Tuesday, 31 December 2019

My Year in Books - 2019



I’m ashamed to admit that this year I didn’t read as much as I would have liked. Life does take over, I suppose. Better to have read something than none at all, right? So, here is my 2019 book list starting with the latest to be read:

10. The Wedding by Nicholas Sparks



What does it take to win the love of your wife?

It was the day after Christmas when I found myself craving a bit of romance, and there was only one guy to satisfy my needs. Nicholas Sparks has the knack of transporting me to an idealistic world. A world in which I wish to reside. A world that, quite frankly, few ever get to experience. That world, I sometimes call it, a place of bliss. In this tale, the author does not disappoint. I always love Nicholas's simple and yet sophisticated way of writing. A story about a husband who successfully rekindles her wife’s fading love for him. I was mesmerised by the husband’s creativity in making his wife fall in love with him all over again. How effortless, once he had made up his mind to win her once more, the process became compared to when he didn't care. I was enthralled by the way the writer made references to my all-time favourite, the mother of all romance stories - The Notebook. The story took me on quite a journey, and I found my spirit soaring. Tears dripped from my eyes. And I fell in love with love. Indeed, Nicholas knows how to deliver just the right concoction for the romantic at heart, and what a perfect finish to my reading year. 


9. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones.

 "A black man, in the wrong place at the wrong time, will find retribution meted out swiftly and unquestioningly."

Had someone not Tweeted about this book, I would not have discovered it. Winner of the Women's prize for fiction, this story pulled at my heartstrings, to say the least. Celestial and Roy, a newly-married couple, are on the verge of realising their American dream when it is cruelly snuffed away when Roy is wrongly accused of rape by a white woman and ends up incarcerated. Heartrending and unfortunately, a poignant reflection of the plight of the black family and our society in general. Bound by their love, the newly-married couple is determined to make things work. They send letters back and forth to each other, and this is how the writer tells the story. Through the characters’ correspondences, which I thought was quite creative, we delve into each character’s head and glimpse into their feelings, attitudes, fears and motivations. The book delivers themes that spark passionate conversations about the black family, love, betrayal, abortion, the relationship between the black man and America's police force and more. As one can expect, there is always conflict, a twist or two in every story worth telling, but I did not anticipate the ending. Being an idealist and a hopeless romantic, I imagined the couple making it despite the challenges of being pulled apart by time and distance. Such is life, I guess. *sigh*


8. Slay in Your Lane: The Journal by Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinene 


The book delivers exactly what it says it is: The Black Girl Bible. Black women and girls do face a lot of challenges. We are misunderstood, labelled as angry, and sometimes find ourselves at the bottom of the food chain in other areas of life. If you are a black woman in need of some motivation, this is the book you will want to read. The book also gives real-life accounts and testimonies of those who have ‘made it’ in life. It demonstrates how to navigate societal prejudices, how to attain the right level o education, how to get employment, and how to simply to get ahead in life. A great read, but difficult to swallow in some parts as I found myself reliving some of the harsh realities of my life as a black woman living in Britain.


7. Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams


Dubbed by some as the black Bridget Jones, I found this book funny, gripping and a compelling read. The writer uses light-hearted language to depict serious issues. She explores her Caribbean family, and even though I am from Zimbabwe, I can identify with her experiences in matters of life in general, love, race, relationship break-ups, disappointments, societal attitudes and misconceptions about certain groups of people and family. Told in simple language, humorous and yet compelling way. I concluded that the writer's aim was to enlighten, teach, inform as well as entertain and Candice did just that. 


6. Washing Black by Esi Edugyan



I was drawn to this book because it was nominated for the Booker Prize, and most people were raving about it. In the opening pages, Washington Black launches the horrors of slavery at sugar plantations in Barbados. But he does not dwell on slavery. Instead, the author drifts towards the experiences of the free young slave who is chosen to be the helper of his master’s brother. As they explore their relationship and adventures together, Washington Black discovers that he is talented. He soon embraces life as a free man. A man, perhaps, seen as an 'equal to the white man'. I don’t know what to make of this story as the ending left me craving for more, wishing it was more. Something else. Oh, well. 


5. The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang


This #ownvoice romance novelist delivers a classic tale about Stella, who is an ambitious, intelligent, autistic young lady. Stella's mother keeps nagging her about finding a boyfriend. She wants her daughter to be 'normal', I guess. In the end, the sequence of events drives Stella to hire a male escort to show her the ‘ropes’ of love and sex in preparation for her real man. Now how many would do it I suspect, but hey, whatever works. An energetic, light read, a little bit predictable but enjoyable nonetheless. I am always drawn to heartwarming stories where love prevails.


4. Sycamore Row by John Grisham


This book grabbed me by the neck right from the beginning. A timber tycoon decides to hang himself from a sycamore tree as the title suggests and we soon discover that his handwritten will leaves a significant part of his fortune to his black housekeeper, not his children. You can imagine their horror. What causes even more of a stir is that another will written before the suicide rewards the children quite handsomely but excludes the housekeeper. The writer of the will was on Demerol, and this begs the question – did he have ‘testamentary capacity?’ As always, Grisham delivers a compelling legal case and I for one, love not just a good murder but a stirring courtroom drama where you sit at the edge of your seat, rooting for a character and praying for justice to prevail. 


3. The Good Immigrant by Nikesh Shukla


“If Africa was a bar, Zimbabwe would tell the story of how it fought bouncers to get inside.”

You know why I just had to slip that little excerpt in there, right?

Different writers, one Zimbabwean, of course, write unflinching essays about what it's like to live in a society plagued by racism and prejudices, among other things(Britain.) Just like the book, Slay in Your Lane, the book requires one to have nerves of steel for it takes no prisoners. If you can swallow some harsh truths of life, then this enlightening book is the one to pick. 

2. Her Last Move by John Marrs



I love a good murder! And the darker, the better. After reading the blurb, I was hooked. DS Becca is chasing a killer. The killer is watching her every move and is always a step ahead. As bodies continue to drop like flies, Becca's life gets in the way, and she has no choice but to seek help from experts in other fields. As the drama unfolds, one is taken on an adrenaline-pumping adventure. And Mr Marrs doesn’t disappoint.

Besides the books I’ve listed above, I also read Becoming by Michelle Obama,War Room by Chris Fabry (again), A Time to Kill and The Rain Maker by John Grisham and The Foundling by Paul Joseph and Fronckzak Alex Tresniowski. 

Okay, so none of my reads made Obama's list this year, who cares?! 

Here's to wishing you all a Happy New Year filled with many opportunities to read! 


  



Sunday, 17 November 2019

Finding My Writing Voice

Stephen King says, ‘If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. He is right. Nothing fires me up to write like reading a good book. 




I reckon writers, seasoned or burgeoning, will do well to read others and to explore all kinds of writing styles and genres. There are authors whose works have inspired me and informed my appreciation of the art of writing over the years. Authors that include Bryce Courtenay with his African tales, Tess Gerritsen, the former surgeon who draws from her medical experience, Christian author Chris Fabry, Maya Angelou, Chinua Achebe, Alice Walker, Naomi Alderman, to name but a few. 

But writers who want to grow and expand their horizon will understand that it is not enough to just read a good book. They should sit down and write, for it is only through the practice of writing that one gets to explore their thoughts and feelings, experiment with the various writing styles, and ultimately establish their own unique writing voice.



My writing has evolved over the years. Finding my writing voice has been and still is. The process can span for years as one seeks to perfect and establish their uniqueness in the writing world.

Even though I cite other authors in some of my writings and find their works intriguing, I relish being able to create original content of my own: a quote, a poem, a blog, an article or indeed a novel. 

I like to depict my own version of life as I draw from my own experiences, choose my own words and expressions. Over the years, I have discovered that writing is not so much about the words or phrases I use, but rather the way I use those words to depict the world around me that give character and authenticity to my writing. 

My kind of writing's exact nature should provoke, in my reader, specific thoughts and feelings. This way, the reader experiences what drives me and explore my heart and soul.

My experiences are my most significant resource from which I draw knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. I am a product of my own interpretation of the world. How I embrace, receive and digest my experiences determines the ‘product’ which is my message to the world. The end-product, which becomes palpable and tangible in all my writings 




My voice is the rhythm, the tone and the vibe the reader gets when they absorb and digest my works. It is that uniqueness in quality that separates me from other writers. It is writing in a way that does not seek to deceive or betray my personality or what I represent. When, in an instant, a reader recognises that vibe and uniqueness the second, they open my book to read. 

As a reader, I tend to gravitate towards certain books. My mood and needs at the time often determine which book I choose.  I also want a voice to appeal to my senses and to speak to my soul. Therefore, developing and establishing a reliable voice as a writer is your gift to the reader. It is your unique voice that gives the reader the motivation to pick your book over another. And the only reason a reader will keep coming back for more is the satisfaction and the established chemistry. In other words, they are getting, from you, something unique that no other writer can provide. When this kind of familiarity begins to happen, a writer can claim to have established their authentic writing voice. 

I am a versatile writer. I weave a blog is not the way I write a poem, an article or a novel. I derive pleasure in exploring different writing styles, offering different perspectives to diverse audiences. I should delve into uncharted territories and continue to evolve and not remain stuck in my comfort zone. I should be able to let loose and allow myself to explore the strange realms of imagination and create works of art. I am a writer, after all. 

But moving from my personal experiences and letting my imagination soar does not, in any way, take away my authority as a writer. If anything, stretching my creativity will take me to new and greater heights and allow me to develop facets of my character that I never knew existed. Not only do I extend my appreciation of the world at large and grow as a human being, but I also discover a new potential within me. This process of expansion, if I allow it to happen organically, believing in my powers and letting my personality shine, could be the unveiling of a ‘new self’. The self I was meant to become all along.  




And perhaps, just perhaps, I get to become the kind of writer the world has been waiting for all along!

Sunday, 3 November 2019

What It's Like To Go Home

If like me, you’re settled in a country other than your country of origin, then you will know how exciting the holiday season can be. That time of year, when most of us are preparing to visit our loved ones back home. 

Harare International Airport (now Robert Mugabe)

I come from Zimbabwe. As most of you know, it is the country in Africa that borders South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana and Zambia. It is also the home of one of the seven wonders of the world, Mosi-oa-tunya, commonly known as Victoria Falls. But that is not what my blog is about. I’m here to take you through what it is like for me to visit my home country.

It's beginning to look like Christmas.

As soon as I get off the plane in Harare, I fret about unreliable Wi-Fi, sometimes settle on being hot spotted by those in my company, usually my brother or his wife. Once that business is taken care of, I finally decide how I am going to spend my holiday. 

I can be organised, but I have since come to the realisation that planning my activities in advance when I go to Zimbabwe is a futile attempt. For example, every time I visit, I tell myself that I will not move from house to house greeting the neighbours, relatives, friends, their cats, and dogs, all of whom I will not have seen in many months, and that instead, I will let them come to me. I tell myself that I am the visitor, so I am going to act like one and that my only motivation for doing anything is to relax and indulge in every possible way.

Alas, I always seem to break my own promise. Because the moment I place my suitcases in the house, I am already knocking on doors. There is something about the African soil that just won’t let you sit still.

Back home, I do not need Facebook or Twitter to announce my arrival. All it takes is Jonasi down the road to notice me and the whole neighbourhood is buzzing with news of my arrival.

You had me at mango!

When I am in Zimbabwe, I delight in the little things. Things such as plucking out a ripe mango from a tree and eating it at my leisure, knowing that I can pick another and another, whenever I want.

I love the Zimbabwean markets, especially during December, the rainy season. Not only do I get to bask in the soothing sound of rain as it splatters on the roof when I am in my bed at night, but it is also the time I find my trips to the market the most rewarding. I love viewing the stalls with their bountiful stashes of available merchandise, from clay to brooms.

I love scouring these markets for the vegetables and fruit I cannot get from the garden and orchard in our backyard. I delight in the taste of wild fruits such as mazhanje, the flavour of which leaves a lasting taste in my mouth.

Me holding mazhanje (wild fruit)

The markets in my hometown, Chinhoyi, are always buzzing with excitement - from the man who uses comedy to lure customers to his stall to the chubby-looking woman who quietly flashes you a ‘come hither’ smile as you pace up and down, perusing through the merchandise. Then there is the aggressive vendor selling from the back of his truck parked outside the market, who yells to remind you he is not going to hang around forever.

Often, in my silence and stealth contemplation, I imagine the chubby woman wondering how she will feed the grandkids she’s left at home if she does not shift her goods. I imagine the animated man who paints the marketplace with his antics willing his ancestors to open doors for him for they know he is the sole breadwinner. As for the aggressive vendor, I see in my mind’s eye, the frown on his boss’s face as he reminds him how precarious his position in his enterprising business has become because he cannot sell everything. These people do what they need to do to survive.

I mean, come on, you’ve got to love Africa and her resilience.



For some, including myself, you cannot go home and not visit the grandparents in the rural areas, if only for a day. It is almost a ritual. You see, in Zimbabwe, you cannot live in the city/town and not have a rural home. Having a village to go to means you know your roots. It separates you from the foolish. That's just how it is.

I'm fortunate that my grandfather only lives half an hour from my hometown, so a day trip is entirely possible. When I go there, grandfather delights in showing me around. He treats me as if I am visiting for the first time. Together, we will explore the fields, the borehole, the cattle kraal and he will show me all the new buildings in the neighbourhood. We will even visit the graveyard.


For me, it is the colourful people the culture and the spirit of the extended family that makes me appreciate home. Back home is the place where people greet strangers in the street and stand on the sidewalk to discuss their children or the state of their garden. It is the place I get to appreciate the little things. Playing the role of a doting aunt, basking in the sunshine, and just being able to stand and stare, grateful to be alive. 


 
Going back to the town where I was born and raised always makes my heart sing with joy. I glow, and the experience ignites within me, a deep sense of longing. I often find myself longing for my childhood days. Days when my parents were still alive and saw to my daily needs. Days when life was as it should be. Beautiful. Uncomplicated. Fun. And predictable.

Even though I have been there a dozen times, each time I visit the Chinhoyi Caves, I always learn something new. There is always a different tour guide to take you through the monument, but what remains constant is the way their eyes glint with pride when they recount the legend of the Chirorodziva Caves. This is a story I have heard many times, but hearing it being told by a different person and with such passion and conviction, always installs in me, some degree of novelty to my understanding and feeling towards this tourist attraction.

Staring at the sleeping pool at Chinhoyi Caves.

So, whenever I go, I tour the two caves with a fresh pair of eyes knowing that my experience will be just as thrilling, inspiring and intriguing as those viewing the caves for the first time.

At home (UK), I am forever telling my daughter about our African culture. I wish to pass on and to instil in her the values of our tradition. The thought of her not knowing what I grew up knowing terrifies me. I want her to develop and to enshrine within her soul, the same pride that I have as an African. I want her to be inspired by the stories of my childhood.

During our trips, I have the pleasure and privilege to show her. I tell her how I spent my typical day as a child growing up in Zimbabwe. I recount, at times demonstrate, to her dismay, how fun it is to climb up a tree. I sat with her on the same veranda where I spent time playing with my home-made dolls and where I played ‘nhodo’ (jakes so I’m told) when the ground was too wet for me to sit. I make her taste the liberating experience and the freedom of walking barefoot, allowing nature to entertain you instead of relying on gadgets and social media.

With each visit, I discover that many things would have changed. People grow old and die, some mature and leave for greener pastures, infrastructure is built, some destroyed. What remains constant, however, is the way people still treasure the little pleasures in life. Pleasures such as sitting in the park and taking pictures. People still greet each other with a firm handshake and inquire about each other’s day. 

Back home, you quickly realise that life is but a mixture of sadness, wonderment, faith, hope and joy. But one thing we are guaranteed is that the sun will rise regardless of what season it is. 

                                      Playing a game of nhodo

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Dear Mystery Man,





I don't know how long you have been following my blog, but if you have, then you will know by now that I’ve been in love with love for as long as I can remember. 

You would have learnt that despite the unfortunate things that have happened to me, I remain optimistic, idealistic, almost to the point of being foolish. I suppose you could say, I have the faith of a mustard seed.

But for a while there I wasn’t sure you had read my blog entitled: To the Man Who Will Love Me. I wasn’t sure you had grasped what I had stated in my open letter to you. And for one horrible moment, I doubted you even existed. 

I was wrong. 

You are out there, perhaps wishing upon a star.

In case you're wondering what I am on about, well, let me break it down for you. A few days ago, the dandiest thing happened: I was at work when a colleague came to tell me there was a man outside, looking for me.

Was it a relative? A friend? A bearer of bad news, perhaps?

It turns out, it was just the delivery man. 

I must tell you, Mystery Man, that you fulfilled one of my fantasies. Thank you for the gorgeous flowers, for Mr Teddy who has since become my most treasured companion, the beautiful message on the card and the voucher which I will squander with little guilt.
   


Could this be the beginning of something amazing? 

Clearly, I am over the moon, but let us not get ahead of ourselves. 

I am not na├»ve, thanks to this thing called life. The path to true love, I've learnt, is never easy. I’ve tried and failed before. But I have learnt from my mistakes.


And this is what I've learnt:

Passion and emotions can swell our hearts for a time, but it is through some seasons in our lives that truly capture the very essence of the kind of love that our hearts long for so much. Seasons when nothing seems to be working. When nothing makes sense. Seasons when we find ourselves uttering the words, 'why won’t he/she hear me?' 'How will we ever get through this?'


So, what do you do when that happens? Do you give up and hope that one day you will once again stumble upon another opportunity at amazing love? Or do you stay and fight?

                
                                 

Sometimes people drift apart. At times, pride gets in the way. But love is a decision. A decision to stay. Life will test you, and there may come a time when you will need to fight for that love.

Speaking of fighting, here is what I believe one needs to win the battle:

Loyalty
-         Isn't it the essence of true love? Being on the same team, fighting for the same result? A good friend can weep with you in times of trouble, but if your tears keep falling, and the sun remains set, it is the one who stays with you to the bitter end that loves you the most.


Compassion
-         Understanding the other person and how our words and actions impact the other’s ability to love and understand us. When we aim for the same resolution, it is easy to stop each other with compassion and understanding when a line is about to be crossed.

Trust/Respect/Communication
-        earned and built through honest communication, resisting the urge to entertain the negative voice which says, ‘do not believe anything they say.’

-          Broaching whatever subject with patience, love, and understanding.
-          Lay your cards on the table. Holding back = willing your partner to fail.
-         Giving clues on how to fill that hole by being honest about your feelings and thoughts. The truth may hurt but being on the same teams makes it easier to ride the tide. 

Reassurance
-          Reassuring each other of our devotion, commitment and love. Things may be hard right now, but if we know love and appreciation is there, then we are assured of their commitment to try no matter what.

Change.
-          Willingness to make amends, doing whatever needs to be done to improve the relationship.
-         Recognising that change does not happen overnight, therefore, giving the other person space and time to process everything.
-         Rewarding positive change; showing gratitude and being genuine in our thank yous. And when we change, remaining consistent.

Forgiveness
-        Genuine forgiveness does not keep dragging up the past when new conflicts arise. It is not that we fight, but it is how we fight.


Love gives you the courage to lay bare your soul and be vulnerable.         

Love is not the loudest voice in the crowd of supporters? It is the voice that is still there after the crowd has gone home. 

You can be diseased, stripped naked by the burdens of life; but it is the one who remains by your side that loves you the most. For how can genuine love only be shown when times are good?

That, Mystery Man, is what I think.