[Read Part 1 here]
The story so far: I was doing a lot of writing and researching. At the same time, I was shuttling between Ngando, where we lived, and Kenyatta University where I was studying my Bachelor’s Degree in English and Literature.
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In 2002, I took the popular ‘Creative Writing’ course, taught by the renowned playwright and thespian David Mulwa. For my coursework, I gave him the handwritten Villains.
Mulwa gave me back the Villains manuscript. He had written: This is a masterpiece. Type it and hand it in for publication.
These words were music to my ears…well eyes. I was excited beyond comprehension.
I didn’t know that publishers required typed manuscripts. Now I knew. I later came to get the exact specifications: Times New Roman, Size 12, Double Spaced, Printed on one side.
And there began my dilemma. Computers were scarce. Back then, Cyber Cafés used to charge 10/- a minute for usage. I simply could not afford to type the manuscript.
Some family friends came to the rescue. The Mudola family: Douglas, Dan, Dave, Dorothy… (for some reason all of their first names started with D) had been neighbours for some time. At first, Dorothy took it upon herself to type the manuscript at her place of work at a printing firm. Later on, they were to open a typing bureau in Langata. They allowed me to use the computers during the off-peak hours.
Sometimes I’d wait the whole day and not have a free machine to type the manuscript. It took over 3 months to type it all. (Looking back, this explains my good typing speed. Because my time in front of a computer was limited, I had to learn to type as fast as I could).
And finally, I had my bound copies of Villains. I had surmounted the mountain.
David Mulwa advised that I submit to different publishers. I chose three. One was Acacia, of course. The other two were the biggest publishing houses in the region.
I later learnt that it is not illegal to submit copies of manuscripts to different publishers. But it is only fair to disclose to each publisher the fact that you have submitted to others. In my case, one of the large publishers learnt from the media that my book was being published by another publisher, and they did not spare their unhappiness that I hadn’t disclosed this to them.
Then I waited.
I waited 5 months before I started prodding the publishers. One asked me to take back my manuscript. When I went to collect it, I sought audience with the editor on why they would not publish it.
“It is too tribal for us,” I was told.
I was heartbroken. It was my hope that I would bag some big publishers. Had David Mulwa, Gachanja Kiai and my friends who had read the book hidden the real truth from me? Perhaps they did not want to disappoint me by telling me the book was unpublishable.
I decided to direct my energies elsewhere, and became an active member of the university’s Travelling Theatre
Now, let me talk about the miracle/coincidence.
Villains was never going to be published.
Remember Jimmi Makotsi of Acacia? Well, he read the first 3 pages of the book and hated it. What was special about some young men shooting pool in a club?
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It was a NO for him. He threw the manuscript away.
He was going upcountry for the weekend. He carried some professor’s manuscript for editing. (Jimmi was also an editor)
When he got there, alas! He realised he’d carried Villains! Both manuscripts had blue covers.
It was half a day before he calmed down enough. Then he decided to read it. Afterall, he had nothing else to read over the whole weekend.
By the time he was done with it he’d made a call to his secretary to look for me to sign up Villains.
I didn’t have a phone. They had to get my elder bro to call someone in KU to look for me. That took a week. (It was 2002. Callbox things).
I remember vividly how I was received at the publisher. I was In T-Shirt and jeans, and the receptionist did not waste time to show me that I was clearly in the wrong place. She looked at me with a slight scowl. When I told her I would like to speak to Mr. Makotsi, she asked nonchalantly, “And who are you?”
“Kombani, Kinyanjui Kombani.”
You should have seen the surprise in her face.
“Wait! You are Kombani?”
Later, she was to admit that she expected Kombani to be an older man with greying hair and potbelly! I was quite skinny then. And I am also quite shy :-).