What it takes to build short stories

Short stories writer Temo Buliro. PHOTO | CORRESPONDENT

Temo Buliro’s love for the short story comes in the form of one published collection, Faceless Voices, and two manuscripts awaiting publication.

She has also written a children’s book which won the Jomo Kenyatta Prize in 2001. She talks about her favourite topic and why she loves writing short stories.

Did you always want to be a writer?

No, being a writer was not something you did for a living when I was in school. Writers were either journalists who wrote fiction on the side, or in academia where you wrote as a requirement of achieving and maintaining tenure, which is why many universities have a printing press.  

What inspires you the most as a writer?

I’m most excited by the chance to research new topics and subjects that I’ll need to write a story.  It gives me the responsibility to be ever expanding. 

What topic excited you the most? 

Definitely getting Walk to Recovery, my children’s book on disability, published was a great reward—none of the publishing houses would print it until Longman, now Longhorn. My book pioneered disability fiction in the region and possibly even further. 

Subsequently it was awarded at the Jomo Kenyatta Literature Prize, a subject at an Amref medical symposium, approved by the government of Kenya for curriculum use. To research this book, I had to get a special permission to spend time at the medical library at the University of Nairobi.

I spoke to doctors, counsellors at Amani and the Association for the Physically Disabled of Kenya in Nairobi. 

Clearly you love to write short stories, what attracts you to this kind of writing?

I just do. There’s as much as can be said in a glance, in a look, as can be said in an essay; one has got to learn to listen with the inner self and trust that the audience can do the same. 

A quote by Lynn Abbey, a US author, says “For me, writing a short story is much, much harder than writing a novel.” Do you agree with this statement?

It is important to know what is essential to include in a story and what is nice to have but if space is limited, unnecessary. But, I can’t really comment on this as I’ve never written a novel, and even the thought of doing so is a bit intimidating but not impossible.  What I do know is that writing for children is harder than writing for adults.

How many short stories have you written? What are you working on next?

I’ve written three short story collections out of which one has been published, and I will continue to write more.  I also write for newspapers and magazines on art and entertainment.

Complete this sentence. A short story is…

Using the description the New York Times gave the work of short story author Alice Munro, 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature winner: her fiction is visceral, spare and psychologically astute, deeply revealing of human nature, with a modesty and subtle wit. That is exactly what a good short story is.

When do you know the story is finished?

There’s a feeling you get inside that says, that’s it.

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