I wrote my first book, Fairytales For Lost Children, a collection of short stories about the Somali gay and lesbian experience, in order to find my voice—literally.
In 2002 I was diagnosed with psychosis and institutionalised in a mental hospital in Woolwich, South London. When I moved to the UK a year earlier, at the age of 17, I arrived dreaming of a more fruitful, freer existence than the one I had led in Kenya, where I grew up. I was a deeply closeted, timid teenager who yearned to explore his sexuality away from the prying eyes of his conservative family and community. In my first few weeks of life in London I frequented gay clubs and bars in Soho and was astonished and heartened by the sense of joie de vivre and openness that I witnessed there.
The pleasure of exploring my sexual identity was punctured by poverty and a growing sense of dislocation brought on by the expectations of my family and my desire to not disappoint them. I smoked weed to calm my anxiety but the burden of shame, guilt and expectation left me deeply unhappy. I began to hear voices in my head. During the next few weeks I stopped eating and sleeping and began my descent into the first of the many breakdowns I was to experience over the coming decade. I was sectioned in the mental ward for six months and, traumatized by the experience, I stopped speaking altogether.
When I was released from the hospital, my mother encouraged me to apply for a library card. I had always loved reading. As a child I was obsessed with the brilliantly-etched adventures of Asterix, Tintin and Calvin and Hobbes, alongside the delights offered up by CS Lewis and Roald Dahl. I was so obsessed with reading when I was younger that my parents imposed a strict rule that I could only read fiction and comic books after I had completed all my homework. My mother understood that a good book would lift my spirits after I was discharged from the hospital. As I was too afraid to walk outside on my own, my younger sister had to escort me to my local library…