You might want to know who Ian Duncan is. He is a writer, a student, a son, a sibling, and he is soft-spoken. He also makes people laugh on social media.
Ian is finding his groove as a writer; he currently works for Citizen TV, and for fun, he expresses himself through Mister Left, a humour blog he runs with his friend.
When I ask about his big break careerwise, Ian, of course, mentions Citizen TV. And then he goes on to narrate a rather bizarre story.
Apparently, the big break came through Farida Karoney (she’s a former Citizen TV boss, who now serves in government as the Lands cabinet secretary); she called and asked to see him at the Citizen TV offices. Ian was excited, he was ready, he couldn’t wait, and then, he showed up for the meeting drank.
I am quiet when Ian tells me this, I don’t understand what he just told me, I mean, I understand that he’s a millennial, but wait, what?
Ian, laughing at himself, confirms that he really was drank.
Luckily though, Farida gave him another chance. The second time round, there was no interview, Farida handed Ian an office laptop, gave him an hour, and asked him to write something, something that wouldn’t bore her. That was the test.
Ian got the job. It’s been a great run since. Before Citizen TV, he was writing for Crazy Monday magazine, and before that, he was working in real estate, it was a job he didn’t quite enjoy.
Looking around the Bidwood Suites, and still quite taken by it, Ian says, “Yvonne, how do you know about some of these places? I come to Westlands all the time, but I’ve never seen this place.”
We laugh. Then he continues: “And their menu! Seriously, look at their menu, they have things like, ‘Whiskey Soup,’ what is that?!”
I shake my head. I’m trying not to laugh too hard.
Ian proceeds, “I mean, I love my whiskey, but I for sure never knew there was such a thing as, whiskey soup! Wow.”
We both break into full-blown laughter.
We then talk about a few other things, and even end up on the topic of girls and relationships.
Ian doesn’t believe in love. He doesn’t understand it. He doesn’t, “get,” the purpose of relationships, and he is far from keen when it comes to marriage.
Still on relationships, Ian talks to me about family and friendships. Last year, when Ian’s father passed away, he quickly learnt that he had extremely few friends. He elaborates that while he was going through all the pain that comes with losing a parent, not one of his university schoolmates went for the funeral.
“Not one Yvonne. Not, one!”
As Ian tells me this, his body posture changes, he appears to be in pain. I don’t know what to say.
“As in even my ex-girlfriend came for the funeral. We weren’t speaking, but she asked for directions and she found her way. But my friends, people I spoke to, and hang out with, and laughed with, all of them knew of the loss, but none of them came.” Ian says, shaking his head.
Ian and I go on to discuss the deeper meaning of friendships, we talk about men and depression, mental health wellness, the creative industry, making a living as a writer, his role models, and why he won’t be doing anything with the Degree he’s studying so hard for right now.
Here’s more, on Ian Duncan:
Ian, what are you currently studying in university?
I’m studying Information Technology.
What do you hope to do with the Degree once you’re done?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing! (Laughs)
Ah, it’s just one of those things, you know?
How do you mean? Are you studying for the family?
I am! (Laughs) It’s because the family demands to see a university degree, it would make them happy; so I’m just going to go through with it. But I don’t see myself ever making use of the Degree.
Okay. Ian, “You don’t look like a writer.”
(Bursts out laughing, then shakes head)
I saw your social media post on that statement. That when people say that to you, it’s such an absolute insult; is it really?
It is. I get annoyed when I meet someone and they say that to me. It’s like, what does that mean? What does a writer, “Look like?” You know?
How would you describe your writing? Do you focus on a particular genre or niche?
I write about everything. I like to consider myself an all-round creative writer.
What are some of the things you write about?
I write TV scripts, I’ve written lyrics to songs, and there was even a time in my life when I worked and wrote for a real estate company.
Has Citizen TV been your biggest break to-date?
To-date, yes. But my first big break came through a controversial article I did a while back.
What was the article about?
It was back when there were a lot of Kenyan women getting married to foreign men from around the continent; and it was assumed that a lot of this was happening because Kenyan men are the problem. However, in that article, my argument was that it’s actually Kenyan women who are the problem.
I know. (Laughs) So in that post I tagged Oyunga Pala (one of Kenya’s most famed writers), he called Tony Malesi, who was working for Crazy Monday magazine at the time, and Oyunga shared my writings with him, and then Tony gave me a chance to work for the magazine. That was an incredible opportunity.
Do you have any role models, any people you look up to, when it comes to writing?
For me, a role model is someone who influences your work and challenges you to be the best you can be at it. And for me, that’s my good friend Irvin Jalang’o, he and I co-own and write for Mister Left. Irvin writes such great, fantastic, humour pieces. He inspires me to always work harder.
My other role model would be my big brother, Austin Arnold. He’s a great professional to look up to.
Can one earn a decent living as a writer, in 2018?
Oh my goodness! (Shakes head) The creative industry is highly underrated. There’s so much money in the industry. You just have to know where to look.
So you’re currently loving the experience?
(Nods) I’m loving every minute of it. To be able to make a decent living, pay rent, and have some funds left over to help my siblings out once in a while… that’s very fulfilling. And to be able to do it using something I’m talented and passionate in, is such a gift. I don’t take it for granted.
I just discovered the Morning Pages, which makes me curious, for you, as a writer, do you have any writing rituals that you swear by?
Wait, rewind, what? The Morning what? (Laughs)
Morning Pages. It’s this concept where one writes, in long-hand, three pages of whatever comes to mind, every morning. It’s an exercise that’s supposed to help with clarity, creativity, and productivity.
It’s meant to be for creatives, business-persons, and apparently also for anyone wanting to have better mental health.
Three pages? Three whole pages, handwritten? On an exercise book? Like a high-school composition? Oh my gosh. That’s hard. (Giggles)
Yes, however, it’s not supposed to be high art. It’s not supposed to be anything too deep or intense. It’s meant to be stream-of-consciousness writing, like a brain-dump, such that whatever it is you have in your mind at that moment, you just pour it onto the pages.
Oh, I see.
And you’re also never supposed to go back and read what you’ve written, once the journal/book is filled up, you’re meant to discard it – you could throw it away or burn it.
Wow. I’ve never heard of that, some of these things you know about Yvonne. Gosh. (Laughs)
Apparently some pretty outstanding ideas can come out of the practice. I know of young, impactful,, creatives, who’ve built entire empires just out of an idea that came from the Morning Pages.
What? Okay, I’m definitely going to check that out. I might find an exercise book tomorrow. (Laughs.)
Alright, so I take it you have no set writing rituals/routines, then?
(Shakes head) No. None whatsoever. Although I do try to write everyday, even if it’s just for work. I think that consistency, for every writer, helps a lot.
Ian, let’s talk relationships, are you dating?
Are you searching?
I’m just not interested. And also, the few times I’ve gone against my better judgement and tried dating, it don’t go too well.
How do you mean?
I’ve found that working in the media can have it’s challenges. The last girl I dated, she wasn’t dating me for who I am, she was just fascinated by what I do and who I do it for.
Everywhere we would go, she would always introduce me and then say, “He works for Citizen TV!” (Shakes head then frowns)
You’d think such an introduction would be a good thing…
Yeah, you would, but it’s not. It’s absolutely not. She liked an idea of who I am, and the connections, and maybe even the slight popularity. It was very frustrating.
Perhaps she didn’t know any better?
Maybe. But it’s a terrible thing to realise that people only want you for what you have, or what you can give them, or where you can take them, but not for who you really are. It’s horrible, and the relationship turned toxic quite fast as a result of this.
Did you end it?
(Shakes head) Eventually, yes, but not fast enough. I should have ended the relationship as soon as I saw the red flags.
Why did you stay?
(Looks into the distance) I don’t know. Why does anyone stay? Why do people stay in these situations?
I think we just ended up using each other, and we both knew it. But such toxicity is not good for you. It can’t be good for you. If it’s not working, just get out.
Now you know better.
(Nods) Now I know better.
Going forward, what would you be looking for in an ideal partner?
I mean, since I’m not really looking, we’ll make this hypothetical. (Thinks) She would need to know how how to make chapatis! She should know how to make chapatis! She must know show to make chapatis!
Alright, alright, the chapatis have been noted. Do you know how to make chapatis?
I do. I make some serious ones. (Laughs)
Any other qualities?
(Long pause) I’d want someone kind, someone who’s definitely not a user, and yes, chapatis. (Smiles)
Earlier, you had briefly mentioned your dad’s passing way, was he ill?
Yes. He died of cancer.
Do you know what kind of cancer it was?
(Shakes head) No. I don’t know, I didn’t ask, and I didn’t want to ask. When it happened, I was just in so much pain, all I knew was pain, that’s all I knew and that’s all I felt.
Were you and your dad close?
(Nods) We were close enough. We would speak as often as we could. I enjoyed his company a lot.
When your dad passed away, and the inevitable dark days that must have come from this new reality, how did you cope?
I drank. A lot. (Pause) I really drank a lot. On a regular day, I enjoy having a good drink, and so when that happened, when he was no more, it was just easier for me to drink.
When your schoolmates didn’t show up for you, during this loss, what did that feel like?
Yvonne. (Pauses) It hurt. A lot. Like hell! But it was a lesson I needed to learn. It was an awakening.
I’m still cool with them. We are good. I’ll pick their calls, we’ll greet each other, but now I know, for any extreme struggles, or any monumental successes, those are not the people to call. It’s a lesson learnt once. And it’s a lesson well-learnt.
What does friendship mean to you now?
I’ve had to redefine what friendships mean to me, and now I know that you don’t have to have many friends. In fact, you probably shouldn’t have many friends. Just have a few who are true. Those are the ones that matter. And those are the only ones who should matter.
The other day was international men’s day, on that day, and also just generally in recent times, we’ve had a lot more men come out to talk about their mental health struggles, have you, or any male persons around you, struggled with this?
I mean, (pauses) perhaps I should start by saying, that my response to this might be entirely out of ignorance…
I don’t understand some of those things.
Things like depression, or suicide, like, why would anyone want to take their own life? Why?
And look, I’ve been through some extremely tough times myself, but I’ve never gotten to a point where I sat down and thought of suicide. No. (Shakes head)
I don’t get that either. How can one be depressed? And when you’re depressed, what does that really mean?
As I said, it might be a whole lot of ignorance on my part, but I don’t get it, I just don’t.
What would you consider to be the biggest highlight of your life life, so far?
Being here! (Laughs) What! I still can’t believe I’m being interviewed by you! I mean, you’ve sat and dined with Jeff Koinange, Otiende Amollo, and Raila Odinga! Like, what am I doing here? (Laughs) This is so surreal. It’s very humbling.
I’m also quite proud to have been the founder of the Jomo Kenyatta University Students’ Association (JKUSA) Awards and Magazine. That was a notable achievement for me. (Smiles)
For a writer or creative who is reading this, and is perhaps in need of some inspiration or guidance, what advice would you give them?
Don’t work for free. Don’t do it. Do not do it.
Seriously. There’s no one, today, who would make me do any kind of writing for them for free. It’s not happening.
Because it’s demeaning?
It’s demeaning, it’s belittling, and it’s insulting; and not just to me, or to the next writer, but to the creative industry at large. Don’t do it.
Any last words?
(Long pause) Stay true to yourself. This social media madness is getting a little too out of hand now. Stop going on Instagram, faking it, and trying to be like Rihanna or Drake. Be who you are and stay true to yourself. You are enough.