[Interview] Ulysses Chuka Kibuuka

Ugandan writer, Ulysses Chuka Kibuuka has written and published three books: a thriller, For the Fairest (Fountain Publishers, 1991); a collection of short stories, Pale Souls Abroad (Fountain Publishers, 2004); and a novel, Saints and Scarecrows (Fountain Publishers, 2007).

His first novel, For the Fairest, won the 1993 Uganda Publishers and Booksellers Association (UPABA) Award for best fiction and was reviewed by The New Vision and Radio Uganda, among others.

In this interview, Ulysses Kibuuka talks about religion, writing and the state of publishing in Uganda:

When did you start writing?

I started writing when I was a kid in p4 (Uganda) but first got published 1991 even though I had written For the Fairest in 1980.

Uganda had a real hell of a time and education and all that goes with it went to the dogs -- hence the deficit in publishers or enthusiasts. The difference is not much today -- not in terms of security but in terms of respect for literature, writing, etc.

With the coming of the current administration into state power -- I was part of the guerrilla detail that captured the city Kampala and still serve in the armed forces aged 56! -- it was relatively easy to get a publisher. Fountain Publishers are new having began in 1990. I am their first (fiction) published writer.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

The challenges a writer in Uganda must face are poverty -- inability to afford paper or, worse still, a computer. The worst is that our publishers, very well and perhaps rightly knowing the difficulty in marketing fiction, only encourage us to write as long as we don't expect them to handle our manuscripts with any iota of urgency.

I wrote Fairest in 1981 and only got it published in 1991 after a lot of beseeching and cajoling the publishers. I am sure the print run of nearly 2,000 copies isn't sold out so many years down the road!

Who is your target audience?

I never targeted any specific audience. All readers of books were in my mind as I penned down my words.

I -- wrongly, of course -- believed there were many readers in Uganda and that there was money to be made from writing a thriller.

Because I loved what I wrote, I believe it would be loved by everybody, it was almost as if I expected them to know my book was sweet even before they opened it!

Who influenced you most?

I was influenced by early books I read as a child in primary school.

Henry Rider Haggard's Montezuma's Daughter, The Black Arrow and Treasure Island by R. L. Stevenson, Typee by Herman Melville and much later Alistair MacLean's and Mickey Spillane's thrillers helped sharpen my whodunit sense of the thriller.

MacLean greatly influenced my Fairest.

Have your personal experiences influenced your writing in any way?

Yes, my personal experiences can be found in much of my writing. Some I've been unable to conceal!

What are your main concerns as a writer?

My concerns as a writer are plenty. I hate organised religion, for instance, and know Africa might never get over the damage these 'faiths' have done to our spiritual and even moral fibre(s). In Saints and Scarecrows, I vent my anger at this and give my reasons which I am 100% sure nobody can dispute to win over me.

I am motivated to write by looking at all the wrongs we as man do fellow man unnecessarily. I see apartheid practiced amongst us Africans in extents nearly, if not as bad, as the Boers did in South Africa.

Do you write everyday?

I don't write everyday. I even spend months without noting down anything. The reasons for this are many but one of them is that I've been disillusioned with writing.

However, I have more than 20 books projected in my head! Writers' block? Maybe.

I want to try my hand at screenplay writing. There is money there.

How would you describe your latest book?

My latest (last) book is Of Saints and Scarecrows which came out in 2001.

I always find it easy to write on the subjects I choose. Of course, I put in a lot of research. I don't see any aspects of my book(s) that I don't find enjoyable.

My last book is a novel that touches on carnal love between a Ugandan Muslim trader and a Munyarwanda (Rwandan) Catholic nun exiled in Uganda. I can say I started that book two decades before the Rwanda genocide, but I cannot prove that I predicted most of the causes since my publishers only accepted it long after the horrors.

If you do decide to continue writing, what will your next book be about?

I have projected four novels. One is to be titled The Dekabusa Autopsy and is a thriller involving a Ugandan secret agent operating in Nairobi who uncovers a plot by a group of post-apartheid South African supremacists who want to use East African politicians to bring back a sort of colonial rule.

The second novel, Flight of the Termites takes place during the last days in power of Field Marshal Idi Amin Dada. The war that ousts him starts in Tanzania and enters southern Uganda. In a southern Ugandan town, an Arab man has left behind nearly a ton of gold and several precious stones. He hires an Idi Amin army deserter to collect together a number of men to pick this stuff from the deep south and bring it to Kampala before it crumbles...

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Related Interview:
[Interview] Gisela Hoyle, author of 'The White Kudu', Conversations with Writers, October 3, 2009


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