Shaleen Keshavjee-Gulam was born and grew up in Kenya. She has a Bachelor of Science (Honours) degree from the University of Toronto and now works in Nairobi as a property developer. She is married with two daughters.
Her published works include: Baby Star –a children’s book, Packed Lunch – short story published in “All the Small Things”, Imani’s Dilemma – a novel, Lunchtime Quickie – a short story, Shani’s Choice – Young Adult Fiction, Malaika’s Magical Kiosk was shortlisted for The Golden Baobab Prize for Picture Books in 2014.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
As a child I was an avid reader; my passion for books began at a very early age. Growing up in Kenya, at a time when there was no daytime TV, brought about a generation of ardent readers. My love of reading then naturally progressed into a love of writing.
What inspired your decision to write for the Golden Baobab?
I love writing children’s stories, and I think it’s fantastic that Golden Baobab encourages stories by African Writers, in which African Children can identify themselves. I was extremely honoured and humbled to have made it onto the short list.
What inspired you to write a children’s book?
I have two daughters and I enjoy making up bedtime stories for them. My mind is always swirling with ideas for children’s stories.
Talk to us about your writing routine; what’s a typical writing day for you?
I write very sporadically, sometimes in huge bursts (usually when I have a deadline), and sometimes not for weeks.
You have entered into a publishing contract with QPL to publish your book Malaika’s Magical Kiosk, can you tell us what inspired the story.
A childhood fantasy, which I’m sure is shared by many children, of a magical shop, where you can get the most fantastic things.
Do you believe as an author that interaction (book readings, talks etc) is a key component of your relationship with your readers?
It’s very important that the book itself speaks to the readers. A reading or a talk from the author definitely enhances this relationship, especially if it’s a children’s book. It’s always lovely to speak with children and try and inspire them to write their own stories.
As a picture-book author, you have a lot of freedom to create weird and wonderful characters. What inspires you when you’re thinking up new characters? How do you ensure that your characters will appeal to young readers?
With Magical Realism, there really is no limit when it comes to imagination. In “Malaika’s Magical Kiosk” we have the allure of a mystical stranger who brings about wonderful changes in the village. When writing for children it always helps to try to remember what it felt like to be a child.
When you create your picture books, do you envisage, for example, parents reading the book aloud to children? How do you ensure a picture book lends itself well to being read aloud?
I always read my work aloud, first to myself and then to my daughters to make sure that the story makes sense and to avoid clumsy sentences.
Besides children’s fiction, do you write other genre of books?
I am also interested in writing Young Adult Fiction. My book for teenagers, “Shani’s Choice” was published last year. I have also tried my hand at writing romance!
If you could pass on a single piece of advice to authors out there reading this interview, what would it be?
To keep writing and then rewriting. Never give up. For years and years I used to go to Writing Workshops and Seminars and introduce myself as “The writer who has never written anything.” Always believe in yourself.
Her book Malaika’s Magical Kiosk will be released soon.