Thursday, November 15, 2012

Christian Fiction for Kenya

This blog is not about the sort of Christian fiction you can pick up in a bookstore in Australia or America. You can’t download it to your Kindle or Nook—yet. I recently had the opportunity to teach a fiction-writing workshop in Nairobi, Kenya. I worked with some delightful and enthusiastic writers.

The proud graduates of a previous workshop
display their certificates.
Anna is an enterprising business-woman who runs her own small publishing company. She does activity books for children and has produced a number of small books for schools at the request of government projects or NGOs (non-governmental organizations such as World Vision). Word searches of key terms, mazes or “find the differences” in two pictures are interspersed with information about drought management or children’s rights.

“I like what I write to be meaningful,” she told me. She recently did a short non-fiction book about the causes and prevention of child sex abuse.

“This could be effective as a story,” friends told her.

So in our workshop Anna worked on a story of a fourteen-year-old, abused by her step-father. The girl now sees his eyes turning toward the younger sister she wants to protect. The idea is to expose the symptoms of child-sexual abuse and explore options for escape in a Kenyan context. The old writing exercise of thinking about what is in your character’s pockets led to a business card of someone who frequents the restaurant where the step-father waits tables. He hopes this man will finance his dream of setting up his own food business, but if the truth of what the step-father has done comes out, the deal will be off.

Another workshop participant, Shaleen, is not a romance writer. She doesn’t even READ romance, but a publisher who had seen some of her work in a local children’s magazine sent her guidelines, asking her to consider writing a romance set in Kenya with Kenyan characters for a closely-defined, urban, black, middle-class, female audience. When a publisher approaches you, well, it’s worth taking a good look even if you have never considered romance before. Anna brought Shaleen several romance novels from a used bookseller on the street, and we plunged into developing an idea Shaleen can take to the publisher, complete with the masquerade ball Shaleen is scheduled to attend next month.
Workshop participants
critique one another's work.

Not everyone who would have liked to participate was able to get off work. Saturday afternoon James dropped by to talk. He writes and produces children’s television programs, but his passion is books, not TV. In fact, his boss has allowed him to produce a popular program on children’s books and reading that is seen all over East Africa. On the side, James has begun going into the juvenile prison to promote reading and literacy among 12- to 17-year-old boys awaiting trial—some of them for years. He is passionate about God, books and at-risk kids. With his lively sense of humor, I encouraged James to think about writing books for the boys he works with.

“Some writers I know put pictures of real children over their desks,” I told him. “They tell themselves, ‘That is who I’m writing for’.”

His eyes got big. “Yes! I can do that!”

Bookstores and street stalls are thriving in Kenya. Kindle makes it easy to download the latest Western titles. Although they aren’t cheap, the price is better than paying for international shipping. (Kenya has the forethought not to charge duty on books.) But, as in other regions of the world, readers hunger for books about characters just like themselves. Who knows? Someday you may be downloading the work of one of these enthusiastic Kenyan writers to your own e-reader.


LeAnne Hardy has lived in six countries on four continents. This was her fifth writing workshop in Kenya. She wrote about a previous workshop on this blog. Read about her Not-So-Ordinary World and discover the international settings of her books at .


  1. Really interesting to read about this whole initiative, Leanne. What a privilege for you to be able to inspire these writers who have such a heart to serve God through what they write!

  2. Love reading about this and how other are making a difference with their gifts! And what a great opportunity for you to get involved!