Stories have been running through my mind since I was about five years old. I used to herd our family’s goats and fetch firewood while barefoot. My hair was cropped short, and when the sun got hot and I sweated, the sweat running into my eyes would sting because of the soap I had smeared on my face in place of oil.
In my mind, though, I was the daughter of a teacher (teachers were the richest people I knew then). I had beautiful shoes on my feet and my hair was long and flowing. In my imagination, I took tea and bread every morning, unlike the reality of eating the previous night’s leftover ugali.
In Standard Seven at Tigithi Primary School in Naromoru, I once wrote an essay. My teacher of English, Mr Peter Ngugi, read it out to the whole class and placed it on the school notice board (which was a huge eucalyptus tree outside the staffroom).
I was inspired! I was going to be a famous author! I would be like Mwangi Gicheru, John Kiriamiti, Helen Ovbiagele and Grace Ogot.
The weekend following that triumph, I wrote my first full story. It was titled A lucky Escape. I filled a whole 32-page exercise book with my creative writing. I covered the book with an empty wheat flour packet. Then I wrote the title boldly on the cover.
My elder brother came home a few days later with a guest, and I saw the guest read the story from cover to cover. I was now a confirmed author, and the pupils in my class started calling me a novelist. My bubble of self-importance, however, burst when I showed the manuscript to a fellow pupil who had transferred to our school from Nairobi. He told me that if the manuscript was typed, it could amount to less than five pages and would never be published as a novel.
In high school, I joined the journalism club. In Form Two, I wrote a piece about a sports event and my teacher of English, Miss Kamau, read to the Form Fours. She also placed it on the notice board – this time a real one. I continued writing short pieces throughout high school.
After secondary school, I studied library studies because I wanted to spend my life close to books. After college, I worked as a school librarian at Northrift Education Centre in Kitale. While there, we produced a school magazine and I contributed an article, which so impressed the director of the school that she called me to her office to congratulate me. I also produced a narrative which emerged second overall at the provincial drama festival.
I left the school in 2000 to be close to my husband, who teaches in Kitui. I was now a housewife and my husband, Joseph Kamau Ndirangu, who is also an author, kept challenging me to write a full novel.
WOULD NOT PUBLISH
In 2001 I began my first real manuscript. I would write in the afternoon after finishing the house work. I never told my husband that I was writing. I would write and save my work in a diskette. I was like a first-time mother afraid of exposing my baby to strangers who might say the baby was not as attractive as she thought.
When I finally got the courage to show him, he liked it. He edited the manuscript and passed it on to a few teachers, who also loved it. I was now ready to try the publishers. I travelled to Nairobi to attend a book fair that year and I submitted the manuscript to Jomo Kenyatta Foundation. I also gave copies to one of my sisters to submit to other publishers.
The answers from the different publishers were almost the same. They liked the story but would not publish it. In 2003, I submitted the story for the Macmillan Writers Prize for Africa in the youth category. I got a letter one Friday evening. My story, I Refuse to Be a Statistic, was among the seven shortlisted for the prize from among over 500 manuscripts from all over Africa and the diaspora. A few days later, The People newspaper wrote an article about me.
I thought I had made it now as an author. Publishers would be falling over themselves to publish me. The winners were announced in 2004 but, unfortunately, I did not win. I was to be disappointed further when I went to Macmillan Publishers, and they told me they could not publish my story.
The marketing manager then directed me to Kamau Kiarie of East African Educational Publishers. I told him my tribulations and gave him the manuscript. He loved the story and told me EAEP would publish it. It took a while, though, before the book was published. It was not until 2010 that the book was finally published. The title was changed to Breaking the Silence.
When I held the first copy of my book, the thrill that I felt was indescribable. I had achieved immortality.
I was not naive to imagine that I could now make a fortune, but I thought that surely fame would come my way. In 2011, the book emerged first runner-up in the Jomo Kenyatta Literature Prize.
Unfortunately, the book ran out of print soon after and for more than year, there was not a single copy to be in the bookshops. It was finally reprinted in 2013. It was also approved by Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development for use as a class reader in schools.
Fortune is yet to come my way, though. To date I have not received a single cent in royalties. I have actively sold my books, and I am still doing so.
I submitted another manuscript to EAEP and I am waiting for it to be published. I am also finalising my third manuscript and have began working on the fourth one. I am following Ng’ang’a Mbugua’s advice, to first establish myself as an author and then I will go the self-publishing way. I have too many stories running through my mind to wait forever for publishers to slot them in their publishing schedules.
The writer was the first runner-up for the Jomo Kenyatta Literature Prize (2011).
Review of Muthoni wa Gichuru’s Breaking the Silence
So what it is that makes Muthoni’s book readable in a sitting, you ask. First, the book is only 14000 words, has pictures in it and is written in the friendliest imaginable font. I shall Google for the name of this font. Must use it on the blog 😉 Second, the language is so sincere, and thirdly the story’s theme, even though it could have been pulled straight from the monthly Parents magazine or a random weekend pullout from the Standard Newspaper, still manages to maintain a fresh appeal.
The story is told in first person by the protagonist Wanjiku. Essentially, it is the story of rape. The victim tells her story so charmingly and sincerely that it would be difficult not be sympathize with her plight or to be won over by her gentle sense of humour despite being gang-raped.
The apt description of the emotional rollercoaster that Wanjiku and her family go through and the court intrigues and the use of short, simple and well-crafted sentences coupled with interesting dialogue leaves little doubt in the mind of the reader why this book was the first runners-up for the Jomo Kenyatta Literature prize for Africa, youth category- English 2011.