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6 Awkward Questions With Zimbabwean Writers #2: Bryony Rheam

Reproduced from James Arnett's  blog: jarnettphd.weebly.com/fulbright-2017-2018/


In the latest instalment of “Six Awkward Questions”, Bulawayo author Bryony Rheam offers thoughtful responses to the admittedly awkward questions. Rheam is the author of the elegant and acclaimed This September Sunpublished by amaBooks; a number of her short stories have appeared in anthologies, including amaBooks’ latest, Moving On; her story of the strain of exile and the tensions it inscribes in families gives us the anthology its title. She describes herself below as the “number one fan” of Agatha Christie, and she is appropriately at work on a crime thriller, which is in the editing process and edging towards print – keep your eyes open!

describe your favourite novel or writer using synaesthetic terms

It has to be Virginia Woolf.  I love her because I relate to her so well.  She was deeply unhappy and, of course, famously committed suicide.  Yet she has this amazing ability to see the beauty of the world and capture it so well.  This trembling, transient beauty comes with the knowledge that nothing lasts; everything dies - but that is part of the beauty as well. The strength of her writing is that she illuminates those tiny, fleeting moments that most of us take for granted, but which make up daily life.

what are some metaphors for your relationship to African writing?

The first would be roadworks with lots of 'detour' signs. Another would be looking for the seventh floor only to be told that the lift only goes to the sixth and I'm not allowed to take the stairs.  I don't really know where I am as an African writer.  I was born in Zimbabwe and have lived most of my life here, but I am white so I don't fit in with the majority and people are also a bit suspicious of white writers. I feel sometimes as though I am muscling in on a space which is not mine.  One of the criticisms of This September Sun was that weren't enough black characters, even though it was essentially a story about a family.  Now if I was to write a book with mainly black characters, I would be accused of appropriation.  Either way, I don't win.
But, on a more positive note, another metaphor would be a wide open space because I think there is a lot of opportunity, a chance to do something different because African literature is coming to a stage of opening up. 

assuming a utopian arc, what is the best thing about Africa in the future?

​I think it's expanding, developing and going forward in a way in which literature from the West is not.  As long as African writers push ahead and challenge Western ideas of Africa - poverty, famine, disease - by writing what they want, then I think we will see great things.  Many British and American writers have become very cynical about the world and this is reflected in the type of books coming out.  I think, to paraphrase Scott Fitzgerald, we have a great capacity for optimism, for seeing a brighter future and not getting stuck in all this angst that the others are.

what habits aid writing most and least?

I love getting up early in the morning and just enjoying the silence if nothing else.  Walking is great for getting ideas and sorting out problems!  I think the staff at Hillside Dams might think I am slightly unbalanced as I walk round talking to myself.  Taking the dogs with me helps me look a little more sane.  I also enjoy meditation, both for the discipline and the peace of mind it lends me. The worst thing to do is to get onto Facebook.  It's best left alone if you want to get anything done.  You think you'll just have a peek, but suddenly a whole hour has gone by and really it's rarely very interesting.

how do you do it?

​I start off with my trusty notepad and pen and just sit and write.  I have another notebook for good lines that come to me, but I have no idea where they are going or what they are about.  I can't say I have a set routine as some days I go and teach and some days I have something I have to do in town. I do have to write in the mornings though; I just can't think in the afternoon, especially if it is very hot.  Also, the afternoons see me running around after my children and making supper.

what is the most exciting book you've read in the past six months?


Unfortunately, I don't read as much as I want to. At the moment I am reading an Agatha Christie - you know I'm her number one fan, don't you? - called The Secret of Chimneys. It actually begins in Bulawayo with two friends meeting after a while apart.  One of them is running desultory tours to Matopos and is bored out of his mind and the other is a hunter/prospector of the Indiana Jones ilk.  The latter pays the former to take some documents to England for him and pretend he is him (hope that makes sense!).  It turns out the documents are diaries of a Count from some weird Eastern European country with a fictional name.  I am enjoying it because it is an early spy thriller, a bit like The Thirty Nine Steps



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