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.

Agatha Christie in Bulawayo

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Travelling Home: Diasporic dis-locations of space and place in Tendai Huchu's The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician

'Born and raised in Zimbabwe, Huchu... may well be the writer who, through his immigrant Zimbabwean characters in The Maestro, The Magistrate and The Mathematician,  paradoxically, has written the city of Edinburgh  into the twenty-first century global novel, doing for Edinburgh what the native Charles Dickens did for London and the Irish citizen James Joyce did for  Dublin.'

Travelling Home: Diasporic dis-locations of space and place in Tendai Huchu's The Maestro, The Magistrate and The Mathematician, an article by Fatima Moolla of the University of the Western Cape, has appeared in The Journal of Commonwealth Literature.

The Maestro, The Magistrate and The Mathematician, a novel by Zimbabwean diasporic writer Tendai Huchu, adds to a growing body of global immigrant fiction. Huchu’s novel
concerning Zimbabwean émigrés in the United Kingdom displays a heightened spatial consciousness that self-reflexively complicates the spatial tropes and trends of much migrant literature. The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician generates an unrelenting dialectic in which the national home, both for migrants and citizens, is often unhomely, while host spaces yield to various forms of place-making and belonging. City space, in this case, the city of Edinburgh, is shown through the unique mobilities of the three protagonists to produce different senses of identity. However, the forms of identity that emerge ultimately succumb to the spatial implosion represented by the death (in contained spaces) of two of the principal characters, whose city perambulations are thus brought to a halt. The reader discovers, furthermore, that the third character is not the cartographer of his re-orienting mental map of the host city, but that his itinerary has been directed all along by a sinister, somewhat ubuesque Zimbabwean expatriate, to whom the third character, fooled by this regime spy’s clownish conduct, condescends and mistakenly patronizes.

The full article is available from

Friday, October 19, 2018

Nevertheless: Muriel Spark in Bulawayo – a guest blog by Shane Strachan

If you’d told me four years ago I would be publishing a collection of short fiction inspired by Muriel Spark’s time in Bulawayo between 1937 and 1943, I would never have believed you. At that point, Dame Spark’s best known work, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,was one of only a few of her works I’d read and had the pleasure of teaching at the University of Aberdeen. In 2018, the centenary of her birth, the National Library of Scotland and Creative Scotland have set about raising greater awareness of her international literary career, during which she published twenty-two novels, multiple short stories and a play. In the call out for writers and artists to create new work inspired by the archives at the NLS, it was then I discovered that Spark had lived and worked in Bulawayo and that I’d followed in her footsteps while working on an arts-in-health project in Lady Rodwell Maternity Hospital where she’d given birth to her son eighty years before.

Lady Rodwell Maternity Hospital, United Bulawayo Hospitals

Rewind to 2015 when I was commissioned by maternal health research initiative, Immpact, to write a play about the issues faced by women in labour in and around Aberdeen’s Zimbabwean twin city. Thanks to a Twinning Aberdeen grant, the sold-out performance at Aberdeen University’s May Festival was attended by an obstetrician and matron visiting from Bulawayo, and the discussions that followed with these health workers led to me visiting Bulawayo in September of that year to explore the possibility of an arts-in-health project in Lady Rodwell (United Bulawayo Hospitals) and the maternity unit at Mpilo Hospital. During this visit and a second in November 2016 when the arts-in-health project took place (read all about that here), I was blown away by the staff at both of the maternity hospitals who work under extremely difficult conditions, and was impressed by their care not only for their patients but for the spaces they work in. I was also so inspired by the creative energy of the city and its resilience in the face of economic and political struggles, particularly the work being done at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe and by Brian and Jane of ’amaBooks. Beyond this, there was the beauty of the jacaranda-lined streets, the wildlife at the Matopos and the thundering spray of the Victoria Falls…

Bulawayo-based artists at Lady Rodwell including Danisile Ncube, Omega Sibanda, Talent Kapadza, Owen Maseko, George Masarira, and Charles Bhebe. Also featured: Shane Strachan (Writer), Sue Fairburn (Designer) and Sally Thomson (Director, Grampian Hospitals Arts Trust)

In the year that followed my second visit, ideas for stories inspired by my time in Bulawayo kept drifting in and out of my mind. I knew there was something I wanted to write, but I hadn’t quite grasped how I would shape it, and I had various other quandaries around what I could legitimately write as someone from the outside who could never really know or understand the day-to-day Zimbabwean experience. So when I read about the Muriel Spark 100 project and then discovered of Spark’s connection with Bulawayo and the various short stories and autobiographical material she wrote connected with her time in Southern Rhodesia, a path towards writing about Bulawayo became clear. I was delighted to subsequently be awarded an Endless Different Ways grant to work on the project.

Muriel Spark’s archive at the National Library of Scotland is vast with boxes full of notes, correspondence and, from the late 1950s, receipts and cheque books. She hoarded all of this  to record the truth of her whereabouts having suffered from the press printing misinformation about her – this habit alone made writing about Spark a rather daunting prospect! But there is comparatively less material available for the years she spent in Southern Rhodesia given that she was only nineteen when she arrived there and that the years that followed were some of her most traumatic due to a fraught marriage. Add to this the Second World War which effectively trapped her in Southern Rhodesia and it becomes clear that this was not the happiest of times for Spark. Yet it is where she herself said she found much spiritual strength and where the roots of her literary career proper can be found in the prizes she won at the Rhodesian Eisteddfod for both prose and poetry. Alongside studying her African-set short stories, her autobiography and reading many more of her novels, I spent several days in the archive, decoding her handwriting and making sense of snippets of information on post its, letters and notebooks, in an attempt to piece together a clearer picture of her experience in Southern Rhodesia during these years. 

Muriel Spark at the National Library of Scotland

In the final work, Nevertheless: Sparkian Tales in Bulawayo, this story forms the basis of four fictional vignettes, interspersed with a modern-day story of a medical doctor from Aberdeen visiting Lady Rodwell Maternity Hospital and unknowingly tracing Spark’s steps; it wouldn’t be apt to write a linear narrative given that Spark played so brilliantly with shifts in time and perspective throughout most of her novels and stories. As well as these fictions, there are also a series of Spark-inspired illustrations by Scottish artist Donald Urquhart which add another dimension to the book, and which I’m grateful to be able to include given that visual art has been a big part of my own Bulawayo journey.

Nevertheless is available in print and e-book from African Books Collective and on Amazon. All profit raised from the publication will be donated to Lady Rodwell Maternity Hospital.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

'a powerfully gritty account of three expatriate Zimbabweans living in Edinburgh that is full of wry humour and subtle observation'

Premise: Three expatriate Zimbabweans attempt to adapt to their new lives in Edinburgh at the start of the twenty first century. The Maestro is stuck in a monotonous job stacking shelves in TESCO but feels that he has a higher calling that may or may not lie in devouring every book he can get his hands on. The Magistrate is frustrated by the loss of his social status and has to swallow his pride whilst accepting work as a care assistant. And the Mathematician is a PhD student who sees life in black and white and follows a path that is carefree and verging on hedonistic. Through their shared national identity, their separate lives intertwine in surprising ways towards an ending that is both unexpected and unsettling.

I was tempted to start my synopsis by talking about immigration. But then I came across a quote from the author where he says: “The funny thing is that when some white dude writes a novel set anywhere in Africa or Asia, it’s never referred to as an immigrant novel. They just have the right to be where they want to be and to write what they want.” I will try and avoid that pitfall then because whilst this is unquestionably a story about people who have been displaced from their point of origin, it is equally a social commentary on modern life (the Edinburgh version as well as the Harare version). It is full of wry humour and subtle observation and it is cleverly constructed so that it works on many levels. To boil it down to a book about immigration would be overly simplistic and unfair on the novelist. However, it is a theme that is very much at the beating heart of the story.
When talking about immigration, the news often resorts to generalisations. It clumps together any person that has arrived from a foreign shore. And that has the effect of making us think that the immigrant experience is the same for every Takudzwa, Mick or Garai – which, of course, it is not. Here, Huchu highlights the difference between the laddish culture experienced by the Mathematician and the downward mobility of lost respect experienced by the Magistrate. It is possibility contrasted with disappointment. And the Maestro is a third counterpoint to this. He is defined not by his status as an expatriate but by his sense of depression and his yearning for some greater meaning to the world. And, whilst dealing with life in a new country, all of them are also experiencing the everyday dramas that make up the fabric of existence.
The sad plight of the Zimbabwean nation is explored through each character’s memories of what life was like before. They are desperate to get news of what is going on back home. The Magistrate and, to a lesser extent, the Mathematician become involved with the MDC political party, a meeting of which Huchu describes as descending into a quasi-bar brawl. Fragments of Shona are interweaved with bursts of Scots dialect. It is at times disorientating but then I imagine that life as an immigrant often is. Huchu is unbiased in the way that he sees the world. He tackles racism from both sides of the telescope and deals with the issue of integration. And above all that, the story wends around in unexpected side steps. The surprise ending knits everything together but leaves you with plenty of questions to digest as you replace the book back on the shelf.
There is much to admire in this novel. Having lived in Zimbabwe as a child, it is always nice to read stories that are connected with the country. But it should be pointed out that “The Maestro, the Magistrate and the Mathematician” requires no previous knowledge of the beleaguered nation’s state of affairs. I think it is important that we all try to read books by different voices and here is a novelist who weaves a fascinating narrative whilst also making some pretty salient points about the modern world.

Who might enjoy this book: Anyone who has enjoyed “White Teeth” by Zadie Smith or “Half of a Yellow Sun” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Reviewed by Matt Kendrick:

The Maestro, The Magistrate and The Mathematician is published in the UK by Parthian Books, in North America by Ohio University Press, in Nigeria by Kachifo (Farafina), in Germany by Peter Hammer Verlag, and elsewhere by amaBooks.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Redemption Song, the 2018 Caine Prize for African Writing anthology, reviewed in Publishers Weekly

These stories from the 2018 Caine Prize, which has recognized contemporary African short stories since 2000, are a broad, mostly excellent survey of established and emerging African talent. Composed of works from the 2018 Shortlist and the prize’s annual Writers Workshop, the stories span several genres and embrace a wide range of style. The standout, “Fanta Blackcurrant” by Makena Onjerika, follows Meri, a street child in Nairobi who seeks small joys amid inescapable squalor and suffering. “Redemption Song” by Arinze Ifeakandu is a meditation on grief and self-discovery that follows Obinna, a gay man, as he tries to reconcile with his estranged wife after the death of their child. While many stories strive toward verisimilitude, several embrace magical realism and outright science fiction. The comic and absurd “The Armed Letter Writers” by Olufunke Ogundimu documents a community caught between inept police and formal, bureaucratic looters. One of the more imaginative pieces, “Wednesday’s Story” by Wole Talabi turns the 19th-century British nursery rhyme “Solomon Grundy” into a fantastic metanarrative, as a personified “Wednesday” seeks to change the events foretold in verse. Though some of the pieces are not as polished, the bright spots more than compensate, making this a worthwhile collection. (Nov.)


Redemption Song is available in Zimbabwe through amaBooks - in Bulawayo at Book and Bean, Dusk Home, Indaba Book Cafe, Orange Elephant and the National Gallery, and soon in Harare at the National Gallery. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

All Come to Dust in Bulawayo

Photos courtesy of Violette Kee-Tui
Last week, Bryony Rheam read from some of her published short stories and from her forthcoming novel, All Come to Dust, at Middys Coffee Shop in Bulawayo. The novel follows Chief Inspector Edmund Dube as he investigates the suspicious death of Marcia Pullman. As the investigation unfolds so does the story of Dube's life from his early years as he begins to put the pieces together of why the Scottish couple, for whom his mother worked, left the country in a hurry and Dube with an abiding sense of abandonment.  

The readings at Middys were well attended, with a scattering of other writers published by amaBooks, including Mzana Mthimkhulu, John Eppel and NoViolet Bulawayo. The event was organised by Hubbard's Historical Tours.
NoViolet Bulawayo and Bryony Rheam

John Eppel and friends

Mzana Mthimkhulu

Bryony is an ardent fan of Agatha Christie, a passion inherited from her grandmother. As testimony to this enthusiasm for Christie, she won the international Write Your Own Christie competition, which involved writing a chapter of a novel in the style of Agatha Christie, following on from chapters of previous winners. She was also runner-up for a previous chapter she wrote.
As her prize Bryony travelled to London to have dinner with Christie's grandson and the detective novel writer's British and American publishers. It will be up to Bryony's readers to judge whether she is able to follow in Christie's footsteps and weave as tangled a web as the best-selling author did in her many works.

All Come to Dust, to be published by amaBooks in November 2018, will be available in Zimbabwe through amaBooks and elsewhere through the African Books Collective.

Bryony's short stories have appeared in several anthologies published by amaBooks: Moving On and Other Zimbabwean Stories, Where to Now?, Long Time Coming and Short Writings From Bulawayo I, II and III. Short stories by Mzana Mthimkhulu and John Eppel have also been published in the anthologies, and John Eppel has had several novels, poetry and short story anthologies published by amaBooks. A story by NoViolet Bulawayo was published in Where to Now?.