[Interview] Tendai Huchu

Podiatrist and author, Tendai Huchu was born in 1982, in Bindura, Zimbabwe.

He attended Churchill High School in Harare and currently lives in Edinburgh, Scotland.

The Hairdresser of Harare (Weaver Press, 2010)  is his first published novel.

In this interview, Tendai Huchu talks about his writing:

When did you start writing?

I have been writing since I was in school. I was sub-editor of The Churchill Times, my school newspaper. I even won a couple of national essay contests. But that was mainly articles. I started writing fiction when I was 23 because I felt I had a story to tell.

I wanted to express myself and share ideas with other people.

I knew I wanted to get published round about the time I started writing ... so ... I wrote and pitched to publishers ... four years later, here I am.

How would you describe your writing?

I hope it is literary fiction ... I come from an oral tradition ... so I am mainly a storyteller.

I enjoy a good plot with great characters and dynamic set pieces and I hope these things are reflected in my work.

Who is your target audience?

I don’t have a specific target demographic or anything like that.

I might write for my readers but, remember, the first reader of my stories is me. If I like a tale I've come up with then I think maybe, just maybe, others will too.

In the writing you are doing, which authors influenced you most?

Dostoevsky, Dostoevsky, Dostoevsky ... this man and his thinking dominated my early 20s. I still love the depth of his ideas. Reading his book Crime and Punishment for the first time was like being in the middle of an 18 megaton thermonuclear explosion.

I also like other authors like Amin Maalouf, John Grisham, Alexandre Dumas, Orwell and a whole raft of other great storytellers.

Each author I read helps me improve my craft and gives me incredible pleasure in the process.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

Perhaps at a subconscious level they have.

Different sub-personalities of me are probably floating about in the text but I have never actively sought to insert aspects of my personal experience directly into my work.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

Having a roof over my head and at least one square meal a day.

Do you write every day?

I don’t write every day. I wish I could but, between trying to earn a living and having an active social life, there are simply not enough hours in the day.

I write in fits and starts.

There are periods when I am extremely creative and focused. During these periods I close myself off from the world and do nothing but write, eat, sleep. I work very quickly with the door locked in case debt collectors or the landlord show up. These sessions sometimes end when I have a workable draft of a novel but quite often I come away with nothing but red eyes and sore wrists.

How long did it take you to write The Hairdresser of Harare?

The Hairdresser of Harare is about Vimbai, a young single mother who is trying to make a life for herself amidst Zimbabwe’s political and economic chaos. She falls in love with a dashing young man who turns out to be something we all didn’t quite expect.

I started writing the novel Christmas day 2009 and 14 days later I was finished with the first draft. I wrote quickly because the narrator had a distinct voice and I was afraid if I stopped I might lose it.

The novel was published this August 2010 by Weaver Press who I choose because they had formidable authors in their stable that I had read and enjoyed.

The main advantage of working with Weaver Press for this book is that my editor was based in Harare and had intimate knowledge of the locations and types of characters who were in the book. Because I live in Scotland, we couldn’t have face-to-face meetings but we still managed to build a good working relationship and I enjoyed the process immensely.

Which were the most difficult aspects of the work you put into the novel?

I struggled to let my characters roam free and live the story out according to their own personalities. Every writer enjoys playing God ... so when you see your characters living their lives outside of the rigid pre-planned plot priorities you had set for them ... it can be difficult to let go. What I usually do is to call the characters by a litany of obscene names and let them go off to do their own thing.

Which aspects of the work did you enjoy most?

I enjoy how everything in The Hairdresser of Harare comes together in the end ... how certain things that happen in the first chapters only make sense towards the end ... the subliminal links in the text that even I, as the author, only discover with each re-reading ...

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

Staying the course. Not giving up even when I thought no one would ever read my work.

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Tahlia said…
I know how it is with those characters, but if I let them lead me, I find the novel comes out much more interesting than if I had directed it entirely from my intellect.

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