The History of Qayqa

9 Feb

It’s Saturday afternoon. I’m having a cup of black tea, munching on some chocolate, and going over the corrections suggested by my lector in the German version of my novel Qayqa. And I’m thinking, if I ever have this, I’ll feel I made it. Unless it’s actually my house, and not just my writing room:

Neil Gaiman's writing gazebo

a writing gazebo like Neil Gaiman has… and a wolf

Lovely, silly, distracting fantasies.

I’m preparing Qayqa for publication, and that means the world to me.

In the light of the upcoming BIRTH, I want to talk a bit about Qayqa, who she is, what she does – and who Munay is. I know there’s been some confusion.


How Qayqa Began

I began writing Qayqa four years ago (o boy). At the time, I was in the middle of my media designer apprenticeship at SWR, living in my first apartment and had no sense my Peruvian identity or heritage. All I knew was that I wanted to write about a man walking over a woman’s body, peeking into her scars and wounds, and through this, discovering just how much of an adventure it is to love a woman. I wanted him to learn to feel grateful for her.

Some feminism going on there.

But the story wasn’t working. I tried it as a poem, a short story, a film script, even a play. I almost had it as a play, but I was writing on my typewriter back then, and one day, I lost the pages. Bummer.

Then the lines came: “I once knew a group of flying men and women…” I began writing. I thought I was writing a short story. Then Damian fell over the horizon and began wandering over a woman’s body, peeking into her scars and wounds… and that was when I realised what I was writing.


During Qayqa

I excitedly called my father to tell him I was writing a book. I said I didn’t have a title yet. He said: “You should give it a Peruvian name, something in Quechua, perhaps an Inca philosophy.”

I snorted: “And how am I going to find that?” To date, I have found two books in all of Peru that teach Quechua, and one of them was written by a friend. “It’s not like I can just google: secret shamanic Inca words!” My father laughed, said, “Try it!” and hung up.

So I googled secret shamanic Inca words. It actually worked.

I found an glossary of shamanic vocabulary, and slowly read through it all. I finally came to Q – qayqa: “a state of bewitchment or illness, a psychic or energetic knot of energy, which can be released through healing, ritual or initiation work”. It was perfect! It even said “KNOTS” in the definition!

How terribly exciting. I began referring to this glossary for ideas while I wrote.

Shortly afterwards, we received word that a friend of the family, estimated Peruvian scientist & explorer, and the man who gave me my name, Carlos Ochoa, had passed away.

left to right: Dr Carlos Ochoa, Dr José Luis Rueda. CIP Archive

left to right: Dr Carlos Ochoa, Dr José Luis Rueda. CIP Archive

I ran with the obituary to Mark (who, in those days, wasn’t my art partner – just a guy I was dating), read it out loud to him, and told him all my memories of Carlos Ochoa. While I was ranting, Mark painted a picture of a potato slowly transforming into a child. I snapped my fingers: “That’s it! I’m going to create a homage to Carlos Ochoa by making him a character in my book. I’ll name a small potato after him, one that can do exactly what you painted: transform into a little person, and back into a potato.”

That painting still hangs in Mark’s apartment. It is one of our most prized joint possessions.

When I returned to see Mark the next morning, he had wild eyes and crazy hair. He had been up all night, digesting Carlos Ochoa’s incredible life story, and doing this:

the very first potato Ochoa created by Mark Klawikowski

the very first potato Ochoa created by Mark Klawikowski


first steps

first steps

me examining the puppet for the first time

me back then, examining the puppet for the first time

Over the next few weeks, Mark and I decided to make our first film together. By that time, we had collaborated on my first book, a collection of short stories entitled Overripe Fruits: illustrations by Mark.

from "Overripe Fruits"

from “Overripe Fruits”

With Ochoa the Potato as the main character, I wrote & we directed Children of Roots.

me filming Ochoa at the theater in der westentasche, watching Thomas Dentler and Nancy Calero perform from one of their plays

me filming Ochoa at the theater in der westentasche, watching Thomas Dentler and Nancy Calero perform from one of their plays

We took Children of Roots to Peru: Peruvian actress Nancy Calero organised a film tour through northern Peru, where we showed our film at schools, to artists and to youth organisations. We told everyone about Dr Carlos Ochoa.

Ochoa and I standing in the Peruvian desert

Ochoa and I standing in the Peruvian desert

It was while I was there that I really began to identify as a Peruvian – for the first time in my life. Keeping Qayqa in mind, I bought as many books as I could find on Peruvian shamanism, Quechua glossaries, Quechua dictionaries…

Children of Roots was the first puppet-documentary we made, and Ochoa was the first film puppet Mark ever created. Ochoa took us on the wildest ride of our lives: thanks to him, we’ve been giving Children of Roots workshops for the past 4 years; Mark went on to create more film puppets, which starred in The Tailorettes of Ulm; we founded a film company entitled (also a homage) GoldenPotato; and even won a prize for our puppets.

All of this, everything we have today, is thanks to Dr Carlos Ochoa, and the potato Ochoa. Who would have thought that a little potato could take you on such a wild adventure.

Over the years, Mark kept telling our audiences that the potato Ochoa is originally from my book Qayqa. But it confused everyone, and after a while, we stopped telling people.

But now, finally, after four years out & about, Ochoa is going back into Qayqa – back to where it all began. And after four years of waiting, Qayqa will finally be published.



Preparing Qayqa for Publication

The plan was always for Mark to illustrate Qayqa. Even while I was writing her, Mark was already sketching my ideas. It was always a clear deal. Even though we are today going separate ways, it would be preposterous for him to not illustrate Qayqa.

In preparing Qayqa for publication, I am doing several things at once:

  • a few months ago, I translated Qayqa into German and sent her off to a friend / lector for corrections. She’s now coming back with suggestions and corrections, and I’m going through it all. After I’m done, she’ll go off to another friend / lector for a second proof-reading.
  • I’m reading up on ways to finance & publicize Qayqa‘s publication. I’m looking into CrowdFunding, and I’ll talk about that more in a little bit.
  • writing lists of which sections I believe should be illustrated and meeting up with Mark to talk about them. We agreed on 6 illustrations per chapter.
  • thinking about Qayqa‘s book tour. As you know, I have always wanted to incorporate music (and singing) into the readings. I just received a happy “Yes!” from a pianist, who has agreed to stop by some readings and play his own compositions. That’s all in planning, and once we know more, I’ll tell you. I’m just so happy about his spontaneous “Yes!”
Pacha Mama

Pacha Mama


Illustrating Qayqa

Over the last few weeks, I took my list of possible illustrations to Mark and we worked through them. Last Tuesday, we completed all the illustrations for Chapter 2. (There are 4 chapters, but the last chapter is probably just 10 pages, so might just have 2-3 illustrations)

It was a very bizarre meeting. I was coming down with a cold, and all I really needed to do was sleep. But I put Qayqa first and trekked over to Mark’s. This is what made the meeting bizarre: I read out my first idea to him and fell asleep. He sketched quietly, then shook me awake to show me. I made a few suggestions, went back to sleep, and he modified the picture. He woke me. I explained the next idea to him and went back to sleep. He sketched… shook me awake… I explained the next idea.

But we did it. We finished Chapter 2!

Now, my lovely ayllu, I’m going to show you what we did. Here it is. A few sketches of Qayqa, JUST FOR YOU:

Mama Ti's caravan, not yet complete

Mama Ti’s caravan, not yet complete

Damian trying to balance on the horizon

Damian trying to balance on the horizon

This is the last illustration from Chapter 1.

Chapter 2:


Damian falling into a scar of the earth, slowly transforming into an animal as he falls

Damian falling into a scar of the earth, slowly transforming into an animal as he falls

Very Alice in Wonderland…


Ochoa the potato explaining the world to Damian

Ochoa the potato explaining the world to Damian

My favourite:

Damian would make a terrible plant: his knots falling all over the place & not reaching out to the sun (as they should). Meanwhile, Ochoa the potato grows stronger and more beautiful, while Damian sits in angry frustration

Damian would make a terrible plant: his knots falling all over the place & not reaching out to the sun (as they should). Meanwhile, Ochoa the potato grows stronger and more beautiful, while Damian sits in angry frustration

What happens now:

I recorded myself reading all of Chapter 1. Mark will now go over the illustrations from this chapter with ink. Once he’s done with that, we’ll select one (we already have one in mind) to be a flyer (perhaps even poster), so that I can start publicizing the book.

My job is to read myself reading the relevant bits of Chapter 2. While he listens to my recording, Mark will draw the sketches out in big, start with ink, and surely add more detail; some of these are, after all, still a bit rough. How could they not be, when the writer was falling asleep while describing them?


After Qayqa Came Munay

Three years ago, I gave Qayqa to a friend for translation. He came back with surprised eyes: “Yes, I liked it a lot, but… I thought those flying people were a bigger part of the book. I kept waiting for them to come back!”


The flying people only really feature in Chapter 1. 2/3 of the book is about Damian stumbling through the desert with a potato. Sorry.

I was a bit depressed back then because I had finished Qayqa. I was missing the world. I began with what I thought would be a short story: one that is just about the flying people, because (let’s face it) they’re pretty fascinating. They still have so much room for development & storytelling.

At some point I realised I was writing a book. I gave her the playful name Munay and kept wanting to change it. Munay stuck. It’s Quechua and means “the power of love and the power of will, combined”. In 2012, I backpacked with her through Peru and wrote a lot. She’s not done and she’s already more pages than Qayqa.

Munay is the sequel. She’s about a young woman named Anahata. One day, the caravans pass through her village and she meets Ti. She decides to leave her village and travel with the caravans. One day, she discovers that she, too, can fly. Thus begins her transformation… And a lot of other things happen. Until she leaves the caravans and runs into the jungle.

For Munay, I wanted to write solely about the flying people: how they fly, how this changes them, what they’re like. And I wanted to create a character who knows everything about the sky and the earth. For that, I had to make Anahata fall out of the sky and dig into the earth. And then, more stuff happens.

a mysterious picture that is actually information for writing Munay

a mysterious picture that is actually information for writing Munay

While illustrating with Mark, he occasionally says: “Oh, this one will go in Munay…” So there you have it.



I’m looking into ways to finance the printing, publishing and publicizing of Qayqa. An exciting option I’m looking into is Crowdfunding. Have you heard of it?

Here’s a video with a quick overview:

This is how Amanda Palmer raised ONE MILLION DOLLARS for her tour & album book:

This is my idea:

I need to raise money to be able to send Qayqa off to the printer. My first calculation had me at 200 books = € 1270.- At the moment, I’m thinking I might print off 100 first (LIMITED) editions. Then there is the cost of flyers… posters… and the book tour.

I’m thinking about doing this over Crowdfunding. That means that if you decide to donate, depending on HOW MUCH you donate, you get something SPECIAL and UNIQUE in return. For example, if you donate, say, € 100, I could make you a thank you video. If you donate € 150, we’ll have dinner together and answer all your questions. If you donate € 250, I could name a character after you. Just ideas.

The more support your pledge, the greater your reward. And one day, you say: “This book came into existence because I helped it.”

Other ideas I had for SPECIAL & UNIQUE packages include:  a never-before published short story… one of my limited edition collages… one of Mark’s Qayqa illustrations (I have to talk to him about this first)… or your pre-ordered SIGNED copy of Qayqa.

The idea is that WE are making ART TOGETHER. I want to do this as close to you as possible.


All of this would happen over an official website, like StartNext. If I say I need €2000 to publish and tour with Qayqa, and in the set amount of days, we DON’T raise that much money: then everyone gets their money back. If we DO, great!!

If you don’t think this could work, then CHECK THIS OUT. Or THIS.

Do you like the idea of Crowdfunding? Could you picture yourself supporting the cause of publishing a unique book that without your help will never be published???

And if your answer is YES, then tell me this: What would you like to get in return for your donation???

I want to collect ideas for Thank You Packages.

Send me your thoughts & ideas to, to my twitter (@rittisoncco), facebook/rittisoncco, or here in the CommentLand. I’ll collect them, and in the next post: we’ll discuss.

me, right now

me, right now

It’s not afternoon anymore. It’s night.


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