Saturday, January 23, 2016

On Inspiration and How to Cook a Story: An interview with Tendai Huchu


Wed, 2016-01-20    Claire Houguez

Which writers, books or ideas have inspired you?

I’ve drifted through different phases where I’m into various movements and/or writers, so it’s pretty hard to narrow down a definite inspiration. In high school I used to read pulp genre sci-fi from the golden age, because that was the stuff we had in the library. In my early 20s I was into the Russians. Then I liked the experimentalists, even though I didn’t always get what they were doing. Late 20s I was into noir and hard boiled American authors. So, I’ve been pretty promiscuous, hopping from one bed to the next and never quite settling. This is by no means an exhaustive list, the point I’m trying to make is that inspiration would have to be the sum total of everything I’ve read so far.

What do you think are the basic ingredients of a story?

Oh God… I suppose first you have the idea, and then everything else really comes in to try to bring the idea to life in a story. Think about voice, what the story will sound like—who is telling it? in what tense? pacing and so on. Will the story have a plot or not? Character. Structure and form.  Setting or location. Genre. There are an awful lot of mechanical decisions as to what you will have in pot, when you do a story, but thankfully most of them are made instinctually.  You just go with your gut.

Do you write with an ending already in mind?

It pretty much depends on the story. When the muses are kind, I know exactly how we are getting from A to Z in a story, though there are almost always a few surprises along the way. At other times, I only have fragments which I try to piece together blind. I do find though that the longer the gestation period between the initial conception of the idea and its execution, the more likely I am to having the ending in mind before writing, so it may just be a case of how well thought out the piece is before I get to my desk.

Who do you imagine as your ideal reader?

Me as a young man, more open to new experiences. Now that would be an idea, hey? Writer invents a time machine and sends his own work back to his younger self… forget the loopholes. No! Stop right there, dude. That sounds so fucking vain, like my shit is so awesome, I just want to send it back to myself. Talk about masturbatory, ewww.  You’re getting this all wrong, man, the point I am trying to make is that I write stuff that I would want to read if I wasn’t the guy writing that stuff, that’s all.  Whatever.

If your main characters existed in real life would you be friends with them?

That would just be sad on so many levels. Like, my imaginary friends just popped into existence and here I am having tea with them in this beautiful English garden. Puh-lease.

Monday, January 11, 2016

kwaChirere reads Huchu's second novel

The Maestro, The Magistrate and The Mathematician by Tendai Huchu
Published by √°maBooks, 2014,

I don't know why I initially found it difficult to find time to do a nonstop read through Tendai Huchu's second novel, The Maestro, The Magistrate and The Mathematician. Months! Going. Stopping. Going. Stopping- then I was happy to be finally going on forever for the rest of last week!

I was even able to read through Tinashe Muchuri's new Shona novel, Chibarabada- in between The Maestro, The Magistrate and The Mathematician. Maihwe-e! I was carefully feeding into their different feel for life, place and people. 

I was even emotionally flattered to learn that there is a character in The Maestro, The Magistrate and The Mathematician itself, who reads two or more novels at the same time, before he starts to lose his bearings and decides to burn books! Kikikiki! That is the maestro for you. The reason: after reading many books nonstop, he finds that “each of these books was just a jumble of words with which he had no connection…” And after burning them, "he curled up on the carpet and cried himself to sleep.”  

There is a way in which The Maestro, The Magistrate and The Mathematician asks you to go slowly, crosschecking details, underlying whole passages for closer reading in another time and place... It allows you to use the page marker and do other things, read other things even, until you are able to 'return to the source' and take another dose to last you another whirl wind tour. The references to Geography, Music, History, Architecture etc are laden with nuggets that demand further contemplation and investigation.  

What I am telling you is that this novel is compact. I had a similar experience with Bryony Rheam’s This September Sun and Allende’s The House of The Spirits. The book tells you: You can’t deal with me in one gulp because I was written slowly, over time and… you can never really go away forever from me…

Now that I have finished reading it, I feel that I have been paid. I chat with friends at home and abroad about this novel and they marvel at the comments I make. I admire the parallel process arrangement of this novel. Three separate stories running together like three fine novellas from one shelf, only ‘confluencing’ together at the very end. Running dutifully together like three weaving cords. Maybe in that regard, this is the first novel of its type by a writer from my country, Zimbabwe.

Now that Alfonso is not exactly what I thought he was in the beginning, I have learnt a lot about the power of holding out a key detail. I must now go through this whole story again, mentally, laughing at myself for having been led down the garden path. Alfonso is not exactly that drunken fool who enters the novel through the Magistrate’s door one morning. Through him, you learn that this novel does not underestimate what the establishment in Zimbabwe can achieve, miles and miles away. That is why I am still laughing every time that I read the very last page of the novel. Alfonso! O, Alfonso!

At the heart of this story are three Zimbabwean men, residing in Edinburgh, Scotland, far away from Harare and Bindura. They are named The Maestro, The Magistrate and The Mathematician. The way these men think and go is typically Zimbabwean. Although they are far away from it, turbulent Zimbabwe of the around the year 2000 is their recognizable fulcrum.

The Maestro is my man. Through him, Tendai Huchu makes the most poignant contribution to Literature and Philosophy: “I went on a journey of discovery, trying to find the meaning of life, he said. I discovered that it is many things to many people at many times, and that , for me, and for me only, because you can only discover the meaning of your own life and no one else’s, that the meaning of life lies in giving a bit of yourself to someone else…. And he lay there and told her everything: wide open spaces, blue skies, laughter and the sound of sweet rain falling on zinc metal sheets, the brown puddles the rain makes, splashing in the puddles under the moonlight, cups of tea in the sunshine, cricket pavilions, of time that is measured not by the tick-tock of a clock but by its nearness to eternity, how the crickets sing their song in the night and birdsong picks up the refrain at dawn, all these things and more…”

Here is a man who goes far away from home in order to be himself and to read book after book after book, until he discovers that if a book contains an idea, then it contains something of the writer’s soul… 

I enjoy disliking the Magistrate. It is because despite his huge social loss that comes through leaving Zimbabwe and the pri

vileges he used to enjoy, he still has the holier than thou air around him, like most government officers everywhere whom I have learnt to loathe. His wandering around Edinburgh, taking in the environment and dreaming of little and far away Bindura, tells you that here is a bully looking for a new pedestal to sit on in order to start to bully the rest. No wonder I like it when that fatherly pride of him is constantly punctured for him by his no longer submissive wife and unsympathetic daughter. But I catch myself wallowing in and enjoying his deep appreciation of Zimbabwean music. He turns all the remembered songs into a map of his good and bad memories of Zimbabwe.

I don’t know what to do with the Mathematician and what finally happens to him. I honestly think that he wanted opportunity to find meaning out of life, love, sex and friendship.

Tendai Huchu’s second novel is a serious work of art, meant to accompany you through three different mental journeys of travelers from one country to one city that adopts them and has various levels of allure for each of the travelers.
-Memory Chirere, January 2016, Harare.