Sunday, March 15, 2009

[Interview] Zvisinei Sandi

Zimbabwean writer, academic and civil rights activist, Zvisinei Sandi teaches on politics and literature in Southern Africa at the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law at Stanford University.

She has also worked as a journalist and was secretary general of the human rights watchdog, the Society for Gender Justice.

Some of her short stories have been published in anthologies that include Creatures, Great and Small (Mambo Press, 2005) and Women Writing Zimbabwe (Weaver Press, 2008).

In this interview, Zvisinei Sandi talks about her writing.

When did you start writing?

I started out as a very little child, at about six, seven years old. I used to make plays about my parents and friends and the colorful years back then -- the last days of Zimbabwe’s liberation war, the Cease Fire, the Assembly Points and the changes in lifestyle for everyone.

When did decide you wanted to be a published writer?

Very early really, in high school, although my parents fought it. They were afraid that my writing would get in the way of my studies. They did all they could to stop me, including taking away my manuscripts and giving me extra chores. When I got the Randalls National Essay Writing Prize in 1990, they were furious with my teachers for encouraging me. However that prize, handed over to the hardly formed seventeen year old girl who never before had been to a city, determined the course of my life. I decided then that I was a writer, and would always be a writer.

How would you describe the writing you are doing?

It’s about the parts of the world I have seen …

Who is your target audience?

The world is my audience.

Every person lives a separate life, and hopes and aspirations and dreams that only they can tell to the rest of the world. I often find that I have a lot to say.

Who influenced you most?

My family has had the biggest influence on me -- they taught me to love my country, and to value everything that is good and beautiful and decent. They taught me to love music and hard work and to dream. And my writing is mostly comprised of these.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

I would say, a great deal. I remember as a little girl, my first, faltering, almost ridiculous attempts at writing, and father telling me that what I really needed at the time was not to bury myself in a manuscript, but to go out there, and learn, get the certificates that would be my passport to the world, and see the world and then, if I still wished it I would have something to write about.

Now, having grown up, passed through grad. school and traveled, I believe I have something to say. I can write about pain, anguish, despair or joy with conviction because I have experienced these things and can talk about them with authority.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

Zimbabwe has had a challenging decade, and in an economic meltdown, the publishing sector is always the first to go. At the moment my main concerns are about finding publishers for all the writing I did while in Zimbabwe. This includes a number of novels, short story and poetry collections.

Do you write every day?

Every night at 2 a.m., I wake up. That’s when my mind is clearest and I sit up to ponder on the dynamics of my world. That is when I do my writing. It’s a pattern I established long ago, as a young girl growing up in the Zambezi Valley, and the days where too full and fast to allow even a single moment of reflection.

How many books have you written so far?

I have written about four books, though I have not yet managed to find publishers for all of them. Two of the books, Through Hararean Mazes, and Tales of the Wild Savanna have been serialized in the weekly newspapers The Southern Times and The Sunday Mail (Namibia and Zimbabwe).

I have also had short stories published in the anthologies Creatures, Great and Small, published by Mambo Press in 2005, as well as Women Writing Zimbabwe, published by Weaver Press in 2008.

Various articles and poetry selections have been published online.

My novels, Vagrant Souls and Flight from the Inferno are still waiting for a publisher.

What is your latest book about?

That would be Flight from the Inferno. It’s a fast-moving adventure story that starts in Harare, in 2000, and makes its way into the crowded market places of Lusaka, and then moves into war-torn [Democratic Republic of Congo] DRC.

The book virtually carves a path through Central Africa. When I started writing it, I had never been to any of the places. Carrying out the research was one of the most challenging jobs I have ever attempted. However, with the help of my college classmates, most of whom are now scattered in various countries across the African continent, it all came out beautifully. And, now that I have travelled the world, and actually seen these countries, I can present them with authority.

Which aspects of the work did you enjoy most?

It was an exciting adventure putting the thriller together, building into it all the energy and color of the incredible Central African environment.

What sets the book apart from other things you've written?

It’s that excitement you find in it -- that zazazu you find in the thrill of fear, and danger and that “Go! Go!” feeling you get when you encounter a life struggle.

What’s similar between this work and all writing, the world over, is the effort that went into it. Yes, you have a powerful story, and a clever way of delivering it, all that would amount to nothing without all those long, grinding hours. In the end, you do have to put in a lot of hard work.

What will your next book be about?

At the moment, I am working on another colorful short story collection, covering all the places I have been to, and the exceptional people I have encountered.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

My most significant accomplishment? Well, that's challenging for me to say, because you know what? It’s still coming. I see myself as just starting out my writing career, and when I am 90, curled up in front of a fire, surrounded by grandchildren and great-grandchildren, then I will close my eyes and -- this I promise you -- I will tell you of my greatest accomplishment ever.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

[Interview_1] Sue Moorcroft

Creative writing tutor and author, Sue Moorcroft was born in Germany and spent much of her childhood in Cyprus and Malta.

In addition to teaching creative writing classes, she has written and published five novels, among them, Uphill All the Way (Transita, 2005); A Place To Call Home (Magna, 2007) and Family Matters (Robert Hale, 2008).

Her short stories have been published in anthologies that include Sexy Shorts for Christmas (Accent Press Ltd, 2003) and Scary Shorts for Hallowe'en (Accent Press Ltd, 2004) .

She is also the editor of Loves Me, Loves Me Not, an anthology of short stories by the members of the Romantic Novelists' Association, which seeks to celebrate the RNA's 50th birthday in 2010. The anthology is to be published by Mira Books, in hardback in Autumn 2009 and paperback in February 2010.

In this interview, Sue Moorcroft talks about her writing:

Do you write everyday?

I normally write, or do something associated with writing or teaching writing, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday to Friday. But I'm flexible and will sometimes take a day out in the week and work at the weekend.

Sometimes I work all seven days! It depends on what I'm doing and how much work I have on.

I tend to begin each day with e-mails and keeping up with writers' forums because they're valuable in networking and information gathering. Then I move on to students, then to writing.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

Making a living is always a concern. So I work hard and, I hope, with intelligent application, and that seems to bring enough money in, one way or another.

As I indicated at the beginning of the interview, I write in several areas. If I just wrote one novel a year I wouldn't make ends meet unless I miraculously got a wonderful contract, one that has escaped me until now.

Sometimes I find it hard to get going and I have to give myself a talking to, otherwise I'd spend all day writing e-mails and surfing the Net.

In the writing you are doing, who would you say has influenced you most?

Good question. I don't really have an answer to it as I have so many influences upon me: other writers, the wants of my agent or an editor, the state of my bank account ...

How have your personal experiences influenced the direction of your writing?

I like to write about things that mean something to me.

My first published novel, Uphill All the Way, is set partly in Malta. A bit of my heart will always live in Malta because I lived there as a child. I have set other works there and got a good response from editors and readers and I enjoy sending my characters there -- so it seems sensible, as well as enjoyable, to carry on.

And one always draws upon one's own emotions, of course. How can you describe being frightened if you've never had a fright?

On the other hand, what I don't know I research or I imagine. I think I'm quite empathetic and that helps in knowing how my characters will feel in a certain situation. My fiction is always about characters who could be real in situations any of us could find ourselves in.

My second novel, Family Matters, is about the effect that money can have on people. Some people will sacrifice a lot, friends and family, just so they can get their hands on some money. I'm not talking about to have enough money to eat, I'm talking about extra money so that they can have extra things. This happened in my family and gave me a bit of a disdain of people like that. I can see that money is useful to have, of course! But it's not the be all and end all.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

It's like almost anything -- I work hard. I put the hours in, I pitch work to editors, I do work 'on spec' that may never be bought. I may be lucky in that my response to even a huge emotional incident is to bury myself in work.

Rejection is difficult, of course. If you've done your very best work and it is rejected, that's a horrible feeling. It can sometimes be a challenge to try again. Self-belief is part of my make up, happily.

Who is your target audience?

Most of what I write is for mainstream fiction and probably appeals more to women, although men do read my stuff and enjoy it. I often have male viewpoint characters.

I suppose I write roughly what I like to read and so I write for people roughly like myself.

How many books have you written so far?

I've written a lot more than I've published! Uphill All the Way (Transita, ISBN 978-1905175000) was published in April 2005 and is a book about recovery. In it, Judith has to get over losing her younger lover, her life in Malta and most of her money; Adam from losing three fingers, two homes and one wife. It's about a giant mid-life wobble and that there's life after it.

Family Matters came out in hardback with Robert Hale (ISBN 978-0709085232) in March 2008. It's about money and family and who thinks which is most important. It begins with a helicopter crash, one of the most difficult things I've ever written but it gets a good reaction, and that proves to be the catalyst for many secrets spilled...

A Place To Call Home (Magna, ISBN 978-1842625446) was a serial and it's out now as a large print book and follows the Randle family after they lose their nice life in Germany and have to return to the U.K. It explores how you start all over again when your old life crumbles through no fault of your own. It proves that it can be done!

Between Two Worlds was a serial, too, and it will be coming out as a large print book, but I have no details yet. It explores the modern phenomenon of two people marrying, a second marriage for each of them, and making two families into one. In this case, they come from very different backgrounds and have a lot of adjustment to make.

How did you chose a publisher for your latest book?

My latest published book is Family Matters. It took quite a while to write, maybe 18 months, because I began it four times before I was happy with the way it was going. There was a lot of research involved, too, particularly concerning a young character, Tamsin, who has some emotional and behavioural problems. I enjoyed working with her. I liked the central character, Diane, too, as is someone who will only take so much from people before she loses her cool. She is loyal to her husband for all of their marriage, even though some of his decisions seem to disadvantage her and their daughter, Bryony -- but once he lets her down, all hell breaks loose.

Family Matters was published by Hale in the U.K. in March 2008.

'Choosing' a publisher isn't really an option -- my agent sells my books for me. If she ever had the happy situation of more than one publisher making an offer then I would have a choice to make. But not till then.

Hale produce a great book and is professional to work with. However, the company only produce a hardback and it's difficult to get them to reprint when the first print run sells out, even if it sells out quickly, as mine did.

Which aspects of the work that you put into the book did you find most difficult?

I think it was the scope of the book that troubled me. Initially, it seemed too shallow with just one viewpoint character -- Diane -- and it was when I included viewpoints from Gareth, James and Tamsin that the book began to come alive.

One can only solve a problem like that by thinking it through and maybe talking it over with like-minded friends.

Which aspects of the work did you enjoy most?

Researching helicopters! I like helicopters! And planes and cars...

What sets the book apart from other things you've written?

I think it dealt with quite a hard subject and I'm quite proud that it didn't point the reader at a conclusion. There's room in the book for different attitudes and I think some readers will think that Diane was right in what she did but some will see the point of view of her husband, Gareth. I think it makes a good reading group book, for that reason.

In what way is it similar to the others?

Relationships! I like relationship books.

What will your next book be about?

Actually, it's about an aeroplane ... No, it's about learning to forgive yourself.

I've given Brenna an awful lot of things to contend with, a husband who goes missing, a building project that has gone wrong, losing her job, struggling with her teenaged son and also her older learning-disabled sister, Libby. Brenna feels guilty about Libby as she is convinced she was instrumental in the accident that left Libby with traumatic head injury. (But there really is an aeroplane in the book, the Unforgettable Juliet of the title.)

When did you decide you wanted to be a published writer?

I suppose I wanted to be seen as good enough to be published. I also wanted to earn money as a writer so I didn't have to do a 'proper job'.

It was a slow process.

After the first couple of novels, I began trying short stories because I read that if you had a track record of about 20 short stories with national magazines, a book publisher would take you seriously. This did work for me but I had sold 87 stories before I sold the first book!

I expand my areas of writing all the time. As well as short stories and books, I write articles and profiles for writing magazines and courses for the London School of Journalism. I have ideas for non-fiction articles and a non-fiction book that I haven't yet attempted. But the day will come.

I found building this body of work hard but rewarding and 'doable'. I learnt, through my course, through writing magazines, how-to books, conferences and seminars, how to approach editors, how to study the market and write for it. Then I did it!

I work with students all the time but am certain that only a small number send their work out to editors, agents or competitions. Editors rarely come knocking on the door to ask if you have anything in your desk that they might like to publish and pay for.

I learn about writing and publishing by staying in contact with those in the industry, reading what I need to read and putting it to intelligent use.

How would you describe the writing you are doing?

Hard work but enjoyable.

This week I have finished drafting the final episode of a serial called One Summer Night in Malta for a U.K. magazine, The People's Friend. I have sent that to a writing friend to read before I polish it. I'm not convinced that the ending is yet strong enough and anticipate that there's more work to be done.

I have also drafted a profile of a fiction editor of a new American fiction magazine and got together the visuals and sidebars for that. I've sent out four stories to overseas markets, stories that have been published in the U.K. already and needed some revision to suit the new market (and have sold one of them already).

In the back of my mind is my current novel, Unforgettable Juliet, which is also awaiting revision. But I've had a bereavement this summer and find I don't have the emotional energy for the novel, right now. It can wait.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Um ... doing it, I suppose. Making it stick. Making a living. It's not a success in the J. K. Rowling category but it's still a success.

*This article is based on an email interview with Sue Moorcroft which took place in September 2008. Since then, the non-fiction book she referred to in the interview, one that was only an idea at the time, is now a reality and will be published in January 2010 by Accent Press as Love Writing: How to Make Money Writing Romantic or Erotic Fiction.

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