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Monday, August 16, 2010

The civil engineer who builds words and sentences

When we met, I couldn’t help asking Nick Twinamatsiko if he is a writer, or engineer by default, to which he replied with a broad smile that he always knew he was going to be a writer, Dennis D. Muhumuza writes
It’s a peculiarity in itself that a writer whose novels revolve around life’s oddities is a university lecturer of civil engineering. In normal circumstances, you would expect such a person to pursue a humanities course, seeing as he wanted to be a creative author that early.

Because of his love for mathematics, his dream high school combination was Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics and Literature (PCM/L). He was denied Literature, so he retained PCM and passed it colourfully, getting admitted on government sponsorship for Civil Engineering at Makerere University. That’s how civil engineering and creative authorship became his “wives” and he’s a happy man!

On top of lecturing in engineering at Kyambogo University, this man of small physical stature owns a publishing firm - Pilgrims Publications and is the author of two novels and a poetry anthology, Till the Promised Land & Other Poems (2004). His autobiographical novel, Jesse’s Jewel (2007), won the 2008 National Book Trust of Uganda (Nabotu) literary prize and his 2010 release, The Chwezi Code, is basking in attention on blogs and social networking websites.

The 31-year-old does not even hail from a family of writers or book enthusiasts. That’s why you’ll probably find it peculiarly interesting that what sparked his writing interest was a Biblical verse about young men dreaming dreams (Joel 2:28.)

“It had such a pull on me; the way those words were arranged,” he says hypnotically. “It made me realise how badly I wanted to be a writer and use words as beautifully!”

The he came across Trials and Tribulations in Sandu’s Home (1974), a hilarious domestic comedy by Godfrey Mwene Kalimugogo that left a compelling impression on him so much that day after day he contemplated writing his own novel.

However, the real turning point came in 1990 when the then 11-year-old was picked from P.6 in second term and taken to P.7, where he beat an entire Mbarara Municipality in Mock Examinations and proceeded to score aggregate 4 in PLE, something that had last been done four years earlier at his school, Mbarara Municipal School.

“It created in me the conviction that what anybody could do I could also do,” he says pragmatically. “I discovered that life had many possibilities; that things could be done differently as opposed to the way they were; for instance, that one didn’t have to study all the classes in school to be competent.”

It’s with this new-found confidence, now ingrained in his system, that Twinamatsiko embarked on writing his first novel during his S.4 vacation. It was around this time that he encountered the works of Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde among other famous authors that have influenced him profoundly.

With this self-belief, he has been toiling to reconfigure the notion that the best writers are possibly those that have studied literature or English studies in high school or at university.

He however admits that as Jesse’s Jewel gradually took shape, he struggled to discover what famous French novelist Gustave Flaubert called the “mot juste” (the right word) – a limitation he thinks would probably not have surfaced if he had had advanced English studies.

“My belief though is that a work of art must have a message, meaning and philosophy,” he says. “I always strive for that before anything else.”

This is evidently drawn from his hero, Dickens, whose works carry deep moral themes, yet he’s equally bowled over by the artistry of Oscar Wilde and the poetic touch of Shakespeare. He strives to learn from these literary luminaries but adds that the Bible has as well enriched his evolvement as a writer.

“Being born-again has given me a sense of purpose,” he says introspectively, “I always aspire to deal with important questions rather than trivia and that’s to a large extent due to faith that my writing talent is a gift from God.”

Twinamatsiko finds it grating how Ugandan publishing houses are running down the industry by relegating fiction in favour of educational materials in the name of commercialism.

To the single ladies, this engineer-author comes from Mbarara, went to Ntare School and is still single, but be warned; it appears his blood is only stirred by the peculiar, at least according to his fictional protagonists! In fact, he’s working on a collection of essays, The Chwezi Factor, in which he explores things that are natural but misconstrued as supernatural.

God willing, Twinamatsiko hopes to become a fulltime writer in two years. Whether his craftsmanship will endure the test of time is left for the future to tell.

--Sunday Monitor, August 15, 2010