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In conversation

“Do what works for you; everything else is white noise” | In Conversation with Tendai Huchu

Tendai Huchu
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Welcome to another version of the #SyncityNGLLL show! Last Monday, we had Zimbabwean author Tendai Huchu, whose two books have been received with thunderous applause by both critics and readers.

Tendai Huchu’s first novel, The Hairdresser of Harare, was released in 2010 to critical acclaim and has been translated into German, French, Italian, and Spanish. His short fiction in multiple genres and nonfiction have appeared in Enkare reviewThe Manchester ReviewEllery Queen’s Mystery MagazineGutterInterzoneAfroSFWasafiriWarscapesThe Africa Report and elsewhere. In 2013, he received a Hawthornden Fellowship and a Sacatar Fellowship. He has also been shortlisted for the Caine Prize (2014).

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Syncity NG: Thank you so much for joining us, Tendai. Summer is upon us and I know you can’t wait to go back to your break. Speaking of breaks, when are you giving us a new book? It has been years and years!

Tendai Huchu: Thank you for having me, Syn. I check out your feed and website, and the work you do in promoting and discussing African lit is really dope. I’m currently going through a round of gruelling edits, thanks to @bigjcowen my agent for my new fantasy series Ghostalker. The first book is The Library of the Dead. It’s a fun project with Afro-Scottish magic and things that go bump in the night. Your wait is nearly over.

Syncity NG: Ha, Tendai! You have left African lit for European lit. What happened to our Zimbabwean lit, eh? Have they taken you from us?

Tendai Huchu: Lol. I guess this is the part where I get accused of writing for a western audience! It’s still Zimbabwean lit ’cause the dude who wrote it is Zimbabwean. But what you’ve got here is a fusion of ideas. I’m culturally appropriating Scottish shit and remixing it.

Syncity NG: One thing I love about both your books: Hairdresser of Harare and The 3 Ms is that they discuss easily disregarded themes. You take basic discussions/topics and turn them to literary gold. You are easily inspired, aren’t you?

Tendai Huchu: We live in a crazy world with so much going on. Even the zany-est lit is but a pale imitation of it. A writer can do one of two things: (a) show the world something new, or (b) show us what we already knew in a new light. (a) is cool, but (b) is Newton sitting under the apple tree.

Syncity NG: Speaking of crazy worlds, as someone who has lived in Zimbabwe and now in Scotland, how would you describe both literary spaces? What opportunities has Scotland brought that you hitherto didn’t have when lived in Zimbabwe?

Tendai Huchu: In Scotland, you can access/buy virtually any book you want (of course there are exceptions). Relative to what one earns books are also reasonably priced. Literature is no different from football because it has to be buttressed by certain infrastructure to thrive.

Syncity NG: You are arguably one of the greatest literary exports of Zimbabwe. While we celebrate this, we also can’t help but worry about the brain drain. Writers are leaving in droves. Do you find it difficult to encourage writers to stay behind even though you aren’t here?

Tendai Huchu: Is it a brain drain when you have folks going out into the world, doing interesting things? It’s a gain. There are still plenty of brains left in Zimbabwe and in Africa. I view writing as a solitary activity; if you need external encouragement you might do better in a different team sport.

Syncity NG: Tendai, you dabble in a lot of genres. Do you do this to test yourself and your writing prowess or do you really slay effortlessly in all these genres?

Tendai Huchu: You are what you eat and I write what I read. Genre is a tool that affords the writer certain prefabbed materials with which they can tell a story. Each has its own pros and trade-offs, some of which you can ameliorate by bending genres. I try to be pragmatic.

Syncity NG: What can you tell us about the book you want to release soon? Asides the title and genre, we know nothing else. Please give us something more.  We have a long line of people waiting for its release.

Tendai Huchu: “As if she didn’t have enough problems paying rent on the caravan, looking after her blind Gran and moody little sister and running errands for the dead, Ropa Moyo discovers that someone is sucking the essence out of local children, leaving them prematurely aged.

“Set in a post-calamity Edinburgh where magic is commoditised and traded, the class system has become still more prevalent, giving a truly dystopian backdrop for this story.”

This [shedding more light on the plot] is really hard to do with the brevity that Twitter demands. But, I should warn you there’s a villainous villain in there called the Midnight Milkman who’ll steal your sweet, precious children if you’re not careful.

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Editor’s picks: We need to give young people reasons to stay

“We villagers have the best stories”

“I forgive myself every day for being a writer”

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Syncity NG: Take us through your process/ritual of writing a book before we invite the audience to ask questions.

Tendai Huchu: Thank you. I have differing methods for each project I attempt. Currently, while working on this novel, the one thing I do every morning that gets me going is a 6-mile run before I start. It makes me feel sharper. I take care of my mind by looking after my body.

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Syncity NG: After running, what next? How do you develop an idea good enough for a novel, and what process does it take from idea to publisher? I’m asking about your writing regimen, basically, if you have one.

Tendai Huchu: A nice shower before anything else! Then emails (yawn!). Then the rodeo starts. I think with experience you gain some sense of which ideas would work for a novel. These are the kind that won’t fuck off and keep gnawing at you until you exorcise them by writing.

Syncity NG: Tendai, what are your thoughts on mentorship? Do you have a protégé? I’m not talking about the word some writers throw around; I’m speaking about what the late Binj did for people. Encouraging writers, introducing them to agents and editors, helping them grow and whatnot.

Tendai Huchu: I think it’s a positive thing in the main. But I came up the old school way which was by reading a lot and doing my own trial and error until I figured shit out for myself. There’s nothing I can teach anyone that they can’t learn themselves by reading a lot.

Syncity NG: So, you’re stylishly telling us that you have no protégé and don‘t think mentoring is necessary.

Tendai Huchu: Maybe not so strongly. What I was trying to say is that reading is the most important thing. There are different ways to skin a cat and I highlighted what worked for me. Each to their own, really. Whatever works at the end of the day. Everything else is white noise.

@ogochukwu08370875: Tendai, have you noticed that Africans have the best storytellers in the world today, yet, African cinema still sucks. What do you think accounts for that? How [do you think] can we remedy it?

Tendai Huchu: I hesitate here because film isn’t quite my area of expertise and it would be unfair to give generalised condemnation, particularly when I’ve watched a few gems. My biased opinion is that investing more in the writing/scripts before a single shot is taken may help.

@ogochukwu08370875: How do you view the idea of a Filmmaker adapting your work? Can I adapt your any of your works?

Tendai Huchu: There are rights issues involved here and this is perhaps a subject best approached via email.

Syncity NG: Before we round off the show, I would love to ask you: which would you say is your best work at the moment and why? The Hairdresser of Harare or  The Magistrate and the Mathematician. If you were to go on a date with any character from your book, who would it be?

Tendai Huchu: Are you asking me to choose between my children? Insha Allah, my “greatest work” lies in the future. I wouldn’t date any of my characters (that’s kinda incestuous, dude), they’re all too fucked up and flawed. I can’t imagine a worse fate than that!

Syncity NG: The Maestro, The Magistrate and the Mathematician was published by Farafina Books. You can get it, as well as the Hairdresser of Harare, from major African bookstores. I have read both books and they come highly recommended. Thank you so much for honoring our invitation, Tendai. Tell your agent to call me.

Tendai Huchu: It’s been an absolute pleasure. Thank you for having me!

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