Our Pearls And Heels lady today is writer and poet Abigail Arunga. She describes herself in this way “I am a writer, more often than not. I would call myself a professional sleeper, able to do so quickly and efficiently at the drop of anyone’s hat, anytime, anyplace, with or without pay, – that’s the real work I enjoy. But in my waking hours, I weave words, mostly for anyone who will pay me. Though I am in the place where I am trying to not do that anymore…wow. That intro was long. Find me for even longer ones on my Twitter/Instagram, @AbigailArunga, and on my Facebook page, Akello, also the name of my first book. I write weekly for Nation and Nation online, where I bitch about politics often, scripts that may or may not win awards and raunchy poetry (just a littu).”
- Describe your typical day.
What is a typical day?
I think the only thing that is usually typical about my day is waking up at around 10 or 11, 1 pm if I had a heavy night of youthing. That’s about the only typical thing. I’ll wake up, stay in bed for about an hour and a half catching up on my personal and professional social media, then get out of bed for a late breakfast, and then the day, and whatever it holds, begins. Showering, is of course, optional.
- What did you want to be when you grew up?
Ha! A policewoman, so I was told, then an oceanographer for the longest time, then a librarian, then finally, in some ambiguous way that I could not see happening, a writer. I kind of stumbled onto this one, because I am good at this one. The list of my talents is not ati long.
- If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
Oh my goodness.
Probably nothing. Valuable lessons were learnt along the way. Even the lessons that came from horrible evil people who stole my money/weight/self-esteem. I won those all back eventually. Amen?
- What would you say are the top three skills needed to succeed at your job?
Well. Patience – because people can be horrible, especially where money is concerned, and especially where the money for writing is concerned, because people are usually like, ah, si it is just writing some words? Um…si then you do it? Nkt.
Assertiveness. For Pete’s sake, don’t let people walk all over you. Don’t do things without a contract, and don’t be afraid to sue buggers who are traipsing around eating in fancy hotels when they haven’t paid you. Woosah. Ahem.
Three, you said? Imagination – to write, to be creative, and to take yourself out of the box when you need a break.
- As a professional how is it working in Nairobi? Is Nairobi open to what you do or what could be better?
Nairobi is open to writers, even if she doesn’t know it. As the infamous Toni Kan says, everyone needs writers. Copy for a billboard? Writer. Newsletter for a hotel? Writer. Student brochure? Newspaper? Magazine? Pitch? Academic thesis? Everyone needs us. Lol. What could be better? Paying on time. Paying people the value of their work. Writing is already hard enough without having to beg. And a united writers front. A screenwriters guild or a writers guild with power and leverage would be fantastic.
- What motivates you?
To write? Rent. Love. Emotion. Life. Fulfilment. A need for therapy but no money to pay for it hehe.
- How do you define success?
Happiness. It’s my biggest ambition.
- Who has been your greatest inspiration?
Erm…I can’t say rent again, right? My mother, probably. No, that’s wrong. My mother has been my biggest cheerleader, even when she had no idea what I was doing. A mother’s love is the greatest, most beautiful, most humbling thing. I can’t listen to Mama by Boyz II Men without breaking down. So, inspiration, motivation, cheerleading, support…all her.
Writing wise? Anyone who tells a brilliant story makes me sit in awe, as opposed to inspires…inspiration. My earliest influences, though, were poets like Shel Silverstein. Whimsy in poetry delights me. And of course, Sidney Sheldon, and Margaret Ogola (I have read The River and The Source about 12 times). They continue to be, Warsan Shire, Rupi Kaur…you know the deal. And Ngwatilo Mawiyoo…my goodness. Can you believe the words and power that come out of her tiny person??
- What is your favourite aspect of your job?
That it isn’t a job. I didn’t choose to work for someone – I don’t like sitting in an office every day Facebooking so I can avoid doing work. Now, I can Facebook and avoid doing work from my couch. It makes all the difference!
Choice is very important to me. If I don’t have the freedom to choose, then I feel like I am not truly living. As you can imagine, high school was a clusterfuck.
- What would you say are the key elements to being successful?
Ambition and a plan. There needs to be a semi-clear path that you’re sticking on, a trajectory to figuring this adulthood thing out. The only responsibility one has is to take care of oneself. That is the essence of it all. In the words of the Dettol ad, paraphrased, if you don’t take care of yourself, who will? #sponsorsComeAndGo #allPunsIntended
- What advice would you give somebody just starting out in your line of work?
Don’t stop writing. Just write. Write. Write a lot. Send out your writing. Keep writing when no one is reading. Keep writing when everyone is reading. Read.
- What has been your most satisfying moment in terms of career?
Wow. Winning the Best Drama Award under Spielworks Media for scripts I wrote or contributed to in the series Lies that Bind was pretty cool!
My first book launch was pretty cool – the first day when the 1000 copies were delivered in boxes to my house was beautiful. I spread about 200 of them on the floor and rolled around in them like I was making a snow angel. My. Own. Book. What? It blew my mind.
- What makes you happy?
Sleep, if you hadn’t gathered from the introduction. Friends and family. Food. Travel. Books. Good TV.
- What are your hobbies? What do you do in your non-work time?
My hobbies are kind of my work. I like to go out, and I have reviewed food for the past four years. I like watching TV, and I do film and series reviews as well. I like reading books, so I review books…you get the picture. You know…I am never really not working. Ukiniona Twitter, Snapchat, nininini…it is still work. Or honing a craft. Or gathering material. The irony.
- Where do you see yourself in around 10 years?
Why these deep questions? Do I have to know? I have a vague plan as I said. And like I said, my greatest ambition is to be happy. I am pretty happy now. I hope in 10 years, I’ll still be happy.
If you would like to interact with Abigail you can find her on Twitter –@AbigailArunga, Instagram, and Facebook. Check out her articles on her blog here and some of her work for the Daily Nation here. Also, check out the Youtube channel Y DoWeDoIt where lit conversations happen – if you like controversy then this is the Youtube channel for you.
Pearls And Heels: Ann Cheptumo