Guest Post: Fiona Leonard on her novel, The Chicken Thief

Fiona Leonard lives in Ghana.  She is a writer who also homeschools her daughter.  She kindly agreed to write a post for Ghanaian Literature Week.

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Fiona Leonard

Kinna’s request for me to write a blog about my novel The Chicken Thief came at a perfect time. I’m currently two weeks into National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo and I needed inspiration. Every November people from all around the world come together to write a 50,000 word novel and this is my second year participating.  I will always have a very fond place in my heart for NaNoWriMo because last year it provided the impetus/motivation/kick in the behind to finish The Chicken Thief – a novel that I had started five years earlier and then stopped and started then stopped and started… With five weeks (I added in a week at the beginning) of solid writing I managed to finally finish the manuscript and six months later my novel was edited and up for sale.

This year I’m writing the sequel. Two weeks and 25,000 words into the month and I’m…struggling…I’m pretty much on target but I’m having to work to keep up, because basically over the last week I started worrying about my word count, I started worrying about all the other things I could be doing and I forgot the most basic thing – that I love writing and I love my characters with a passion.

The Chicken Thief was born out of three years living in southern Africa. Based in Zimbabwe I was fortunate enough to be able to travel regularly around the region, including to Zambia, Namibia, Botswana and South Africa. During this time I collected snippets of people and places, of political machinations and anecdotes and filed them away. It would be seven years before they would find their way onto paper, woven into the story of a young thief who accidentally rescues a war hero who has been held prisoner for twenty-five years. I started writing the novel in 2005 but then I let life get in the way and it would be another five years before I found my way back – back to Africa and back to my story.

Moving to Ghana at the end of 2009 brought me into a head space where I felt I could do justice to the story: sights, smells and sounds converged and I could feel my hero – Alois – nudging me to bring him to life once more. Every time I would see a chicken on the side of the road it was almost like a subtle reminder: remember me? I’ve come to appreciate that the best time to write is when you feel like you have to; when there’s a story inside you that’s just bursting to get out!

My characters are not based on particular people that I’ve met or read about. Rather they are composites of many people: mannerisms, speech patterns and attitudes to the world are collated and assembled from so many different sources.  But being back on the continent helped me to contextualize my characters and make them believable and also authentic enough that they would be accepted by African as well as international readers. I am particularly proud of a text I received from a young Ghanaian guy who is around the same age as Alois my hero. He wrote ‘I LOVED your book. For a moment there I thought I actually had the adventure in real life.’

Writing the sequel is as much the creation of a new adventure as a chance to explore my existing characters more deeply. Over the coming weeks I’ll have the opportunity to throw open some closets and uncover some family skeletons, help a couple of characters rebuild their lives and hopefully lay some demons to rest! And while the story remains firmly set in southern Africa, I’m noticing more and more of my Ghanaian experience creeping across the pages.

So now I’m back to my work in progress, because if loving writing is 70% of the work, then showing up day after day is another 20%. The remaining 10%? Well that’s plotting and structure and character profiles and editing and story flow and peaks and troughs…but I don’t have to look much further than The Chicken Thief to be reminded that it all comes together in the end and that the pull to write will no doubt see me signing up for NaNoWriMo 2012 so I can work on the next one!

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The Chicken Thief  is on sale at Amazon as a kindle ebook.

Fiona can be found at her blog, A Fork in the Road

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10 comments

  1. Useful inspiration from your post. My novel has been 15 years in the writing. When I began to write it PCs were not as ubiquitous as they are now. So I have all these jotters(now all yellowed up and haggard) where I penned my stuff. After reading Armah’s The Eloquence of the Scribes I got the kick and have started typing up my stuff. I have a completed manuscript of essays( including my musings on a variety of themes from my early twenties) and poems though which I plan to publish soon.

    I think Ghana will grow on you more fully after 10 years when you come to some almost mystic understanding of things. Best wishes on the sophomore attempt!!! As the Czechs put it : Writing is witchcraft!!!

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    • Well, good luck on revisiting your novel and other writing. I wish you all the best. The Czech saying is priceless. Perhaps that’s why I like their literature so much.

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  2. I thought I could read this book in time but the queue is long. Reading in the order with which the books arrived, I find myself holding on to books for almost a year. However, once I’m through I’d try and contact the author. In December I’m concentrating on only books on my Challenge lists. That means a lot of non-African authored novels etc.

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  3. I may just need this sort if a kick to rework my novel began and abandoned a similar five years ago. Scheduled to start work again soon, hopefully. Nice post, Fiona.

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