Wednesday, January 16, 2019

TL Huchu's Speculative Fiction

By Stan Mushava
Tendai Huchu
The Zimbabwean canon is not traditionally known for its speculative fiction, but TL Huchu, Ivor Hartmann, Masimba Musodza, Tendai Machingaidze and others have been spreading their footprints in space, the underworld and dystopian futures for a while now.
Late last year, the third volume of the Hartman-curated Pan-African speculative fiction anthology, Afro-SF, dropped, featuring the stories, Njuzu by Huchu and The Interplanetary Water Company by Musodza.
Although the trio boasts notable achievements in the genre -- Musodza's Shona science fiction novel, Muna Hacha Maive Nei, Huchu's 2018 Nommo Award-winning short story, The Marriage Plot, and Hartmann's several gongs and proprietorship of speculative fiction outlets -- it is Huchu's thread that I have been able to sit down to recently.
Who is TL Huchu, by the way? A quick investigation shows TL distancing himself from "his evil twin, Tendai," the author of The Hairdresser of Harare as well as The Maestro, The Magistrate and The Mathematician. But a visit to the registrar shows that the Tendai and TL are one and the same twin.
 It's all a speculative ruse. TL, I assume, is simply Mr Huchu's genre fiction cover. His stories have appeared in Space and Time Magazine, Interzone, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and a lot more spaces.
Of the speculatively inclined stories, I have only been able to read The Library of the Dead in the 2017 amaBooks anthology Moving On and Other Zimbabwean Stories, The Sale in the first Afro-SF anthology, and The Marriage Plot and HostBods in the Omenana journal.
I inboxed him to understand where his new thread is going. Although he is interested in different genres, Huchu believes science fiction is an accurate reflection of the world today than is generally credited. "I think the world we live in is already more 'sci-fi' than anything fiction can conjure," he tells the columnist.
"You have ancient religions co-existing with touchscreen phones; cutting edge technology broadcasting signals at the speed of light, while people read news stories about money-spitting snakes; rovers landing on Mars, just as folks in my rural home farm with ox-drawn ploughs. My fiction is but a pale simulation of an infinitely more complex world."
Some of his pieces are, in fact, driven by economic and political verisimilitude. In The Sale, an Asian economic giant is overseeing a hostile takeover of this country, thanks to a bad debt. The citizens are routinely dozed into docility, unable to resist.
Although this story came out a few years back, it is only recently that we have witnessed more sustained discussion about the implications of countries mortgaging national assets and resources, sometimes for prestige projects of questionable developmental value.
When I erroneously credit Huchu as the first Zimbabwean writer to get a speculative fiction-specific award for his Marriage Plot, he is quick to register disapproval.
"I have a particular aversion to the cult of the 'first xxxx', unless it actually refers to something significant. When I see someone called the 'first xxxx' for something trivial, I think it reveals a culture of mediocrity as opposed to the celebration of real merit," Huchu said. 
"Genres been here for hundreds of years, and I'm not the first at anything, rather, I'm remixing pre-existing forms in the same way a deejay doesn't make music, but in the course of his set enables the listener to approach the music in a different way, and [if the deejay is any good] understand it in new ways."
In The Marriage Plot, Huchu's future self lands to advise him not marry a certain woman lest he mess forever-after up for both of them. Another split-persona trick. The only problem with Mr Future Self is that his extra-terrestrial wisdom changes by the minute, so that he comes back two more times with conflicting prognoses of married life, first with missing teeth (presumably at the hands of a mean-spirited alternative bride), second with an unflatteringly rearranged nose.
Whether they made peace with the occupational hazards of the marriage plot, and whoever they ultimately married, Huchu's selves at least got an award for their pains. Hopefully, Huchu's 2017 Nommo Award sparks more Zimbabwean activity in the genre.
In The Library of the Dead, mapped around patriotic Harare, the protagonist falls in love with a sentient book in some underworld at the national shrine. Yeah, bizarre as it gets. Anyway, it all ends badly in a passion suicide. The thing is you never know what to believe in literal suicide reports, much less literary ones.
I ask about the miracles of the righteous twin's conversion to science fiction.
"I didn't covert. I was reading this stuff throughout primary and secondary school. Spec-fic covers the whole gamut from the tsuro nagudo tales your grandma tells you about, all the way to pulp fiction, and, I dare say, even fables from the big book your priest/pastor shoves down your throat every Sunday. I'm not sure it's brought me any 'miracles', but it's a great petri dish for playing with different ideas," Huchu said.
He is currently working on an urban fantasy novel called Ghostalker.
"It's a delightful romp with a girl who talks to ghosts for a living, villainous villains like the Midnight Milkman, childhood for sale, and scientific magic. I'm having an awful lot of fun with it and I hope to have the latest draft back with my agent soon."

Moving On and Other Zimbabwean Stories and The Maestro, The Magistrate and The Mathematician are available through amaBooks in Zimbabwe, Parthian Books in the United Kingdom and the African Books Collective elsewhere.


Friday, December 21, 2018

The front cover of the Arabic version of 'This September Sun'

The front cover of the translation into Arabic of Bryony Rheam's This September Sun, to be launched by Al Arabi Publishing and Distribution at January's Cairo International Book Fair.

Monday, December 17, 2018

'This September Sun' in Arabic

Bryony Rheam's novel This September Sun has been translated into Arabic by Al Arabi Publishers and will be launched on 23 January, 2019, at the Cairo International Book Fair. It is going to be one of our longest fiction books this year at the fair. We are excited at the prospect of the Arabic cover, which has not been finalised.

“White Man Crawling”: Time, Race and Power in John Eppel’s Depiction of Middle-aged and Elderly Whites during the Zimbabwean “Crisis”

This article, by Thabisani Ndlovu in the Journal of Literary Studies, applies Bakhtin’s concept of the chronotope, in conjunction with a rights-reading approach, to John Eppel’s fiction, with particular reference to Eppel’s depiction of middle-aged and elderly whites during the Zimbabwean “crisis”. Taken at one level to mean the organisation of value-laden space-time in a literary text, and also at another level, the spatio-temporal relationship between a text and its socio-historical context, the chronotope emerges as a useful concept in analysing polarised racial relationships that characterised Zimbabwe during its “crisis” period. While the Chimurenga chronotope is a cyclical representation of time whose racialising strategy depersonalises whites as constant foes and strangers rendered in a permanent war narrative, Eppel responds in his fiction, particularly through the chronotopes of ageing and reversal, by delineating an array of white subjectivities characterised by physical infirmity and loss of socio-political power, to challenge the homogenisation and vilification of whites.

The full article appears in the Journal of Literary Studies, Volume 34, 2018 - Issue 4: Exploring the Dynamics of Time in Literary Texts, pages 80-96 

Thabisani Ndlovu, of Walter Sisulu University, carries out research in literary studies and human rights, particularly in the areas of race, gender and ethnicity. As a creative writer, he has had stories published in most of the amaBooks Short Writings series and translated the anthology of short stories Where to Now? into Ndebele as Siqondephi Manje?.

White Man Crawling, The Caruso of Colleen Bawn and other amaBooks publications of John Eppel are available through amaBooks or, outside of Africa, through

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Why I Read: Mzana Mthimkhulu

As an eight year old, my hero was the swashbuckling picture magazine jungle man Samson the Lion Heart.  I believed that when I grew up, like my hero, I was going to be: ‘strong as an elephant, brave as a lion and fast as a striking mamba.’

So, whilst waiting to grow up, I read and studied everything my hero did. The two weeks I had to wait for the next instalment of True Africa magazine was too long. I filled in the time with other comic magazines – Dandy, Beano and The Archies. Today I often cringe with embarrassment when I read the lofty names of the writers read by other writers in their youth. Not a single classic writer features in my early reading list.

One day after glancing at the first picture of a story in Dandy I made a painful decision – it was time I stopped reading comics. The moment I saw the picture I closed my eyes and recited the whole story. I had read it ten years earlier and still recalled it. The Dandy writers must have believed that the kids who had read the earlier story were no longer reading comics and so it was safe to reprint it. Like Samson after defeating a villain, it was time I moved to the next adventure.

Fortunately by then I had broadened my reading diet. From Njube Library, I borrowed books by the Drum generation of the fifties. I now was reading books by Ezekiel Mphahlele, Can Themba, Bloke Modisane and Lewis Nkosi. These writers spoke to my experience as a boy growing up in the townships. I notice that the writers are now sometimes described as ‘classic.’ May I therefore raise my pedigree as a writer?
For old time sake, I once went  back to Njube Library. I perused and read a few books. A ten year old stared at me in awesome wonder. ‘Look,’ he said to a friend, ‘an adult in the library.’

Recently I renewed my membership at the British Council Library. ‘So, when did you first join the library?’ the librarian asked me.  ‘We may still have your details.’
‘I first joined in 1983 in Harare, and then transferred to Bulawayo library in 1989.’
‘Oh, then you have to give us your details again. I was born in 1996.’

I wonder why I’m taking so long to state why I read. I read because for me it is the greatest source of entertainment and information. Books are my best friend. I laugh, cry, smile and curse in the world of books. Further, writing is a profession in which you are forever an apprentice. I read so that I know what and how others are writing. I then try to adapt the best and avoid the bad.

Mzana Mthimkhulu.  11 December 2018 

Mzana Mthimkhulu was born on Martin Luther King’s twenty-fifth birthday and was educated at Matshayisikhova and Kuredza Primaries, Inyathi Secondary, Edinburgh College and the then Polytechnic of North London. His short stories have appeared in the amaBooks anthologies Short Writings from Bulawayo III and IIILong Time ComingWhere to Now?Siqondephi Manje? and Moving On, and his short stories and poems have appeared in other anthologies, newspapers and magazines in Southern Africa, United Kingdom and online. An enthusiastic culture activist, Mzana is also a newspaper columnist and a playwright.

Mzana and his wife Naume have three biological children and several other traditional ones. 

Mzana Mthimkhulu has a blog  


Wednesday, November 21, 2018

This Mournable Body available in Zimbabwe

Tsitsi Dangarembga's novel This Mournable Body is now available in Zimbabwe through amaBooks.

In this third book in the series, Tsitsi Dangarembga returns to the protagonist of her acclaimed first novel, Nervous Conditions, to examine how the hope and potential of a young girl and a fledgling nation can sour over time and become a bitter and floundering struggle for survival.

"Heartbreaking and piercing. ... This is a smartly told novel of hard-earned bitterness and disillusionment." - Publishers Weekly 

"A haunting, incisive, and timely glimpse into how misogyny and class strife shape life in post-colonial Zimbabwe." - Kirkus

Available in Bulawayo at Book and Bean, Dusk Home and National Gallery, elsewhere via amabooksbyo (at)

Monday, November 19, 2018

Shane Strachan interviewed in The Wee Review about Muriel Spark and Nevertheless

Shane Strachan

We chat to the writer behind a new fictionalised account of Muriel Spark’s life in the former Southern Rhodesia.


RAE COWIE | 17 NOV 2018

Shane Strachan has been writing short fiction in the North of Scotland for several years while working on theatre projects with the National Theatre of Scotland and Paines Plough. This year has seen him receive a Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship from the Scottish Book Trust to work on a novel inspired by the life and work of fashion designer Bill Gibb, and also mentor on the Queer Words project from which a new anthology We Were Always Here will be published by 404 ink in January 2019. In September, he also published a collection of short fiction as part of the 2018 Muriel Spark centenary celebrations. The collection Nevertheless: Sparkian Tales in Bulawayo, is published by Zimbabwe-based publisher amaBooks and explores Spark’s years in former Southern Rhodesia alongside a modern-day narrative.

When did you first become interested in Dame Muriel Spark and her work?
Like many people, my main engagement with Spark had been with The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which I read as part of my degree and went on to teach to undergraduates at the University of Aberdeen. What always surprised me about such a slim novel was that at first it seems like a straightforward schooldays story, but each time I re-read it I’d uncover another layer of complexity and another way of interpreting the events that unfold. I read a few more Spark novels around that time, but it was the centenary celebrations that led to me uncovering Spark’s connection with Africa and the fantastic short stories she wrote in response to her time there.

Nevertheless: Sparkian Tales in Bulawayo is a new collection of short fiction pieces you were commissioned to write. Can you explain how this came about? Tell us a little of the research required?
In response to Creative Scotland’s call-out for new projects, I discovered that Spark had given birth to her son in the same hospital where I’d previously ran an arts-in-health project in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. It was all very serendipitous and unexpected. Spark’s connection with Bulawayo opened up the door for me to finally be able to write stories about my own impressions of Zimbabwe after a couple of years of feeling unsure about how was best to approach them.
Alongside reading a lot more of Spark’s works, particularly her short stories, the research was primarily digging through the extensive Spark archive at the National Library of Scotland, which was one of the key aims of the Endless Different Ways grant – to shed light on this archive and to explore ways it could be used creatively. I also did a fair amount of reading about Southern Rhodesia in the 1930s and 40s, as well as academic essays on Spark’s stories set in Africa, especially their exploration of female experiences in the colonies during this time.

Which interesting titbits did you find in the National Library of Scotland archives that didn’t make it into these stories?
The thing that stood out to me most was that Spark seemed to do a fair amount of her own research on what life was like in Africa at the time she lived there. It was as though she didn’t quite trust her own memories to be accurate, which is understandable given how young she was when she was there and how traumatic a time she had. This sense of trauma was also clear in several post-its in the archive which start to tell something about her past, then cut off unexpectedly. To write about her own experiences for her autobiography Curriculum Vitae, I get the sense that Spark was in a sense already treating this time like a work of fiction, stitching together the fragments of memories she could recall with facts from encyclopaedias to make it as authentic as possible for the reader.

You’ve visited the city of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, which is twinned with Aberdeen, a number of times. How many of your experiences did you share with Duncan, the young doctor who features in your stories?
The Duncan stories were something of a vehicle to share some of my own experiences and impressions from my visits to Zimbabwe, particularly the awkwardness I suddenly re-felt around my sexuality in a culture where it’s predominantly frowned upon or misunderstood. However, I heightened a lot of this in the fiction for the sake of bringing about more dramatic tension – Duncan is even more stifled than I ever felt, and much more affected by the experience of hiding part of himself away. I wanted to heighten this so that there is a sense of release near the end of his story when he realises that a lot of his fears have been unfounded, or rather, come from an overly anxious white British perspective, rather than the reality of everyday lived experience in Zimbabwe.
As well as this, both Spark and Duncan move through places and spaces that I myself visited while in Zimbabwe. I particularly wanted to get across the beauty of the country, especially in the national parks and at Victoria Falls, places that greatly impacted on Spark’s sense of wonder and spirituality.
Overall, it’s worth saying that of course Duncan isn’t me, and my version of Spark isn’t 100% the real Spark. Stories take on their own life and sometimes the sentences that appear on the page are unplanned and unexpected, but are necessary for finding a new “truth” as such. This tension between fact and fiction is something I’m continuing to explore through my current work-in-progress, a novel based on the life and career of fashion designer Bill Gibb.

All proceeds from the sale of Nevertheless go to The Lady Rodwell Maternity Hospital in Bulawayo. How will the money raised improve conditions? 

Since writing the stories, the political and economic situation in Zimbabwe has worsened meaning that food, medical supplies, and various other essentials are not getting into the country due to a currency crisis, so it’s very hard right now to say in what ways the money from Nevertheless will be used in these testing times, but I’m sure the hospital will put it to use in the areas of most need. The situation in Zimbabwe is rarely covered in the UK press, but a LinkedIn blog by Zimbabwe-based writer Cathy Buckle has been providing the greatest insight for me of late.

Finally, Nevertheless: Sparkian Tales in Bulawayo was created as part of a project to remind readers of the importance of the legacy Spark left to Scottish literature. After reading Nevertheless, where should readers who wish to try Spark’s work begin?

I would definitely recommend Spark’s short stories, particularly the ones inspired by her time in Africa. If readers want to know more about what happened next to Spark, her autobiography Curriculum Vitae covers her life from childhood up to the publication of her first novel. My own favourites of her novels are The Comforters, The Driver’s Seat and Memento Mori, but there’s so much more to read and explore, and Spark fans tend to mention a different book from each other when asked for their favourite!

Nevertheless: Sparkian Tales in Bulawayo is available in paperback online from or as an ebook from, with all proceeds of sale being donated to the Lady Rodwell Maternity Hospital in Bulawayo.