“I want to study archeology and write history books when I am older”, says Joseph Bokea, our young and inspiring writer.
Writers pay attention
Bokea signing a book for writers
Writers creating an illustration for book cover
Muthoni shows writers how to craft a story
Bokea is a quiet, intuitive and inspiring young writer. Unlike many young people, Bokea is only 14 years old and he already knows the career he wants to pursue in life. Despite his young age, the boy already knows what he wants to pursue in his higher education, and what he wants to focus on for the rest of his life: studying, reading and writing history books!
I had the opportunity to listen to the young writer articulating his passion for books during a ‘Young Nation’ writing workshop held at Storymoja offices on 15th April 2016. Muthoni Garland and Joseph Bokea facilitated the writing workshop.
When asked to share his writing experience, Bokea smiles, composes himself and you already know that he is going to give an interesting speech on the importance of instilling an early reading culture for our children when they are still young.
He says, “I started reading two big books when I was seven years old! At the age of eight, I started writing my first book, but the manuscript got lost along the way since I was writing by hand. At the age of eleven, I had this interesting and inspiring dream while sleeping. When I woke up, I began to write my first manuscript that culminated into my first book, ‘Magic’. Magic is a fiction-fantasy book. Now I am working on a second book, which is a sequel to the first one”.
What? Did you hear that? He is already working on his second book!
I was as impressed and flabbergasted as you are. This is just a 14-year-old child. Yet he oozes with such charisma, confidence and passion when speaking about his writing experience.
Despite my advancing age, I sat there speechless listening keenly to learn from the junior achiever who is taking up the writing space with a lot of gusto and desire. It took me twenty something years to ever complete my first manuscript. Yet, this young man was already writing at the age of eight and publishing when he was 11 years old.
Bokea did teach me the importance of identifying my voice and genre early on in my writing career. When asked why he chose to write a book about magic, he said, “I mostly read fantasy books. Such books are mainly about some forms of magic, speculation, and science fiction. Magic is a fiction-fantasy book because it came from my experience of reading fiction books and was inspired by a dream.”
Bokea understands his genre very well and delivers just what is necessary for his audience. He wants to write about fantasy-fiction so he reads books about fantasy-fiction. Fantastic! Isn’t it? In fact, research has it that fantasy fiction is the fastest growing genre for young people and teenagers. Currently, teen fiction focusing on vampire series, magic and romance are doing very well across the world, especially in the west. This implies that our young Bokea has a big opportunity ahead of him presented by the huge, growing and untapped teenage market for fantasy fiction books. With clear focus, the boy has a chance of reaping huge returns from his passion for writing and desire to transform it into a career.
One of the young writers attending the writing workshop was so thrilled with the achievement Bokea made at a young age. He wanted to know how Bokea did it. He enquired, “Did your parents encourage you to write about magic? I am asking because most parents want us to write stories that they can relate with.”
This was a very interesting observation and question coming from a young writer of less than 14 years old. It raises pertinent issues concerning the role and influence of parents on children during their childhood. Parents tend to dictate what their children can and cannot do during their young age. They would choose what you eat, what you wear, what you watch and even what you read and write. In fact, some parents would not allow the children to explore their creativity and writing styles just because they do not align with their values and beliefs. This is what kills creativity at a very tender age, as children are discouraged from exploring their imaginations.
So how did our young Bokea convince his parents to let him write about magic? Guess what! He did not convince them. He did not have to. He says, “I refused my parents to read my book until it was published. They did not know what I was writing. Only my elder brother knew about the book, but only after I had finished my first draft.”
It is clear that children are scared about explaining to their parents what they are thinking. They are afraid to share their imaginations and creativity with their parents for fear of punishment or rebuke. In fact, they fear to write and share their books with their parents because of the themes that they want to explore that are contradictory to what their parents want.
So how do young people deal with such challenges? One way is to go the Bokea way. Do not let them know what you are writing. Nevertheless, children need support and guidance along their writing journey. Choosing to go alone may be challenging and difficult especially when they meet with an obstacle in their writing.
Muthoni Garland, founder of Storymoja and facilitator of the young writing workshop shares her insights. She tells the young writers, “You are children of your generation. Our world is different from the world our parents and grandparents. Read as many books as possible. When you read books, be it creative, fantasy fiction or magic, you will be able to awaken and strengthen your creative muscle.”
That is quite a loaded advice from a writer with many titles under her name and who enjoys acclaim both locally and internationally.
While supporting Muthoni’s idea, Bokea’s father chipped in, “We had no problem with our son’s writing. We chose to let Bokea express himself in the best way that he could. Magic was his best way of self-expression. We can learn several lessons from his achievement. The first lesson is that children should always write what they find interesting. Secondly, children should write a story for themselves without caring what their parents, relatives or teachers will think about them.”
That was powerful. It could never have been said any better. As the session came to close, I had learnt quite a lot from these young children and aspiring writers. When given a chance to speak about what makes a good book, Bokea said confidently, “It should have a good plot, character development and grammar. More importantly, the writer must exercise patience and perseverance, especially, when it gets boring and you feel that you do not want to wake up and write. Just keep trying and find innovative ways to keep you going. For me, I like listening to music when writing and it inspires me.”
One child asked, “What about fame? What has happened since you published your first book?”
All that Bokea could say was, “I have received a lot of publicity. Nevertheless, I don’t like it because people recognize me. I prefer to be alone and to write my works alone.”
By Gregory Omondi, Marketing and Communication Officer (firstname.lastname@example.org)