Kpana Nnadia Gaygay may not be that well known as yet, but she possesses the potential to be. As one of the few emerging Liberian novelists, Gaygay’s debut book ‘Daunting Years’ has achieved tremendous success both at home and abroad as readers can’t help but ask for more.
Daunting Years tells the horrifying story of a child that lived through war, death and abandonment. But first the child has to overcome hunger and starvation before event thinking of other problems.
Born and raised in Liberia, Gaygay’s passion for writing is not an open secret as her works have appeared in a national daily and in KWEE, the Liberian Literary Magazine, where she hosts a segment called Kolokwa.
And in this interview, Gaygay shared insight into her childhood and her current project…
LIB Life: Greetings, thanks for agreeing to this interview. Can you tell us how was life during your childhood?
KG: My childhood, or what passed off as one, was mixed at best. Growing up in a nation plunged into a civil war isn’t pleasant. Children are forced to see and experience things they are not meant to in life. This very situation takes away any childhood a child is supposed to have. I’d dare say a hard truth many don’t want to hear, “We had no childhood. It was ripped, stolen or simply not given us.”
Certainly! Even a child growing in a peaceful nation faces challenges. They have to navigate a changing world and just when they think they have figured something out, it changes. So, imagine growing up in conflict.
LIB Life: When did you decide to become a writer and which writer or book inspired you to writer?
KG: I don’t think it was a conscious decision. I love reading so I guess it was natural to have some affinity to writing. The more I read, the more I guess I picked some skills. I have read many books; it is not easy to point out one particular book that set me along this journey. It is safe to say that each book left some imprint on me.
LIB Life: What are your favorite chapters in Daunting Years and why?
KG: There are no special chapters. The book is one story broken in parts. It is also my story. I am unable to select one part over the other. There may be parts that hold particular meaning to me under certain circumstances. However, it is one unit, thus I am not able to pick one or some over the other.
LIB Life: Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is so special?
KG: Interestingly, nothing. My mother and I are the main characters. We did not ‘do’ anything special; at least we do not see it in those terms. We struggled to survive the war. Our survival instincts took over and at times, we did simple and or complex things just to live. We never divorced ourselves from our situation long enough to think of ourselves as doing something special. We simply lived through a difficult time and survived.
LIB Life: If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of this book you would change?
KG: Not really. Perhaps, the loss of my brother, I would love to not have had to love him or any other family member. But to every situation, there is a reason even if we do not understand it.
LIB Life: Is everything in this book based on real life experiences or are some purely imaginary?
KG: The book is about my family’s experiences during the war. Everything is real.
LIB Life: How did you choose the genre you write in? When and where do you get the ideas to write this book? Was there an outline or did you just write?
KG: I woke up one day and decided to write the things we went through during the war. I had no idea what a genre was or which one I was writing under. It was my experiences; I wanted to tell our stories. The idea had been nagging me all along. I guess I suppressed these memories for years and they had to finally come out. Because I had lived through every single one and so, it was etched in my mind. I needed no outline. I simply had to follow the chronology of things.
LIB Life: What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
KG: There has been a few skeptical people who think I am too young to have experienced anything [or anything significant] during the war. Some have doubted me and my ability to recall these events. On the other hand, there have been praises for the effort or the story.
LIB Life: Can you tell us about your challenges getting your first book published?
KG: Many, way too many to fit in this space. Suffice it to say, it could be a book of its own. We had technical, structural, physical and lot more. I guess life just kept swinging while we kept resisting. What matters is that we have reached this far and published it.
LIB Life: How long did you take to complete this book? And how did you come up with the title and cover?
KG: This book began from a simple notebook since my junior high school days. It is way too long to recall. The title went through several phases. Initially, it was the subtitle, then it changed and somewhere in the process it was a Gbandi word and eventually what it is, Daunting Years.
LIB Life: Thanks for the interview. Is there anything that you would like to say to your readers and fans?
KG: I’d like to appreciate my mother and father, my family, my friends, fans and everyone else that have supported me over the years. Thanks to FORTE Publishing and those in the literary community that have supported me. It has not been an easy journey but we made it thus far. Thanks also to the Daily Observer for granting me this interview.
Daunting Years may be my story of healing and growth, but it represents that of thousands of Liberians [some who did not even survive to tell]. We hope that those that have yet to heal can find a way to heal.