While most secondary school students immerse themselves in fiction stories penned by seasoned writers, a daring Form Two student at Kabianga Boys’ High School in Kericho County has had his work published.
Fifteen-year-old Paul Otieno has achieved a rare feat, one not even his teachers have managed, by becoming an author. Teachers, students, parents, and book enthusiasts in general now have the opportunity to add the 106-page work of fiction The Narrow Escape to their libraries and collections.
“The book is a blend of fiction and motivation. It is particularly useful for learners in my age group,” Otieno explains.
The soft-spoken, seemingly shy student developed a passion for reading and writing while in Class Seven at Elite Academy in Kisumu County under the guidance of Ms Phylis Akinyi, his teacher of English at the time.
“Ms Akinyi was my best teacher in primary school. I admired her mastery of English, and I always looked up to her. I received the same support from Ms Diana Langat when I joined Kabianga Boys’ High School,” Otieno says during the interview.
He first began writing in Form One, even though he did not fully understand what it took to get his work published. Nevertheless, he remained focused on his dream.
“I wrote The Narrow Escape in just 12 days, initially using a 48-page exercise book before transferring it to foolscaps and submitting it to my teacher of English, Mr Thomas Wanjala, for review,” Otieno reveals.
The manuscript underwent further refinement, transforming it from a rough draft into an organised piece ready for editing.
“I presented the book to our chief principal, Dr Cheruiyot Kurgat, who encouraged me to pursue my dream while emphasising the importance of remaining focused on my academic pursuits. I’ve kept that promise and continue doing so,” Otieno says.
In May, Dr Kurgat connected him to Munto Publishers, whose editors fine-tuned the work and guided Otieno through the publishing process.
“Publishing the book was not without its challenges, including a lack of writing materials and discouragement from some who said I was too ambitious,” Otieno says.
The lack of access to modern technology, including a computer for typing the manuscript, did not deter Otieno. The work was typeset in school, ensuring its safety.
However, the support of his parents and relatives, particularly his father, Thaddeus Otieno, kept him going.
“For five months, the publisher and I engaged in a back-and-forth refining the manuscript before it was finally published,” Otieno says.
Otieno has kept his passion for reading going and is currently engrossed in reading Silent Song, a compilation of short stories, and Ghosts by Chimamanda Adichie.
Surprisingly, while one might expect Otieno to be looking forward to becoming a journalist or another career related to writing, Otieno’s aspirations lie elsewhere.
“Medicine is my first career choice. It is a field I am focused on pursuing, given my proficiency in the sciences, especially biology, and mathematics,” Otieno says.
During the launch of the book, Dr Kurgat remarked that Otieno continues to display immense passion for writing while maintaining academic excellence and discipline.
“When we realised the student had a talent for writing, I reached out to a friend, Dr Joseph Njuguna, a motivational speaker, in January this year, who connected us with a publisher, and the journey to publishing began,” Dr Kurgat said.
Otieno said he was determined not to look back on this journey, even as he pursues his dream of practising medicine.
Munto Publishers Managing Director Henry Mokua commended Otieno’s talent, flexibility, and focus throughout the publishing process.
“I encourage students to have their work published, and I urge teachers and parents to guide them. Learning institutions are brimming with raw talent that needs to be tapped,” Mr Mokua said.
Otieno’s parents have guided him through the journey to achieve his authoring dream while staying focused on his education.
“My son has a passion for writing and reading others’ work. He is disciplined and seeks guidance in areas where he is not well-versed. He is just an ordinary child from an ordinary family,” the writer’s father said.