Where Readers & Writers Connect
Today our interview guest is Sylvia Stewart. She and her husband were missionaries in Malawi, Africa for many years, and her first novel, Kondi’s Quest, the story of a young Malawian girl, was published last year.
When did you decide you wanted to write?
I’ve been interested in writing ever since I can remember. The first writing effort that I remember was in the sixth grade – a poem about a lisping pig. (He had to lisp to make it rhyme right.) I formally started writing in my 30’s. The first short article I sent out was bought immediately and I thought, “This is a cinch!” Since then I’ve learned that it isn’t always a cinch. I’ve been published in magazines, on-line magazines and websites. My book, KONDI’S QUEST, was published last August.
Do you enjoy reading?
I read for a couple hours each evening – after the day’s chores are finished and I can relax. I prefer fiction, but occasionally read a non-fiction book – mostly writing craft books. I love a good story, but pure romance is a bit bland for me, so I prefer a bit of suspense to spice things up.
Do you think it’s important for writers to read?
For an author, reading is essential. I’ve absorbed a lot about sentence structure and story structure just by reading stories that others have written. My mother read to me before I could read, and I did the same for my own children. Reading helps you pattern the tales you want to tell.
What are your favorite genres?
My favorite genre would be romantic suspense, I suppose. Historical romance is great. I enjoy a good western, too, providing that the language is clean. I have several collections of novels by English authors that I re-read on a regular basis. Fantasy and allegorical stories seem like too much work at the end of a busy day.
Which authors do you enjoy most?
Miss Read, James Herriot, D.E. Stevenson and Mary Stewart are great English fiction writers. Mary Stewart’s suspense novels are so well-written. I’d LOVE to write as fascinatingly as she does. Louis L’Amour portrays life in the American west with accuracy and intrigue. John Grisham’s “lawyer” novels are well-written, but I often finish his stories feeling a bit depressed. Mary Higgins Clark’s novels are almost too scary for me. In Christian fiction, Francine Rivers, Angela Elwell Hunt and Karen Kingsbury all write great stories with an inspirational depth. And I loved Lynnette Bonner’s debut book, ROCKY MOUNTAIN OASIS, with its assurance of God’s love for those who feel unlovely and unloved.
Can you tell us what you believe has had the greatest influence on your writing?
My faith in a loving God permeates everything I write. He is the strongest influence in every story, article, devotional and novel. Without understanding His love and claiming His Son’s sacrifice on Calvary to cleanse me from sin, I wouldn’t have much to offer anyone.
Also, I was fortunate to having a very special writing instructor and mentor. Marjorie Stewart taught English and Creative Writing at Northwest College for many years. She and the members of my critique groups have been special blessings in my life and have enhanced the quality of my writing a great deal. As I used to tell my Writing Better English students in Ethiopia, “Good writing is re-writing.” These ladies have helped me take a poor rough draft and make it shine.
Would you give us some background on your novel, i.e., what prompted you to write that particular story?
I lived and worked in Malawi, East Africa for 21 years. We spent another 11 years working in Ethiopia and traveled through Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa rather extensively. The plight of the children of Africa always tugged at my heart. Because a high percentage of African children die before the age of five from malaria, cholera and dysentery, small children may be poorly clothed and under-fed. I wanted to leave a small legacy of story for all African children.
Then, during the twenty-four years it took me to finish and publish this book, my own grandchildren began arriving. What a blessing to be able to share with them, through story, the Africa I love!
How did you prepare to write the story? Did you do any special research?
I did no research for KONDI’S QUEST. I was so blessed to have lived there and I resorted to memory to write this book. As they say, “Write what you know.” So the setting and Malawian culture was printed on my heart. I knew their people and spoke their language, Chichewa; I had eaten their food and traveled their roads. It was almost like going home again to write about Malawi, The Warm Heart of Africa.
I’ve been incredibly blessed that KONDI’S QUEST was picked up by the first publishing house I presented it to: OakTara. They put together a lovely book that I hope will have ministry potential in Malawi, my second home.
Thank you, Sylvia, for sharing your experiences and insight with us.