In Conversation with: Leila Munthali
My name is Leila Sibeso Munthali and I am a Creative Writer. I write scripts for TV, Radio, and Film. I also do content creation for both social and print media. I am in my late twenties, married with two beautiful kids, a boy aged 5 and a girl aged 5 months. I like to read, write, eat and travel.
What is your proudest achievement?
My whole writing career is my proudest achievement. I am self-taught. I taught myself everything I know in this field and every day I take strides to improve my craft. I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Resource Management and I am currently working on a second degree in Theatre and Cinema Studies.
How did you get into creative writing?
Growing up, my parents were very strict on the amount of TV my siblings and I were allowed to watch, this forced me to find alternative entertainment. I found that in reading. By the time I was 12 I was reading at least four books a month. I loved the way it opened my mind and my imagination, and I knew then that I wanted to write. I wrote my first novel inside a notebook when I was in high school. It went missing and a couple of weeks later, half the school – even people I never knew were asking me how the story ends! Half the school had read it, including the librarian who tried to get me to publish the book. That was the first affirmation I ever received that my writing wasn’t bad.
Which one of your projects are you most proud of?
I am proud of everything I’ve worked on, but if I have to choose one I’d say working with Zambia Chamber of Commerce and Industry to turn the manuals and materials used for Chamber development into an interactive video. With the videos they can now save on time and money because their chamber development workshops that would normally take days have been compressed into a forty-minute video that cuts down their training sessions drastically. It makes me extremely proud to know that that video is using my script. All over the country, when they’re opening a new Chamber they’ll watch that video and my name will be in the credits? I get butterflies in my tummy when I think about it.
What do you hope people will take away from reading/watching your work?
I just want to make someone’s day, you know? I want my readers or viewers to leave thinking, “that was worth my time”. If I can get someone to think that, to think my work and by extension—I, am worth their time, then I’m happy.
What would you say makes your writing unique?
I’m constantly critiquing myself. You’d be surprised the number of times I deleted things because I thought to myself ‘my goodness Leila – make us watch paint dry, why don’t you?’ My theory is, if I’m writing something and it makes me laugh then my audience will laugh too. If it makes me cry or makes me angry then it should evoke the same emotion in my audience. That’s what makes my work unique; I am not writing for a payday, I write so my stories can find a home in the viewer and leave lasting memories. Good ones I hope.
As a Writer what the most important factors for you when creating a narrative?
Authenticity, Creativity, Originality, and Personality!
Who inspires your work?
I am inspired by a lot of things and I think a lot of creative people will agree with me here. Sometimes I will be taking a stroll and a certain smell will spark up a story in my mind, or I’ll be watching or reading something and draw my inspiration from there.
Do you have a favorite genre or platform?
Oddly enough, I don’t. I call myself a Creative Writer because I’ve found that I can cut across most genres comfortably.
What have been the highlights of your career so far, good and bad?
I’ll start with the bad. It isn’t easy being a Creative. More so, a female creative because people think they can pull one over on you easily. When I started pushing to get my work out there, I was young and naïve, and I had no mentor to teach me the ins and outs of the industry. If I had a dollar for every time I wrote a script for someone and they ghosted on me afterwards or went ahead to produce my work without paying for it, I’d be rich ha-ha. I am glad I went through those experiences though because it has taught me to speak up and stand up for myself. It’s made me stronger and taught me discipline. The highlight of my career has been working with Zambia Chamber of Commerce and Industry. I never saw myself doing any corporate work in my line of work, but I am glad they gave me the opportunity to write for them and I came to realise after that that genre is one of my strengths.
What do you get up to when you are not being a writer?
I co-own a company that provides various financial services with my husband. The company is called Two5 Services Limited. On a small scale we provide microloans to individuals and small business owners and on a larger scale we do Event Financing, Debt Consolidation and Vehicle and Asset Financing.
Describe a typical day in your life.
I get up, get my son ready for school, make breakfast, and check my emails and social media. If I am working on a project, then I will most likely spend my day or most of it on the production set. On days that I am not needed on set, I spend my day reading and doing research. Somewhere in my week I binge watch all the TV series that I am following. I write best between 5 PM to 3 AM, I have no idea why, but these are usually the times you’ll finding me buried in my laptop.
What is the biggest audience that your work has reached so far?
I’d have to say entrepreneurs, and business owners because of SHIFT, an entrepreneurial series I wrote that aired on the biggest local station in my country. We just completed working on Season Two of this show.
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
A song from ‘Finding Dory’ comes to mind, “Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming”. Honestly, it all works itself out, it all gets better – keep pushing, and keep fighting.
As a Zambian writer, what is your view on the quality of the content being produced locally?
It has gotten better in recent years and I am genuinely excited about the future of Zambian entertainment.
What song would you say is the soundtrack to your life?
Unstoppable by Sia!
What can we expect from you this year?
I’m privileged to be working on an Animation. I am writing the script and voice acting one of the cartoon characters – I am extremely excited about this one and I just know that Africa and the World will love it! I’m also working on my first feature film. This is my first time writing a Thriller/Horror and the research for it gives me nightmares at times but it’s interesting.
Who are your top writers and why them?
I am currently reading The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, Born A Crime by Trevor Noah, George R.R. Martin’s A Feast For Crows and Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages so we’ll go with those.
If you could give up anything for a year what would it be and why?
I recently discovered that I am lactose intolerant so it’ll have to be anything with milk and/or cream… goodbye cheese, it’s been good…*cries*
What is your favorite thing about being Zambian?
We are friendly country. I can’t imagine living anywhere else in the world (unless Wakanda really exists lol)!
How would you like to be remembered?
I’d like to be remembered as someone who spoke her mind and lived her truth.
What advice would you give to upcoming writers or those considering becoming one?
Firstly, your dreams are valid. Someone will tell you that there is no room for your creativity, that you can’t follow your dreams or make money from selling your imagination – don’t believe them! Secondly, don’t be afraid to ask for your worth. Third, closed minds don’t get fed. You need to work hard. There are millions of writers in the world but there’s also room for you – work hard to earn and keep your spot. Lastly, don’t be afraid to say no to projects you don’t believe in.