Wanjiku wa Ngugi’s debut novel, The Fall of the Saints, has been getting good reviews since its release early this year.
As the second child of African literary giant Ngugi wa Thiong’o to be a celebrated writer goes to show that writing is in their DNA. The author talks about how her father’s works and words of wisdom have shaped her writing and what inspires her.
Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
I wanted to be a playwright. At a young age, I attended numerous rehearsals and actual production of my father’s plays like The Trial of Dedan Kimathi. I think this must have had an impact on my young mind. So before I started writing stories, I wrote plays, some of which have come to life on stage.
Recently, I collaborated with my brother Mukoma wa Ngugi on writing a play, Love and Revolution with Miriam Makeba which is being staged around Finland.
Where did you get the idea for The Fall of Saints?
I wanted to tell a story about a woman finding her agency. I was also interested in the idea of surrogacy, but greatly disturbed by the idea of assembling babies in the wombs of poor and low-income women often for export to the West. So I wanted Mugure, the lead character of the novel, to find her strength, her power, if you like, by navigating the murky world of baby trafficking.
You have written short stories as well, where do you get the ideas from?
Many years ago, I had a conversation with my father, and I asked him where his characters come from. “They pop up in my head,” he said. I didn’t understand what that meant, but when I started writing I found that they do indeed come to you, but I also learnt that writing is really also about commitment.
It’s hard work and it’s tedious, but when you stick to the process, the story does come to life. Also I learned that writing is not removed from the writer. In the sense that the characters and plots are a summary of the stories and events around you. Even if its fiction, it’s always in a way a reflection of what one sees, smells and hears in the environment around them.
What motivates you every day?
I find motivation from many things. From my five-year-old daughter, Nyambura; she has such creative energy, my parents, siblings and friends, fellow artists, books, jogging and meditation.
Did you feel the pressure that your debut novel needs to be “perfect” especially when people learn who your father is?
Not really. Had I done that, I don’t think I would have finished writing the novel. Not to say that I wasn’t aware of comparisons being made, but I did not focus my attention on that. Besides, I was raised to have my voice.
The numerous reviews of The Fall of Saints point out that it has too many themes. Did you do it on purpose?
No. But I also did not want to tell a linear story. Life is complicated, we live layered lives. So, mine was to capture the fullness of the lead character, a Kenyan woman living in the US who wakes up to her power as a citizen of the world, who realises that she has the ability and the strength to bring about change.
To capture that popular phrase by women in South Africa in protest against apartheid, “Now you have touched the woman, you have struck a rock.”
If given a chance now to change something in the book, would you? And what would it be?
I would not change anything.
Working on something new?
I have been writing short stories and currently working on another theatre script as I complete my second novel.