Sing me a Song and Best African Poets 2018. I also write music for Kayamba Africa and have produced some movies. I have choreographed dances for an artist’s video (Vincent Ongidi, vol. 1&2).
- Other than writing, what else do you do to keep your mind fresh?
I am a movie producer. I also love games. I walk, travel and I watch football sometimes.
- If you were to meet an author (dead or alive) who would they be? Why would you want to meet them so much?
They are so many! From Cervantes to Homer to Euripides to Aeschylus to Shakespeare, Virgil, Alighieri, Goethe, Stowe, Longfellow, Yeats…Achebe, Ngugi…i would want to know what inspired Homer to write The Iliad and The Odyssey. How did he see such fine details? Could it be that Pallas Athena actually talked to him, telling him what to write? Was it a work of imagination? How about the near perfect literary presentation? Minus college degrees?
Conclusively, Charles says, “By God’s grace I live and constantly hope for the best.”
Juliet Mwangi is a writer with Writers Guild Kenya. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org