Driving through the gates of Chaminuka Lodge for the Commonwealth Writers orkshop, I couldn’t help but notice how swiftly the hustle and bustle of Lusaka melted away into silence.
Although I was only 40 minutes from my doorstep, I had the feeling of being transported to some secret hideaway, which I would have the privilege of calling home for five days.
I had arrived just in time for dinner, and was greeted by a hearty buffet and our facilitators for the week, Damon Galgut and Ellen Banda-Aaku.
As the participants trickled in, I was introduced to the writers I would be getting to know that week. The group was a mix of Southern African writers from Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, Zambia and Malawi.
The night could only be described as an experience worth documenting, complete with the roaring of lions a few meters away.
As the morning came, I left my room armed with a notebook (and anticipation, this being my first writers workshop) and was ready to begin my foray into the realm of short story writing. Our first exercise was ‘interviewing’ the writer sitting next to us and describing them to the group.
This exercise yielded many interesting anecdotes; including philosophical and social standpoints, hobbies, careers and favourite books. A good opportunity for the introverts – such as myself – to speak openly about themselves and get to know the other writers a little better.
The workshop followed a very interactive format, with modules being posed as questions and answers being mulled over by the group afterwards.
Questions such as ‘Why do you write?’ inspired answers that ranged from altruistic ‘I write to make a change’ to introspective ‘I write to speak to myself’.
Ellen and Damon also made it a point to talk us through the elements we should continuously focus on as we shape our stories. Including ‘The Plot; what is your story about?’, ‘The Characters; whose story is it and what voice do they speak in?’, and ‘The Tense; when is your story taking place?’
With literary examples to guide us, we tore into how each participating writer chooses their character, enriches their plot, and picks their tense – and the limitations and advantages of making these choices.
The conversations seemed quickly to take on a life of their own. With Damon’s question on how we each perceived character and plot ending in a light-hearted debate about the comic book universe and the truth of Spiderman’s origins.
At the end of each morning session we were encouraged to find a quiet place to write. We could also arrange some time to see the facilitators in a one-on-one setting. This practice helped me to build and finish stories that I had long given up on – a sentiment that the writers attending the workshop echoed.
I was keen to explore the environment around us and was excited to learn that we were scheduled for an early-morning game drive though the grounds of the lodge.
I had set my alarm in preparation and laid out my most ‘safari-chic’ outfit. We set off at 6.30am and our guide patiently talked us through the animals we were seeing, including several kinds of impala, hyenas, zebras, cheetahs and the occasional disinterested giraffe.
The breakfast conversation after the drive set the tone for the discussion of the day: dialogue. Specifically, we asked ‘How do you choose your dialogue?’, ‘What does African dialogue look like?’ and ‘What is the difference between showing and telling?’
In addition to preparing for the final day’s public reading, the sessions dealt with how to capture your reader’s imagination from the first paragraph and how to end your story adequately.
Editing and polishing were also discussed and deliberated in great detail – ‘How do you edit your work and what do you look for as you do?’, the overarching statement being that editing is a key part of any well-told story. Damon put it aptly when he stated, ‘Don’t be afraid to make a mess and don’t be afraid to clean up the mess’.
This led to the session on the realities of publishing in Southern Africa, with Ellen suggesting ways to overcome the hurdles that we currently face, and how to make the best of the not-so-friendly publishing industry.
As I packed my suitcase on the final day of the workshop – after a few emotional goodbyes from the other participants – I was struck by the sudden feeling of clarity I had towards my own writing. The workshop had not only allowed me to interact with writers from places I had never been, but had opened my mind to better ways of shaping stories, new ways of creating worlds.
Tukiya Fundafunda, Kii for short, is a 27-year-old Zambian writer from Lusaka. She co-founded the fashion blog MaFashio with her sister in 2012; it was Zambia’s first street-style blog and has since grown into a company that provides services in Content creation, art direction and wardrobe styling.
She has a background in Computer Science and Law but her first love has always been creative writing. This love is the force behind her ‘secret diary’ mustloveskittles, which is a journal of poetry and prose.
In the winter of 2018, She self-published her first book, Photographs of Dead Lovers, a collection of poetry about growing up broken and brown; about pain and grief; about mistakes; about loving all the wrong people (and loving all the right people the wrong way).
Instagram: @kii.funda / @mafashio_zm