THE VERY FIRST CHRISTIAN NOVEL given to me was by a non-Christian. I have no idea how she got hold of the book, but I have her to thank for opening up my eyes to this genre of publishing that I wasn’t even aware existed. All I knew was that I wanted to write fiction that was inspired by biblical themes. The book she gave me reassured me that it could be done.
My first book, Kemi’s Journal of Life, Love & Everything, was published by Scripture Union and nicknamed the ‘Christian Bridget Jones’ by the Independent on Sunday newspaper. Two more books and more than a few contributions to devotional publications later, I was firmly put in that creative box known as a ‘Christian writer’.
At first, the label did not bother me, after all, I was a Christian, and I did write for the Christian market. But then, after a while, it began to grate — round about the time I started thinking about doing something new, something that wouldn’t necessarily fit the guiding principles of Christian publishing. Yes, dear readers, I wanted to leap — straight into the arms of an adoring secular reading audience. I also started thinking about my label as a ‘Christian writer’ and found that I didn’t like it – at all.
Christian writer, or a Christian who writes? Who cares anyway?
For one thing, creatively, I found it too restrictive. Yes, I was a Christian, and yes, I was a writer, and yes, there was a time when I did write specifically for the Christian market, but now, with the kind of books I wanted to write, ones, I might add again, that did not fit the mould of Christian publishing, how representative was the label in terms of where I was creatively and professionally, as a writer? My answer to that was ‘Not all representative’.
I came to the conclusion that I was a Christian who wrote. We don’t call someone a ‘Christian plumber’ or a ‘Christian stockbroker’, but it seems that when it comes to writing, the same rules do not apply. I understand that it works for marketing purposes, but at that time, I found it too restricting.
I started working on my literary ‘masterpiece’, and when I finished, my agent duly sent it round all the publishing houses (Christian and secular, I might add) – and they all came back with a resounding ‘No.’ Finally, it ended up with an African publisher keen to start a new line of fiction by up-and-coming African writers. Unbeknownst to me, they also entered the book for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize.
And so it was that I found myself competing with an Orange Prize winner for a literary prize. I didn’t win (and neither did the Orange Prize winner), but I did get a fascinating insight into the world of general publishing.
So, where does that leave me today? I always thought I had to make the choice between writing for the Christian or the general market, and now, I know I don’t. I like writing for both, and there is no reason why I can’t or shouldn’t do both. I’m a writer, and writers write — and that is all there is to it.