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Men only: Splendours of solitude in a postcard city

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When I applied for the Emily Harvey Foundation writing residency in 2017, it was more in hope than faith that I’d qualify.

After all, many over 35 creative writers all over the world would also like the chance to ‘Get Away from it ALL.’

Which is what the EHF writing residency offers. An apartment in the postcard pretty Italian city of Venice, for a month — where one can write to their heart’s content. In a scenic city full of colourful buildings, culture, canals, and no cars.

No colleagues, offices, family or home to distract you from working on your book. Suffice it to say I was the EHF writer in residence in Venice for the month of August.

And I will miss MYSELF in this place once I get back to our crazy, noisy city in the sun. Sonko’s Nairobi. Here is why.

On weekdays, even in Kenya, I often wake up at about 3am to steal that quiet time to write.

But here in Venezia, because it is very safe, I actually started taking hour-long, 3-4am walks along the deserted canals (like a serial killer, lol).

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At first, the walks were a bit eerie with shadows lying in every colonnaded archway.

But once I dumped my fearful Nairobi paranoia (and natural Kisii fear of Things That Run in the Night), I have come to enjoy, even love, my casual 3am canal stroll.

I get back to my flat (on the musically named Calle dei Cinque street, with a coffee cafe directly opposite that I’ve never been to -- because mi si msee wa kahawa).

And after a bit of ‘uchokosi’ on Facebook, I shut the laptop and open the book where I’m writing my latest novel by hand.

I work on the ‘Italian Trial’ from about 5-8am. Then it is time for breakfast. A ham sandwich and a can of beer, because, whyever not?

From nine to 11am, I take a mid-morning siesta.

Then wake up to two more hours of mostly journalistic related work, before the 1pm bells ring across the city.

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Now it is time for my lunch, always a burger (from the fridge) and a glass or two of vodka cola.

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This is exactly like being a novelist in a movie about guys like Ernest Hemingway.

The Nobel author, Hemingway, incidentally first arrived in Italy in 1918, as an 18-year-old ambulance soldier.

Wounded by shrapnel, he spent six months in a hospital in Milan, a period that, a decade later, would inspire his first big book, ‘A Farewell to Arms.’

By the time he came to Venice, 30 years later, he was a world-famous writer.

Last weekend, I drank a favourite Hemingway drink, the ‘Montgomery’ at Harry’s Bar in Venice (featured in the book he wrote whilst seated there at a corner table across many mornings, Across the River and Into the Trees).

The Hemingway Montgomery is one-part vermouth and 15 parts gin and disagreed with me completely. So much for following in the footsteps, or sips, of that literary lion Hemingway.

After lunch here, I take a shower and then strike out on a Vaporetto (water boat) to a different part of Venice.

Find a spot to read/write poetry as I sip at an aperitif for an hour, then take the walk back to the Calle dei Cinque.

Now it’s 4 pm, time for two more hours of novel writing, before the 6-8pm snooze.

When I wake up at 8 pm (9 in Nai), I skype The Fam to say ‘g’night’, as Leo says, ‘You are very far?’

Then it is time for dinner – hot chicken wings, and a chilled bottle of white Italian table wine as I do that last hour of creative labour before bedtime. There is no TV set or radio in the apartment -- nor gazetis.

Hemingway had a quaint home on the Venetian island of Torcello (which is where he finished the writing of ‘Across the River’). As a last act of homage, both to man and city, I go there today.

Ciao.

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