[Interview] Fungisayi Sasa

Zimbabwean poet and author Fungisayi Sasa lives in Milton Keynes.

She is the author of the children’s book, The Search for the Perfect Head (Eloquent Books, 2008).

One of her short stories was published in the anthology, Writing Free (Weaver Press, 2011) while her poems have appeared in places that include the Poetry International Web and Spilt Milk Magazine.

In this interview, Fungisayi Sasa talks about her concerns as a writer:

When did you start writing?

My dad unwittingly led me to writing during my early childhood years. He was very firm about studying and, as children, we weren't allowed to watch television during the week. And he would often take us to the local library.

At first, I didn't like these visits to the library because reading felt like work to me. But eventually I started enjoying it and through reading, my passion for writing grew and I started writing poems and short stories about my family and the annoying things they would have done to me. Instead of ranting and raving at them when they made me angry, I would write a story about them or write an angry poem. Writing was therapeutic.

When I was in Zimbabwe, writing was simply a hobby, I didn't think I could go anywhere with it. Even though I read many books, my mind didn't grasp the concept that I could be a writer.

When the political situation in Zimbabwe forced my family to flee to the United Kingdom, I found loads of career opportunities that included writing. I studied creative writing at the University of Bedfordshire and with guidance and support from my lecturers, I sharpened my skills. I gained the confidence to send my work out and I found that the thing with writing and becoming published is that you have to push and persevere.

I used to spend hours trawling websites and writing down their details, sending work by post or e-mail - hoping that somebody would be interested. I even used to write work specifically tailored for particular magazines and websites. I sent my work out to so many places and received so many rejections but I didn't let this deter me. I was motivated because I knew that my work was of a suitable standard. If I was asked to make changes, I would.

Have your experiences influenced your writing in any way?

My personal experiences are everything when it comes to my writing.

Some of my characters have my personal traits. They talk the way I do.

My writing flows more easily if it comes from my own personal perspective. For example, in the short story, “Eyes On”, which was published in Writing Free, the idea of stalking came from the fact that when I am on Facebook, I cannot randomly go on a person's profile and check out what they are doing because, to me, it feels like I am stalking them.

However, it would also appear that one of the wonders of modern technology and social networking sites is they appear to have normalised stalking to such an extent that we are not disturbed when we are followed around. It is probably because of this 'miracle' that the main character in “Eyes On”, isn't alarmed when he realises that he is being followed.

What are the most difficult aspects?

Starting writing anything is always difficult. The first sentence is always important to me. It has to make the right impact. If it doesn't, I can't continue.

I can write three pages but if the first sentence of the story or book isn't quite right, I will delete it all.

I don't start writing until the sentence sounds right in my mind. And while I wait for that, I plot the story in my mind and concentrate on characterization.

The moments I enjoy most come after I have finished the work because while I am writing, I can't quite see the piece as a whole. The great thing about finishing a piece is that I can dive back into it and start editing and tweaking it.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

Is every word relevant and important? This is what I keep asking myself. This is because as I write I can see a word repeated over and over again. When I see this happening, I remember the time, in my primary school, when my Grade 4 teacher said, “So, then and got are barred from society.” And there was this picture of a man behind bars and that phrase was written underneath.

I usually overcome repetitions like these by reading my work out aloud. If the writing flows well and each word sounds right, I am happy. If not, I tweak it a little bit.

Also, sometimes, motivating myself to write is really difficult. Some days I look at the computer and I think, “No, not yet..” It's not writer's block because the ideas are there, always buzzing in my mind.

What will you write about next?

Baboons … I am working on a re-write of a children's book that I completed sometime ago. I am doing this because I realised the story would work better if it was about humans. I am not saying the baboons evolve into humans, but that when I first wrote the story, I could see humans in my mind but I forced the story into being one about animals.

This conversation was first published by The Zimbabwean

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