Gary Albyn was born in Zimbabwe in 1960 and currently lives in South Africa with his wife and two children.
His poems have been featured the anthologies, Forever Spoken (International Society of Poets, 2007) and The Best Poems and Poets of 2007 (International Society of Poets, 2008).
His gift book, Manzovo: Place of the Elephants (30° South Publishers, 2008) is an illustrated 110-verse poem that comes with a DVD of the poem recited by the South African Shakespearian actor, John Whiteley.
In this email interview, Gary Albyn talks about his concerns as a writer:
When did you start writing?
I started writing the poem Manzovo: Place of The Elephants in late 2003. The saga of the matriarchal herd just continued to evolve and develop over a period spanning 14 months. Upon completion, and without any notion of publication, I decided to memorize the story in order to be able to recite it to like-minded audiences; people with an abiding love and respect for our environment and natural heritage. Many members of those early audiences exhorted me to give serious consideration to publishing the story.
How did you get the book published?
The nature of the book I envisaged lent itself to a “coffee-table” format -- one that should bear complementary illustrations of the highest quality.
Upon my return to South Africa after a stint working in the Middle East, I immediately went to see Chris and Kerrin Cocks from 30° South Publishers in Johannesburg. Kerrin and Chris -- himself an author-cum-publisher -- listened attentively to my pitch and, to my complete surprise, immediately agreed to publish the book. So much for having to knock on dozens of publishers’ doors!
The obvious flaw in my proposal was that I didn’t have anyone to illustrate this book that 30° South Publishers had so readily agreed to publish. With a nonchalant wave of his hand, Chris said he’d “get Craig to illustrate the book!” As an ex-Zimbabwean myself, I knew -- of course -- of the world-famous ultra-realist wildlife artist Craig Bone, but could it possibly be the same person Chris was referring to? The rest, as they say, is history.
In less than a year, Craig Bone produced almost 200 paintings and sketches for the book, 100 eventually being incorporated into Manzovo: Place of the Elephants.
What motivated you to start writing?
We study history in the belief that the lessons extracted from past events may enlighten and prepare us for an uncertain future. Such lessons, if wisely applied, may hopefully cause future generations to adjudge ours as having contributed to the ongoing evolution and ‘civilization’ of mankind. Alas, I don’t think this generation will be so adjudged, given our appalling track record in the areas that truly count. Maybe my message can limn a future a little more tolerable for the next generation, and beyond.
Society at large has an alarming track record in respect of the management of its natural resources. These resources can be managed on a sustainable basis, but the deliberate and profligate destruction of our wild lands, flora and fauna -- all in pursuit of selfish gain -- is a sure precursor to catastrophic consequences. I hope to bring the plight of our planet -- and our collective future and survival -- to the forefront of discussion and debate.
Which authors influenced you most?
I have eclectic tastes in genres, authors and topics. Whilst I read extensively, I particularly admire those authors whose fictional works draw heavily on accurate research, and bold authors whose topics, whilst controversial, force us to argue and wrestle with our own embedded (and often flawed) beliefs or principles. Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris spring to mind.
Cullen Gouldsbury was widely regarded as the “Kipling of Africa.” His poetry resonates with the fluidity of the true heartbeat of this continent.
What are your main concerns as a writer?
I allow myself to feel a brief sense of accomplishment when complimented on my book -- much the same way a proud parent would react to recognition given to their child’s achievements -- but I neither dwell on it nor seek it. As a collaborative project involving many parties, I am merely its author, and my only wish is for Manzovo to succeed in bringing a wider awareness to the pressing issues we face.
How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?
I grew up in the old Rhodesia and was fortunate enough to spend much of my youth communing with nature. I am always re-inventing and re-invigorating myself whenever I return to the bush.
What are the biggest challenges that you face?
I admire those who have the innate ability to massage words such that the essence of each sentence splashes vivid hues on the readers’ mental canvas. I am a long way from achieving that, and my challenge is to not only get there, but not believe myself when I think I’ve arrived!
Do you write everyday?
I am engineer by profession and, for the foreseeable future, will continue earning a living in that environment. Hopefully the literary gods will look favorably upon my desire to write full time!
How many books have you written so far?
Two previous poems, “Mother” and “Father Time” have both been published by the International Society of Poets. “Mother” appears in their anthology Forever Spoken (2007), whilst “Father Time” appears in The Best Poems and Poets of 2007 (2008).
How would you describe the story behind Manzovo?
Thandi, now at the height of her prime, is the astute and respected matriarchal head of a herd of elephants. She gives birth to Lesedi -- the last of her five calves -- and thus begins their sweeping journey through the bushveld and across the open vistas of southern Africa.
While the herd has to deal with brushes with predators, farmers, poachers and culling gangs, their odyssey across the sub-continent also embraces some of the cultures, natural wonders and landmarks that give character to this region. So too are described encounters with some of the floral and faunal species unique to this part of the continent.
The poem portrays their epic travels at a time in our past when elephants were able to range, with relative ease, across the timeless plains of Africa. The story weaves in the arcane rhythm that pounds like a tribal drum deep in Africa’s chest.
How long did it take you to write it?
I started writing Manzovo in late 2003 and was still putting finishing touches to the story just prior to going to print in June 2008.
How did you chose a publisher for the book?
I had read Chris’ first book, Fire Force, a few years before and, upon my return to South Africa in late 2006, heard that he was now publishing books with a Southern Africa bias. I chose him as the first publisher I’d visit due to our Zimbabwe connection.
What advantages or disadvantages has this presented?
Only advantages! Chris and Kerrin were quick to intuit that there were wider opportunities locked within Manzovo, which they have been able to liberate.
Which aspects of the work that you put into the book did you find most difficult?
The story required an enormous amount of patience, and went through literally hundreds of often small changes and variants. Neither this nor the research for the book ever proved to be tiresome. It is, however, most fulfilling to eventually see it manifest in hard copy…!
Which aspects of the work did you enjoy most?
The most rewarding element of Manzovo is doing the recital to an appreciative audience. They’re drawn into the raw beauty and emotion of the African theme, and oftentimes will admit afterwards to an almost indefinable and ethereal connection with the spirit within.
What sets the book apart from the other things you've written?
In what way is it similar?
I mostly try and write on issues that leave the reader with a message, a trigger for introspection.
What will your next book be about?
Craig Bone and I are looking to collaborate again on another African themed story. Next year perhaps!
What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?
I will answer that at some stage in the future when, I hope, Manzovo would’ve moved a critical mass of people to act decisively on behalf of our planet’s species and wild lands.
More at OhmyNews International.
Possibly related books:
Zukiswa Wanner [Interview], Conversations with Writers, November 14, 2008.