It is chilly out there so I am sitting in the office on a Thursday evening, preparing myself for a cocktail, yes, my very first office cocktail. If you ask me, I was dressed for the occasion. I check whether I have my notebook with me, is my make up right, do I have the agenda with me? Then I hear crusty laughter coming from the boardroom. It must be the guests. I pick up my cup of coffee and dash to the boardroom, my shoes squeaking down the corridor.
Well, moving on swiftly, here we are at the boardroom. I am a bit shy about starting a conversation with whoever is seated next to me, so I drown myself in the agenda, which paper is now a bit damp because of my nervousness. It says ‘Dayo’ is the guest speaker for the event, and I keep wondering who she is because only her first name is used. Other names mentioned are Doreen Baingana, the managing editor of Storymoja and author of the award-winning ‘Tropical Fish’, and Agatha Verdadero, an editor of the Storymoja Uta Do? Businenss Series. These books are aimed at helping young people start and run their own businesses. The books are reader-friendly and provide practical ideas and tips on how to start and run a successful business. The books are full of local examples to make them directly relevant to an East African audience.
Thank goodness there are plenty of beverages to keep us warm and snacks to bite on because it is quite chilly outside. I think to myself, why not pour some more coffee before I start with the, “How are you? My name is… So what do you do apart from writing?” I pour myself fruit punch instead. I have been having coffee the whole day and I am not relaxed; definitely the laced punch will do.
The event starts quite well, with the invited writers flowing in almost on time. The cocktail is aimed at bringing together the editors and authors of the Uta Do? Business Series to discuss how to produce better manuscripts. Writers who have attended the other Storymoja workshops on inspirational writing and crime fiction and are finishing up their manuscripts also are invited. The purpose is also to inform the writers about the upcoming Storymoja Hay Festival, and how they can participate and showcase their books. The event, which is set for July 31st, August 1st and 2nd, is a “Festival of Ideas” that will bring authors, musicians and other international and Kenyan names to Nairobi.
Doreen Baingana breaks the ice by welcoming us and asking us to introduce ourselves. That’s when I realize with shock that I am sitting next to Dayo Foster! So she wasn’t just any ‘Dayo’. You should have seen the look on my face: I was turning red, or is it purple for black people? I don’t know if it was because of my ignorance or my excitement. In case you don’t know, Dayo Forster is one of the accomplished African women writers who have been able to pierce through to the international literary scene. Her debut novel, “Reading the Ceiling,” was short-listed for the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize, 2008 as Best First Book, Africa Region, and is a refreshing, funny and wholly authentic read. The novel is about Ayodele, who has just turned 18, and – having reached womanhood – decides that the time has come to lose her virginity. Her choice of whom to do this with has a drastic effect on the rest of her life… You see why I have every reason to turn purple? If you haven’t read this book, grab it!
Dayo starts by asking us, what’s next beyond a good idea for a book? We stare at each other and back at her, like children on their first day in school. Some of us sip our wine, coffee or punch. Then she answers with a smile that one has to focus on what the book will be about, who your reader is and then write and revise as much as you can. When you are done, find yourself a good editor. She dispels this notion of “a poor reading culture’ by saying many people are going back to do MBAs and they need books to buy. Dayo gives us many useful tips on good business writing that apply to writing in general. (Details are in her article “Business Writing: Why and How,” published on the Storymoja website.)
Next, Agatha Verdadero gives us her account of the business book manuscripts she has edited. She notes that some writers do not want to listen to their editors’ advice about their manuscripts. She says that authors benefit a lot from heeding their editors’ advice, and that if they disagree, they should kindly inform the editor why. She adds that writers should be their own critics so as to improve their work.
The writers are then given the opportunity to discuss the challenges they face as writers. Moraa Gitaa, a crime fiction author contributes by saying that the main challenge is time. She does not have enough time to focus on her writing entirely.
Dayo responds by talking about time management and the discipline to run our daily activities smoothly without piling too much on any specific day. “There’s no secret to it, just try and try harder,” she says.
In answer to a query about research, Doreen says a publisher must do some research on which kinds of books are on high demand before publishing decisions are made to avoid putting so much effort into a book that will not sell. She adds that Storymoja encourages writers to do research on what they are writing to find out how popular the genre is in the book market. “The content in the books must be well researched as well, of course,” she concludes.
After the discussion, I chat with Purity Kagwiria, one of the authors of the Uta Do? Series. We agree that almost everyday of our lives we continue learning, and we have learnt a lot today by attending this cocktail.
This event has surely served its purpose, considering the ideas that have been generated and exchanged. We finish up by exchanging numbers, and I go home warm, relaxed and happy that I dressed up for such a delightful evening.
Written by Wendy Kasera