Sunday, October 25, 2009

Owen Sheers to launch Bryony Rheam's This September Sun

Welsh writer and BBC TV presenter Owen Sheers has agreed to be guest speaker at the launch of Bryony Rheam’s novel This September Sun. The launch is planned for 19 November at the Bulawayo Club, which is mentioned in the novel.

Owen was born in Fiji, but was brought up and educated in Abergavenny in South Wales and at New College, Oxford. He has written two books of poetry, The Blue Book, which won the Forward Best First Collection prize and Skirrid Hill, which won a Somerset Maugham Award. His first novel, Resistance, published by Faber in 2008, was short-listed for the Writers Guild Best Book Award and has so far been translated into nine languages. Big Rich Films have optioned Resistance for Owen and Amit Gupta to adapt and Amit to direct. Owen’s most recent publication is a novella, White Ravens, a contemporary response to the Mabinogion myth.

Owen is best known in Zimbabwe for the semi-fictionalised account of the life of his great-great uncle, Arthur Shearly Cripps, maverick missionary to Southern Rhodesia. The incredible story of Cripps' African legacy, Owen’s travels in his footsteps and the volatile history of a nation are all told in a series of layered, interwoven narratives that distort the boundaries between biography and fiction. The Dust Diaries was short-listed for the Royal Society of Literature’s Ondaatje Prize and won the Welsh Book of the Year award. Owen has had close links with Bulawayo – he has a poem published in the ’amaBooks collection Short Writings from Bulawayo III, a short story in Long Time Coming: Short Writings from Zimbabwe and five poems in Intwasa Poetry. Owen also participated in the Intwasa Arts Festival koBulawayo 2006, where he first encountered Bryony Rheam’s writing.

Owen recently presented the BBC television series A Poet’s Guide to Britain. He also wrote the introduction to the accompanying anthology.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Review of John Eppel's Hatchings, from

Hatchings is set in a Zimbabwe that many whites have fled but in which there is still a large group that either has taken advantage of the situation or is there for (supposedly) ideological reason. An equal-opportunity satirist, Eppel mercilessly skewers almost everyone, black and white, in an often outrageous work that also has a surprisingly gentle edge to it.
It is around New Years, 1991 going into 1992, and the story begins with the Fawkes family on a camping trip. The daughter, Elizabeth, is going on sixteen and torn between her lust for bad boy Jet Bunion and her new-found religion. Though her parents aren't devout, Elizabeth has found herself born-again -- and disapproving of the ways of many of the girls at school.
Underage sex is rampant at Bulawayo's various private (public) schools, with various teachers and headmasters taking advantage of their positions to get sexual favours from the often extremely young girls. This unfortunately results in a lot of unwanted pregnancies, and one of the novel's very sharp running gags is that disposing of these (and many other) unwanted infants has become a big business -- so big that they're running out of places to stow them away, leading to several cases of the discovery of the dead babes, with a variety of consequences. Early on, when a dumped baby is discovered, all the girls at one school are lined up by the police and:

They then systematically felt every girl's breast in order to determine which, if any, were in milk. The fourteenth girl in the queue was discovered to be conspicuously pregnant so then the police began to feel tummies (and even further down with the prettier girls) as well as breasts. As a result of this exercise, no fewer than seven girls, one in the first form, three in the second form, two in the third form, and one in the sixth form were instantly expelled from the school. All these girls, the police investigation showed, were either pregnant or had recently given birth.
Elizabeth wants to be virtuous, but Jet is oh so tempting ..... Still, her parents -- despite their concerns about her religiosity -- are supportive and this is a functioning family. When Dad asks Elizabeth to hatch a prized Asil Khan egg he has obtained she agrees to carry it around in her bra for the necessary three weeks -- apparently the best environment for successfully bringing it to hatch (they've done this before). This obvious infant substitute is in good hands with dutiful Elizabeth.
Many of the other kids aren't involved in nearly as harmless fun -- but the fault lies largely with the adults, who range from corrupt to what amounts to criminally insane (usually with a strong ideological foundation). One reason
Hatchings works is because there are also some genuinely decent (and/or clueless) adults, including Elizabeth's parents, but much of the fun is with the over-the-top characters who engage in some of the worst stuff. Beginning with Ingeborg Ficker, "Bulawayo's premier artist", it's a very comic cast of characters. Ficker, for example, is "one of the few, very few native born white Zimbabweans who had not been corrupted by colonialism" -- at least as interpreted by the local ideologues; in fact, of course, her brand of revolutionary liberalism (and her art) is as off the wall as anything.
Typical for Eppel's humour (at least of the less sexually explicit sort -- of which there is a great deal) are observations such as:
It was fashionable at parties where anybody who was about to become anybody in Bulawayo had been invited, to ask a sprinkling of non-whites to attend. This created an exquisite feeling in the hosts and hostesses of living on the edge of peril. It is a shocking yet exciting thing for your ex-Rhodesian to entertain in his home -- on his settee, mind you, eating off his plates, drinking not out of an old jam tin under a tree in the back yard, but out of proper glasses, using your toilet, for Christ's sake ! -- a sprinkling of non-Europeans.
He's also particularly good at skewering those who have benefitted from the great white flight after independence, taking advantage of what was left behind -- property, jobs, opportunities galore -- and cashing in on it. So, for example, the "desirable Cocks" (yes, Eppel is a bit too obvious with a few too many of the names):
They were very proud of their home in the Eastern Suburbs, which they'd bought in the early eighties for seven thousand dollars and which was now insured for half a million dollars. True, they'd upgraded the property consistently over the years. They'd taken out all the indigenous trees and put in a swimming pool and a sauna. They'd cut down the hibiscus hedge and put up a seven foot instarect wall topped with five layers of barbed wire. They had paved nearly the entire one and a half acres with 'state of the art' bricks. They had fitted a second hand plastic seat to the lavatory in the servant's quarters.
Eppel moves the novel across quite a few characters and a variety of conditions; the Fawkes' place is one of the few relative idylls, while elsewhere corruption -- sexual and moral -- dominates. With an easy style and making absolutely everything fair game -- some of the conduct is, even when recognisable as satire, absolutely shocking -- Eppel has writen a very entertaining and sharp book. Remarkably, he also offers what can only be described as a sweet ending, a perhaps too abrupt backing off of all the harsh (but admittedly very amusing) glare from before (and, yes, it does involve that hatching of the chick).
This is very good social satire, tackling some serious subjects -- the theme of the water shortage is well-integrated into the story, for example, and though he plays it for cruel laughs he does right by the sexual abuse as well. Eppel spreads his story a bit thin -- it is very crowded and storyline-packed for such a short novel -- and occasionally feels a bit rough and rushed, but on the whole is an impressive achievement. Despite its flaws, it is well worthwhile.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

This September Sun now available in Zimbabwe

Bryony Rheam's This September Sun is now in many shops around Zimbabwe, including Induna Arts, Indaba Cafe and Kingstons in Bulawayo, the Book Cafe, Avondale Bookshop and other Innov8 bookshops in Harare, and the National Gallery of Zimbabwe shops in both Bulawayo and Harare.
Brian Jones, one of the directors of ’amaBooks, presented a copy of This September Sun to Chipo Muvezwa, Programmes Officer of the Culture Fund of Zimbabwe Trust, during the presentation ceremony for the first graduates of the British Council and Culture Fund supported Creative Enterprise: Core Programme at the Holiday Inn, Bulawayo, on Friday 9 October. He described the book as ‘an impressive first novel by an accomplished writer that contains both romance and mystery.’ A copy of the ’amaBooks collection of short stories and poems by young writers, Silent Cry: Echoes of Young Zimbabwe Voices, was presented to Ignatius Mabasa, Deputy Director of the British Council, Zimbabwe, at the same event. Brian Jones thanked all the organisations that had helped ’amaBooks over the last year, including the Culture Fund, British Council, Beit Trust, HIVOS, Embassy of the United States of America and Alliance Francaise de Bulawayo.

(From and )

Monday, October 5, 2009

Novuyo Tshuma wins Intwasa Short Story Competition


Novuyo Rosa Tshuma is the winner of the 2009 Intwasa Arts Festival koBulawayo Short Story Competition. Her heartrending story You in Paradise won the judges hearts and beat a strong list of contenders for this year's prize.

The second prize went to Fungai Tichawangana and third prize was won by Violette Kee-Tui.

Novuyo’s You in Paradise tells of a young Zimbabwean woman’s experiences in South Africa, with the police, with xenophobia, and with Obi, the Nigerian with ‘diamonds drooping from his ears’. Novuyo has been published before, with four of her short stories in the ’amaBooks collection Silent Cry: Echoes of Young Voices and has had stories accepted in two other collections.

Fungai Tichawangana’s story, entitled Ting! Ta-ling! Ta-ling!, is a humorous piece about a bus journey where the ‘fat lady in the front seat would not stop talking’. Eventually, she faints and cannot be awoken, but then her cell-phone rings, from inside her bra...

Violette Kee-Tu’s piece is a powerful account of the relationship between two sisters, as one of them develops a brain tumour.

The other writers shortlisted for the competition were Memory Chirere, Melusi Mkandla, Farai Mpofu, Urayayi Msarire, Thamsanqa Ncube, Babusi
Nyoni and Mgcini Nyoni

The judges commented: "The overall standard of the stories submitted was very high, with entries from across Zimbabwe and from both well known and budding writers. The entries were varied, some being topical, some humorous and others emotionally charged. It was a hard task judging the competition with little between those short-listed. It is encouraging to see such good writing in Zimbabwe and it bodes well for the future."

Previous winners of the competition were Thabisani Ndlovu, who has short stories published in the ’amaBooks Short Writings collections and is presently studying for a PhD in South Africa, Bryony Rheam, whose short stories have appeared in many Zimbabwean anthologies and whose first novel This September Sun has just been published by ’amaBooks, and Chaltone Tshabangu, who has a short story in Long Time Coming: Short Writings from Zimbabwe.