She is among few Kenyan bloggers bagging some tidy money out of outstanding writing skills. Her blog site is a meeting place for the big boys in the advertising space. Getting traffic for her site is a goal she has gracefully concurred. Her style of writing can only be ranked equal to or slightly better than the phenomenal Bikozulu. Okay, let me put it differently; she can be paraded in the same runway with Biko and dare give him a run for his money. She has a deep sense of creativity and well polished English. Her writing is intriguing, unconventional and free-spirited. You just never know how her captivating fictional series will turn out next. She epitomizes an impressive ability to capture the readers’ attention and leaving them yearning for more.
I schooled with Wanjiru Ndung’u for the better part of my primary school life and she was no lesser of an intelligent kid besides being reserved and shy. The number Two slot was her well-guarded spot always after Jacqueline Muthoni. I recall a time when her composition was read out in class by the English teacher back in class 3 about a trip to Nairobi.
One of her many hats of accomplishment is writing for the youthful-urban audience – the like that tends to attract anything subtle and sophisticated. She is gifted in hatching stories from the oblivion and dark corners and nurturing them to articles that will leave you wondering, how that came about. It could be when Mel (A lead character) and a female friend had a tire burst or instances when she (Mel) develops a pregnancy scare. Such, form part of my favorite articles in her blog. Wanjiru can switch roles rather meticulously, writing from both gender perspectives which is something many writers struggle with.
You’d be curious to know when she discovered she was curved off to write;
“I’d say I became aware that I could write incredibly when I was around ten years old. I was a teacher’s pet in English class, and my compositions were read in front of the class many a time. When I went to high school I started experimenting with writing poetry, which got me into drama club (even though I could not act), owing to the fact that I composed a school solo for Drama festivals. I have been writing since then.”
There so many freelance writers penning down articles regularly just for fun. Wanjiru Ndung’u started off with the same mindset but reached a point where she decided to take the bull by its horns on matters writing. In other words, that’s her main act of living. How did that come about?
“It was a combination of circumstances. Growing up, we had always been made to believe that the most lucrative careers were either in business or in the sciences. I had always held a belief that there was no money in writing, considering there were only about three major newspapers in the country. Then technology boomed and access to the internet opened up opportunities in blogging and self-publishing.”
There is more to this…
“Incidentally, I’d just completed my Bachelor’s degree in Accounting and a Master’s degree in International Business Management. The labour market was saturated and I had difficulty finding a job just like any typical graduate. Eventually, I took up a volunteering position with the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology teaching Reading Aloud to struggling children in a primary school in Kisumu. I loved reading the stories to the children, but it also felt like the universe was pushing me towards literature in some way. So I heeded that call, left the programme and came home to start writing full-time.”
If you ask how long it takes me to scribble down and polish an article I wouldn’t have a clear answer. There are articles that form in the mind when I’m in bed and occasionally when travelling and as soon as I hit a keyboard, in an hour’s time I’ll have a feasible 1st draft. I may edit it twice or thrice and publish it the next day. That’s on a good day. For some, I write and let them gather dust for months only to go fetch them when my creativity gets tested or depending on my schedules. For many though, I process them in between 2 weeks and 3 weeks since best editing results work for me when I write drafts and let them wallow for a number of days as the thoughts mature and get organised.
You may pose to Wanjiru Ndung’u how often it takes her to process an article;
“The entire process involves brainstorming the idea, researching, writing a synopsis, expanding the synopsis into a first draft, editing, proofreading and rewriting to produce the final draft. It takes me three days to write a 2,000 word story including the publishing process.”
Did she acquire any special training on writing?
“I am always studying how to write better on the internet besides attending the Bikozulu Writing Masterclass, I have no special training.”
There are people who have polluted our minds with the notion that Kenyans have no reading culture, is that so?
” I’ve heard a lot of people purport so, but the following on my blog tells me a different story. I think reading, like any other activity, has its people. Kenyans do like to read. In fact, they’re eager for fresh voices, quality writing and unique takes on the issues they’re encountering in their day-to-day lives.”
Will she disclose how she wins ads in her blog?
“There is money in writing for those willing to explore new frontiers, not just in selling the work product itself or in advertising, but also in affiliate and influencer marketing.”
Is there a saturation of creative writers in the market?
“Not at all. I think there is a lot of room for more voices to tell the African and Kenyan story in their own words and with an authentic narrative .”
Delving into publishing books;
“I have self-published three books – Njambi and Kagwe’s World, a Kenyan Romantic Drama which people can find on Amazon.com http:/bitly.com/2ky4IFR as well as the young adult romance novel and the poetry guidebook whose links are: http:/hootingowl.co/about-us/ Publishing houses will more often than not take months to give feedback on a manuscript which in the end may be a rejection. Even if they do accept it, the sharing of book royalties is rarely in the writer’s favor and earnings are meager.”
What’s the other advantage of self-publishing?
“Self-publishing has allowed me the flexibility to produce and sell my work without the gate-keeping middlemen. I have better control of my earnings and the online platform gives me access to a global market. It is an arduous process since you have to do the editing, publishing and marketing yourself, but it is worthwhile.”
Speaking of Amazon and E-commerce, are E-Books the future of writing?
“E-books are certainly in the future of writing, but people still want their hard copy. Paperbacks still have their place among book lovers.”
How has been the uptake?
“The uptake was bumpy at first because I’d just started writing full-time and was still learning the ropes of what the market needs, as well as improving the quality of my skills. But there were enough sales to assure me that writing full-time was the right decision, which encouraged me to keep producing more creative content. I can now confidently say that the graph is on the rise, especially after I published Njambi & Kagwe’s World earlier this year.”
What influenced a powerful character like Mel? Is it something created from nowhere or a character you relate to?
“I write my stories week to week going with what feels right. Taste of Mel is a spin-off story from the original fiction series – Njambi & Kagwe’s World. In this story, Mel is the woman of mystique that Kagwe married to Njambi warms up to, for an ambiguous relationship with. Per my writing style, everyone gets to tell a portion of the story in their own voice and from their own perspective. Over time, Mel snowballed as a character paving way for Taste of Mel series. I didn’t set out to create this character. When I started writing she just grew on me and was unstoppable.”
How would you describe your writing style?
“My work is contemporary, short story fiction. I enjoy writing in the first person and giving every character a voice to tell the story in their own words, including their internal dialogue/inner thoughts.”
Of all names under the planet, owls are definitely a bad omen, especially to Africans. I grew up knowing if I ever spotted an owl at our homestead I should run and spit some salt in the fire to neutralize the bad luck it portended to bring. However, Wanjiru thinks otherwise of owls.
“I am a great owl lover! I think they are fantastic birds. Owls are associated with wisdom and an owl’s hoot is known to be a herald of change. When I started my blog, I wanted to produce meaningful content that impacted people’s lives positively. The Hooting Owl captured that perfectly. I would even go so far as to say the owl is my spirit animal. Owls are both solitary and nocturnal. Their wings are adapted for silent flight, their style of hunting is stealth mode and I am a night owl who enjoys silence and alone time.”
Have you copyrighted your work and how important is it to a writer and the Art industry in general?
“Content creators put in a financial investment and months of time and effort to produce their work. I think it’s important to curb piracy so that creators get their hard-earned dues. This is the mandate of the Kenya Copyright Board and while it has been accused of not operating optimally at times, I think it is still important to take steps to protect your work. That said, copyright protection is automatic once you have created your written product. I did register my copyright with the Kenya Copyright Board for the poetry guide which has hard copies.”
Do you have a team behind your fiction series that probably helps in research and editing?
“I have a team that helps with other aspects of running the blog. I research, write and edit all my stories myself. Occasionally I have beta readers doing the proofreading and leveling the kinks in the flow of the stories.”
What are some of the tips young writers should learn from Wanjiru Ndung’u?
“Writing is not just talent, it is also a craft. That means if you work on it, you can get better with time. Be authentic, don’t be afraid to invent new styles of writing and most importantly, honor your work.”
Enough said. Check out her blog The Hooting Owl
Can we now hold our breath for Platte-Land Season 2 starting off next Monday!
Image credit: http://www.grammarly.com