In 2005, I invested in a plot of land with the proceeds of a children’s book deal with UNESCO Namibia. The book, The Blue Marble, had been shortlisted for the 2004 Macmillan Writers’ Prize for Africa, and while it did not win the award, it later ended up as one of the set manuscripts that a group of writers and illustrators would work on at a UNESCO funded workshop. I dreamt of some sort of legacy project on the plot. Even though I had no concrete idea of the form it would take, I knew it would involve writing.
In 2006 while doing my postgraduate studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, I was selected as one of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice’s peace writers at the University of San Diego. For six weeks I worked as the peace writer to Shukrije Gashi, a woman peacemaker from Kosovo.
The women whose stories we helped document were housed in a large white elegant house called The Casa. This serene space which gave women a time for reflection and to document their stories as part of a legacy project was something I wanted to replicate back home in Uganda. I knew then I had found a purpose for my land.
Years later, in 2013, at a point when my dream was starting to lose its potency because I was cash strapped, a speaker at a business seminar I attended said something profound that reignited the dream: “There are no unrealistic dreams, there are unrealistic time lines.” I might not have had the money to start the project, but I did not have to let go of the dream.
In 2014, I broke ground for a Writer’s House, called The Blue Marble. This year, I am on course to complete the building. It will be a space where everyday people come for a retreat and start the journey of writing their stories.
In 2015, I set up SuccessSpark Brand Ltd, a writing coaching company. Since then I have had testimonials from students who have come for the weeklong classes and thoroughly enjoyed the gift of space and community, in addition to the writing lessons SuccessSpark Brand provided them. I have had repeat clients.
The Blue Marble will leverage the success of these weeklong classes to bring even more writers together and offer them ‘a room of one’s own’ in which to work. Just as importantly, it will also bring young writers in contact with more established writers through writing workshops and mentorship programmes.
I envisage a time when The Blue Marble can send established writing residents into schools and prisons to run workshops. People say I dream big, but I have learned that there are no unrealistic dreams.
The Blue Marble consists of a training centre/library/writing room, three two-bedroomed self-catering apartments and a one three-bedroom self-catering penthouse. It can host between nine and 18 people at a time depending on shared or single sleeping arrangements. Located 21 kilometers from the city center, The Blue Marble is in a quiet neighbourhood and is near historical sites like the Uganda Martyrs Shrine.
Jackee Budesta Batanda is a Ugandan writer and Senior Managing Partner with SuccessSpark Brand Ltd, an educational company specializing in writing coaching, book writing, editing and book marketing services. She has completed work on a collection of short stories, Not that Kind of Mad, and is at work on a novel.