Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Interview _ Erik Schmidt

Erik Schmidt lives in Georgia and is a sports editor and a freelance writer.

10 of his short stories appear in the anthology, Cover Stories: A Euphictional Anthology (CreateSpace, 2010).

In this interview, Erik Schmidt talks about his writing:

When did you start writing?

I had to write fictional stories throughout elementary school, but I started taking it seriously — or at least as seriously as any 11-year-old boy can take anything beyond backyard football and baseball cards — in sixth grade.

Our teacher, Mrs. Jacoby, consistently had us write 100-word essays and then read them aloud in class. I remember thinking some of the topics were boring or uninspiring, so I started creating my own themes for my own amusement. They weren’t anything special, but it was important for me to realize that innovation, creative thinking, and stepping outside the expected parameters are huge elements in the writing process.

There was no epiphany or mind-blowing realization in regards to becoming a published writer. When I was a junior in high school, I saw an ad for a sports writer for a twice-weekly newspaper called the Wall Herald in New Jersey. The owner, I think his name was Ed Brown, had his own airport. The Herald ran a regular contest where you had to find a small caricature of Mr. Brown flying a plane somewhere in the paper. If you found him, you won an ice cream sundae. Basically, this wasn’t the New York Times, so I figured, “What the hell?”

I realize this doesn’t paint the most romantic of literary pictures, but I loved sports, I was a decent writer, and this seemed like a better way to earn money than working as a dishwasher or telemarketer. Again, this isn’t a feel good, movie-of-the-week story. I applied for the job, they invited me in for an interview, and I drove down there. I showed them a few clips from my high school paper, the editor looked them over, and then she asked if I had a driver’s license and a car.

I had both.

They hired me.

I subsequently decided to turn this into a career. I majored in journalism at the University of Georgia and ultimately found work as a sports editor at The Oconee Enterprise in Watkinsville, Ga. I’ve had two stints there and along the way I’ve done some freelance work for daily papers, magazines and a website or two.

As for becoming a published writer in the fictional realm, again, there wasn’t any exact “I know what I must be” moment. It was just something I thought I could do and something that would allow a more creative outlet beyond structured sports writing.

I do know several people who absolutely have to write. I’m not one of them. If I write something and someone wants to buy it, that’s great. If not, so be it. I’ll live. Of course, I’ll live better if everyone buys it. I’m certainly not against that scenario.

How would you describe the writing you are doing?

Aside from the sports writing that pays my bills, my work can be classified as semi-realistic, humorous fiction. I’ll take a completely believable scenario and let it run a step beyond ordinary. It keeps things in the real world, yet entertains. At least that’s the idea.

I despise the phrase, “target audience.” It confines the human race to three commercially motivated categories: age, gender, and annual income. I don’t write for any of these. I write for people who refuse to take life too seriously. I write for people who aren’t easily offended. I write for people who aren’t afraid to acknowledge that “Corporate America” is nothing more than a two-word excuse that permits the wealthy to abuse the middle and lower classes. Okay, I really don’t write for that third group. But I admire their attitude.

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

This is always an interesting question, and here I’d like to point out that while I respect the classic writers every kid wades through in high school as well as their modern day contemporaries, I’m not a fan of the traditional style of novel writing. It involves far too much verbiage.

I’ve read books where an author uses three paragraphs to describe a mountain. Honestly, I’m impressed by the vocabulary involved here, but personally, I detest that level of intricacy. It’s not necessary. I know what a mountain looks like. Tell me how high it is and whether or not it’s snow-covered. I can figure out the rest.

As such, I can’t get enough of books from Chuck Klosterman, Dave Barry, and Carl Hiaasen. As journalists, they have a straight-to-the-point style that grabs your attention and doesn’t let go. Just as importantly, they share a biting wit and a tremendous sense of humor. In my opinion, these are the most entertaining writers around. Since I write to entertain and not to fill pages with 17 long-winded portraits of the color blue, theirs is a style I can relate to and embrace.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

First and foremost, as a journalist I talk to a lot of people. Ergo, I have a decent handle on realistic verbal communication which helps put believable dialog in my fictional works. Along these lines, my wife complains to me that I have too much profanity in my stories. My response is simple, “People curse a lot.”

Outside of dialog, I’m sure my personal experiences are similar to those of most other writers. You drink with friends, you spend time with family, you get into the occasional scrape with the law, etc. Some things you remember and draw upon for ideas. Others you don’t.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

In regards to the process of writing, sometimes I worry that my central conflict isn’t strong enough. Sometimes I don’t think I’ve fully developed my main characters. Sometimes I think I’m just rewriting someone else’s story. Sometimes I think my conflict, my characters, and the story I’m writing all suck.

I don’t have a set way to deal with any of this and there’s no way to describe how these issues are resolved. Sometimes I scrap the entire story and sometimes I just make a key tweak or two. That’s it.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

I think getting published is the biggest challenge facing any "new" writer. I’ve spoken to authors at signings and seminars and perused countless books on the topic.

Essentially, if you don’t know someone, the whole process appears to be a crap shoot. I know that may sound bitter or harsh, but let’s face it. Just like you can go to a dive bar and see a random band that sounds just as good as Seether or Nickelback or whoever, there are unpublished writers out there who have written a novel that’s just as good as something you might find on the shelf at Borders or Barnes & Noble. Maybe the published author wrote a better query letter or maybe the agent who read the unpublished author’s query was hung over that day. In my mind, it’s that random. I could be wrong, but that’s my feeling.

Thankfully, the self-publishing world has the capability to dent this norm. Sure, there are self-published works out there that are absolute garbage, but at least self-publishing gives writers the opportunity to find an audience who can label their work as garbage. And I mean that in an incredibly positive sense.

Agents and publishers aren’t the only people on the planet who can read and form an opinion. Just about anyone with a high school diploma has that capacity. Self-publishing allows for the opportunity, at the very least, to succeed or fail without a middle-man censor.

Do you write every day?

I’m not one of these people who designates two, three, or four hours of free time a day to write.

If I feel like writing (aside from my actual sports writing job where knocking out a 12-15-inch story is something I can do in my sleep), I write. If I don’t feel like it, I don’t write.

Obviously, if I was a paid novelist and my livelihood was dependent on the written word, I would change this habit ASAP. However, at this point it’s not necessary to do so.

That being said, I don’t have a process or schedule when I write. If I have an idea for a chapter or a screenplay scene, I write it. If I have another idea, I keep writing. If I’m out of ideas, I stop.

I’ve found that I can’t force quality creativity. Again, if it meant the difference between having the air conditioning on and the power turned off, I would certainly reconsider this thought process. Whether or not I’d succeed is another question.

How many books have you written so far?

I’ve written one novel called Hair Ball that I’m currently in the process of marketing. The log line is as follows: When two fallen rock stars from the days of Guns n Roses attempt to blackmail a Florida politician to finance their career resurrection, they inadvertently intertwine the lives of a Norwegian assassin with a foul-mouthed parrot, a smug attorney suffering from hair envy, and a pop metal tribute band single-handedly keeping the spandex and hair spray industries afloat.

I’ve also written five screenplays, although none of them have sold.

In addition to that, I contributed 10 short stories to a compilation entitled, Cover Stories that was released on June 21, 2010. The material encompasses a wide range of territory, from horror to romance to comedy to stuff I don’t wish to describe for fear of misinterpreting another author’s meaning.

Christian Dumais organized the entire process and centered it around something called euphiction. Chris and some of the other writers busted their tails coming up with a definition for this and there’s actually a Wikipedia entry for it.

Here’s a quick explanation: Euphiction is a writing genre where writers do literary “cover versions” of specific songs, a marriage of musical inspiration with the written word, or a story that works like a three-minute single.

Basically, we all picked an album and wrote stories inspired by the titles of 10 songs from that album. I chose Sugartooth’s self-titled debut, which is really an incredible body of music. However, because I was unable to obtain permission to use the titles, I had to change my story titles at the last minute to avoid any post-publication complications.

Of course, I don’t blame Sugartooth for any of this. They broke up over 10 years ago. My issue is with the corporate stranglehold on such issues and I’ll hold this grudge until the day they pry the Miller Lite bottle from my cold, dead hands.

How long did it take you to come up with the material that appears in Cover Stories?

From start to finish, I think it took about a year. I wasn’t really paying attention.

We went the self-publishing route, and I believe that was the thinking from Day 1. Simply put, it was more practical.

The down side, of course, is that we have to market the book ourselves. Thankfully, we have several authors on board who are incredibly accomplished at this. They love virtual cafes, blogs, etc. Their passion has proven to be a tremendous boon.

Which aspects of the work you put into the book did you find most difficult?

Choosing which album to base the stories on was by far the most difficult task — unless you count the current marketing process. I have a rich CD collection and depending on the day, any one of them could be in my top 10.

Honestly, I ended up choosing Sugartooth because a friend and I had just been discussing little-known bands that deserved to make it big. A day or two later, Derrek Carriveau, one of the other writers and a close friend of Chris’s, sent me an email asking if I’d be interested in participating in this project. It made my decision a lot easier.

Which aspects of the work did you enjoy most?

I liked the challenge of the word limit. Christian set a strict cap of 1,000 words per story. As I mentioned earlier in the interview, I’m not a fan of unnecessary verbiage. However, to create a protagonist, plot, crisis, and resolution all within 1,000 words still proved difficult at times. Fortunately, I think the most I ever had to cut was about 100 words.

Also, as a music lover, the idea of assisting in the pioneering of what will hopefully become an accepted genre in euphiction was very appealing.

What sets your contribution to Cover Stories apart from other things you've written?

Working as part of a collaborative effort was unique. Also, I only knew two of the writers, Derrek and Chris, going into this, so reading thoughts from “strangers” was a new experience.

However, with one or two exceptions, the content of my stories is similar to what I usually write about. I didn’t branch out too much. It’s not that I feel my style is unchangeable. I just happen to like it.

What will your next book be about?

I’m currently writing a yet-to-be-titled novel about a Jewish Little League team subjected to a roster overhaul. It’s kind of South Park meets The Bad News Bears.

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

Well, I’ve won several awards as a sports writer from the Georgia Press Association, but honestly, just completing Hair Ball was my biggest achievement. Even if I never make a dime off that book, I’m extremely proud of the finished product. I busted my ass on it, and seeing it through to an actual ending was very rewarding.

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Sunday, August 28, 2011

[Interview] Tony Attwood

Tony Attwood has an honours degree in psychology from the University of Hull, an M.A. in clinical psychology from the University of Surrey, and a Ph.D. from University College London.

He runs a diagnostic and treatment clinic for children and adults with Asperger’s Syndrome, in Brisbane, Australia and is the author of books which include The Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2008), Asperger's Syndrome: A Guide for Parents and Professionals (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 1997) and Asperger's and Girls (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 1997).

In this interview, Dr Tony Attwood talks about his work:

When and why did you first become interested in Asperger's syndrome?

I first became interested in Asperger's syndrome in the early 1990's when we finally had some diagnostic criteria for Asperger's syndrome which I was able to use in my clinical practice. I had been interested in Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) since 1971. At that time our knowledge of ASD was primarily in the area of classic autism and the silent aloof child, however, it became very clear that some of the children were certainly not silent or aloof.

What do you like best about your work?

I think that the greatest enjoyment is seeing the progress of individuals that I have known for a number of years, in terms of self-understanding, abilities and circumstances.

I also enjoy the compliments and feedback from people with Asperger's syndrome, their parents and other professionals for the knowledge that I have and the strategies that I have acquired over the years to encourage particular abilities.

Who or what inspires you?

I have the greatest inspiration from those with Asperger's syndrome. I think they are heroes for the way they cope with the challenges they face in their daily life. I am also inspired by those who support the person with Asperger's syndrome from parents and partner to teachers and therapists.

What do you hope for the future for Asperger's syndrome?

I think, in the long term, I would hope that people with Asperger's syndrome have a greater understanding of their qualities and difficulties. I would also hope that there is a change in attitude from seeing Asperger's syndrome as a tragedy to a different way of thinking.

What is your favourite book and film?

I have really enjoyed the Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling. Although they were originally written for children I think that they are an inspiration for people of all ages. I particularly enjoy the wisdom of various characters especially Dumbledore.

I have also enjoyed the film versions of the Harry Potter books for the special effects and ability to entrance the audience. I do realise that Harry Potter is not everyone's favourite taste but I have read each book twice, which I have not done since I was at school having to read the English literature text for the GCE 'O' Level. One day I would like to meet J. K. Rowling to express my appreciation for her imagination and writing such enthralling books.

(c) Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2011

This article was first published in the Jessica Kingsley Publishers Autism, AS and Related Conditions Newsletter in June 2008

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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 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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Thursday, August 25, 2011

[Interview_3] Alice Lenkiewicz

Alice Lenkiewicz is an artist, a writer and a poetry and art magazine editor.

She is also the author of a collection of poems, Men Hate Blondes (origional plus, 2009) and a novella, Maxine (Bluechrome Publishing, 2005).

In earlier interviews, she spoke about the series of events that led to her setting up Neon Highway, the magazine she edits with Jane Marsh and about some of the ways in which she approaches her work as a writer.

In this interview, Alice Lenkiewicz talks about the factors that inform her writing:

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

This is not an easy question. I have read a number of authors who inspire me in various ways. However, I think there are certain authors who write in such a way that the impression they leave on you never quite diminishes.

For instance, Nadja by Andre Breton was always interesting to me for its semi-autobiography, its non-linear structure and references to Paris surrealists and their preoccupations and attitude toward everyday life while exploring notions of love and physical passion.

I admire Margaret Atwood. Her novel, The Handmaid’s Tale impressed me as well as Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time. I have always engaged with the idea of women’s struggle to survive and achieve.

I am interested in the idea of victim and matron. The Handmaid's Tale provides strong imagery and reference to the idea of male dominance but also female dominance. I am always very aware of the female ‘matron’. I think this idea has been misinterpreted and undermined in our society. The idea of female gaolers. I have been a victim of male dominance as well as female power and it is not a pleasant experience. Atwood writes this well along with Marge Piercy who also draws attention to society’s prescriptive attitudes towards female madness.

This leads to my other interest, the Victorian novel and Jane Eyre, one of my favorite books along with Wide Sargasso Sea, its sequel by Jean Rhys. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is another novel that also explores the idea of Victorian female madness and Kate Millets’s The Loony Bin Trip is a fascinating read.

I am also interested in the outsider. Camus and his novel The Outsider along with Kafka’s novel, The Trial fascinates me because of the looming authority and unfairness of society and how it can falsely misjudge people.

Anais Nin interests me. I find her work, although primarily sexual also fascinating for its freedom and references to her travels and unusual experiences.

I lived in New Mexico for a year and it was there that I absorbed a new culture and read a variety of books from Latin America and the US such as Isabelle Allende and Toni Morrison. I also enjoy Angela Carter’s interpretation of the traditional fairytales. Throughout this time I lived in Los Cerrillos, New Mexico with my future husband (although I did not realize he was at the time). We camped in the canyon lands, through Utah, Nevada, on the edge of the Great Basin desert. We travelled through Seattle, Oregon and went to live in Idaho. These were all fascinating and existential experiences for me where I dropped all my links with everyday normal living and went to live in a very free and natural way without any rules or schedules. I just painted and wrote every day. It was here that I wrote my fairytales that I am now editing as well as painting many images based on the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Icons and the Virgin Mary have always been a fascination to me, their healing and the idea of beauty and compassion are powerful elements in influencing my work.

These books and experiences have all influenced me because they are about life, travel, emotions, struggles, violence and love . They make you see other cultures, other lives, other communities, suffering happiness.

It is this subject matter that interests me. I draw this into my poems and use a variety of techniques to convey my ideas. Usually I use either free verse or prose poetry. Sometimes I create more formulaic poetry depending on the kind of effect I am interested in. Men Hate Blondes, my first full collection of poems is a mixture of prose, formulaic and free verse.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

I was brought up in an unusual family. My father was an artist, the Plymouth artist, Robert Lenkiewicz and his attitude to parenting was somewhat . . . different. I had a close friendship with him and he inspired me a great deal. Everything he introduced me to while I grew up was interesting. Looking back he gave me a gift and that gift was to love life and to try to make my life as interesting as possible. He was a magical person and looking back I feel very honoured to have had this kind of experience as a child, to be painted, to be tutored, to be shown an array of artistic opportunities and skills. I used to watch him paint. He used to like talking while he painted so often he would give a kind of unplanned commentary on his working process. I used to love listening to him talk about colour and tone, moods and allegory in painting. He was a very clever man, he knew what he was doing. His main love was to collect antique books and he used to show me the spells, some of which were centuries old. I used to bind his books and we talked for hours about art and our lives.

I was brought up originally in Cornwall. Robert and my mother Mouse rented a cottage. Life changed, they divorced and Robert formed his studio on the Barbican. We moved to Plymouth. My mother was poor and we lived quite a rough and meagre lifestyle moving from one flat to another. I think they were desperate times for my mother.

She and my father had both come from middleclass upbringings, my mother from Maidenhead with her own boat and parties and my father brought up in Golders Green in a hotel for Jewish refugees. My mother had come from a simple world to a bohemian whirl of misfits and now she and my dad were left to pick up the pieces. My mother did not do so well. It was difficult for her with three children and a single mum in the late 60s and early 70s. She needed support but didn’t find this for a long time.

We lived in Plymouth in a council house in a posh area which was kind of strange but life changed for the better and we made many friends who used to drop by for cups of coffees and tea before the days of internet and mobile phones. We all socialised, watched old movies and went for long walks and had our dreams.

I met my first proper boyfriend when I was 17 and moved out of home. We found a flat in a big house in Plymstock near the beach. It was beautiful there.

We drove to Cornwall often in John’s open top car. They were fun times. He was into film and often we would climb Cornish hilltops with equipment dressed very avant-garde and then he would film me in an old ruin or church, that sort of thing. We loved each other but most first loves don’t last. We moved to London and our relationship became rocky.

I had a few violent incidents in London that affected the rest of my life. I had just moved away from London with John to Brighton. Things were still a bit up in the air so we arranged to meet in London for the day and talk. Things happened that day that created a strange fate that I won’t go into but I ended up alone and wandered to my old flat in Harlesden. I was only 19 and had no idea how to look for places properly. I was attacked by a stranger when I visited my old flat badly, dragged into a room and raped and beaten. I almost died had it not been for a neighbour who heard me scream and decided to call the police.

I spent some time in counselling. For a while it ruined my life. I remember asking Robert what I should do. I said I could not forget it. I remember him turning round to me and saying, “You must forget it Alice, you must!’. I remember the look in his face and it gave me strength. I enrolled on to a kung fu course, Wu Shu Kwan Chinese boxing group in Burgess Hill. I was taught by a good man called Nurul from Bangladesh. He and his brother had started the group to help defend others who had suffered from violence. It was kind of a hobby for me at first but became more important as time went on. I trained for four years and became very fit. I passed my black belt after doing my exam in London under the examination of Mr Chang and his wife, Trish. My anger had become manageable and I was finally free to be myself again. I have them to thank for that.

Different cultures have always interested me. I have always loved to travel and meet people from all over. When I first moved to London to Harlesden, I met Anita who shared my flat. She was the same age as me about 17 and from Ghana. She and her friends opened up a new world for me. They took me to parties and cooked for me. It was great fun. She introduced me to a new world of people in London.

Later, when I lived in Lewes, East Susses outside Brighton I also met Valerie and Christine who were French. We had many years of fun in our early 20s where we travelled and were creative. I worked in the Anne of Cleves Museum in Lewes. My life was idyllic. Valerie and I would dress up and go to parties and clubbing in Brighton. We walked across the Sussex Downs and I would paint and life was really wonderful.

One day my sister, Valerie and I were sitting on Brighton beach. We decided to go to America. I had wanted to go to Russia but we ended up in the US. We started off in New York, went to Boston and down to Chicago, over to Dallas, down to New Orleans, and then up to the Grand Canyon. However our lives were changing and we ended up going our separate ways. Suddenly our differences became magnified and we all wanted different things.

Valerie went to Florida, Becky went to San Francisco and I got on a coach and decided to go where fate took me. It was very exciting. I ended up getting off the Greyhound in Santa Fe, New Mexico. This was the beginning of a new era for me in terms of how it affected my whole life. New Mexico was a magic portion creatively. I fell in love with the area and it inspired me for many years.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

This is a difficult one and it is a mixture of a few things.

In general I am quite happy with the way I am going. I enjoy the freedom I have with my work. I can write when I want and how I want to. I enjoy publishing other writers and providing other writers with a chance to be published. Some of the writers I have published are doing some great things and now have their own collections out etc so that is a really good feeling and makes me realise just how important Neon Highway has been in contributing to help poets climb the publishing ladder.

I think if I have any concerns then it is sometimes a sense of exhaustion, in terms of the aftermath of my work. Poetry needs publicity but it is not the easiest of things to publicize. Poetry is a difficult genre to get out there. I feel few people outside the small press scene know who I am so often there is sometimes a sense of where do I go next and what is it I want? Do I want to aim to publish beyond the small press and why?

When I first began writing, the idea of being a successful writer was always associated in my mind with the big publishers but having been part of the small presses and spoken to so many talented writers and critics involved with the small press scene over the years, these two boundaries have blurred for me. You start to see a very different side of writing and publishing when you produce a magazine. Small press is not about amateur writing. I have read some exceptional poetry and prose. Small presses are there to provide an opening for poets to be heard and read and if they were not there it would be very difficult for poets to find this opportunity, as poetry is kind of a closed world and is not always the easiest genre to be accepted in.

Basically, there are just so many unknown poets who deserve to be interviewed and published. I feel there needs to be more support and opportunities for up and coming poets, more radio station opportunities and far more variation in people’s level of understanding in this day and age of what constitutes poetry because poetry is fun and it’s there for everyone to enjoy and learn.

I want to carry on publishing poets and writing and illustrating my own work. Neon Highway is not only a poetry magazine serving a function to publish but it is also an art performance. It is part of my poetics. Jane Marsh, my assistant editor (my fictional alter ego) provides the link of poetry into art and of creating an ongoing timeline of poets, art and prose in print. The printed magazine is the beauty of it all, especially in this day and age where printed matter is so unfashionable.

The main challenge I face is that I am both an artist and a poet. I also curate and edit and I am a mother of two children. I have to find time to devote my energies into these areas..

Some people have suggested I work towards getting an agent but then Jane Marsh is already my agent. Sometimes I feel we both may need an extra helping hand but it’s not vital.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

[Interview] Paula Leyden

Paula Leyden was born in Kenya and grew up in Zambia. She spent most of her adult life in South Africa. Currently, she lives in Ireland.

She made her debut as an author with the publication of The Butterfly Heart (Walker Books, 2011).

In this interview, Paula Leyden talks about her writing:

When did you start writing?

I started writing fiction late in life – when I moved to Ireland eight years ago. Before that my writing experience had been mainly in the field of human rights, more agitational and reporting kind of writing.

Once I had decided that I would like to try my hand at fiction I registered for a course called Write That Novel. It was run by Siobhán Parkinson, now our Children’s Laureate.

I found it extremely useful as it was a very practical course focussing on things like plotting, character development, dialogue, pace etc.

While on that course I did an exercise that then turned into my first novel (written before The Butterfly Heart and not yet published) for children. Once the course finished (it was a part-time course, two hours a week for three months) some of the students in the group felt they would like to continue meeting as a writer’s group – and we have been meeting since then for the past five years. We call ourselves The Crab Apple group.

How would you describe the writing you are doing?

I am writing various things.

My first book and the sequel to it are for children aged 10 upwards, these are the ones published by Walker Books. If I was to categorise them I suppose they would be part fiction, part fantasy and part adventure. The first one addresses a serious issue, that of child marriage, but I hope not in a pedagogic fashion. I would not like to read a book that hectored me so I see no reason to write one.

I have also written a couple of adult books (not yet published) one set on Death Row in South Africa under Apartheid, and the other also set in South Africa which, in some way, deals with a sense of belonging and apartness.

Who is your target audience?

I do not write for a target audience – I write and if the story ends up (as with the Butterfly Heart) appealing to children, then so be it. I have, however, had a lot of very good feedback from adults who have read it, so I like to think it has crossover appeal.

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

There are authors whose writing I love – but I am not sure whether they have influenced me. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Barbara Kingsolver, Elmore Leonard, Williams Carlos Williams, Aesop’s Fables and folk tales mainly from Southern Africa that I have read and re-read. The writing of these has been largely a re-telling of stories handed down through the ages, so no one writer could be identified here.

And have your own personal experiences influenced your writing in any way?

Every part of my life has influenced my writing.

I was born in Kenya and then grew up in Zambia, then lived my adult life in South Africa – bits and pieces of all of these places are in my writing.

My childhood, my observations of people, being a mother, my working life – every little bit of me goes into my writing. I am sure everyone who writes is like that – we live and we learn, in every sense of the word.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

My main concern is to make sure that I always am the best that I can be. To be true to myself and what I know. Never to slip into lazy habits or assume anything. To keep disciplined – because that is what you have to keep if you are to make progress. Without discipline you may as well fold up the computer, or throw away the pencil!

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

My challenge, now that we’re on the subject, is discipline. Each book that I write, my discipline improves (I think ...)

Do you write everyday?

I write most days and in the morning. If I am on a deadline I can write later but I find my brain is freshest in the early morning.

I have a room in our home in which I write, which is a privilege. I start each writing session where I ended, if I am in the first draft. However I have a horrible tendency when editing to go back to the start each time – then I end up with a tightly edited first section and a scrabbled second section! I am trying to cure myself of that.

How many books have you written so far?

I have written six books – but only The Butterfly Heart is published. The sequel will come out next year – no title yet.

The Butterfly Heart was published by Walker Books UK on March 3, this year, it was endorsed by Amnesty International.

I have also had a short story published in a Jack and Jill Foundation book, and a short story published in African Writing.

What would you say The Butterfly Heart is about?

My latest book is The Butterfly Heart – it is set in Zambia and is told through two voices, Ifwafa and elderly man who has a magical way with snakes, and Bul-Boo, a young girl. It follows Bul Boo and her twins sister Madillo’s efforts to save their friend Winifred from being married off to a much older man. To do this they seek help from their friend Ifwafwa.

How did you chose a publisher for the book?

I am represented by a wonderful agent, Sophie Hicks of Ed Victor Ltd. In London. And it was Sophie who secured a publishing deal with Walker Books for me for The Butterfly Heart and its sequel.

Walker Books have been absolutely fantastic to deal with and I am extremely happy to be published by them.

Which aspects of the work you put into the book did you find most difficult?

I didn’t really find it difficult once I got started. My usual difficulty is in plotting – not in writing. I work from character, and find that characters come easily to me. So I usually write with little idea of where the characters will take me, which has both advantages and disadvantages. But once I have a general idea then the writing comes easily.

I enjoy the feeling I get when I feel I am getting on top of the story, when it almost feels as though it will write itself.

What sets The Butterfly Heart apart from other things you've written?

Probably the magical realism element within it. And I love that that emerged in this story.

What will your next book be about?

The next one follows Bul-Boo and Madillo into another adventure – but this time the main narrator will be Fred, their next door neighbour.

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

Being accepted onto Sophie Hick’s books and signing with Walker Books! It led to me being published.

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Saturday, August 20, 2011

[Interview_2] Christian A. Dumais

Christian A. Dumais is the author of Empty Rooms Lonely Countries (CreateSpace, 2009).

His work has been featured in magazines that include Shock Totem and GUD Magazine as well as in the anthology, Cover Stories (CreateSpace, 2010).

In this interview, Christian Dumais talks about his contribution to Cover Stories:

How would you describe Cover Stories?

In Cover Stories, 10 young writers from around the globe cut deep into the tracks of their favorite albums to produce something that's more than just a mix tape of divergent fictions; they are the scouts for a new literary invasion ...

It’s an anthology of short stories all inspired by some of your favorite songs: 100 stories. 10 Writers. 1 New Genre. We call the work euphiction, which is the marriage of musical inspiration with the written word: a story that's a three minute single.

The writers include Simon Neil, Derrek Carriveau, T. P. Whited, Erik Schmidt, Suzi M., A.C. Noia, Derek Handley, Matt Gamble, N. Pendleton and myself. Plus there’s an introduction by Freddie & Me’s Mike Dawson and an afterword by Sean P. Murray.

I’m in excellent company.

Have you written other books?

My previous book was Empty Rooms Lonely Countries, which you were kind enough to interview me about before. While I wish I could take credit for all of the amazing short stories in Cover Stories, only 10% of the book is mine.

My 10 stories in Cover Stories took me about six weeks from rough drafts to final rewrites. As far as editing and putting the book together, from the day I sent out emails to the other writers asking if they’d like to participate in the project to the day the book was finally published was exactly one year.

When was Cover Stories published?

The book was published on June 21, 2010, which was World Music Day. It’s available online and in bookstores.

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

That’s an easy one. Getting through all of the legal stuff that comes with writing stories about music, especially if you’re using lyrics and song titles. It was a much longer process than we originally anticipated made worse by some mistakes made at the very beginning by me.

Every book you do creates a new set of challenges, and Cover Stories was no exception. That said, the delays and the hurdles jumped to get the book published actually made the book stronger in the end.

What did you enjoy most?

The best part about a project like this is getting the stories from the other writers and being able to sit down and enjoy them.

It was thrilling to see an idea I had slowly come to life with the help of some extraordinary writers. I really felt like the luckiest person in the world.

In what way is the material you wrote for Cover Stories similar to other things you've written?

I’m sure there might be similarities, but that’ll be for the reader to determine.

I made a sincere effort to distance myself from my usual bag of tricks and push myself to a different place with the writing. I’ll let you know when I hear what readers have to say.

What will your next book be about?

I’m staring at two vastly different projects at the moment and which one I choose depends on a lot of variables. With luck, I’ll be back here again next year and I’ll happily tell you all about it.

In the meantime, I ask everyone to give Cover Stories a shot. The official website is live and you’ll find lots of information about the anthology, as well as a free 10 story sampler of the book.

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Friday, August 19, 2011

[Interview] Chris Nicholson

Chris Nicholson is a lecturer in the Centre for Psychoanalytic Studies at the University of Essex and has worked in a range of children's services for over 10 years.

In addition to that, he is a trustee of the Charterhouse Group of Therapeutic Communities; a fellow of the International Institute of Child and Adolescent Mental Health and a regular speaker at bi-annual conferences on the poet and author Robert Graves.

Chris Nicholson is also co-author of Children and Adolescents in Trauma: Creative Therapeutic Approaches (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2010).

In this interview, he talks about his work:

How did you first become involved in children's services?

In the mid-90s I was finishing a joint honours degree in English literature and Philosophy at the University of Kent, in Canterbury. I had rather immersed myself in the reading and read way beyond what was required for these courses. In consequence I had an experience which the poet Robert Graves illustrates in "The Philosopher" where Threading logic between wall and wall he finds that he has Truth captured without increment of flies, or, in other words, the impingement of actual physical existence. I left university with a strong desire to avoid bookishness, and so determinate to find direct work with people.

In this way I arrived, naively, with my neck exposed to the axe, in a small residential children's home in Kent. Here staff worked a straight 50 hour a week in 12 hour shifts including waking nights, often back to back - I was told this system provided continuity to the young people. In fact it exhausted staff leaving them less able contain the disturbing feelings being projected into them by the young people.

There were five young people living in the home aged 11 to 18 often with only one or two staff members on shift. They presented with regular violence, self-harm, absconding and property damage, and seemed to exult in creating chaos. There wasn't anything in the training or culture of the home that could be considered a theoretical model by which these things could be understood, but there were a few books in the staff office. Over the long waking nights, on those occasions where the young people were settled and the long list of staff chores were complete, I fell upon these books in desperation despite my earlier edict to avoid them.

I discovered that there was a distinction to be made between control of children, which the home focused on implicitly, and something called containment which I didn't fully understand. I also learned that where children's homes were experiencing a large amount of 'acting out' this could be due to the way the home was managed as opposed to simply being down to the children. This was a shock as I have great respect for the managers who seemed to be good people. Still, I began to look for any correspondence between management structures, policies, or care arrangements and children's behaviour.

Why are creative therapeutic approaches good to use when working with children and adolescents in trauma?

There are many reasons why creative approaches are good to use with young people.

I'll emphasise two.

The first has to do with the relationship that exits between art and psychodynamic thinking. In creative activities, for example, film, painting or literature, the interpretative potential of the underlying symbols, metaphors, and analogies, finds a commonality with psychodynamic thinking. In art, as in psychodynamic work, it is not merely the outward appearance of things which holds our attention, but all that lies beneath. When young people engage in creative pursuits they have the opportunity to offer their own instinctive metaphors and symbols. They can develop their own narratives throwing up exactly that kind of material which psychodynamic practitioners utilise.

The second concerns the need to address a certain rigidity in thought and behaviour. In reasonably healthy families, infants experience attunement to their emotional and physical needs so that they can internalise good experience and so come to trust their relationship with caregivers. Their own experience become validated through the recognition and adaptation of caregivers to their needs which in turn provides the internal space in which the core self (a strong ego or sense of self-worth) can become established. Gradually the infant develops a sense of understanding and adaptation between its internal world and that of others, especially through flexible, creative play and communication.

However, traumatic experiences are, to some extent, deterministic. If a child has grown up in a family where one or both adults operate in ways we would define as neglecting or abusing there are usually rigid modes of communication in place and these have the opposite effect to the healthy kind described above. For example, traumatic events during the first two to three years of life have far-reaching effects on neurological development. Those who experience early trauma are prone to a certain rigidity of intellectual and emotional response. Howe (2005) emphasised this trait:
They fail to adapt to and cope with change, whether in their own feeling states or external relationships. In effect, the brain lacks complexity. It operates in a relatively rigid, compartmentalized way, lacking integration between many of its key social, cognitive and emotional operations. 

The importance of a creative approach then, is that it can divert negative thinking and feeling down a different and altogether more positive pathway. Through sensitively handled, creative interaction and by the use of creative approaches with traumatised young people, their characteristic rigidity begins to loosen. New possibilities emerge, the mutative nature of create endeavours. In time, they may be able to see painfully familiar situations in different and helpful ways that can lead to their forming a new response.

Could you describe one creative approach to us and how it could be implemented?

I will briefly describe a creative approach I used with a group of five 15 to 16-year-old care leavers at Donyland Lodge in Essex.

Children who live with their own families tend to stay at home today into their early 20s due to extended education and economic dependence. The time allowed for looked after children to finish growing up is, by contrast, incredibly compressed, as they generally leave for independence or semi-independence at around 16 years. While this is happening, they have to cope with a host of problems which put added pressure on them, e.g. painful and chaotic family dynamics, how to make reliable friendships, overcoming huge distrust, not infrequent changes of social worker, finishing school and exams, not to mention the giddying psychological and physical experience of middle adolescence. It must feel to them like being in the back seat of a car as someone else accelerates along a dangerous highway.

Due to this, the outcomes for young people include having higher levels of homelessness, lower educational attainments, higher rates of unemployment, greater dependency on welfare benefits, unstable career patterns, higher levels of offending, and problems with mental health and substance misuse. With poor interpersonal skills, low self-esteem and confidence the scene is set for social isolation and further disaffection.

How can we help already disaffected young people in such a way as to prepared them for what lies ahead? How can we help them to gain the kind of experiential learning which might give them some slight grasp of how important it will be to prepare now?

At Donyland we integrated Life Skills into the curriculum from age 15 years and included a wide range of teaching relevant to care leavers. We began the course with bridge building. The young people are provided newspaper, cellotape, glue, string, scissors, a ruler and other arts and crafts items. They are asked to build a bridge that spans, say 10 centimetres in height and 40 centimetres across, and that a toy car can travel over. We give them 40 minutes to do this exercise. But 25 minutes in, we tell them that there has been a change of plan and then now have only 5 minutes left to complete their bridge. This causes great anxiety. But then, just as the 5 minutes are nearly up, we inform them that things have again changed and they still have 5 minutes left.

You can imagine how much emotional holding and support the young people need during this activity and how robust the staff need to be to manage the consequent acting out in terms of resentment, sabotage of their own and other's bridges, doubt about completion or quality and so on. But all this comes to fruition later as we unpack the underlying significance of the bridges: This is your bridge from Donyland into independence. How easy is it to get on and off the bridge? How stable is it? Does it have any supports and who or what are those supports going to be on your actual journey? How did you deal with the stress evoked? Did you help or hinder each other? Did you ask for help from adults or feel that you had to go it alone? What influence did this have upon your bridge? The young people are asked to assess each other's bridges and say what might improve it and how this links to leaving care.

We also connect this exercise with research into leaving care, for example Mike Stein's What Works in Leaving Care? (Barnados, 1997) and talk to the young people about what has been learned from previous care leavers. Finally, to really help the staff team get in touch with the plight of young people at this stage in their lives, they (and they means, care, education, administrative, ancillary and management staff) were all asked to undertake the same exercise in training.

Would you be able to tell us about your work with Therapeutic Communities?

Whatever people say about Therapeutic Communities (TCs) they are remarkable places.

After my first experience of working in a children's home, coming to work at a therapeutic community for 21 mixed gender adolescents in the Essex countryside was a revelation. Here there was a model based upon a number of key theorists, only some of whom were involved in TCs ... Winnicott, Bion, Dockar-Drysdale, Bowlby and the American Efrain Bleiberg (who emphasizes reflection function).

There were also pot-belly pigs, goats and rabbits, gardening, hovering and mountains of washing up.

Alongside community meeting and art therapy, the routines of daily life were conscripted as a part of the therapeutic milieu ... everybody could play a part to support community life.

The TCs I've worked in were always striving to develop, to redefine themselves in the light of the ever new experiences young people brought to the community. They advocated not so much children's rights (which is policy driven), but their equality and humanity, and ability to take ownership of their lives and the life of the community to which they'd come.

Children appreciated the fact that what they had to say, however distorted by previous experience, mattered to the adults and would be thought about. They also witnessed staff having to learn, and be self-reflective and take responsibility for their own actions openly. The sense of children and adults struggling and striving together could be very powerful and enabled some very hard to reach children to make contact with others in a meaningful way and feel a part of something larger.

My work was mostly around admission, assessment and leaving care. For young people, these experiences can feel like being forced, being judged and being pushed out especially where they already feel dragged from pillar to post and constantly assessed. The art was in finding ways to ensure these actives could function as a part of the therapeutic endeavour, and might, if careful handled, become a corrective experiences of which the young person was very much an active part.

I am pleased to find that London Placements are using membership of the Community of Communities annual review cycle as a criteria for determining if a placement is considered therapeutic. In my experience, a therapeutic community, like any therapeutic service, can only remain therapeutic, through constant striving, reflection about how it operates, experiential training and a process of assessment and review from external sources.

What are you currently reading in your spare time?

Most of my reading, spare or otherwise, relates to the course I teach at Essex University, Therapeutic Communication and Therapeutic Organisations.

Staff working in residential child care, in psychiatric adolescent units or in schools need to have read Hinshelwood on organisations, Salzberger-Wittenberg on the emotional issues of teaching and learning. They need to know about early development from Klein, Stern, Bowlby and Wadell.

But if they are anything like me, they may also be sustained by poetry, like that of Robert Graves, who I'm always reading, or Rilke who heals the heart while breaking it over and over: Each torpid turn of the world has such disinherited children, to whom longer what's been, and not yet what's coming, belongs.

Cary's recent biography, The Man Who Wrote Lord of the Flies is fascinating. Golding wrote well about children and how they see the world in many of his books other than Lord of the Flies, and Cary, despite his superior tone, can't help but admire him.

The next novel I plan to read is Christina Stead's The Man Who Loved Children. I discovered this through the extraordinary introduction by Randall Jarrell which is a work of art in its own right.

My wife has just lent me several books on the Oedipus Complex, and I'm reading Pollyanna with my eldest daughter. So, happy families!

Finally, I'm half way through Richard Glover's 1804 epic poem Leonidas (as in the recent film, 300). This suits me nicely. A different kind of egg for Easter.

(c) Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2011

This article was first published in the Jessica Kingsley Publishers Social Work Newsletter in March 2010

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

[Interview_2] Masimba Musodza

In an earlier interview, Zimbabwean writer Masimba Musodza talked about the factors that led him to start writing.

His books include The Man who turned into a Rastafarian (Diggory Press, 2007), Uriah’s Vengeance (Lion Press Ltd, 2009) and the Shona science fiction novel, MunaHacha Maive Nei? (Kindle Edition, 2011).

His work has also been featured in African Roar (Storytime, 2010), an anthology of contemporary African fiction.

Masimba Musodza talks about his latest novel:

Do you write everyday?


Normally I have these ideas swirling in my head. Then, by around midnight, they have taken shape and I just start working. Or, if I have a client for a script, I just try and meet the deadline!

Usually, I have the story or the chapter all written in my head when I sit down at my PC. I will often have about three windows minimised and I just work on the one that wants to be worked on.

I know it is the popular perception of Rastafarians, but I would like to state categorically that I do not smoke weed for inspiration! Caffeine is my drug of choice, so in between breaks I will be downing a cup of tea with soya milk. I work in bursts of about two hours.

How many books have you written so far?

My first book was The Man who turned into a Rastafarian, Diggory Press, 2007. It was an anthology of short stories about being a Rastafarian young man in Zimbabwe. Diggory Press folded up recently, but I republished the title after so many people sent in enquiries. Seems to have become something of a modern classic in the Rastafarian community.

In 2009, I had the first of the Dread Eye Detective Agency novels, Uriah’s Vengeance, Lion Press Ltd. Chenai “Ce-Ce” Chisango and her brother Farai are a pair of sibling private investigators in Chitungwiza. Two more titles in the series are scheduled for publication.

In between all that, I have appeared in African Roar, an anthology of African fiction edited by compatriots Ivor Hartmann and Emmanuel Sigauke. A second anthology is in the offing, and I contribute another of my horror stories in it.

How would you describe your latest book, MunaHacha Maive Nei??

MunaHacha Maive Nei? depicts a scenario where an American corporation contrives with corrupt Zimbabwean officials to conduct illegal bio-technology experiments as part of a grander plot to usurp food security from whole nations. Chemicals begin to seep in to the eco-system, and mutated creatures now roam the countryside.

Part of the significance of this book is that it is the first science-fiction novel in ChiShona, and overturns the popular perception that you can’t write 'complicated stuff' in the language.

How long did it take you to write the novel?

Hard to say, really. The original inspiration is from the time when we used to spend school holidays in my mother’s ancestral village in Mutungagore in the mid or late 80s. Much of the novel is set in a fictional area near Mutungagore and the small town of Nyazura.

Further inspiration came from my stay in Chitungwiza in the late 90s, when the open spaces would flood due to siltation of the streams and people would catch catfish. Some of the fish were quite big, and I would wonder what would happen if they grew so big as to become predators. Some of the boys I saw catch the fish would not be safe from them!

And then, I read over the last few years about how corporations were getting land concessions all over Africa. Some analysts fear that food security is set to be a major geopolitical tool of the near future, enjoying the status that oil has today. And this is what science fiction is essentially about ... while the sci-fi writer points to the future, he or she highlights the fears we have of the future. I am bringing this important fact about science fiction because many people who have read the book are only seeing CIO assassins and journalists who live in fear of soldiers and are asking me if my book is about the politics of Zimbabwe. It is not. It is about how the politics of Zimbabwe could be exploited by a greedy multi-national corporation to advance technological developments that many people around the world are apprehensive about. It is also about how we can apply science and technology to identify problems and solutions effectively. It is about enquiring and initiative.

MunaHacha Maive Nei? was published on June 6, 2011 by amazon Kindle here in the UK, the US and Germany. It is the first novel in ChiShona to be listed on amazon Kindle.

How did you chose a publisher for the book?

I chose amazon Kindle because the device is becoming quite popular here in England and I thought it would be nice if we had Zimbabwean content in this new media.

The print edition is coming out through Lion Press Ltd of Coventry, which specialises in Zimbabwean literature. I have a long-standing relationship with Lion Press Ltd. I don’t know if I am their best-selling author, but they can’t deny that I am the most prolific!

What advantages and/or disadvantages has this presented?

Amazon Kindle delivers not only to the Kindle device, but also to PCs and mobile phones. It is the best medium for the 3G generation. Most of the Zimbabweans who live in countries where access to new media is widespread may not go to libraries much, but they have the phones and the PCs.

One disadvantage is that it will not reach a wider readership back home. I just shrug resignedly at the situation ... it is not of my making. Lion Press is making efforts to break into Zimbabwe, but I am only the author. Let someone else worry about selling and distributing!

Obviously, I want a fat royalty cheque any time soon, but the publisher wants to see profits too, so let them do the hard work in that department, I’ve done mine these last few months!

Another drawback is that in the UK, VAT is charged on ebooks (but not on print books) which has pushed the price up somewhat. So far, no one has complained that the price is too high, which rubbishes the popular belief that Zimbabweans believe that content that is created for them should be really cheap if they are to even take an interest. There are many Zimbabweans out there who value their culture and will spend money on it, for which on behalf of all our artistes, I say Tinotenda/Siyabonga!

Which aspects of the work you put into the book did you find most difficult?

Organising chapters.

The book is over 70,000 words. Some parts wander and meander like the River Hacha upstream, and some slow to a gentle ebb. How do you organise that into chapters each with a beginning, middle and end?

Which aspects of the work did you enjoy most?

How it all ties together, because when I started to write, I had no idea how it was going to end!

What sets MunaHacha Maive Nei? apart from other things you've written?

It is my first published work in ChiShona. And even though one of the major character is a Rastafarian, it is not a book about Rastafarians at all.

I think it is similar to other things I have written in how I try to wrap poignant issues around a gripping story, which is what I try to accomplish with all my writing. You know, keep someone reading while at the same time get them thinking without actually lecturing them or griping about how bad things are.

What will your next book be about?

I have the Dread Eye Detective Agency novels lined up. There is an anthology, including some of the short stories I have published on the Dread Eye Detective Agency on Facebook but that is going to be an ebook.

Then there is the much awaited To Russia, With OneLove and a three-novel omnibus imaginatively called The First Dread Eye Detective Agency Omnibus. Fans of the page on Facebook may have already read and enjoyed the draft of one of these novels.

I am also working on two horror novels, one in English and one in ChiShona. The English one is called Cursed Shall be Thy Kine. It blends the folk beliefs of my native Zimbabwe and my new home, Yorkshire, using horror as a metaphor for issues of identity, belonging and immigration. The title is inspired by the phenomenon known as cattle mutilation. I am working on this one under the mentorship of Writers’ Block NE, the organisation for writers and performers here in Middlesbrough, where I live now. The idea of the mentorship programme is to offer writers from North-East England a chance to attract the attention of the big publishing houses and agents in London.

I am pleased that despite having lived in the area for about a year now, I am able to make a contribution to its culture.

The ChiShona novel is called Zizi reRima, and once again I delve into comparative mythology and the supernatural to highlight the issues of sexual abuse in Zimbabwe and how the justice system can sometimes fail victims. Once again, I break new ground here by writing a bone-chiller in ChiShona.

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