Russel Bongueno

Russel Bongueno

When did you first realise you wanted to write for a living?

I did realise that I wanted to write from when I was in form five in high school. Studying in the mid-1990s in a francophone school in Africa, you are going to read a lot of books by French authors, from Molière, Corneille, Voltaire, Beaumarchais, to Victor Hugo, Flaubert, Zola, Balzac, Stendhal and so on.

But a certain day in the school library I borrowed a novel called My First Love by Yvan Turgenev. It was the first book written in the English language – translated from Russian – that I went through reading, and it happened to be a determinant read. I was 15, I couldn’t rest, my mind was flying, thinking of the tragic end of that beautiful Zinaïda Alexandrovna, the heroine of the book. And it was beautifully written. Then I read from the cover that Turgenev himself was influenced by a master writer called Leo Tolstoy. I was intrigued.

Jumping to next year, we had in our programme a novel called A Dry White Season by Andre Brink, the South African author, which was an anti-Apartheid book. And the opening sentence of the book was a quote attributed to Leo Tolstoy from his book Anna Karenina. That definitely triggered me to find out more about Tolstoy. I ended up reading Anna Karenina, the same year, and from that moment I wanted to become an influential writer.

Which writer, past or present, do you most admire?

I was influenced and am still being influenced by a bunch of excellent writers, like Hemingway, Henry James, Richard Wright, Sinclair Lewis, Aimé Césaire, Mongo Beti, Kundera, Faulkner, etc.

But as a black writer, Toni Morrison taught me the urgency to write about the stigma and trauma of people you love and who deny to be who they are because of the dominant brainwashed culture that is continuously washing away their historical conscience.

I like being an artist like Gustave Flaubert.

And above all I wish I’ll become the ‘Black Tolstoy’.

What was your first published (or performed) credit as a writer?

As a novelist I’m not published yet, although I have received in the past a few letters of interest from publishers based in France for La Chanson de Caïn, a novel I wrote more than 10 years ago.

As a screenwriter, I’m having ‘written by’ credits for three episodes of a Kenyan TV series called Rush.

Which piece of writing work are you most proud of?

My feature film The Legend of Essingan / A Tale of Love Between Art and Science. It’s a crossover between thriller, drama, romance and musical which features a pygmy woman dancer who must save from vanishing crucial scientific findings which will lead to the survival of the planet.

Who or what inspires you to write?

I must be shocked by something, somebody, some behaviour.

How do you switch off when you’re not writing?

I’m always creating or writing. When I’m not doing any of those, I’d be doing something around it.

Which one piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?

They must learn philosophy. To me writing is a demonstration of a philosophy by showing the good and the ugly face of it, as it is encapsulated in the characters’ journeys.

Why are you a member of WGGB?

I think I wanted to be a member of WGGB as it’s a step towards building my career as a professional writer.

Russel is an African-French creator of original series and films based in France. His latest series called Mole Singers is about a female duo of rookie French cops acting as activists who must remain anonymous while spreading police brutality cover-up leaks via slam songs that go viral. He is currently working on creating a TV series called Migrants On Sale!


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