MOSES WALUBITA, Lusaka
WRITING a commissioned book, one you are sure is going to be published is an exciting experience if you are the sole author. If, however, you are one of the team of authors writing one book, the experience can be taxing.More taxing still is the experience if you are the only man in a group of women writers – as was my lot when I co-authored a book with five women.
The book, Woman Power in Politics was commissioned by the Netherlands Embassy in Lusaka, Zambia. We were to select a few from a large number of women politicians. That alone took more than three meetings.
What criteria are you using to select those that should be covered in the book? One would ask if the candidate mentioned was not selected. What has that one done to warrant a place in the book? Another name shot down! Finally, we had our list. Deciding on who we should write about was not such a problem.
For a number of interviews, this author paired up with one of the women. It was a great learning experience. Unlike men, women will not leave anything to chance.
This author’s partner made appointments, knew the protocol when we had to interview one of our chiefs, and was all diplomacy when we interviewed a former high commissioner.
Although we appeared to work so hard, we failed to beat the deadline, which had to be shifted twice during the exercise. The complete manuscript was given to a university lecturer for assessment.
Whereas the lecturer suggested minor changes on some manuscripts, others would have required extensive revision. Then there were arguments on styles of writing and interpretation of events.
There were spelling mistakes that were corrected at each proof reading, but were spelt wrongly even when the book was published. Two such words, quota (spelt quarter in the book) and Westminster (spelt Westminister) caused some bitter exchanges of words. Another author found a list referred to in the text missing in the final work.
Up to that large stage, the book only had a working title. Suggestions poured in. The person who had chosen Woman Power in Politics was told the title did not sound complete; it did not sound like correct English. She, in turn punched holes into the other titles until hers stood alone as ‘the best title ‘for the book.
What stands out most in this author’s mind are the last three days before the book went to the printers. Three of us were stationed at the place where the manuscript was being typeset and designed, and reading the pages as they came off the computer.
In between, we walked over to a nearby newspaper company to ask for pictures to illustrate the book. That caused another problem. We did not seem to like the same pictures. When the pictures were selected, the captions caused another argument. Should the captions be of a serious nature or should they be light-hearted? Even the placement of the pictures on a page was a major operation.
This author’s task was more of a referee than a player. The task was to stay in the middle when they were both present, but agree with each of them in private.
Since we worked late into the night, this author would feign tiredness and pretend to be asleep when he was sure his opinion was about to be sought. When, at last, the camera ready copy was taken to the printer, this author gave a sigh of relief.
The book has faults, but this author felt very proud when he saw it. Suddenly, he wished the exercise was not over. This author can now say it was an exhilarating experience. Working with women is so much different from working with other people.
The book is dedicated to Mary Fulano, who died before we got to her.
And to all the women who gave so much of themselves, but whose deeds have been forgotten.
The Netherlands Embassy provided the funds that made it possible for the National Women’s Lobby Group and the Zambia Women Writers Association to publish the book.
In the preface, editors Monde Sifuniso and Mbuyu Nalumango, stated that politics is a melting pot. The people who come together to run the affairs of a country have different backgrounds.
“We have Julia Chikamoneka whose strength of character has not been matched yet; Charity Mwansa, a professional who a few years ago would have shied away from politics; Mutumba Bull, a consistently high achiever; and Chibesa Kankaka who, in the first and second republics was a household name, but was able to adjust and continue to serve her country in the third republic. These, and many others, are women that Zambia should be proud of,” the editors noted.
The idea for writing the book came from Dr Inonge Mbikusita- Lewanika, whose wish was to write her autobiography. The Netherlands Embassy suggested that the book should cover as many women as possible; and not only one woman’s experiences. The embassy, in its wish to see non-governmental organisations co-operating on different projects, encouraged the National Women’s Lobby Group and the Zambia Women Writers Association to work together and produce the book.