Written by Faith Oneya
One of my best friends in Mombasa was HIV positive in the late 90’s. In 2000 she met a German man in Malindi who was HIV negative and they fell in love. As we shared all our secrets, she confided in me how hard it was revealing her status to him. They had safe sex for months, but eventually she told him and they still got married. Unfortunately she passed on a couple of years ago. Their love became my inspiration for Crucible.
2. How did you get interested in writing this particular genre? Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I got interested in this genre coz in the early and late 90’s in Mombasa and in my travels across the country, I realized that once a girl was infected with HIV/AIDS, most of the parents blamed men, thinking their daughter was the innocent victim. I thus decided to explore this and reversed the status. So in Crucible it is the lady protagonist Lavina who is HIV positive while the main male character Giorgio is HIV negative.
3. What kind of research did you do for this book?
I am an avid reader and for my research for Crucible, I read ALL novels published in Kenya on HIV/AIDS and gave them out to young ladies. Interestingly most took weeks to progress past the 3rd chapter and some didn’t finish reading the novels. I asked them their reason and they said that they didn’t identify with the characters. Yet when I gave them the first 5 chapters of Crucible, they got back to me in two days time demanding for the rest of the manuscript. I knew I was on the right track and finished writing the book.
4. What’s a typical working day like for you? When and where do you write? Do you set a daily writing goal?
Like most writers, I usually hold a day job mostly 8-5pm. If in between jobs, I offer proof-reading and copy-editing services for raw manuscripts and also carry out transcriptions and translations.
5. What is the hardest part of writing for you?
The hardest part is making time for my writing, given the above scenario. This calls for immense discipline like cutting down on my social life – that means no partying!! Sacrificing my sleep on most nights to write and type. No outings on weekends!!
6. What’s the best thing about being an author?
To me literature is the truth and I am thus able to give a human face o stereotyped and marginalized groups of people. My writing is also a form of self-therapy as I have passed through most of the situations I write about. Also writing is extremely exciting as it is to place time and place in chains.
7. What are you working on now? Can you share a little of your current work with us?
My next novel is titled ‘Shifting Sands’ – it is about Kemunto or Kemu as her 3 girlfriends call her. Shifting Sands is about a young African lady growing up and coming of age. Her tribulations and triumphs. It will be published mid this year.
I’m also working on ‘Devil in the Detail’ – This novel is about international terrorism. It is a narration by the main character Latifah, a Kenyan mother and wife who is arrested alongside her husband and five-year old son on alleged terrorism charges.
8. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Aspiring writers need to read other authors extensively. I also practice what I have come to call for myself the 4 Cs and 3 Ps – Constant revision, Creativity, Consistency & Constructive criticism / Perseverance, Persistence and Patience.
9. Do you have any favorite authors or favorite books? If, so, which ones?
My favorite authors are Indian and Arabic/Mid Eastern. Because of their descriptive style and the way they have a way with making words so colorful and turn the words into their very own language. I guess I am also biased towards their writing because I grew up and schooled in the coastal port city of Mombasa whose inhabitants are predominantly Indian/Swahili/Muslim-Arabic. There is some influencing force about a coastal culture. On top of my Christianity, I would fast on Ramadhan, celebrate Diwali, have Muslim and Indian friends for sleepovers at our place and cook a wicked chicken biryani and mutton pilau!
Thus I find myself reading and sometimes re-reading the following texts:
Arundhati Roy – The God of small things
Kiran Desai – The Inheritance of Loss
Leila Aboulela – Minaret
Khaled Hosseini – The Kite & A Thousand Splendid Suns
Alaa Al Aswany – The Yacoubian Building
10. What question have you always wanted to be asked as a writer?
WHAT AILS KENYAN WRITING? Kenyan writers need to stop being so timid and safe as if nothing cutting-edge ever happens to us. We need to be more bold the way our musicians are doing their own thing. We might blame local publishers who I know overly concentrate on the school text book market, but if as a writer you believe.