Interview with young writer Mandisa Mathew

There is something freeing about being in a world you have complete control over.’

It’s wonderful to have on the blog today seventeen year old Mandisa Mathew. We knew Mandisa’s family when we lived in Nairobi; Mandisa was a friend of my daughter’s and I remember being amazed to discover when she was nine years old that she had published a book, written in response to her personal experiences with bullying. When we visited Kenya last summer, it was brilliant to catch up with Mandisa and her family and wonderful to see that she is still writing, blogging and being creative in many other ways.

Welcome Mandisa!

How long have you been writing for? Can you remember the first poem or story you completed? 

I have been writing since I was around seven years old. I remember jotting down short poems or narratives in my notebook, pieces only meant for my own entertainment. For example, I am unsure if it was my first, but I distinctly remember writing a descriptive (or what I perceived as descriptive) piece about a fish tank with an octopus in it. My motivation behind the writing remains unclear, but it was my first exposure to creative writing, and descriptive writing remains one of my favourite forms of work. 

When you were nine you had a book published. What motivated you to write this book?

This was the first piece of writing that I took seriously. It was a children’s book named Urafiki, and it was set in Kenya. I wrote it to share my experience with bullying. The book outlines the life of a girl named Kayla who is bullied by a classmate, and the story paralleled my own life. Looking back at it now, I don’t know if I would call it the finest piece of literature to exist, but I am pretty proud of the younger version of myself for seeing that story through and turning her pain into something she could smile at. 

What is it about writing in general that attracts you and what kind of writing do you do at the moment?

My attraction to writing continues to change. As of late, writing to me has been a way to escape everything. There is something freeing about being in a world you have complete control over. At the moment, I’m not writing as much as I used to; however, I find myself drawn to poetry when I get the chance to create something. There is something very satisfying about the rhythm and flow of poetry, so I have been trying to recreate that. 

What was your favourite book from your childhood?

My favourite book was Little Stars by Jacqueline Wilson. I loved Jacqueline Wilson’s books because she wrote characters in a way that connected with readers. I genuinely felt like the people I read about were my best friends. That specific book follows two daughters (one legitimate and one illegitimate) who are the children of a famous rock star. They have different perspectives on fame and learn to become best friends as their lives go different ways. I remember finding the book so glamorous and exciting. I think it also taught me about hope, gratitude, and compassion. 

Can you name your favourite book (or two) of all time? What is it you love about them?

One of my favourite books is Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult. I read it for the first time around three years ago and found it beautiful. The story is about a bisexual woman learning about her identity and fighting for the right to use frozen embryos that her ex-husband and herself created. And although there is some stereotyping and strong options, the author explores so many current themes and helps people look at issues in different ways. I find the tension in the story exciting and love Jodi Picoult’s characterisation. The protagonist is also a music therapist and often works with neurodiverse patients. I am passionate about neurodiversity, so I found myself often relating to her. 

Who are your greatest inspirations?

My mum and dad continue to inspire me daily, and they remain my biggest inspirations. However, I also look up to different attributes in different people. I admire my grandma’s dedication and my grandad’s courage. I wish I had more of my cousin’s optimism and my friend’s carefree attitude. I am continuously inspired, and the people that inspire me change regularly, depending on what I desire or need at the time.

What are you most proud of?

I am most proud of my growth as a person and how I have gotten back up on my feet even when things were not easy. I have learnt so much over the last few years, which has helped me become kinder and stronger. I think progress is vital, so I am proud of my progress as a person. 

Where would you like to take your writing in the future?

I used to think I wanted the whole world to read my work, but more recently, I have found so much comfort in the idea that what I write is for myself. Although I am not planning to pursue writing academically, I hope it remains in my life in whatever capacity. I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I want to continue improving my craft and writing things I want to read. 

For any other young people out there who like writing, do you have any advice or tips for them?

I would tell other young people that their writing should be for them first and then for everyone they share it with. Learn to love growing as a writer and continuously expose yourself to resources that improve you. If you want to pursue publishing, start by entering contests or submitting your pieces to magazines. I would also tell them to have fun. Writing can be so exhilarating and fulfilling; seek out that exhilaration and fulfilment!

Thank you so much Mandisa for this brilliant insight into your life and your writing. Your words about improving the craft without the need for everybody to read your writing are very wise and remind me of novelist Italo Svevo’s words: Write one must. What one needn’t do is publish. Wishing you the very best of luck with all your pursuits.

To read some of Mandisa’s writing on her blog, The Blue Ink, click here.

Thank you for reading this guest blog with Mandisa Mathew. Compliment it with reading about the energies of young creative, Mphilo Mauncho and read some poetry by teenage Danish students following a creative writing workshop.

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