From the FOLD Writers’ Hub to the FOLD Author Stage
Fartumo Kusow discusses her upcoming appearance at FOLD, and her first English-language novel Tale of a Boon’s Wife.
My father gave me in notebook after I got in trouble at school talking about another student. He said instead of gossiping or talking about other people, write it in there. After a while, I started writing poems and then I started writing stories. I realized that they were good, so that’s when I started writing seriously. I had my first novella serialized in the Somalian national newspaper in 1984. Since then I’ve never seen myself as anything but a writer.
Putting Dreams on Hold
I came to Canada in 1991 at the start of the civil war in Somalia. I didn’t speak English and didn’t have transcripts because of the war to show I had any education. A condition of our immigration to Canada was we had to work, so my husband worked at a factory and I worked as a cleaner. We also had children in Somalia that we were separated from and it took several years to bring them to Canada. So it was like life got in the way of writing.
After raising five children, things were a little bit easier because I only had my youngest child still in public school. I could breathe again and think about myself a little bit. I could think about writing again. I saw an ad for NaNoWrimo and thought if I could write 10,000 words in one month that would be a good way to start writing again. I never thought about finding a publisher when I began. I just said this makes me feel good and gives me an hour a day to do something for myself.
Somalia Book Fair
The book fair came up unexpectedly. Someone saw that Tale of a Boon’s Wife was coming out and one of the book fair organizers contacted me. It was four weeks before the book would come out, but they suggested if Second Story Press was willing to provide some advance copies maybe I could come and talk about the book. I had left Somalia right at the beginning of the war twenty-seven years ago, so I was seeing the destruction in Mogadishu for the first time. It was sad because so much history and culture is now gone and future generations will never get to learn about their country. I was glad I went, but it was eye-opening and it made me sad for all the loss.
I sent the manuscript to Second Story Press, but hadn’t heard from them even after emailing to follow-up. I went to the FOLD Festival in May 2016 and introduced myself to the Second Story Press marketing people who were there. They said they would look into my manuscript. I went home, sent another email and Second Story Press contacted me within a few days, saying they were really interested. So perhaps seeing them there and making a connection put a face on all my emails. By September they were asking for changes to the manuscript, and shortly after that, they said they were going to offer me a contract.
The process of getting published was very intimidating because I didn’t have an agent and I was dealing with the publisher directly. Even looking at the contract and deciding what rights to give up and what rights to keep was challenging because you must understand all this legal jargon and I didn’t have someone to tell me what to agree to and where to draw the line. That was probably the most challenging part. I wanted to be published and protect myself, but I also wanted to have a good relationship with the publisher. I decided to just make sure the contract didn’t impact any future writing I might have. Second Story was very good in the sense that I could provide creative input into the whole process of publishing the book.
Advice for Aspiring Writers
My advice is two-fold. First, decide why you are writing. If the end goal is getting published, maybe making money or a name for yourself, then you might be in the wrong field. Getting published is what everyone wants, but I think it should be considered the gravy. You can’t eat the gravy without the meat. You should decide whether you’re going to write regardless of the outcome because you’re writing for yourself. That is the meat.
Second, when you start sending your writing out not to take the rejection personally and not to allow the rejections to dictate what or how you write. Don’t change the way you write because you think it will help you get published. When I first started getting rejections, I would sob daily and think I might as well be watching TV instead of doing this, but then you just should decide this is my story and I’m going to find a place for it to be published.
See Fartumo at the FOLD on May 5th as part of the Setting the Story panel of authors.
Fartumo Kusow was born in Somalia where she was a journalist before the civil war. Her first novel, Amran, was serialized in October Star, Mogadishu: Somali National Press in 1984. Since her arrival in Canada in 1991, she has earned a BA Honours in English Language and Literature and B.Ed from the University of Windsor. A mother of five adult children, she lives in Windsor, Ontario. Her novel, Tale of A Boon’s Wife, was published in October 2017 by Second Story Press.