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My Mother Burned My First Manuscript About the Devil and a Superhuman Hero: Ron Barasa Recounts His Journey of Writing Fiction

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Why do humans tell stories?

I believe there are as many worlds as there are people. Our unilateral mode of perception binds us to a biased interpretation of everything around us, therefore, no soul on earth has or will, experience reality as you have.

But it’s in these differences that we tripped on our similarities. The reflection behind the mirror of humanity represents us all. We resonate with our kin and even see parts of us in strangers when we least expect it. This is the spirit that we built cultures on and fostered human civilization, for in what other way would we conquer the wilderness unless we all dug the well?

So we began telling stories. Stories of the heroes that our fathers bowed down to, and of the villains that succumbed to their demons. We sat our young and spoke to life the legacy of great men and women. And it’s in these narratives that we see fragments of reality through someone else’s lenses. We empathise when suffering is unwarranted, we sigh in relief when calamity is avoided, and celebrate when wars are won. We do all these, in the alternate worlds that we’re taken to by the stories of our compadres…

Where my love for reading and writing stems from

The first book I ever read a whole sentence from was the Bible. That small, blue, New Testament Bible that comes with the books of Psalms and Proverbs as bonus scripture. My mum particularly enjoyed listening to me read her verses from her favourite books. Little did she know that she was transporting me to whole new worlds that lay inside those pages, especially when I read the stories told in the Bible. We were a small family then; my dad, mum, and me: their little boy who loved reading the bible and catching grasshoppers.

These years marked the onset of my exploration of my own plane of imagination. But of course, I didn’t know it then. I didn’t know I was conjuring up experiences in my head that felt just as real as those I encountered with my eyes. Compositions and Inshas were my cup of tea. Teachers often used my compositions as examples of “this is how to write…” But to me, I was just doing my homework. Until I got to class Eight and something convinced me I could actually write a book. This was in 2009, Tala Township Primary.

My mischief and excellent storytelling as a kid

The Headteacher had just read my Insha to all my two hundred and nineteen (I hope my estimate is right) classmates and gifted me a Swahili book and an apple to munch on as I read. The reason this meant a lot to me was, just a week earlier, our headteacher had banned extreme sports at school. Okay, they weren’t really extreme, but we chased each other around like madmen and somehow, almost every day, someone fractured a bone. So he banned games that involved running or jumping over things, and that was about every game we played. But of course, as kids, squirrels would’ve followed his instructions better.

He caught us playing brikicho, which was basically our rendition of Fast & Furious, and punished the hell out of us. There were six of us, and the punishment was that we were to play for three days and nights, nonstop. That was the best punishment I ever got to date. But because examinations were to kick off the next day, the Headteacher resorted to flaying us. He beat all the fun out of us eventually. The thrashing was so bad I had blood clots in the tips of my fingers. But those were the same fingers that wrote the Insha he read out to my classmates.

To this day, I still remember the shock on his face when he called out my admission number and saw me come forward. A short, shy kid that was still nursing injuries from his mischievousness.

My fantasy horror manuscript shocked my parents

My 13-year-old self had also been binging on horror storybooks. The Goosebumps. These little books were the contraband of my school. They were few but accessible if you knew where to look. It was during this time that I decided to write my own book. I even drew photos inside, just in case the reader didn’t capture the essence of the words I used. It was all fun until my parents read the book and my vivid description didn’t help.

The book was about this group of friends that were on a getaway only to find a gateway to hell in the basement of the medieval hotel they had checked into. I gave myself superpowers in the book. I fought demons, saved friends that could be saved, and at the brink of everything, defeated the devil after drinking “hell water” and flew away with my crush into the sunset as the hotel burned behind us. In tears, my mum burned the book. She couldn’t believe her innocent son wrote what she had just read.

My dad sat me down and tried to decipher me, wondering how on earth I came up with such a grotesque manuscript. I was devastated by their devastation than I was by the loss of my first book. I felt like I had let them down by dancing with the devil in my head. So when I got to high school, I stuck to poems. Weirdly enough, I didn’t have a girlfriend to write to. But I did business legit. I wrote for my peers and friends that needed help in convincing the love of their lives that they didn’t eat or sleep when they thought of them. I wrote under the shadows and relished how real the worlds I created on paper felt.

Writing promised no future

But writing promised no future for me. That’s how I saw it then. It was a relationship that felt unsustainable in the long haul. The harder I tried to fight this impulse, the more I saw what I feared. Failure came beckoning; I saw myself drowning in the rejection that awaited me as a writer, so I abandoned ship. I wrote my last poem, (I think it served as a break-up text, haha) and closed shop. I made myself forget who I was then, in pursuit of a shadow self that never materialised. I became that which we all fear the most, homeless. Because home is where the hearth keeps you warm, but I had extinguished mine and turned to living in the cold, abandoning the only cause that lit my soul on fire.

Why I recently started writing again

So, that’s why I started writing again, just recently, now an adult. To save me from the demons that reside within. If I’ll get enough money to buy a cabin at the foot of Mt. Kenya, good for me. But I’d rather it be a by-product of my seeking for my truth. Not my family’s, or friends, but mine. Writing is literally the scariest thing I’ve done so far, for I lay my thoughts and feelings bare to anyone willing to look. Some may be disgusted, others indifferent, and a few, if any, will see the world as I see it. It’s an everyday struggle going to the depths of my fears, willingly, but of what use is strength if you can’t face the serpent that lurks in the dark?

Also read: Of Made Up Deaths and Real Feelings: Is Reading Fiction Good For You?

My writing is a call to adventure to myself and anyone willing to heed to it and follow me into a world that only exists within us. When sleep deserts me at the stroke of midnight and I have to rethink my life decisions, I hope I won’t convince myself that I’m better off doing pedicure to a duck than writing. I pray that I find solace in the darkest corners of my imagination, and take with me anyone that’s not afraid of the dark.


Check out the writer’s blog for his fictional tales.

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