There are few professions that reward youth less than being a writer. Prodigies abound in music, mathematics, even painting, but writing a literary novel of depth, perception, intelligence and ambition is usually seen as a product of experience. And, as we know, experience takes time.
I’ve heard the same story now from several writers of literary fiction. You might have heard it too. Let's say Writer A submits her latest novel to her agent and/or editor. Then follows the deadening wait for the verdict, like awaiting the results of a medical test.
It is 4.30am and we are zipping down the coastal highway on Kenya’s Indian ocean. Our little Maruti (the ‘cash-strapped NGO 4 wheel drive of choice’) judders over speed bumps. There is hardly any traffic competition at this hour. Not even the birds are up.
In Africa, you don’t have to go on safari to see wildlife, you can have a mini-safari in your own backyard – in this case a five-acre piece of land on Watamu beach on Kenya’s Indian ocean coast.
Our aesthetic choices as writers often happen under the radar; we are only dimly aware we are making them, even as we draw upon their elusive power.
‘Come on, how many Flamingoes do you see?’ The challenge comes from Colin Jackson, the research director at A Rocha Kenya. A group of us stand with our magnifying scopes and binoculars, bristling into the heat.
A student of mine on the Masters in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia once summarised her idea for a new novel as ‘A house, a lake, a summer. That’s all I know.’
A house, a lake, summer. What more could be required for a novel?
Alexandria – this must be the most beautiful name for a city. Poised on the northernmost rim of Africa, it is a place I have been to only through literature, and through a literary and family association buried in official secrecy – but that is another story.
Being a writer is one of those no-guarantee professions: there are no guarantees that you will get published and, if you do, that you will be read and understood.