Kevin Khanda Ameyo often visit mythical lands, make merry with fictional people and come back to Earth to write their fantastical tales on my blog, THE WORDS OF A DYING FLAME (adyingflame.com). He has been doing so for the last 16 years, shortly after realized he has a a knack for writing. He sat down with Nyasili Atetwe on March 18th 2021 and talked about his writing life.
KEVIN (K): I am well, cannot complain. How are you?
NYASILI (N): Well, well I am great. Very excited to have you here.
K: Thank you very much.
N: So lets begin from the beginning. Where do you live Kevin?
K: I stay in Racecourse.
N: Here in this big restless concrete jungle that is Nairobi?
K: Imagine. It is close to work though…
N: Okay. What do you do?
K: I am an architect.
N: How does a day in the life of an architect look like?
K: It can be a busy one. From designing space for clients to presenting them, to going to site and ensuring the construction is on schedule and in line with the actual design.
N: Wow it is quite a bit.
K: It is, but it is a rewarding profession creatively.
N: That was my career by the way but my drawing and design teacher was a drunk who could not hold a ruler straight and I carried the same shakiness to the exam. The rest is history. (laughs) My dream career I mean.
K: There is still time to pursue. 6 years shule is no time at all. (laughs) Pole sana.
N: It is actually a creative field in itself; creative use of space and all
N: You architects are inspired by nature a lot to come up with designs for buildings?
K: Yes. The idea being that the design should compliment its surroundings, not alter them.
N: (laughing). The architect who designed KICC comes to mind.
K: Well, that too. I cannot defend that guy. (Alichoma sana -went a little overboard)
N: (laughing)But I hear Nairobi Safari Club, along University Way, was inspired by a maize cob!
K: Yeah, those were inspired by that cob. Also, Nation Media Center was said to be inspired from two newspapers rolled up. (smiles)
N: Ooh yea, never known that.
K: I hope the actual architect does not refute it and say something else inspired it.
N: Where did you do your degree? Or you are one of the ADD guys at UON? Guys never sleep, always with T squares and making models.
K: I did mine at JKUAT. Yes, we slept in class so much we considered putting beds there.
N: It is almost like doing medicine.
K: (smily) We are brothers and sisters in tears.
N: (laughing). Brothers and sisters indeed. So drawing buildings and writing stories; how do these two marry? Is one a profession and the other a vocation?
K: They are both creative paths, although I used to write long before I even joined campus. The writing to me is an escape from the routine of the profession; a way for me to keep those creative juices flowing.
N: What kind of stuff do you write?
K: Short stories mostly.
N: Okay. You have been doing this for 16 years?
K: Yeah. In high school, I managed to write an entire novel by hand and passed it around to my classmates. They liked it and it encouraged me to keep at it. Though it was hectic, so I focused more in the short story niche. They are easier to write.
N: Wow! Do you still have that manuscript you wrote by hand?
K: It is somewhere in my parent’s house. I just cannot remember where I put it. (laughs)
N: I bet if you look at it now you would wonder what a mess your created?
K: I will be cringing with every sentence for sure. But I would still live it anyway.
N: Sure. Writing is a messy process and rewriting is what makes good writing come out. Does this ring true to you?
K: Very. When Michael Crichton said that books are not written, they are rewritten, he was not lying.
N: And that is the truth. I die several deaths when someone entrusts me with their second draft to read and give comments. Do you have a writing process?
K: True. I start by jotting down points for the main idea to get an overall flow. Then I do the first draft of the story in a night or two, then I do not look at it until after a few days(2-3). Afterwards, I can now read with fresh eyes and fine-tune where necessary.
N: How many drafts do you do before you put a story aside and it is a done thing?
K: Two, three at most.
N: Are you published?
K: Yes. In a journal called The Literary Juggernaut and on my website currently.
N: Perhaps you could share links for our sampling. I am wondering, how do you balance between your work as an architect and writing work? Do you ever find time to read?
K: I try to keep writing a few days a week,mostly at night. I do reading mostly on weekends; I am a bit free then.
N: How is reading critical to you as writer and what kind of stuff do you read?
K: Reading helps me understand the minds of other writers and see how they go about telling a story. I am into science fiction, dystopian stories and fantasy.
N: What is the state of science fiction, dystopian stories and fantasy short stories at the moment?
K: Most of them have based their story themes on Covid, climate change and their impact on society. I forgot to add: horror as well. My favourite of all genres.
N: I hope you also realise your line writing is currently growing fast? Writing is shifting from realisms to these other genres.
K: I noticed as well. More people are invested in other worldly stories more than what happens in the real world. Though I feel like the best ones have some form of tether to reality and are not so outlandish(like Black Mirror).
N: Black Mirror?
K: The series. Its main theme is technology and its impact on human interaction.
N: I have not watched it. I need to add it on my list.
K: You will not be disappointed.
N: Being a fantasy writer and an architect I presume you have written a story in which buildings are characters? You would be the right guy to characterize them best!
K: That is an idea! I have never thought about that. (Screenshots convo…)
N: That would be intriguing. Don’t you think so?
K: Definitely. I will plot this one day by the way.
N: You should actually. I would be excited to read it. I am more of a realist writer and I marvel at how you guys bend the reality and give it another flavor. Since reading is important to you, as you have said. How much reading do you do? How many books per year? Do you make targets? Do you have a reading list?
K: I do not have a list, but I try to do at least a book a month, and a few short stories in between. I normally get hooked by a synopsis and look for other similar books. There are many in my place that I am “going to read one day.”
N: (laughs) I read a short story called Toni Takitani by Haruki Murakami. It left me feeling somewhat inadequate as a writer and also very challenged at the same time. Do you ever have such encounters in your reading?
K: Oh yeah. There are stories I have read that leave me wondering why I even started, but they challenge me to do better. A novella I read called Binti by Nnedi Okorafor did that for me. It was so simple I questioned a lot of my decisions in stories.
N: Have you ever mourned the death of a character in any of the works you have read? Mine it was a guy called Obika in Arrows of God by Achebe. I understand how the death was important for the plot but it still hurts.
K: A few here and there. I have been tempted to reach out to the authors on social media and complain about the same.
N: Two crafts skills are considered the core of story writing: point of view narration and characterization. Would you say you have mastered them adequately?
K: I am confident I have.
N: How did you get it done? I struggled with point of view until I took a writing craft class; its when things cleared up in my mind.
K: I always think of the following when writing a character:
- Who are they?
2.What do they do normally?
3.What has stopped them from their normalcy?
- How will they get back to that normalcy/Will they change their routine?
When you answer these questions, you kinda get an overview of your characters.
N: Great. Thanks. This I guess helps you to inhabit the characters?
K: Yes indeed. It determines how well the characters adapt to stimuli around them. It also helps in giving a general direction in terms of plot.
N: There is a flash fiction genre that is also picking up? Have you ever tried your hand at it?
K: Many times.(laughs). Those give me an opportunity to work on how to engage a reader as fast as I can and leave them with some emotional impact that will have them remember the story.
N: Having written for all those years I guess you must be having a collection at hand.
K: A decent one. Should I become a noteworthy author, I’ll release them as “never before seen works.”
N: What do you mean noteworthy author?
K: Hopefully like Chinua Achebe.
N: I guess you have to begin somewhere on your way there?
K: Yeah. I am in no hurry. 16 years and counting. If it takes shorter, great. If it takes 30, no worries. We all get there eventually.
N: Sure, sure. Writing is like cooking githeri. You cannot use gas to cook it.
K: Definitely. The work required will pay off after many years for a lot of us.
N: Of course! What would you say is the most difficult thing you have found about writing?
K: Getting into the headspace to write. I have had so many ideas over the years, but when writer’s block enters, they always remain as ideas.
N: How do you overcome this, if ever?
K: Deadlines help. I give myself an imaginary one, or I enter a competition. Even if I do not win, the story is out at least. Also, getting a definite time to write. It preps me mentally to actually do so.
N: What are your writing habits? Do you write daily? How many hours a day do you write?
K: I do not write daily. Maybe weekly, in short snippets here and there. Daily writing personally drains me. I feel as though it is a routine and that takes away the creative spark of my writing. When I do sit to write, about 2 hours will do.
N: Okay. What does literary success look like to you?
K: When your work is used in everyday language because of how influential it is. Like ‘going down the rabbit hole’ being derived from Alice in Wonderland or the “Big Brother is watching” with regards to 1984 by George Orwell.
N: I believe that that is possible. I have two or three questions before we wrap this up. When did you join the space and how has it been on help to you as a writer?
K: I joined about a month and a half ago. I got to meet new people, got to hear about new opportunities for exposure, a place to share your work and have it critiqued for the better.
N: Do you belong to other writing forums?
K: I recently signed up two: The Write Practice and Reedsy, where competitions are held and writing workshops are conducted.
N: That is great. I have not heard of them though are they local or international?
K: I believe they are international.
N: How can we improve this space? Any suggestions?
K: Are there meetups on zoom or in real life?
N: Yes, there are. One is coming up on April 3rd from 2 – 4 pm. We have monthly meetings.
K: Ah, ok. That was my suggestion. (Tujuane-we bond and know each other)
N: I hope you will find time and join us. We shall be meeting at Alliance Francaise.
K: I will do my best.
N: Thank you Kevo for giving us your time this evening. I am privileged and honored by this!
K: Thanks for having me. It was a great interview.
N: I enjoyed it too. Now your parting shot!
K: There is more to writing than the idea.
Compiled by Paul Wambua