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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The author who wouldn't edit his past for anything

Victor Byabamazima, 67, is the Publishing Manager of Baroque Publishers (U) Ltd, a novelist and the writer of the award-winning play, Roadblock (1996) and
other plays. Dennis D. Muhumuza talked to him

Are you a happy man?
Happiness is essentially a state of mind and it’s rather hard to capture that elusive moment. But yes, I am a happy man.

What is your earliest memory?

I remember when I was attending a church service in my village; I broke away from my mother’s arm and joined the preacher. I started shouting. “In God we have everything!” I was only three or four years old.
What part would you play in the film of your life?
A writer.

Where did you draw the inspiration for your novel, Shadows of Time?
From a neighbour’s school-going teenager who was overwhelmed by the materialistic society, way back in 1969.

How long did it take you to write it?
I began with conceptualisation, research and then writing. It took me about two years to write that novel, but a lot more time to get a publisher.

Which is simpler: Writing a novel or a play?
I’ve found novel writing liberal in terms of space and time, and it offers more latitude for word use/expressions. Play writing is compact and taxes the writer to employ skills of expressive precision. It’s harder. You also write with play-acting environment in mind.

As a writer, what has been your biggest disappointment?
None of my works has been selected for the Uganda School syllabus, and yet they are popular outside the country.

Has someone ever brought you a manuscript and you thought its place was the dustbin?
The manuscripts I have received, as a publisher, have characteristic values in form of messages and purpose. But the publisher has to consider external factors like marketability when considering such manuscripts.

What’s the best cure to Uganda’s poor reading culture?
The reading culture in Uganda has been over hyped. People here read and do so in regard to the reading materials that interest them and satisfy their desire and needs. On the other hand, our information culture is intrinsically oral. The best cure is to globalise our needs which will force us to get the information about them from books, etc.

Summarise our book industry in one word?

What is the worst job you have ever done?
All my jobs have been interesting and fulfilling with varying levels of challenges. However, I found being a headmaster a very demanding and thankless job, at that time. But it’s uplifting and enriching when I meet well-to-do adults who remind me that I was their headmaster at Kigezi High School more than 25 years ago.

What is the closest you have come to death?
When Amin’s soldiers shot at my car – about 10 bullets. The car overturned, I was pulled out, beaten to almost a pulp, put in a car boot and taken to Naguru cells. I am glad to be alive to tell the story.

If you could edit your past, what would you change?
Edit my past? No, I have liked my past full of good and bad things, which have made me what I am.

What loss would you wish restored?
My hair, but the compensation is my beard. But on a serious note, I lost the 1970s decade, especially the four years when I was in exile.

What is your deepest desire today?
To research and write something vital in the Rukiga language.

What is your most treasured possession?
A bed – my bed.

Which living person do you most admire and why?
There is a woman who has been selling newspapers for years on Kampala Road, come rain or shine. She radiates happiness and contentedness in spite of the harsh odds surrounding her. Otherwise, my parents would have been the best choice, but they passed on years back.

How do you relax?
Having a leisurely walk or/and sipping on a glass of Bell Beer, while watching people.

What keeps you awake at night?
Mosquitoes. And then I begin to wonder why God created such nuisance.

--Saturday Monitor, May 23, 2009