I'm always amazed when a writer gets their first book published and it immediately gains international literary success. I always wonder where did they practice? How did they learn everything? Did they secretly write for years putting everything in a drawer until they knew they were ready? How did they know that?
My first published book was a bit of an accident. At the time I owned a small newspaper that circulated around where I live. We had been printing it in Gaborone and decided we would buy our own machine and print for ourselves. The problem was we had to shift from tabloid size to A4 to do that and there were other A4 papers in our market. I decided it might be a good idea to serialise a novel to build readership and separate us from the crowd. But where to get a novel? I decided I would write one.
I'd mostly only written news articles and opinion pieces up until then. I didn't really consider myself a writer at all. But I thought I could try my luck. Our deadline was on a Friday, and it usually turned out I'd be staying late on a Thursday trying to write my next 1000 words of the novel for that week's issue.
When the story finished in the newspaper, we had a few people calling saying they missed some instalments and couldn't we give them the whole story. Then I thought maybe I could send it to a publisher who would put all of the parts together for these readers. I sent it off to Macmillan and they decided they wanted to publish it.
That book was The Fatal Payout, the first book in my Detective Kate Gomolemo series, all four of which were serialised in the newspaper I used to own. That was 2005. The second book, Murder for Profit was published by Pentagon Publishers in 2008.
I was disappointed with The Fatal Payout. I felt I could do much better. I wasn't happy it was my first published book. It was written chaotically with a plot that moved at warp speed. But at the same time, I feel I've improved a lot since then, even if just having a better idea of how a book can be written, the process, though I hope my writing has improved also. I feel like I had to write The Fatal Payout and the other books in that series to get to here, and I must write the books I need to, to get me to the writer I will eventually be. I'm a process, not an event.
I recently read an interview with a writer who said that she doesn't understand writers who publish many books that are not the best that they could do. She would rather publish a few books that she knows are her best.
I know the books I write now are better than the books I've written in the past. At the time of writing those books, though, they were my best. I am a writer learning on the job. I don't know how other writers do it, it's a mystery to me. I know, only to a certain extent , how good my writing is; publishing is how I find out how I'm doing. Writing and having it published is my way of improving. I know no other way I could have become a writer. Those are my steps. I'm learning to accept that.