Dar es Salaam. Frank Mushi clearly recalls how he started writing fiction. It was the work of an Angel. It was in 2004 when his girlfriend, Angel, would often ask him to leave her alone when she was deeply lost in one of Shigongo’s novels. “I had to impress her, make her read my stories and not those of Shigongo or anyone else. So I started writing short stories and shared them on the school newspaper,” he recalls.
He compares his situation with what Robert A. Heinlein, an American science fiction writer said in his book ‘Stranger in a strange land’ that “Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own”.
Although the 29-year-old author based in Dar confesses that he was prompted by love to write in his younger days, today he writes for other reasons. “To promote Kiswahili language,” he says and adds with a smile, “And to entertain those who like reading my work.”
From social media to printed pages
‘Those who like reading his work’ also like calling themselves his fans. Although Frank himself is not a fan of that title. The thing is, he doesn’t really call himself a writer. “I don’t take it seriously. I write just to express my feelings,” he says. He seems impressed on thinking aloud how this would be the first time a journalist interviews him for his writing. It is not the first time he has been interviewed. But in previous interviews, he wore the hat of a lawyer or a farmer. He owns Frank Farms through which he engages in poultry keeping, piggery, selling vegetables, and soon he will start selling rabbits and engage in aqua farming.
He admits that if it were not for social media, maybe he wouldn’t be where he is now. He posts his fiction stories on Facebook, Instagram and on some blogs. This has given him a huge ‘boost’. He has gained popularity, and can interact with his readers with each chapter posted.
Frank self-published his first book, ‘Taaluma iliyopotea’ (The Lost Profession) in 2013 after first publishing it online. He made Sh800,000 by selling 400 copies on Facebook at Sh2,000 per copy.
But it wasn’t until June this year that he published his second book, Kisasi, which had also been published on social media in 2015. Kisasi, which means ‘Revenge’ in English, is a love story with many twists. Frank explores themes of love, power and a woman’s position of strength. “I believe that women are powerful,” he says and explains why his characters behave the way they do. And it is a woman who is his role model, Mariama Bâ, a Senegalese author and feminist well known for her book ‘So Long a Letter’, which was also translated to Kiswahili by Ben R. Mtobwa and titled ‘Barua Ndefu Kama Hii’.
“I receive comments on every chapter that I post. Sometimes I change the story as I go along. I would say that 99 per cent of those who have bought my book so far are those who have read my story or heard about me on social media. It is the only platform where an author can meet the reader easily,” he says.
Frank sees his writing as a way of giving other people something to learn from, and a form of leisure. “I don’t even take it as a side gig. It is my passion and I don’t do it much as a business.”
It is for such reason also that he doesn’t engage in literary events. However, he admits to have met a few writers he admires, in person, after meeting them on social media. Their discussions are mainly on how to improve literature in Tanzania. “But again, I am not as serious as they are in this business.”
A form of escape?
“With a piece of a paper and a pen, you can travel the world with the ink flowing from one line to another, that is what inspires me to write,” Frank says. He describes how in so many stories that he has written, he has travelled the world from Finland to Fiji, from Tanzania to Washington DC. “I have learnt about the intelligence, love, hate, leadership, lies and truth, honesty and betrayal. I have learnt about men and women and all those things I have learnt while sitting on a chair in my room with my pen and paper or by my fingers on a laptop keyboard. When I write I travel to where I want,” he says.
About his writing process
What if my marriage becomes a wolf that hunts my life and ruins everything I have built? That is how Frank always starts writing. He asks himself one question: What if? Then he would write a sketch of his story in a hundred words or less, send that to a designer for them to reflect and create a book cover design. Sometimes, he plans the whole story chapter by chapter, and other times, he just let’s it flow. And then comes the editing.
His stories are often about himself. He writes what he believes, things that have happened in his life. And sometimes he has been accused of predicting the future. Like when he started writing for Angel. He wrote her a story about characters that would break up, and eventually the author and his lady also went their separate ways. But it was just fiction, he says.
Although he claims that writing is just a hobby for him, he believes that writers have a role in promoting Kiswahili. “Our language is our identity. We have the duty to embrace it. I am one of those who have a role of promoting Kiswahili,” he says, explaining why he writes in this language.
But he also explains that Kiswahili has a lot of vocabularies that can deeply speak to the heart when they are used to narrate a story, unlike saying the same thing in English. “Kiswahili is a rich language. It has sayings and idioms that can entertain the mind. Kiswahili is rich of sweet words, smooth words that can be touching,” he says.
Nevertheless, he intends to translate more of his work to English. So far, he has two English short stories written in 2015, ‘Come back home Sikitu’ and ‘Stairs’.
“I want to translate my stories in English and research on how I can penetrate the market in Kenya and South Africa and some other East African countries. Perhaps it is time for me to be more serious,” he says and adds that he believes that there is still need to promote literature works in Tanzania and encourage reading culture from a young age.