How and when did you get your start in Journalism?
When I was 19 some guy broke my heart. I wrote a poem about it; as I tend to do with most major events in my life. I sent that poem to the editor at True Love. They edited and published it. Does that count?
Where did you study and did you find a job immediately after school?
I was at USIU. I studied Journalism and graduated cum laude. Yes, I have to keep reminding my parents about this when they complain about my solitary degree. I started working, kind of, as an intern at Storymoja, which is a local publisher. It was my dream at the time. All writers want to publish books – or at least, the ones I know do, and working at a publishing house was pretty much the ultimate dream. I did that for a bit, started a blog and kept bothering people with the URL until Dorothy Ghettuba, the founder of Spielworks Media read a link I sent her and hired me as a scriptwriter. So yes, less than 6 months after graduation, I had a job.
How long have you been writing and what publications have you written for?
Should I sound super smart and precocious and say since I was 5? It’s true, I swear. You mean like GOOD writing? I don’t even know. Let’s just say since I knew how. My mom was a teacher before she retired. I had no choice in the matter, really.
I’ve written for publications both print and online, such as The Daily Nation (Saturday Magazine, Zuqka, My Network), True Love, ADMI, DRUM, Home and Living, Elite Daily (now Bustle), Love Matters Africa, Storymoja, The Magunga among others. Okay maybe that’s everything and I’m trying to make them sound many.
What has been your experience working in Print?
I love print media, though digital is my real home. In Uni my concentration was in Print Media so clearly there’s an attachment. There’s nothing like being able to physically touch and breathe the pages of someone’s actual words.
Getting into print was surprisingly easier than I thought. Funny story, I applied to Nation Media Group’s Media Lab, which is a program they have for aspiring journalists (I still don’t call myself a Journalist, by the way. That seems like a big, fat, serious word for ADULTS). I got to maybe the top 3 or something, then they rejected me. I was pretty crushed. A couple of years later, I applied to write Features and became a contributor. As soon as I had a working relationship with my boss, I was like mmmmmhm, you guys rejected me but you clearly didn’t even know what you were doing. I’m petty like that. *shrugs*
Why did you choose to be a freelance writer and what challenges have you faced working as a freelance writer?
I like freedom. Actually, like is an understatement. I LOVE freedom. There’s not a lot I’m willing to compromise for it, including, but not limited to, a nice cushy salary. I have tried employment twice. I don’t think it’s for me. I’m not good at regimens or bosses or midnight shifts, or feeling like I have to ask someone for permission to live or breathe or be sick or have my period. Asking for days off. What is that? Am I supposed to time my humanity? Employment chafes at me quite strongly.
Challenges? The lack of a nice, cushy pay check. Banks don’t like giving loans to people like us. Some landlords won’t even let you move in if you don’t have an employment letter. Then of course there’s parents consistently asking you when you’re going to get a real job, you know? Then there’s the existential questions about whether you know what you’re doing and if you should just bite the bullet and swallow this 9-5 pill already like a normal, pension-loving adult. Getting regular jobs can also be quite tricky, because with freelancing, you need – NEED – regular gigs. Either that or an understanding landlord and patient parents who double up as money-givers. Please note that I did not say moneylenders.
You’ve also worked in Television as a scriptwriter. What shows have you worked on?
I have! Higher Learning on NTV was my first show. Then there was Block D, Lies that Bind, Majaribu, Wrath, How To Find A Husband (which I also sang the theme song for, ha) and Usaliti. I feel like there is one I am forgetting. There is a new one coming out this year, a cross-continental explosive drama, called Mascara. RRRRR.
How did you get into TV writing and was it difficult to do?
Well, I had a lot of help along the way. People like Dorothy Ghettuba, Mary Migwi and a lot of people I worked with – Erica Anyadike Sugo, who I still write for, Jacqueline Ndinda, were a lot of help in the education of good TV writing, and learning the industry. Hard? No. Arduous? Most definitely. Draining? Very much so.
You’re also an author. How did you come up with the concept for Akello and how long did it take you to write it?
Heartbreaks often result in my best work, hehe. A guy broke my heart, after the guy in the first question. The poetry in the book kind of intersperses that story in the middle of other poems about life, love, my parents, purpose, things like that. So Akello was a collection of recent poems, basically, mostly love ones, put in one book. It took me a couple of years to write the poems but not nearly as long to collect them and publish, as I already had the poetry. I wasn’t writing with the purpose of publishing a book, but I’d always wanted to do one.
Did Akello do well and would you write another book of poetry?
Good question. I think it did. I sold all the copies. More importantly, I did what I wanted to do with the book, which was to get it out. I have a diary from when I was in 4th form with a list of things I wanted to do. One of them was to write a book. The last poem in Akello is a poem from that diary. Full circle and all.
I did write another book. It’s called A Side Of Raunch. I’m sure you can ascertain what that’s about. You can find both of them on the Magunga Bookstore, which I also help run.
Knowing what you know now what advice would you give to your younger self about life and pursuing a career in Journalism?
Cut off the toxic relationships faster. Write more while you still have the energy. Employment is for you but only up to a certain stage. START SAVING NOW. Keep at it, love.
You can catch Abigail’s weekly column in the Lifestyle pull out of the Daily Nation every Friday and you can purchase her books at the Magunga Online Bookstore.