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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Julius Sseremba: Writing is who I am

He might have read chemistry at university, but writing is where this talented man’s heart is, writes Dennis D. Muhumuza. 

Mr. Julius Sseremba, a born writer!
He hit the literary scene with a bang in 2006 when the respected British firm, Mallory International, published By the African Fire, his collection of six short stories for children, earning him credibility as the new kid on Uganda’s writing block.

The chemistry graduate had outwitted literature graduates to become a fellow of the British Council Crossing Borders Writing Development Programme in 2003, which birthed his first book alongside Glaydah Namukasa’s The Deadly Ambition, Patrick Mangeni’s A Leopard in My Bed and Mildred Kiconco Barya’s The Price of Memory.  

Born and raised in Kampala, Julius Caesar Sseremba went to St Mary’s College Kisubi for high school and proceeded to Makerere University for a degree in chemistry. Unlike British novelist Ian Fleming, the famed creator of James Bond who claimed to have forayed into writing after failing in other professions, Sseremba didn’t fail as a Chemist but started writing in 2002 for Relate magazine. That’s when he discovered he was born to write!

“It (writing) is who I am,” he says unpretentiously. “It’s one of those things I was meant to do; I would be lost without it.”

After the release of By the African Fire, now in second edition (since January 2011), Sseremba vanished, until he was recently invited to share his writing experience with members of Femrite Readers and Writers’ Club. Turns out he has been busy writing so much that a bald patch has even formed at the centre of his head. He has two ready manuscripts to show for it and is working on a third; a teenage novel titled Strangers Without Manners.

From his complete novel, The Mafalanga Conspiracy, the wiry writer read an extract about a woman stuck in a loveless marriage with an inconsiderate drunkard that she’s forced to wait for nightly: “He would come back late, too late. She would have long drifted off into what was a mysterious, dark world of haunted sleep…”

Probed about the content of these works, Sseremba could only smile and say they deal with the sub-conscious. Makes you wonder how much of James Joyce (one of his major influences) has seeped into this work; does it brim with psychological insight and a stream of consciousness that his Irish icon popularised?

The success of this young writer has not been delivered on a silver platter. It’s all from toil, persistence and an element of luck. Neither the 12 rejection slips from publishing houses, nor the low financial returns, could dent his creative spirit. In fact, he good humouredly says the literary seed he has planted could feed him in old age if it doesn’t feed him today!

The solution to Uganda’s poor reading culture, he says, is in parents turning their homes into libraries. He cites another of his mentors, English writer C.S. Lewis, who was introduced to books by his parents early enough, paving the way for a voracious reading culture that later influenced him to become the literary luminary he’s remembered to be.

Sseremba also says Uganda’s writing industry would flourish quickly with support from corporate companies and moneyed individuals who have ignored it in favour of the music industry. He’s however quick to challenge fellow writers to produce works of indisputable quality that will keep readers hooked and begging for more.

It might interest the ladies that this man of quiet disposition is not married. And when asked if he has a girlfriend, he laughs lightly and says, “Maybe!” But confessing to devoting most of his time reading and writing, plus running his company, Deft Communications, is a clue to the ladies out there that he’s probably unattached.

As it is, the rejuvenating reception of By the African Fire and the author’s participation in the Lancaster University Transcultural Writing Programme, plus the wealth of experience amassed from numerous literary festivals like the 2005 Beyond Borders and the 2006 Radiophonics initiative that saw most of his short stories read live on radio, have all given Sseremba the pedigree he needs to become a literary super-achiever. Will he then earn this country the first Pulitzer or Nobel Prize in literature? Is that expecting too much ? Time will tell!

 --Sunday Monitor, April 10, 2011