Anybody Reading?

The business of writing is a strange one. Not just because it requires a lot of patience and picking up your ambitions after a rejection of some sort shatters it. But just because you never know what impression you are making on people – you never know who is reading your stories.

Ten years ago, I wrote four short stories for the Sunday Vision. Nothing big. But some people thought they were humorous. Anyway, the Sunday Vision editors at that time, Joachim Buwembo and Simon Kaheru, and a lady whose name I forget, they were besides themselves with excitement when they saw my stories, and I remember the first time I walked into their office, and it was Simon who seemed the most excited.

He took me round to see Joachim (was the boss at that time) and the lady, and he went on and on about my work. And there was an artists sitting down there somewhere, looking at me. The next story they published, there was this cartoon that had a strange resemblance to me, with the goatee that was just forming.
And at that time, they were encouraging me to become a stringer – start writing feature stories. News stories. They wrote a letter, introducing me ‘To Whom It May Concern’, so that I could go about my business of becoming a proper journalist.

Well, their argument was, ‘In case we close down the fiction section, what will you do?’ They wanted me to stop writing fiction, and branch off into the news stories and such.

I did leave the office feeling so good with myself. I lit a cigarette, though it was a really hot day that afternoon, and smoked at the bus stop on Jinja Road (when you’ve come out from the New Vision road, whatever that road is called, must be some place in Industrial area) and I wanted to sit in a cool place and bask in what had just happened in the office. To feel good with myself. To celebrate. To pop the champagne bottle, if I’m to use a cliché. But the sun was shining hard upon this bus stop, and there wasn’t even a decent shadow for me to sit, and properly consume what had just happened in the editors office.

For what had happened there is something that every wannabe writer dreams about – the editor patting your back real hard, and encouraging you – and I think if I did not have that moment, I wouldn’t have persevered in my writing ambitions in the trying years that followed.

I did try it at journalism. I wanted to write this feature story about crimes of passion, and I tried interviewing one or two people, but one of them was so upset that I just could not go on with the project. Later, I instead wrote a short story, Mara Muddhu’s Puppets, which is yet to be published.
I went to the New Vision chief in Tororo, introduced myself, asked for help. A guy called Abraham Odeke, who also reported for the BBC Radio. And he seemed like a nice guy, but he wasn’t in the mood of nurturing a wannabe. I think.

So my attempt at journalism was very short lived.

And I was sad to see that the fiction section on the Sunday Vision was stopped. Just as Simon had predicted. Now I had no outlet for my stories.

I was choking with them. I wanted to write, but where would I send them? Who would read them?
It wasn’t until about 2002 or was it 2003 that I discovered the internet. And ezines. The only problem being that most of these ezines favored horrors.

And a writer will only write for the markets that are available to him. So it’s very unfortunate that there wasn’t any fiction or literary magazine in Uganda at that time. I turned to ezines, and I started writing horrors. I published the first one in 2004, in an outfit called The Swamp. A short story called Stu’s Honeymoon. And for a really long time, up until the time I went to the Maisha Film Lab in 2006,  I thought I was a horror writer.

Or at least I thought I was a writer of dark fiction. The first story I sent to Maisha, in 2005, was about a headmaster who rapes his little pupils to death. They did not pick it. But Wanjiru Kinyanjui liked the story, and asked me to let her hold it for two years as she tries to look for ways to make it. I didn’t say no. I agreed.

I’d met Wanjiru earlier, through an e-group. They were a bunch of Kenyan writers, and I suggested to them to start a magazine. They fell for the idea, and started one, which I thought would be an East African outfit, but ended up being so Kenyan. Kwani. I tried writing for Kwani, but somehow, at this time, I thought I was really a horror writer.

Which is a sad thing, because I think I wasted a lot of my efforts trying to write for a genre that I was meant to write in. I should have stuck to humor. Literary stories. But there were no outlets for literary stories for a Ugandan writer at that time. I could only find an outlet in ezines, which favoured horrors. And now I read some of these stories and I realise that they are really not what I would like to read at all! Very silly stories.

Well, in 2006, I again tried writing a horror to submit to Maisha – at least, at that time, Maisha seemed to be the only place in East Africa that I could send a story to. The only problem they were a screenwriting lab, not a prose fiction lab.

And though I’d tried to write a screenplay before, in 2002, with the help of Wanjiru, I never completed it. I didn’t even get round to writing the first page, because i didn’t have any motivation. I knew screenplays would probably sell better than prose, but before that I didn’t know who would read any screenplay I wrote.

So in 2006, I submitted this script that I thought was a horror, about beauty and the beast, but this time the beast is a woman and she kidnaps a man in order to break the curse and win back her husband’s love. When the mentors read it, they told me, ‘No, Dilman, this is not a horror. This is a romantic comedy.’

That was the wake up call. But still, in 2007, when I applied for the director’s lab, I wrote what could be considered a dark comedy. The actors, and other people, kept telling me, this is a comedy, and I kept telling them, no it’s not! And they would look at me as if I was mad. At least I managed to make a story that wasn’t a comedy. Still, people laugh when they see it.

And before that, when I made my first film, again an attempt at horror, and put it up on youtube, Under Sarah’s Bed, it just made people laugh.

Well, what I’m I writing all this nonsense for? I started out writing about my days at The Sunday Vision. And what triggered it all was a conversation I had on facebook, with Iwaaya, who runs this blog, I was wondering where I’d met him before, and he beat me to it. He asked me; “Did you used to write for the Sunday Vision?”

How anyone would remember those stupid stories, written ten years ago, beats my understanding. But then, it makes me wonder really, makes me realize that people actually read my work, and I may not be famous like Steven King, I may not have earned more than USD $25 for my stories, but people remember my stories. Which says a lot about them. Which should encourage me in a way that –
Crap. It’s too long already. I need to stop the blog at some point. If I remember this train of thought, I’ll complete this tomorrow, or the day after, because I have to ghost write someone’s blog now. Hope I have material for that!

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