Monday 31 October 2016

No Trick, No Treats

One little known fact about Rwanda is that Halloween is banned. The reason given is that it:

...celebrates the dead and denigrates Rwandan culture.

I find it interesting that those two terms sit side by side. As a Pagan, Samhain has been a ritual part of my life for years. Halloween has its roots in Samhain, a New Year equivalent for modern Pagans, where, instead of getting legless and waking up with no clothes on (we prefer to keep that for Beltane), we spend time remembering those we have lost and acknowledging the thin veil between this life and the next; how very close we walk to it every day.

If anyone can understand the argument 'Halloween is a denigration of culture,' Pagans probably can. Native and ancient beliefs have been appropriated over and over, usually by the Christian church. Which makes Rwanda's argument an interesting one. 

I think there are two underlying issues to the ban:

1. Denigration of Christianity

The majority of Rwandans embrace Christianity as their religion, and Paganism has always been seen as a threat to Christianity, which is why the Church throughout history has done its level best to change those customs. Christianity itself helped turn the ancient custom of remembering the dead into what it is today. Perplexing that Christmas does not insult Rwandan culture, yet a festival with its origins in ancestor veneration, a fairly universal pre-colonial custom, does. It's a mixed up, muddled up world we live in.

2. Horrorfulness

Whereas I sit uneasy with the first issue, I can more readily understand the second. Rwanda is known for the genocide of 1994, in which around one million people lost their lives over a period of a hundred days. Anyone who visits the country, reads a book on the subject, or attends one of the memorial sites where bodies are preserved, will feel queasy at such violent disregard for life. It certainly isn't a fun-and-games, laughing sort of matter. You don't feel like dressing up as a corpse and knocking on doors for chocolate after.

When the ban came into effect in 2013, journalist Frank Kagabo speculated that the genocide might indeed have been the reason, but noted that it was not explicitly given. He went on to suggest that the ban was an over-regulation of public and private life, and that it ignored the interests of the growing number of young Rwandans who have lived and studied overseas and been immersed in other cultures.

I also think this is a really interesting article by Bwesigye bwa Mwesigire: What does celebrating Halloween in African cities signify? Citing Akua Djane:

If Halloween came to Ghana from Nigeria for example, Ghanaians would call it "juju", evil, occult. Something never to be practised! Ghanaians would have said: “What? You want me, my husband, and my children to go out dressed as ghosts, witches, and Satan? You want us to go to our neighbours and ask for a “treat” for our children? If they don’t get a treat, we should advise our children to play a trick on our neighbours? Are you crazy?” Yes, this would most likely be the response if Halloween had African roots and was introduced to Ghana from Nigeria or some other African country. But because Halloween came from “the whites”, Ghanaians and other Africans have embraced it, no questions asked! Poor Africa.

But when you look around the world, at some time in history, a group of people from one place took ideas to another. Christianity sure didn't start in Britain. Middlesex is a far cry from the Middle East. The first country to adopt Christianity as its national religion was Armenia, where the last remaining pagan temple in Transcaucasia still  stands, dedicated to Mithra.

April Fools Day seems to be a corruption of the Zoroastrian New Year, the Sizdah Be-dar celebrations of Iran. 

If we're going to get right down to culture and tradition, high heels were originally men's attire.

Women just decided they could wear them better.

How far do we really want to take this?

At a certain point, whether we like it or not, we are all citizens of the world. That's the direction it's going in, faster each day. Some see this as a threat, but from another perspective it's incredibly liberating. Be whatever you want to be. Embrace whatever you enjoy on an individual level and set aside that which you do not. 

I think there will always be a place in the human psyche for making fun of death. Perhaps even in Rwanda, where such awful things have happened, but where a new generation is growing up exposed to the internet, as are young people all over the world. That is undoubtedly a difficult balance, but what people enjoy in times of peace are often very different to what they need in times of war. I would suggest that embracing new ideas and cultures is a sign of a secure and self-assured society.

The point of Sizdah Be-dar was that it was a day of chaos. It was believed that the only way to protect yourself from mischievous spirits and ill luck was to create even more mischief yourself. The carved pumpkins (originally turnips) do the same - ward off mischievous spirits. At Samhain we remember that life and death are very thinly divided, and we smile about it - because what is the alternative? 

I think it is interesting that Our Lady of the Holy Death is one of the fastest growing religions in the world. It speaks to a lot of people. A balanced life means accepting all aspects of being alive, and death is a huge part of life. One day to consider that - on friendly terms - surely isn't so frightening?

[See also Samhain Reading List.]

Sunday 30 October 2016

Wolfish Fin


This was supposed to have happened a couple of weeks back, but - kittens.

Serious question of the day: how do you get them to stop pooping in your shoes?

Anyway, managed to shovel a whole lot of other things out of the way this week and sat down this morning at 48,100 to finish up. Rolled to an end at 52,148. Has to be the fastest piece I've ever written. It was at 5,000 on 8 September, so almost fifty thousand words in just over seven weeks, with weekends off and a fortnight of kitten sitting. 

Think the 10k a week routine fits me better than any other system I've tried.

Plus, as I said before, this was an easy birth because it involved no research. 

So, now I'm sitting on one dark novella and a 100,000+ Hookland novel. Need to sit down and work out what to do with them both. I have a horrible feeling the Hookland novel might be a bottom-drawerer. I must learn to stop writing contemporary fiction. It's like drinking waragi. It's a lot of fun whilst you're doing it, but the morning is filled with regrets.

It's a style that apparently doesn't suit me. Every time I try it, no one wants the manuscript and I start lamenting the time wasted that could have been put towards something else.

I feel like I've reached the end of that learning curve.

The next time I sit down to write, it's going to be another historical piece. I've done Australia, Iran and ancient Ireland, so I'm thinking I might take a shot at my homeland of England. Crap load of research required first. I'm taking a writing hiatus to deal with the above manuscripts before that. I'm in danger of writing and not delivering. I used to love editing, but not so much anymore. Just want it out the door and on to the next.

Still, I really like this one.

Pure, indulgent, poetic fantasy.

Saturday 29 October 2016

Adult Colouring Books

I finally broke and bought an adult colouring book. I get annoyed when people herald the increase in printed book sales, 'thanks to' adult colouring books. That seriously doesn't count. But I must admit, it's relaxing. I'm going back for the Moomin edition shortly.

Monday 17 October 2016

Seven-year-old Author

At seven years old, Michelle Nkamankeng from South Africa has just become the youngest African author for her novel Waiting for the Waves. She has also joined the list of the Ten Youngest Authors in History. Congratulations!

According to @InterestingLit: In 1964, Dorothy Straight became the youngest ever author when she published How the World Began, written when she was just four years old.

Sunday 16 October 2016

Reading the World

Interesting lady. You can find her blog: A Year of Reading the World here. There's also a nice little article, which explains more about her project. I wrote a while back about how lack of access to PayPal and the digital market is crippling for authors in many economically developing countries. Here in Rwanda, it doesn't matter if you write a book. You can't sell it internationally as there's no way to take the electronic payments integrated with Amazon, Smashwords and other online book dealers. Not without a third-party UK, US or Kenyan PayPal account. You can make payments, so you can buy things online, but you can't receive them, so you can't sell your own work. It's really limiting for all countries in this position (Chad, Marshall Islands, Republic of Congo...). Imagine We just published a children's book authored in Rwanda, but for the time being, their market is limited to Rwanda, unless international buyers wish to faff about with Western Union, bank transfers, and all the extortionate charges those carry. Hopefully this is a situation that will change soon.

Friday 14 October 2016


After being adopted by my feral, I thought my job here was done, but I've just had kittens.

I've started a Kinyarwanda course twice a week. Went to the second session on Wednesday and, halfway through, the manager of the venue walked in with a sack of kittens. Someone had dumped them on the road outside. 

I have plenty of space, and cat food, so I offered to take them in.

It's turned into a full-time job. They're very little, about three weeks old. There's four in total. Two larger ones who have already got the hang of self-service and are happy to eat mushed up solids. Two smaller ones, one of which is happy to follow the others' example but still likes a little milk.

I did a mad dash across town early yesterday morning to collect a donation of kitten formula from a very kind expat. She also gave me a feeding syringe. Then received an offer of a hot water bottle from WAG, an organisation doing fantastic work with abandoned animals in Rwanda. I only just found out about them.

I'm going to rear them until they're old enough for rehoming, then try my best to pass them on in pairs. The littlest one is really noisy. He wouldn't stop crying out for the first twenty-four hours, but he's starting to settle. 

Today was a good day. We sat on the porch whilst the house was being cleaned and they all started playing, which I take as a good sign. There were a couple with gammy eyes yesterday. I washed them out and they're all open today. 

First time I've raised abandoned kittens so it's a massive learning curve. Thankfully, I have loads of friends who have done it before and have been offering great advice. I'm completely knackered though. Not much writing going on. I've never washed so many clothes, cloths and blankets in my life. Kitten formula stinks to high heaven, and I have Felix down my bra (chicken flavour, I think...).

Just so relieved they're all so active and eating. Fingers crossed for a happy ending for this little lot.

Sunday 9 October 2016

Forty Wolves

Yeah, I skipped a Wolfish update, just because so many other interesting things have been going on.

Just crossed the 40,000 word count on this one. Was hoping it would come in at 50,000, but now I reckon around 60,000. Still a novella-length piece. It's tripping off my fingers so easily. I think partly because it's the only story I have ever written with no basis in history, science, or the real world. This means absolutely no research required. It's amazing how quickly you can get through your word count when you don't have to read a dozen Wiki pages to get there.

I say it comes easily - all except for today. Had a monster night out last night. Started with quite sophisticated cocktails, ended with far too much gin at my friend's nightclub in town. Made it to another friend's house around half-five. We took a mattress out into the garden and lay watching the sunrise. Fell asleep for a couple of hours then crawled home.

Most of today I've felt like my brain is about to leak out of my eyes. Writing was a little tough. Still got through it though.

Going back to bed now.

I sat there until sunrise, afraid to close my eyes in case he left me in my sleep.
When morning came, Proudfood appeared at the door, calling to me until I fetched him some fish. I was grateful to have a distraction, someone else to take care of, someone very much in the land of the living. The smell of pus remained in the air, though thankfully faded. My friend was shivering a little less, but his eyes remained closed. I set about cleaning the cottage to clear my mind.
It was an hour past sunset when the woman in the woods returned. She paused at the gate, looking at me in the doorway. When we both smiled, she knew that he was still alive and I knew that she had brought a cure.
“Banshee Root,” she told me, removing a black glass bottle from her shawl. “It doesn’t grow in this part of the woods.”
She went straight to his bedside, placing her hand across his brow.
“You have done well,” she said. “His fever is down and his breathing is steady.” She glanced about at all of her herbs rearranged on the shelf, but said nothing. “Bring me a cup of warm water,” she instructed.
Emptying the bottle into the cup, she stirred three times and raised it to his lips. The liquid left a black stain on his teeth. I leaned in a little closer to see whether I could hear him breathing, and the next thing I know I landed on my rump beside the fire. 
He began to scream louder than I had ever heard a man scream.
I looked up at the witch, who was holding her sides with laughter.
“They don’t call it Banshee Root for nothing,” she said. “Help me hold him down.”
I climbed over and took one arm whilst she held the other. The screaming didn’t last long, but the shock of it lasted a lifetime. He took in great gulps of air and expelled them as though he were casting out a demon.

Saturday 8 October 2016

Well, That's Awkward...

Just seen an advert on Twitter for The Woman on the Orient Express by Lindsay Jayne Ashford. Couldn't help thinking it reminded me of something... Nothing more awkward than turning up to a book launch wearing the same cover as somebody else.

Friday 7 October 2016

First Fiction Course

Had a fabulous time at Casa Keza last night.

My friend Maia has turned her house into a local night school and I've started teaching fiction. It was a real honour to be the first course to run at the venue. The start date was delayed by a week whilst Maia and her team ran about like mad things getting everything prepared, and the classroom had that freshly painted smell. They were nailing mosquito netting to the windows minutes before the first student turned up.

It's the first time I've run a writing course. The reason for starting one is that writers are hard to come by in Rwanda. There's the Spoken Word event, Huza Press and Imagine We, but when you speak with publishers they say they find it hard to source material. Most of the international books by Rwandans in English are memoirs or in some way factually based. I want to help kick-start a fiction revolution. Find the next Chimamanda Adichie or Nii Parkes. 

I wrote my first ever novel, Lucid, in Rwanda back in 2008. I was a VSO volunteer, helping with the research and publication of the Dictionary of Rwandan Sign Language. Most of Angorichina and Rosy Hours were also completed here. Rwanda has been a very productive place for me writing-wise, and I see this as my chance to give something back.

It was certainly a dramatic start to the course. Minutes before we were due to begin, a tropical storm passed over. Water was pouring through the closed windows and we were mopping it off the floor. Even for the wet season it was unusually severe. Felt like I was in the set up for an Agatha Christie. At any moment I thought we might have a power out and my students would start to disappear one by one.

Thankfully it passed quickly and all my students remained.

A really lovely group, and positive feedback on the first session. Very much looking forward to seeing them all next week and reading their work. 

If you're interested in joining the next course, drop a line to

You can also check out Creative Kigali and join the Facebook group, where I hope to connect writers across the country.

Monday 3 October 2016

Kigali Kitten

About a month or so ago, I found a feral kitten hiding in my garden. I started feeding the terrified sausage and it gradually became less scared. It's a she, and she has what I suspect to be a brother, but he's much more of a scardy cat and runs away at the sight of me. She never finishes all the food I give her, so he eats when I go.

My visa is up for renewal soon, so I've been very reluctant to take on cats. I had to leave two behind last time I left the country, and I really don't want to go through that again. Still, cats call the shots. She's been gradually getting closer and closer. We've played patacake with our paws over the past week, and last night she decided that she wanted a cuddle.

This is the first time she's ever let me stroke her, so it was kind of a big deal. This morning, she's back to running away and pretending I'm a big scary monster, but it is definitely progress.

If I get my visa renewed, I'll name her. At the moment they are Cat One and Cat Two. Name suggestions welcome below.

Sunday 2 October 2016

Iwacu Open Jam

Each Sunday I've started going along to the Iwacu Open Jam session in Kagugu. Don't think I'll make it today as it's been raining since sun-up. The wet season has definitely arrived. Some spectacular thunder and lightning.

Thought I'd share the above picture of me performing A Man You Don't Meet Every Day last week. Look how close I'm getting to that fire - without falling in


One nice thing about the rain is that I can practise singing without feeling self-conscious. Houses in warm climates don't tend to be well soundproofed. Lots of ventilation bricks. At least when it's wet nobody can hear anything over the sound of the rain. I'm desperate to crack Stretched On Your Grave since Peaky Blinders. Such a good song.

I have a strong voice, but not a particularly flexible one. I find it helps to learn a song by singing along to it using headphones and Audacity. It's easier to sing along to a song than try to sing it by yourself to begin with, so this allows you to get a clean recording of you singing the song relatively well, then you can use your own voice to learn from. I find it helps identify your vocal comfort zone a little easier.

Would really love some more recommendations for slow or easy songs along those lines. Something that can be sung without accompaniment. Please drop any suggestions below.

Saturday 1 October 2016

Oh Rwandan Child

Had a lovely time last night at Grand Legacy Hotel for the launch of Imagine We's first book: Oh Rwandan Child by former Miss Rwanda contestant turned author, Peace Kwizera.

It's a really lovely book. On each page there are examples of different careers, encouraging young people to pursue the things they loved as children. Each of the careers is modelled on someone the author knows. Her sister provided the inspiration for the pilot, and there are so many strong role models for girls as well as boys.

It's a really big deal, as so few books are authored and published in Rwanda. There are children's books on sale in Nakumatt, but they're mostly retellings of traditional stories. This book is modern and beautifully illustrated - thanks to Inkstain.

The event was full of music, song, poetry and praise. I turned up with Creative Kigali members Philippa (left) and Katie (right). We managed to snap a shot with the author herself.

And, of course, got our books signed. Though it's sad to think that, due to Rwanda's lack of PayPal, Imagine We can't currently sell this to an international market. I'm sure there's so many diaspora who would love a copy. If you would like to enquire you can drop them a line via their website, Facebook or Twitter. I'm sure they'd be happy to post it out. It's written in English, but there are also plans for a Kinyarwanda edition.