interview for The Terminal Move

1. Describe yourself in five words.

Storyteller with a wandering mind.

2. If you could be any character, from any book, who would it be and why?

Garp, from The World According to Garp. I learnt a trick from him about how to win the love of a girl. He won his wife by writing her a story, and I did the same for my fiancée. It works! I would like to borrow many more life lessons from him.

3. What is the inspiration behind ‘The Terminal Move’?

This is a story about the migrations of African people, way back in time before the nations and tribes, as we know them today, came into existence. A long time ago when man and nature lived as one, when the heroes of folk tales still walked the earth as ordinary mortals. I particular looked into the legend of Gipir and Labong, which narrates how the Luo people started migrating, I think from somewhere in or near present day South Sudan/Central African Republic, down into East Africa. I loved that tale as a child, for these where two brothers who fell out in a quarrel over a spear, and a set of beads, and their disagreement led them to start migrating in search of new settlements.

Though we know that people migrated, I have never encountered tales of those journeys. We all know of the famous migration of Israelites from Egypt, the dangers they faced and how that journey shaped them as a nation. But where are the stories of the Bantu moving from the heart of Africa down south? Where are the adventures of the Luo following the Nile to its source? (We only hear of a John Speke looking for the source of the mighty river!) Are those stories somewhere out there? Are they lost?

When I look at some of the names of present day nations, I get hints of some of these stories. There are people called ‘adhola’ in Tororo, in the eastern part of Uganda. It means ‘wound’. Legend has it that their leader stopped marching because of a wound, while the rest of the group continued until they settled in present day Kisumu, on the shores of Lake Victoria. So I keep asking myself, what happened that he got that wound? Was it a flesh wound, or a metaphorical wound? Did he get it in a war, from a jilted lover, from fighting a wild beast?

Another people, north eastern Uganda, are called the Karimojong. It means ‘The old ones who stayed behind’. They belong to the same group as the famous Masaai in Kenya, and were migrating from somewhere in the horn of Africa. While the Karimojong were too tired to look for greener pastures, the younger folk in the group kept marching to present day eastern Uganda and western Kenya, the Atesot. Now, I keep wondering, what happened in that split? Did the ‘old’ ones try to convince the ‘young’ ones to stay? Was it a bitter split? It must have been an unfriendly parting, for until today, though the Karimojong and the Atesot understand each other’s languages, there is a bit of tension between them, a lot of cattle rustling.

There certainly is a whole world of stories that are sadly lost to us, but we can think come up with our own versions of what might have happened, and hopefully three thousand years from today someone will find these stories and take them to be truthful historical accounts.

4. You are from Uganda. How has Ugandan culture influenced your writing?

There is no single Ugandan culture, as the country is made up of more than fifty different cultures. My parents belong to two different nations, my father being of Bantu origin, and my mother of Luo origin. I grew up in a town in Eastern Uganda, Tororo, a melting point of cultures. The street language is Kiswahili, which is unique in Uganda, proving it is a town stripped of tribal identity. I often fail to know which culture I actually belong to. Though they say I should belong to my father’s people, I do not know their language, or their ways of life. I thus prefer to call myself an African, a nomad of sorts.

This has in a way affected my point of view. The characters I create are often without clear ancestral backgrounds. Though their names might point to a particular nationality, or tribe, or clan, their behaviors and mannerisms would be general, rather ambiguous. They would speak a universal language like Kiswahili, or English. Those that do have a cultural identity are often migrants, or not living in their home area.

From this milieu of cultures, I came into contact with folk stories of various origins at a very early stage. I lived in a compound with other families from three or four different nationalities. Our town being a melting pot of cultures, I was exposed to stories from the Kenyan Luo, Somalis, Jopadhola, Bagisu, Basamia, Bagwere, Baganda, Banyankole, Banyarwanda and Itesots, before I could learn how to read or write. At school, I came across stories from Europe, Asia and America, but at home, and in the streets, during those nights when there were blackouts, we as children would gather in a dark corner, sometimes in the streets, and tell stories. Sometimes, when my maternal grandmother visited, we would listen to her around the kitchen fire. Often, I went to my mother to hear great tales from her tribe. It was not just folk stories of many different origins that I heard, there were also urban legends, modern myths, bogey stories, from many different walks of life. I know, everybody in Africa passes through this stage in their childhood, but I think mine was special, for they fired my imagination, and rather than simply retelling what I had heard, I became notorious for cooking up my own stories. Often, other children would start laughing the moment I opened my mouth, for they would know I was going to feed them a pack of lies. Today, I tend to tell stories that might have been told orally, in those dark nights or around the kitchen fires. Fortunately, no one laughs at my lies anymore.

5. Do you have a ‘recommended listening’ soundtrack for when you write? If so, tell us about it.

Normally, I don’t listen to one particular song. Depending on the story, I’ll pick songs that the protagonist might listen to, to help me block out background noises. While writing The Terminal Move, I listened to a lot of ethnic music from Uganda, and pop Ugandan music heavily influenced by traditional music, especially those of Geoffrey Oryema, Harry II Lwanga, and 1960s and 1970s dance music from Kampala.

6. What’s your opinion on ice cream?

It’s a great aphrodisiac, the easiest way to get a girl to sleep with you.

7. If you could be a fox or a raven, which one would you choose? Why?

I would be a raven, mostly because of the classic poem that Edgar Allan Poe wrote. When I was at school I memorized whole sections of the poem. Until now it’s one of the first names that come to mind whenever I think of birds. I think I was a bit of a dark side person when I was a little younger, enjoying in evil and symbols of evil, and Poe made me love this bird.

8. Who would win in a duel: Zeus or Poseidon? Why?

Zeus would win. Zeus controls sky, and rules Mount Olympus. Poseidon only rules over the seas, that means Poseidon is under at the mercy of Zeus for the sky determines the behavior of the seas. Zeus could make whirlwinds, storms, or bring calm waters, and Poseidon would be powerless against that. Beside, Zeus has thunder and lightning to crush Poseidon, who has absolutely nothing to hit the sky with.

9. What are you currently reading? Is it any good?

Will Self, How the Dead Live. I just started it a couple of days back, though I’ve had it on my shelf for nearly half a year. I bought it in a book stall that was set in the middle of a vegetable market! Well, it’s kind of a more difficult read than I had expected it to be, mostly because it is written in the first person, I think, something that over the years I’ve grown to frown upon. I don’t know why. Maybe because I used a lot of it when I was starting out to write and I think it’s for beginner writers. I’m going to push on for a chapter or two and see if I’m totally hooked, but so far it’s a slow read, the plot offering me nothing new for I’ve read a whole lot about the subject.

10. Describe your writing style and tell us a bit about your inspirations.

I’m not sure I have a writing style, or maybe I’m not aware of it. A friend yesterday told me that I use a lot of imagery, and sometimes it’s too much that it kills my stories. I also try to use as little dialog as possible, especially in short stories. This same friend told me that I love writing about sex and violence, and that I have no idea about the other sex, women, that to me women are a mystery. I don’t know why she said this. I believe my inspirations come from the people I meet, the stories I encounter every day, and from the books and movies I watch. Inspiration comes from anywhere, and everywhere, though I never like using that word, ‘inspiration’, for it makes the process of coming up with a story seem easy. Often, I will turn an idea in my head for ages, sometimes for months, before writing down even a single sentence. I do not think that is inspiration. It’s more like training your head to wander through the fantasy worlds in your subconscious.

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