Acan juggles medical school and fiction writing

Sunday August 4 2019

Writer. Immaculate Acan reads a book to

Writer. Immaculate Acan reads a book to children. COURTESY PHOTOS 

By Tony Mushoborozi

Immaculate Acan has the kind of talents, skills and a broad-spectrum of life’s trappings that would easily make anyone haughty and snobbish. Yet she’s as self-effacing as Saint Paul.
For starters, she is a medical student and an award-winning writer. At 23, her literary works have earned her important tokens of recognition. That is on top of her rigorous medical course at Makerere University.
Acan first sent a message to the writing world three years ago when her short story, Sundown, came on top in the 2016 Writivism competition. She beat more than 500 writers from across Africa to take the crown.
“I didn’t think I would win. Then I won. It was unreal. Unbelief,” says Acan in her punctuated, precise manner of speech.
The Writivism prize would later open many doors for Acan who was barely 20 at the time. Several fiction writing platforms like Miles Morland, Leo Africa, Omenana, Afrida, Brittle Paper, and others would soon afterwards contact her.
One after another, they asked her to write for them. Acan would juggle her tight medical school schedule with her fiction writing deadlines and deliver for all of them, satisfactorily.
To fully wrap one’s mind around how a 19-year-old would be able to be that good at such a complex field as fiction writing, one would have to travel back in time to when Acan was 12 years old.
“When I was at Nabisunsa [Girls’ School], those of us who liked writing would write two to three pages of fiction per prep time. You’d finish writing and pass it on. We were quite a few doing this but I was the most regular. The writing was serialised. This meant that the girls were always anticipating the next episode in the story. I did this from like S1 to like S6,” Acan says.
Her love for writing didn’t start at Nabisunsa. First, it was a strong love for reading earlier on in her childhood. “My mum had a literature background. We had so much to read at home; newspapers, classic books like Jane Eyre, children’s books, a lot of European fairy tales, and so on. At Sir Apollo Kaggwa Primary School where I went, we had a diverse library,” Acan says.
Acan was not only lucky to have so much to read at home and at school, she was never pushed to be this or the other. Her growing brain was allowed to explore all manner of knowledge without being biased toward this or that. And so from a young age, she was in sports, and in writing competitions, and in everything in between. She credits her parents for being what she terms ‘a very strong support system,’ that pushed her to be whatever she could be.
Acan chose to focus on sciences in high school even when she was on the very top the arts game. It was a very educated decision as she explains, “I knew I was good at writing but I also knew that writing in this country can’t get you the money you want.”
Fast forward to April this year, Acan upped her writing game by publishing her first book. The Pearl Trotters in Black, Red, Yellow is an illustrated book about three children that ride a tortoise around Uganda looking for the colours of the flag.
The book was published by Sooo Many Stories, a nascent Ugandan publishing company. Nyana Kakoma, the proprietor of the publishing company, talks about the genesis of the book.
“Since 2015, we have had a children’s book club called Tot Tales. The book club is more interested in Ugandan stories but sadly, there aren’t many such stories in publication. So in 2017, we sent out a call asking writers to send in a short story about Uganda or independence.”
Several writers sent in material and Acan’s story rose to the top like cream. Nyana says: “I remember looking at Acan’s story and thinking, this is so good. It was so fresh and alive. We hadn’t started publishing children’s books at the time, but the story was just so compelling. So last year (2018) I approached her and the rest is history.”
Acan says when the call for the stories came through, the characters she would later adopt for the story started coming to her mind. “When I sent in the story, they were excited about it. When they read it to children between two and 12 years old, they too loved it. They later asked me if they could turn it into a book,” says Acan.
The book was illustrated by Richard Musinguzi, the creator of Katoto, the cartoon character that had the whole of social media buzzing a few years ago. Musinguzi’s brush stroke gave Acan’s story a fresh dimension. The story came alive with vibrant colours that three-year-olds relish and caused the characters to jump off the pages that 12-year-olds aspire to be.
But it’s not just children that love the book. The social media buzz that followed its launch in April is a testament to the book’s ability to draw in adults in equal measure.
Talking about her inspiration, Acan says: “Most of my writing comes from an emotional part of me. Medicine is the one place that exposes you to very deep emotions. The other aspect of my life that helps a lot in my writing is having a science mind. I write a lot of speculative fiction, and that can give you limitless horizons to explore.”
As she comes near to becoming a medical doctor, Acan says she will be taking the writing slow. She says: “I am going to keep putting my work online, but expect nothing like a novel from me any time soon.”