I often get asked by other emerging writers to reveal to them the source of my achievements, yes, even my “success”. This is of course very flattering and good for my scribe’s ego. But I’m just as unsure of where I am or going to, same as the next writer. I don’t really see myself as such a success, but I’ve succeeded in improving my writing and finding my “Voice”. I believe we writers always need to have some reassurance or at least another person we can turn to as a sounding board to either confirm or dispel our insecurities about ourselves and our work. My best man here in the last five or so years has been an Australian writer and Artist-of-Many-Talents, Kenneth Mulholland. He’s become perhaps my best friend ever, although we’ve never met in person. He picks me up or knocks me down off my high white charger in terms of my writing. I love and appreciate him for his intellectual honesty and human kindness and devotion to the arts.
But to get back to those who in their turn look up to me in all my humble achievements. Perhaps the most difficult thing for aspiring writers, said writer Robert Wilson, is to know what to write. Or more precisely, what to write about. I had this problem. I happen to be a person who grew up with both African and Western cultural influences. I’m neither pink nor brown. I’m at home in a Luoland Pakruok Feast as I am in the Bavarian Oktoberfest. I pour over a good Camara Laye and Mariama Bâ books as I do over a good Le Carré and Frederick Forsyth. My only "weakness" is my preference for British English, my mother tongue, in my own writing. But that does not say I wouldn't put my Laye or le Carré aside when I grab a good Grisham or Dan Brown. Yes, thrillers fascinate me, followed by the romance genre. And, to quote a Jeffrey Archer title, thereby hangs a tale.
My own romance books, all of them without fail so far, involve interracial love relationships. The Bound to Tradition trilogy, which won me the African Writer of the Year Achiever Award 2013 in the Netherlands, and first published by Bruce Cook, is one good such an example. This is an aspect of writing that often plagues me – I prefer to write about what I know even if I do bring the famous “What if…” into play. My novels tend to be opulent since I’m acquainted with that world and can move around it with ease. But I can also put the millionaire right in the middle of a poor hut in the African jungle and do a mix of dialogue because I love the mind games of cultural differences. We all have cultural spectacles and earphones so that one and the same words are interpreted differently using these cultural spectacles and earphones.
Let me give an example of what I mean by this in a scene from Bound to Tradition Book 1: The Dream:
[Erik, a Swedish industrialist, has come to the Luoland village to ask Grandfather Solomon for the hand of Khira, Solomon’s granddaughter. But Erik is also time-conscious as a businessman and Westerner, while Solomon is the laidback African granddad and wants to figuratively converse about the entire human history and the animal kingdom if need be, before coming to the point – because in his culture that is the polite etiquette. In Erik’s culture, however, time is money, so he has no time for shillyshallying and wants to come straight to the point. Having done his cultural homework on Solomon’s mindset, Erik knows that the only way to move things quickly forward is to provoke Solomon’s anger and make the old man want to be rid of him soonest.]
<<Presently Doreena, the latest of Solomon’s young brides, brought in spiced tea made from half goat milk half water with freshly pounded ginger. A special treat in Luoland. She demurely served the guests after a general verbal greeting. When Erik sipped his tea, it was so sweet he could hardly drink it. And here was Dory, the family’s number one beauty. He snatched the golden opportunity. Disregarding his host, he addressed the man’s wife directly and in front of Solomon, in Kiswahili - and thus eliminating Samuel's interpreter role as well.
“The tea is too sweet, too sugary for me. Make me some fresh one and without any sugar.”
This one was straight out of Freud’s centrefold. Doreena sweetly smiled and apologised to her husband, not to Erik, and hurried off to make the tea.
“You have a very pretty wife. I almost envy you,” Erik twisted the knife in the wound, grinning.
It was enough for Solomon. Who did this jamwa think he was, arriving unannounced like the uncultured creature he was and now being liberal with his barbarism even to his own wife, ordering her in his own house right under his tongue? Did he feed, house and sleep with her for him? Well and they were indeed half-humans, and this one was of the half-plant variety, judging by the colour of his hair and eyes. They have ears but they never hear correctly. And with these strange-coloured animal eyes that kept shifting hues like the composure of a greedy courtesan or a faithless wife, stories from the Old Wise Ones say they never see anything like human beings should. They say one thing and do another, or do one thing and say another.
Solomon now did exactly what Erik had angled for: he came to the point. Erik had no time for niceties, The Lindqvist Group was waiting. Vexed, Solomon turned to his son and said, “Ask these mwache whether they only came here for a visit or whether they came with another word in their chests. Their course is turning more barbaric and the sooner I get rid of them the better.”
Samuel interpreted, editing out the last sentence.>>
I love writing and I can’t imagine existing without doing it. But of course deep down I also want to share what I write with the rest of the world, however great or small. And what I want to share becomes my message in the novel (here above, the cultural differences and nuances). It therefore follows that I’d not just like to write for myself and store the MS in a drawer, then begin the next. I want others to see my work and I want their opinion on it, hoping they’ll all see how beautiful my baby is.
Writers might have a facility for writing, or telling stories, or coming up with brilliant characters, or dialogue, as Wilson puts it, but what should a writer write about? As a writer you need to have at least one of these in place to even start thinking of a writing career. If you are just in love with the idea of writing you’ll find it’s the hardest work you’ll ever do and probably the least remunerative of any profession. Especially in today’s commercial writing world where art has been abandoned and ugly babies are en vogue – not your perfect baby.
What, therefore, should you write? You could try poetry, travel writing, plays, screenplays, literary fiction or the touted commercial genre, biography, memoirs – the lot. Wilson suggests you work out why you think your favourite writer is brilliant. You can’t imitate other writers’ works straight or you’ll end up with a lawsuit, especially if you’re drawn to writers with very particular voices. I have found my particular voice (above sample) and subject matter plus medium.
Find yours. You’ll know in your belly that you’ve found it when passages flow and you write easily with a smile twitching at the corner of your mouth. You’ll just know.
And yes, do find a writer you admire and analyse why you admire her or him, what draws you to their writing or their Message or their Voice.