Wilfred Njeru: I look at myself as a child when reading

Wilfred Njeru

Radio personality and author Wilfred Njeru.

Photo credit: Courtesy | Bonnie Gichuru Photography via Wilfred Njeru

Although he studied civil engineering, Wilfred Njeru, a media personality, loved music when in school and always wanted to be a DJ. But his trajectory changed as his voice landed him a radio job that he has been at for the last six years.

A lover of lore, fiction, and African fantasy, and armed with his passion for writing, Njeru has authored Son of Akanga, the first in a series of three fantasy books.

“From when I was young, I read all stories I could get my hands on. I remember when I was in class five, I made small notebooks from small pieces of paper in which I would write stories in, which circulated in the whole school. In high school, I kept a separate exercise book for writing stories. I always knew that I was going to write at some point.”

But it was until during Covid-19 that the dream materialised.

“There was a lot of staying at home and more hours spent at home than at work. I decided to pen out a long narrative. Years after high school, I had met a friend to whom I told the stories I had written in high school. She said the stories sounded like C. S. Lewis or J. R. R. Tolkien. I had not read their works. I decided to watch them.

“While I had started writing what was like Men in Black, I had a new story that stayed in my heart for eight years. I wanted to do an African story. I read on Egypt, stories from West Africa, the Ashanti, the Kush, and stories from Kenya then asked myself what the best way was for putting these different stories together.” 

Cover of Wilfred Njeru's book "Son of Akanga".

Cover of Wilfred Njeru's book "Son of Akanga".

Photo credit: Pool

His story was to be initially precolonial about a chief resisting colonialism.

“I had typed 20,000 words on MS Word in my computer, which I sadly lost to a robbery.”

Two years passed but the story kept beckoning, so he wrote it again on Google Docs.

Njeru, a music director for Family Media, and also producer and presenter, shares his journey with Nation.Africa.

What was your writing process like?

I would write any time I was free. I ended up with 200,000 words, which was too long for a single book. I would end up writing 1,000 or 2,000 words at a sitting but what drove me was that I had committed to complete writing an idea I have in a single sitting. I decided it would be three books. I understood where I wanted to go with this story. It took me two years to finish the first.

How did you go about publishing?

I knew that this would not be the kind of a book that a traditional publisher in Kenya would jump at. In fact, I wanted it to go on screen. I approached a self-publisher and heard nothing from them for a year. I called them and they promised to read the book and get back. When they finally did, they told me how wonderful and creative the book was. They said it would be long before they decide to publish it. I resorted to editing software. I first released a chapter of the book and put a link on WhatsApp and the feedback was incredible. I then used the Amazon KDP programme and found a printing house locally.

The reason why it is in book form and not a movie

I heard that the best way to make a deal with a studio is to have Intellectual Property. The easiest way to have this is books. I thought that I would put all my ideas into a book, have people read it so that when the opportunity presents itself, I can say that this number of people have read the book and that will be proof that people love the book. This would be a good leveraging point for me to control what my script would look like on screen.

Readers’ feedback

My wife was hesitant about reading the book but when she did, she finished it in a couple of days and said it was incredible. Some of my friends believe that this book might not get the right appreciation here in Kenya. Others said they must read it again and again to fully grasp it as it has a lot going on.

Which writers do you admire most?

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. He is admired much in my museum. Tomi Adeyami is an awesome writer. In Kenya, we have great writers. I also love Chinua Achebe. I got the love from my father.

Any books you have put down without finishing?

Books on Finance. I do not finish them because I want to go and think about what the book says.

Books you don’t like reading

I do not read adult stuff. I look at myself as a child when reading. I want to be lied to.

Subjects you think writers should write more about.

We have a narrative in Africa where people keep saying we need to write our stories, but few works are put out there in effect or they are not circulated well enough.

When is the next book out?

My process is quite slow. I would say next year towards the end.

Last word

If you are going to write, use what you must to do it. Write on your phone, laptop, notebook. Start now and keep at it!