Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Interview with Paula Hawkins

Paula Hawkins is the best-selling author of The Girl On The Train which has sold around 11 million copies globally and been made into a blockbuster film grossing around US$24.6 million.  Here I talk to her about her interest in the best-selling novelist of all time, Agatha Christie.


 

 
BR: In a number of interviews, you’ve mentioned that you read a lot of Agatha Christie as a teenager and that this influenced your desire to be a writer. What in particular did you like about her work?
PH: Agatha Christie’s books were the first real mysteries I ever read; I remember being thrilled by her plotting, by the casts of dastardly characters, the glamorous locations, and by all those shocking twists.
BR: Have you a favourite?
Image result for and then there were nonePH: And Then There Were None. It’s perfectly constructed.
BR: There are some people who consider Agatha Christie a little twee and old-fashioned now.  Not gory enough, I suppose! For me, one of the most unsettling aspects of her work is the fact that the murderer is often somebody very close to the victim and usually the most unlikely suspect. Murder is, in fact, something we are all capable of.  Would you agree?
PH: The murderer being close to the victim is in fact rather realist: most murderers know their victims. Serial killers were for a long time the most terrifying bogeymen, but a lot of crime novels now consider the threats closer to home: husbands and wives, lovers and exes, old friends and new ones.
Image result for the girl on the trainBR: I see some parallels between your life and Agatha Christie’s. In other interviews you’ve described how you were down on your luck and writing The Girl on the Train was your last ditch at success.  You’d borrowed money from your father, which you hated doing, and wrote flat out trying to finish the novel. Agatha Christie wrote her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, in an attempt to save her childhood home, Ashfield, which her mother struggled to maintain.  Although she was ultimately unsuccessful, she realised she could earn her own income through writing; indeed, even much later on in her career when she was an established writer, she said that if something expensive needed to be done or needed to be bought, she would then sit down and plot the next book. Do you feel that a certain amount of hardship is necessary to push a writer towards success?

PH: I’m not sure that it is necessary for everyone, but it was certainly helpful for me. I wrote The Girl on the Train at quite a dark time in my life; I was unhappy professionally and personally, and a great deal of that darkness went into the characters and the plot; it infected the atmosphere of the book. And being strapped for cash didn’t hurt: I wrote feverishly, particularly when I was writing the early parts of the book. I was quite single-minded.
BR: You have three narrators.  Would you say that you are a mix of all three or that you are more of a Rachel?
PH: Rachel is the one I feel closest to because I lived with her the longest. Her voice was in my head a long time before I started writing The Girl on the Train. And there are aspects of her character – her loneliness, her feeling of being an outsider – that I can relate to. I’m not saying I am like her now, but I think at times I have been.
Image result for agatha christieBR: Many writers, the good ones anyway, are introverts. Agatha Christie certainly shunned the limelight and was always surprised at her success.  There is a rather telling story of her being turned away from a party to celebrate the success of her play, The Mousetrap, because she didn’t have an invitation.  What is even more touching is that she did not make a big fuss about this; she simply waited until the mistake was realised after which everyone was really apologetic.  I suppose it goes to show that very few people actually recognise authors, although their names may be famous.  How have you felt, and indeed coped, with the success you have had over the past couple of years?
PH: I think you are right that most authors are introverts and that most authors who achieve some measure of success find that publicity side of the business very difficult. Some – like Elena Ferrante – choose to opt out of it altogether. As you say, few authors are recognised – I have been as far as I’m aware. I enjoy doing events with readers, I love a good festival, but I’m not so keen on being interviewed. And I loathe being photographed.
BR: How would you have described yourself as a child?
PH: Shy, conscientious, prone to bouts of anxiety but mostly happy.
Image may contain: 3 people, people standing, night and indoor
Bryony Rheam and Paula Hawkins in Harare, December 2016
BR: You grew up in Zimbabwe, although you have lived most of your life in the U.K.  Do you still maintain links with the country beyond the obvious ones of family?
PH: I still have friends in Zimbabwe who I don’t see nearly often enough. I did catch up with a few of them last year – we spent our time reminiscing about the good/ bad old days at Arundel School.
BR: Do you think you could write a novel set in Zimbabwe?
PH: I have thought about it, and I did have an idea for one, but I have shelved it for now. I think writing about home – and to me, Zimbabwe will in some senses always be home – is tricky. I would be terrified of getting something wrong, of somehow betraying the place I came from.
 
©Bryony Rheam 2017

 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Beginnings


I have met many people who tell me they would love to write a book but they don’t know what to write about.  The problem as I see it is that they expect an entire story to ‘come’ to them all at once and I would be very surprised if this happens even to the most experienced of writers. It is often a chance remark or a fleeting glimpse of something that gives authors those 'Aha' moments. Here are some tips for getting started.

                OBSERVE  Being a writer requires you to be an observer. Writers are nosy people.  You watch, you record, you remember.  You yourself are probably a bit ‘odd’ or different.  You always feel as though you don’t really fit in.  You’re a loner.  You imagine what it is like to be other people - how do they think, what do they say and do.

When you notice the way someone holds their coffee cup or the way they position their glasses in order to read a menu, you are writing, gathering information for some character down the line. Become aware of expressions people use and the language they employ. Look out for the little details – someone who never finishes their cup of tea, for example - or things that don’t quite fit the picture.  Even something as small as a button sewn on with the wrong colour thread can be interesting.
As well as being an author, I also run a bed and breakfast with my partner, John. Sometimes I clean the rooms myself and often find it quite a fascinating window into the ways in which other people live. It is details like how pillows someone uses, what they keep next to their bed, whether a couple uses a queen size bed or two singles, even whether they open the curtains in the morning or leave them closed, that I find  interesting. These are all clues to character.

RECORD I have a notebook I carry with me everywhere which is used for a variety of functions, such as writing shopping lists and playing noughts and crosses with my daughters while waiting to see the doctor. The prime reason I bought it, however, was to record any interesting lines that came to me or any good descriptions.  One page reads: milk, cheese, chicken, eggs, Dentist (in capital letters) and then ‘man who walks on the back of his shoes’.  It was an observation I made of a man who was dressed very smartly, but then I noticed he wasn’t wearing his shoes correctly.  It was as though the suit was just for appearance sake, but really he was very tired and longed to relax. On a different page is written 'words in boxes'.  During an IT seminar I once attended, I noticed that the teacher would write a word on the board and then surround it with a box. i recently used this detail in my new book, All Come to Dust.


Sometimes I hear a line – someone says something, for example – and I think that would be a good title for a story. I jot it down and then I start thinking about what it means and what it applies to and soon the story starts to grow.  The first short story I had published was The Queue.  Set at the beginning of the economic crisis in Zimbabwe back in 2001, it centres on the life of an elderly lady who is struggling to make ends meet and to come to terms with a world that for her is in decline. The inspiration for this story came a few years beforehand when I saw an elderly lady lose her temper with a man who jumped the queue in a post office. The scene stayed with me until the day I decided to use it.  I then began to think of a character – who was she?  What was she like when she was younger?  What had happened to her in her life?

Similarly, the inspiration for This September Sun came from a conversation I had with flatmates in London when I was about 23.  Someone said that at Independence in 1980, the soldiers at Brady Barracks in Bulawayo had burnt the British flag. Afterwards, I had a line that went round and round in my head: ‘On the eighteenth of April, 1980, my grandfather burnt the British flag.’ Why my grandfather?  I didn’t know.  I didn’t know any of the characters.  All I knew is that I had a line and the line suggested conflict. It is this that I then began to explore.


LISTEN The world is 99% filled with people who don’t listen.  Everyone is so eager to talk and tell their story, but not many people are prepared to listen to others. Most people like to have an audience, even if it is only of one person.  Become a good listener. I had to do a lot of research for This September Sun and I got many of my ideas from stories people told me. Life, you will find, is far stranger than fiction and you’ll probably hear a couple of stories that will make you think I can’t possibly use that.  Nobody would believe me. The stories I heard taught me not to have stereotypes of people and not to assume certain facts about anyone.

BE WILLING TO BE LED You may find that you have a notebook full of observations, comments, lines and descriptions and you still don’t know what to do with them.  Choose one or two and see if you can ‘flesh them out’.  Take my line about the man who walks on the back of his shoes.  Why?  Are the shoes too small for him?  Are they not his? If not, who gave them to him? Who is he?  Where does he live?  Where does he work?  Gradually, things start coming together and suddenly you have a paragraph, two paragraphs, a chapter maybe or an entire story. Don’t even ask yourself where the story is going; it will come to you.
Parts of this blog were used in a Creative Writing workshop at NUST in February 2017.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Why I Read


I don’t know why some people like reading and others don’t, except somewhere along the line I think those who find reading boring haven’t been pointed in the right direction.  When I say ‘the right direction’ I don’t mean towards what is considered ‘good’ or high-brow literature, but what is enjoyable, what makes you sit immersed in another world for hour upon hour, hesitant to re-join reality.

As a child, I devoured books.  I remember reading so much, my mother worried about it.  I loved adventure and mystery; far-off lands where magical things happened. My first forays into literature were with school set texts: Animal Farm and The Mayor of Casterbridge, stories that have stayed with me for years, perhaps because I had to learn huge chunks of quotes!  Mrs Dalloway was one of the first literary books I chose to read myself.  I read it in the holidays before I left school.  It was August and I was working at a plant nursery.   The combination of Spring, the blossoming flowers and the exquisite beauty of the words had a lasting impression on me.

            It’s exactly that beauty, that power of the word, that I try to infuse my own writing with. It’s impossible to write anything new: love, death, war, loss (and the rest) are subjects that writers have grappled with since the beginning of time.  What is important is how we tell the story. Graham Greene once said that a writer writes from their subconscious, a place deeply influenced by experience. Part of this experience will, of course, be reading, which is not to suggest plagiarism; rather, that what one reads is an inspiration for one’s own writing. Is it even possible to be a writer if one doesn’t read?

            I have yet to meet someone who neither enjoys reading nor watching films or following a series on television.  Even those with no access to the printed word or technology will enjoy listening to someone telling them a story.  The worst form of torture must be to be locked in a room with nothing to read! The human need to escape into a different reality is very firmly entrenched in our being.  But it’s the written word that connects us to so much more than the passing moment.  It links us to culture, to history, to the world outside and the world within. I read because it’s part of who I am – and that’s no exaggeration.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Part 2 of Bryony Rheam’s Speech Night presentation

The Shrikes’ Call | March 2016

As promised, here is part 2 of Bryony Rheam’s Speech Night presentation.
“You don’t have to feel you need to go home and sell off the television set. What you do need to do, is monitor how much time your child spends in front of the TV and the content of what they are watching. Channels like CBeebies are great, channels like Cartoon Network aren’t so great, but whatever the channel – limit it. Make sure your child does not fall asleep in front of the television. And also make sure the TV is only on when someone is watching it. I have been to many homes, where the TV is on in the background from the time you wake up in the morning till the time you go to bed, even if no one is there. The danger with this is that it does not encourage listening skills and has been blamed for the increase in ADD and other behavioural difficulties. Children who are subjected to a lot of noise, learn to cut it out. And, believe you me, they include you in that noise! We personally don’t subscribe to DSTV because we believe it is a waste of time and money (apologies if there is anybody from DSTV here tonight!) We do watch dvds though, the benefit being that we are sitting down to watch a particular film; we are not just dipping in and out of a continuous loop which repeats itself so much that it doesn’t matter if you have not watched all of it the first, second or even ninth time. Do not be tempted to put a TV in your child’s room. Children need quiet time and a quiet room in which to sleep. They also need to wind down after a day’s activities, not be hyped up by TV which is very stimulating.
If you are an avid reader, share that love with your children; don’t take the ‘why don’t you read’ approach. Show them how to love reading. It is very important for boys especially to see their fathers read. And fathers should also be encouraged as much as possible to read to their children as well. Buy your children books. Make them feel books are special. Show them how to hold them and turn the pages. Don’t make them feel that books are second to television or a computer game.I’m so glad to see that Whitestone is still giving out books tonight as prizes rather than just a certificate which happens in so many other schools now. Some parents feel they have to buy all the classics for their children as this is ‘good’ reading matter. However, it’s more important that a child enjoys what is being read to them and doesn’t find it boring. Reading to your children must not be seen as a chore. You are teaching them to LOVE something!
Today our lives are faster, more hurried, more stressful than thirty years ago. Wasn’t life so much easier when we drank coffee rather than mocchacino? When you didn’t even think of leaving the country to go on holiday? When we only had one T.V. channel? Go home. Spend time with your children. Share your life with them, the life that as we all know goes by too fast. Put your children at the top of your list of priorities, not things. One day, you will be old, your children will have left home and have their own families. What will your children remember about you? Will they be glad that they always had an up to date phone, or will they recall the time you spent with them? Now is the time to think about that. Remember – they get to choose which nursing home you go into.”

Monday, February 1, 2016

Excerpts from my address to parents, staff and children of Whitestone School on Speech night

Our guest speaker at Speech Night last year was Bryony Rheam, an old girl of this school and in her own right, an author.  Her address on ‘Reading’ was so thought provoking that we have decided to reproduce the relevant sections in two parts in The Shrike’s Call.  The first of these follows : –

“John and I worked in Zambia for seven years at two international schools.   They are run very differently to Zimbabwean schools and are marked by a general laxity in manners and demeanour and an attitude of ‘if you don’t want to do it, you don’t have to do it.’  All this leads to, I’m afraid, is an atmosphere of boredom and apathy.  And, if the pupils are difficult to motivate, the parents are worse!  They can’t pick their children up after 3, they can’t help with play costumes and they feel that events like sports day should take place during school hours so they don’t have to give up a Saturday morning once a year. Personally,I’m tired of pandering to the particular whims of pupils and parents. So, no, I’m not here to inspire you at all.  I’m not here to make suggestions, I’m here to tell you what to do.

I’m primarily a secondary English teacher, but I also do a large amount of remedial work and this tends to be with younger children.  My first question to parents is always: ‘Does your child read?’  I don’t think I have ever received the answer, ‘Yes’.  The truth of the matter is that children who are readers are learners and children who are readers write well.  These things are inextricably linked.
I also have parents who tell me they don’t know why their son or daughter doesn’t read.  ‘We read,’ they say.  ‘We love reading.  We read all the time.’  I have had parents tell me they read the complete works of Shakespeare or Dickens at the age of 8 or how they read Dostoyevsky in the original Russian while on their Grade 7 school trip and they are therefore even more stumped as to why their beloved child prefers flicking through endless channels on television to following in their learned footsteps.

Many parents leave the education of their children up to other people.  I’m sure some of you are thinking: ‘Yes, isn’t that what we pay all these school fees for?’ Yet education begins at home, way before your child is of school going age and it continues into the after school hours of family life.  Ask yourself this – how much time do you spend together as a family?  Do you sit down to at least one meal together a day?  Do you talk to your children?  Do you ask them what sort of a day they’ve had?  Or do you sit in separate rooms, each on your device, your food on your lap? You will be amazed, shocked even, to discover how many children – and I’m talking about children at private schools – experience very little of family life.  Some children don’t even live with their parents, or even their relatives.  They are looked after by maids and gardeners, people to whom you pay the minimum wage.  Materially, even physically, your child may be adequately looked after – but what about emotionally?  What sort of intellectual input are they receiving?  More and more, teachers are under increasing pressure to make up for what is lacking at home.

What I find increasingly through my remedial work is that children with learning difficulties are often, but not always, suffering from some sort of emotional problem.  I’d even go as far as saying that the emotional difficulty is what is stopping them from progressing.  These children may be suffering from anything from not enjoying the school they are at, to experiencing bullying to a divorce or a death in the family.  However, sometimes the reason is as simple as parents not having enough time to share with their children.  They buy them things: toys, games, phones – but have no intention of sitting down and playing with them.  It’s very easy to put the TV on while you’re working or cooking or whatever you’re doing and lumping your child in front of it.  It’s the perfect babysitter.

Every parent wants to give their children the best and often we think the best is what we didn’t have in our own childhoods.  Particularly in Africa, with its growing middle class, this often means televisions or the latest gadget or phone.  We think that if we are able to provide our children with their OWN television set, then we must have really made it in life, because we never had that.  We are also sometimes worried about the amount of technology that our children are subjected to, but tend to think, what else can we do?  This is the world today.  If we take away the television set or the phone, my child will fall behind somehow in comparison to their peers.  So although we may not like something, we go along with it.

I consider myself very lucky in life for many reasons but I will share two in particular with you this evening. The first is ZBC.  Yes, you did hear me correctly. The Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation. When I was growing up, there was only ZBC.  Now I know what you’re thinking – how on earth could ZBC be a blessing?  Some of you here have probably never even watched ZBC!  However, I am sure there are those of you who can look back with fond memories on the days of Cheers!, The A Team, McGyver and Magnum P.I.  What about Dallas, Dynasty, Falcon Crest and Big League Soccer on a Sunday evening?  One TV channel. O.K., two for those in Harare.   My other blessing was that I had a mother who read to me.  Every single night my sisters and I had a story.  She either read to us from a book, or made up stories which we would also add to.  We went to the Book Centre with her and we would point out all the books on our wish list for birthdays and Christmas.  I remember them wrapped in shiny paper under the Christmas tree, the smell of the pages of the new books and the sense of brimming anticipation at the hours of reading ahead. Our house was full of books; we were taught to love and respect them.    Both my parents read and many of the books that were read to us were classics and favourites that they themselves had read as children.

Reading to your children creates a special bond.  Perhaps you’re in their bedroom, they’re ready for bed, winding down: the atmosphere is one of quiet and calm.  You look at pictures, you answer questions about the story, perhaps you predict what’s going to happen in the end.  There’s this shared experience which doesn’t happen with television which also tend to be very loud and noisy.  You’ll find children like to snuggle up to you; it’s not the same as sending them to bed to read by themselves.

One of the biggest mistakes is thinking that children won’t understand something.  Children understand far more of the world than we give them credit for.  It also surprises me that many parents will say that their child is too young for books, but will happily sit them down in front of the television to watch often highly inappropriate content matter. We all know how easily very young children imitate the adults around them.  I’m sure we’ve all experienced that awful moment when our two year old swears profanely at the cat in the front of Granny and Grandad using exactly the same words that we used when we kicked it out the back door the previous evening. Why is it that we think that books are meant for when children get older or when they themselves can read?

You can actually read to newborn babies; you can even read to a baby before it is born.    Obviously, they won’t understand a story, but they understand tone, the way you speak to them and they will feel comforted.  They will therefore associate reading with a sense of well-being and thus develop a positive attitude towards books.  Many children who don’t like reading are those who have been put off it, and this is usually because they see reading as a task.  They associate it with school.  Now if you’re not a strong reader and maybe you stutter and stumble a bit or find long words difficult to say, you’ll associate reading with a feeling of embarrassment from having to read aloud and having others laugh at you.  Class readers are often quite boring and predictable and don’t necessarily stimulate interest in reading for its own sake.

But if a child is read TO, those pressures disappear.  They can sit back and listen and enjoy the story.  Adults can use a range of tones in their telling of the story, or they might use different voices for different characters.  The atmosphere they create is generally far more exciting than that of the child who is just trying to get past the words, plodding along, and missing the story.

If you read to your children, they can develop their reading skills and their vocabulary.  You can obviously read them harder books than they can, so you are always pushing those boundaries for them, otherwise they will get stuck with only the books they can read and these tend to be very basic. They can ask what certain words mean and you’ll be surprised how easily they pick up and remember them.  By the time a child is five, they should be able to be introduced to books with chapters, where they have to wait for the next installment every night.  This improves their attention skills; they have to remember what happened the previous night and they come to realise that a story can go on and take various twists and turns.

This gives you the opportunity to talk about the story at other times, perhaps at a meal time or in the car on the way to school.  What do you think is going to happen next?  This helps develop a child’s imagination and create their own stories, which is something that TV doesn’t do.  It doesn’t allow you to imagine characters and plot differently to what is shown on the screen.  Everything is given to you and is therefore what is termed passive learning.

First and foremost, we must remember that the most important thing we can give our children is our time.  Children thrive when they know they are the centre of their parents’ lives.  When reading, you’re taking time out from your busy schedule and sitting down and saying, I have time for you.  Children love routine.  If you set a time to read together every day, they will look forward to this and learn to appreciate it.  As much as possible, don’t upset this routine once you’ve started it because it doesn’t work for you.  It’s like breaking a promise.  If your children are able to join a library, ask them what they are reading or go with them and make suggestions.  It means a lot to a child if you can pass on to them your love of a particular author or character.  Even with older children – and here I mean teenagers – read what they are reading.  Too often we assume the teenager’s world is one that we can’t share or that we will find nothing of interest in – but you can save yourself a lot of hassle with bad behaviour if you make an attempt to share that world.”

Part Two will be published in the next Shrike’s Call.
From The Shrikes' Call, the newsletter of Whitestone School

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Out of Africa Lifestyle Magazine: An Interview with Bryony Rheam


















Bryony was born in Kadoma, Zimbabwe, in 1974. She spent most of her childhood in and around Bulawayo, leaving in 1993 to go to the UK. She returned to Zimbabwe in 2001 where she spent the next eight years working as an English teacher.
In 2008, Bryony moved firstly to Ndola in Zambia and then to Solwezi. Bryony has had a number of short stories published in various anthologies of Zimbabwean writing, and in 2009, her first novel, This September Sun, was published in Zimbabwe by amaBooks. This September Sun won the Zimbabwe Publishers Best First Book Award in 2010 and was published in the UK in March 2012 by Parthian. In May 2012, it reached number 1 on Amazon Kindle sales. She lives with her partner, John, and their two daughters.
OOA: Where do you currently live?
BR: I recently moved back to Bulawayo after living in Zambia for seven years. Despite the economic situation here in Zimbabwe, Bulawayo is still a great place to live in.
OOA: Which writer(s) have influenced you most and why?
BR: I love F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night). His writing is so beautiful and moving. Each word seems to shimmer as you read it. I also love Virginia Woolf (Mrs Dalloway and The Waves) as she is able to transform every day moments into something wonderful. E.M. Forster wrote that ‘most of life is so dull that there is not much to say about it’, but Woolf proves him wrong! I am also a great Agatha Christie fan and love the puzzles in her books and how she presents them – the stories are very simple, yet it is almost impossible to work out whodunit and why.
OOA: Are the characters in your book inspired by real people?
BR: Someone said that a first book is almost always autobiographical and to a certain extent this is true of This September Sun. Both Ellie and Evelyn are very much like me in many ways – but not totally! One of the main characters is a man called Uncle Wally. My mum did have an Uncle Wally who was an architect and who lived for some years in Rhodesia in the 1950s. His wife was by all accounts a snob, which is where I got the idea from. However, the character and his actions are all fictional.
OOA: How has your childhood in Kadoma and Bulawayo influenced you?
BR: I was only born in Kadoma. My parents lived in Chakari at the time. We moved to Mhangura when I was about two or three. Bulawayo has had far more of an influence on me. It is a place I have both loved and hated which is perhaps why so much of my writing has centred on it. Its great failing is that it is such a cliquey place: not only do you need to have been born and raised there to be accepted, but at least three generations of ancestors need to have been as well! Life is often harsh, dominated by droughts and years of political isolation, but there is also a savage beauty to it. The history, too, is so interesting. Bulawayo is a mixture of the old and the new, whereas in Harare a lot of the old buildings have been pulled down. I like going to Harare for the occasional visit, but it lacks a heart – something is missing about it.
OOA: When did you first start writing?
BR: I remember writing when I was six years old. When I was eleven, my dad bought me a second-hand typewriter and I used to churn out stories and poems on it. My first published work was a children’s story in The Chronicle in 1988. I still have it.
OOA: Were you encouraged to write when you were young?
BR: My parents were always very supportive of me wanting to be a writer. Teachers also told me that I had a talent as did a lecturer when I was at university. Ironically, when I first began to think seriously about being a full time writer, that’s when I faced most opposition. How are you going to afford it? What are you going to live on? became common questions.
OOA: What schools did you attend in Kadoma and Bulawayo?
BR: The first school I went to in Bulawayo was Waterford. It was a government school and after a couple of terms, I moved to Whitestone which I did not enjoy as much. Everyone seemed to know each other and I felt very much on the outside of things. I then went to Girls’ College which I enjoyed.
OOA: What do you like to do when you are not writing, what are your hobbies?
BR: I enjoy gardening and reading, of course! I also enjoy looking for old furniture in second hand shops and at auctions.

OOA: You have successfully pursued a career in writing in Zimbabwe - how difficult has this been and what obstacles do Zimbabwean writers face?

BR: Zimbabwe has a very small reading population. Due to the price of locally produced books, many people cannot afford to buy them and borrow them instead. Therefore, sales are quite limited. One of the greatest challenges is being known outside of Zimbabwe and to get your work on the international market. Unfortunately, many people still expect a certain type of story from Zimbabwe – poverty, AIDS, farm invasions – and when you write something which does not include one of these themes, you are deemed to be dismissive of the problems facing the country, as though you are living in a bubble.

OOA: Where is your next novel set and what is the theme?

BR: My next novel, All Come to Dust, is a crime novel set in Bulawayo in the present day.

OOA: What words of advice can you give to aspiring (Zimbabwean) writers?

BR: Networking is very important. Get to know as many writers as possible and get yourself known. The days of being a recluse who does not go on the internet are over. You have to market yourself, which can be difficult if you are not that type of person. Saying that, you have to maintain a sense of perspective: just because you are popular in Zimbabwe, doesn’t mean you are the best in the world. Fame is also a short-lived experience. Don’t forget who you are and who your friends are. I have met a number of writers who are hesitant to help others or they forget their colleagues entirely. That’s not what it’s all about.