BY THE BOOK: Kinyanjui Kombani

What you need to know:

  • My unpopular opinion is that we do have a reading culture – the only problem is the way books are marketed to us.
  • We invest zero shillings on branding of authors and take all the investment towards school books and theme-laden books.
  • I think technology is here to compliment, rather than compete with, reading culture.
  • Do you have feedback on this story? Please email [email protected]

Kinyanjui Kombani was recently announced as the winner of CODE Burt Award for African Young Adult Literature 2018 for his book Finding Columbia in a ceremony held on Friday, August 21, 2018 during the Ghana international Book Fair in Accra.

The book is based on the life of a street urchin called Lex whose fortunes change after he gets recruited by officers from the Anti-Drugs Agency to work as an undercover agent in an investigation to nail a notorious drug baron. It is while on this assignment that Lex discovers himself and embarks on a journey of personal growth.

The publisher of the book, Oxford University Press, has organised a ‘Meet the Author’ event featuring Kinyanjui Kombani on Saturday, September 29, 2018 at Sarit Centre in Westlands, Nairobi.

Popularly known as the banker who writes, Kinyanjui Kombani is known for his other great works such as Den of Inequities, Wangari Maathai: Mother of Trees and The Last Villains of Molo.

Congratulations on bagging the prestigious Burt Award, how did that feel and what does that mean for your writing career?

I didn’t quite feel the story but my publishers, Oxford University Press, believed in me and helped me work on it. I didn’t expect to win, I felt as though all odds were against the book especially since it did not win the national award in 2017. Winning the award feels great and helps me refocus on my writing. I want to go international now.

What are the three most memorable books from your childhood? Why?

Hekaya za Abunuwasi – those stories are hilarious! I also remember from Little White Man by Meja Mwangi, from which I learnt about the Mau Mau war, and Paradise Farm by Sam Kahiga a story about a man who loses his memory and has to rediscover himself.

How many books on average do you read in a year?

I don’t count but I would estimate between 20 to 30 books a year.

Which are your two most treasured books and why? Would you lend them out?

(laughs) Most of the books in my book shelf are treasured, mostly because they are autographed by the authors themselves and I won’t lend them out.

If you had the opportunity to meet three authors, dead or alive, who would they be and why?

Meja Mwangi, Sidney Sheldon and Tom Clancy. The three authors continue to have a heavy influence on my writing. Tom Clancy’s work on espionage and counter terrorism is unrivalled.

In your opinion, is writer’s block an actual challenge faced by writers or is it an excuse for procrastination?

The jury is still out on this one. I think it is a mix of both a real challenge and an act of procrastination. It happens when the burden of trying to create becomes too heavy for the creative.

Have you ever had a bad review for your work? What did it say and how did you deal with it?

Literary critic Tom Odhiambo once did a review my book Den of Inequities under the title ‘The tragedy of being a book reviewer in Kenya’ so you can imagine how bad it was.

He massacred the book for its shortcomings, including typos. Part of the review read:

“Even the title Den of Inequities leaves one wondering if it was meant to be ‘Den of Iniquities’, as is suggested in the rest of the book and as the allusion to the biblical ‘den of robbers’ comes to mind after reading the story… Why would someone like Kombani, whose stories are about ethnic insensitivity in this country, refer to a character as ‘the Somali policeman’?”

At first I was defensive, but I have since learnt to accept feedback.

Your thoughts on society’s reading culture today in the face of popular culture increased internet coverage, social media and smart devices?

My unpopular opinion is that we do have a reading culture – the only problem is the way books are marketed to us. We invest zero shillings on branding of authors and take all the investment towards school books and theme-laden books. If we can sort out distribution – getting books in readers’ hands with less hustle – we will be very far ahead. I think technology is here to compliment, rather than compete with, reading culture.

E-books versus hard copies, what is your preference and why?

My personal preference is hard copies – the smell of books is heavenly.

What are you currently reading?

Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime.

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Do you have feedback on this story? Please email [email protected]

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