In Conversation with Jennifer Makumbi, award winning author of Kintu & Manchester Happened

Toni Kan: Your name is…

Jennifer Makumbi: My name is Jennifer Makumbi and I have written two books so far, Kintu, my first novel and Manchester Happened, a collection of short stories.

T.K: I have asked this question a lot and have gotten different answers. When did you realize that you wanted to be a writer?

J.M: I think that was much later in my life, when I started to write plays and having them performed and enjoying that idea of having something put out and people coming to watch it. That’s the moment this happened.

T.K: Where did this happen? In Uganda?

J.M: Yes, in Uganda and I am happy to say that I was writing in my first language in Uganda.

T.K: Oh, cool. So, how did drama become fiction?

J.M: Well, it happened by mistake. I was supposed to be writing a text for English Language because I was an English teacher. But when I started writing the story, I couldn’t stop myself. After two weeks, I had finished writing the story and of course, it was absolutely terrible. But by then, the bug had bitten me and I’ve never looked back.

T.K: A short story, a novel right? What tells you that this is a story to be written? Is it like a smell, or sound or a quote, a line from a dialogue, how do you know that this is a story worth exploring?

J.M: Well, normally for me, an idea occurs in my head and it takes a long time for me to digest it. So, it stays in my head for over 5 years and when I have had the ‘stick story’, I put it down and begin to add flesh to it.

T.K: When you have your story, how do you write it? Do you write naked, in the morning, night, do you get away?

J.M: I don’t have any routine or a designated place for where I write. Ideas occur to me in most uncomfortable places: when I am falling asleep, when I am in the bathroom, when I am in the bus day dreaming, for me I carry my phone with me or a note book and write all these ideas down. But if it grows into something big that I sit in front of a computer, and when I do, I write non-stop until those ideas are on the ground. And then I let the book go and then come back to the book and add some more ideas, this is why it takes me a very long time to write a book.

T.K: For Kintu, how long did it take you to pour it out, to write it out from beginning to end?

J.M: Oh well, normally, when we think of writing we think of the actual writing, but actually I write in my head as well. For actual writing, I would say about 5 years but in all, 10 years because there were moments I was thinking about it, and when I would tell people about it and they would listen to the plot and ideas and question them, all that to me was writing, but I wasn’t typing at the time.

T.K: I had asked if there is a new book coming, but you said you have sent it to your agent,

J.M: Yes, I have a novel coming out actually, and it is my first novel

T.K: It was written before Kintu?

J.M: Yes, it was written before Kintu. I have had it for 20 years now. But it was rejected in 2003, 2005, 2007 and at that point, I decided to put it away and work on Kintu. After Kintu was published, I brought it out to work on it but someone decided to take the short stories first, so I put it away and completed the short stories. Now, it’s completed and the publisher is putting it out next year in June.

T.K: Thank you.

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