One of my favourite writers, Monique Roffey said her writing career started from a very young age when she was writing diaries and journals. Everything else followed from that. I am in no way implying that I am at the level of Monique, but I am convinced there is a lot that is common between how she started writing and how I developed my writing career.
I have, all along, been unconscious of how I ended up being the writer I am today. Before embarking on this project, I never thought about my journey as a writer. What you are reading was constructed over time as I wondered how I travelled from being one of the ordinary local boys to what some people refer to as a writer.
I am not even sure if I deserve this title.
“You deny you are a writer?” said Sphe, my chicky eighteen you old, as he moved his head left and right in response to music coming from his mobile through earphones. “So, you’re at a state of denial, dad.”
“Somebody must confirm I’m a good writer.” I said in response, trying to be funny.
“I just have.” he said so quickly as if he had expected my answer.
Over time, I have accepted that writers write and that, writing is exactly what I do almost every day.
For me, it all started in 1978 at 16. Now I am giving away my age and you are already counting how old I am. It was not planned. My place of birth is somehow responsible for imposing writing on me at, not so tender age.
Imagine a dry, semi-desert plains covered with goats, donkeys, herds of cattle and many under nourished domesticated animals. That sounds like an area somewhere else in the desert, not in South Africa. Wrong this was in KwaZulu- Natal, the most traditional, but now fast transforming of provinces in the country.
The only entertainment available or should I say accessible to the young people like myself, then, especially in the afternoons after school, was stick fighting, soccer, bird trapping, herding the only four donkeys my dad owned and unbelievably, even organizing cattle mating session. I would engage in almost all the above, including following girls telling them all sorts of lies, but I always found myself with plenty more time and absolutely nothing else to do.
During the week, I would follow my routine lifestyle. It entailed going to church on Sundays on my aunt’s insistence. Weekdays were reserved for school. Fridays were fascinating. My domestic worker mum would come home after spending time in town, away from me. She brought home all sorts of old newspapers and magazines. I devoured them.
As part of preserving them, I would make cuttings of pictures and paste them into an exercise book. Next to each picture, I would write a paragraph or two explaining what the picture was all about. Little did I realise that I was sharpening my writing skills. Over time the exercise book would become a full book.
One day my mum also brought home an old diary. I made good use of it. I made random entries. It became so interesting. I kept all those documents or “books” until I got married to my beautiful wife. But please do not ask me where these books are today. If you are brave enough, you are welcome to ask my wife. She would gladly explain to you where my cuttings are.
It took me some time to realise what she was up to. She would wait for me to be out of the house and then start cleaning up. Cleaning for her, is about making sure that no papers are lying around the house. Then all my writings would find their way to the dustbin.
“Where’s my book?” I would ask whenever I found my study neat without papers scattered around the table.
“No idea. You know I don’t throw any paper away.” she would say with a straight round face, brightened up by disarming smile.
Honestly, I had no intention to be a writer. It was simply one way of keeping myself busy. Later, more mature types of my writings followed the earlier ones. I wrote poems. But the sad news is, like other earlier writings, my poems remained just that – my poems. I kept them stored away from the eyes of other people.
It was only in the 1990s that I entered some poetry competitions. No winnings, though. In hindsight, I now know that my writing skills were the winner because they became better whenever I finished a piece.
Not so long ago I made and effort to have my writings published. Nothing could stand on my way. And the publishing industry did not disappoint. In a single year, I published more pieces than I had ever published in three decades. They ranged from feature articles to poems. They were in different publications. But still, I was not sure whether to call myself a writer. Now with some material published, I do not think I am being ambitious if I describe myself as a writer. I can no longer avoid this title, the writer.
When and why do I write?
Unlike before, I now plan my writing. To me, writing is a healing exercise. I write because I find it so therapeutic for me. When I am sad I write, when I am angry, I write, when I am tired I still write. Whenever, I write, I am responding to an emotional state that I may be in at that time.
The relief I get after writing is amazing. It is like slipping into a deep sleep after being denied sleep for days.