Saturday, August 27, 2011

[Interview_2] Tendai Huchu

Tendai Huchu's first novel, The Hairdresser of Harare (Weaver Press, 2010) is set during the height of the social, economic and political problems Zimbabwe experienced recently.

In August 2011, The Hairdresser of Harare was longlisted for the Not the Booker Prize. One reviewer said the novel offered "insight into a society in flux, with believable characters grappling with identity and gender issues, with power, privilege, and politics"  while another reviewer described it as "a  compelling story which will tag your emotions every which way; from love, to tragedy, to jealousy, to terror ... all told with a certain humour that makes it bitter sweet."

The novel has also been translated into German where it is available as Der Friseur von Harare (Peter Hammer Verlag Gmbh, 2011).

In an earlier interview, Tendai Huchu spoke about the factors that motivated him to start writing.

He now talks about his second novel, An Untimely Love (Whiskey Creek Press, 2010):

Do you write every day?

I couldn’t write every day, real life also has a claim on me. When I do write I write in intense bursts lasting a couple of weeks or months.

It starts with an idea ... how else could it start? ... but not just any idea and there are a great many of those, but the one that won’t leave my mind but whirls around knocking at the window until I have no choice but to act.

I write in bed, we all know a great many pleasurable things happen in bed and it ends when the idea manifests itself as words on paper which we then call the novel.

How many books have you written so far?

The Hairdresser of Harare published by Weaver Press was my first novel. It follows the story of Vimbayi, awoman who falls in love with a man who turns out to be gay during the height of the socio-economic and political problems in Zimbabwe in the middle part of the last decade.

An Untimely Love then followed and that was published by Whiskey Creek Press. The idea behind An Untimely Love began when I read Victor Hugo’s, The Last Day of A Condemned Man. I wanted to experiment with that narrative structure and so I paid tribute to him by writing a novella, The Last Day of a Suicide Bomber which I put on bibliotastic.com for readers to access free of charge.

The novella tells the story of a young terrorist who falls in love on the day he is supposed to execute him mission and this, of course, throws his world in turmoil. I stayed faithful to Hugo’s original and cut the story off at that indeterminable point where we do not quite know what happens next once he reaches his target, the London Underground.

I received feedback from readers who enjoyed the story but they all demanded to know what happens next and I had to agree with them that even when I finished the story I had a niggling doubt that this was not the end. So, I followed up with two other novellas, An Untimely Love and Love’s Labours which together form the novel An Untimely Love.

The process of writing, redrafting and modifying the final novel took a year, not including the time I spent producing the first novella which adds a couple of months. It was published as in December 2010 as an ebook.

How did you choose a publisher for the book?

I sent out multiple submissions and had offers from four ePublishers, all based in America. I went with Whiskey Creek Press simply because of the feedback I got from another author who is published with them.

Which were the most difficult aspects of the work you put into An Unimely Love?

I think terrorism was at the fore of Western public consciousness for a huge chunk of the last decade, it’s only gradually been overtaken by the economy now so I think my main difficulty was handing the book sensitively.

The story is told from the perspective of Khalid Patel, the young terrorist, and this meant he couldn’t be the cardboard cut-out villain with a big beard shouting “Allahu Akbar” that you see in Hollywood movies. He is all too human ... an idealist with big ideas who hopes to transform the world ... something most of us can relate to from our twenties. As an author, I then had to accept those values and allow him to grow instead of forcing my values onto him.

What did help me a great amount was a bit of information I chanced upon in a discussion on the biological roots of human aggression between Thomas Hayden and Malcolm Potts and they spoke briefly about The Black September group which was behind the Munich Massacre. It turns out one of the reasons the group was effectively neutered was when its members were offered housing and an allowance on condition they got married by the PLO. It seems that as they became family men they lost their appetite for acts of violence which is the same trajectory Khalid Patel goes through once he falls in love.

Which aspects of the work did you enjoy most?

I was working in first person, present tense for the first time on a subject that fascinates me. As an author I moved from playing God into, as it were, becoming the Character for a brief moment and that was quite a high, with a rush of all sort emotions.

What sets An Untimely Love apart from other things you've written?

My body of work is still quite small, two novels and a couple of published short stories. But An Untimely Love stands out because I was writing about people from a culture and religion different to my own which meant a lot of research but, ultimately, what you find is that people aren’t too different from one another and their actions and motivations are comprehensible.

We all wake up in the morning, pee and think about food ... that’s basic ... but in these small universals, you have an infinite amount of variation from group to group and person to person ... I think the way to describe it is as a "literary chaos" theory.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

I think as an author if you look back and start gloating about past accomplishments then you’re finished, you might as well be dead.

You’re always evolving that’s why Jeffery Archer went back and rewrote Kane and Abel a couple of years ago, he’s a better craftsman. Stephen King too talks about thinking about how he can write an even better book and I think that’s all you want to focus on as a writer.

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