An Interview with Bryony Rheams, author of This September Sun

We continue today with our interviews with new authors, which began about two weeks ago. Today we interview the fifth author in the series, Bryony Rheams, author of This September Sun. Bryony Rheams was able to make some time to answer some questions for ImageNations. Soon after its release, This September Sun has won an award for first book in Zimbabwe. 

Can you tell us something about yourself (place of birth, school and anything in between)
I was born in Kadoma, Zimbabwe in 1974. We moved around a bit in my early years before finally moving to a mine just outside Bulawayo when I was about eight. I went to school in Bulawayo, completing my A levels in 1992. I then went to the UK on a gap year and also spent another year working in Zimbabwe before going back to the UK to go to university.

Which writers or people have influenced your writing?
Doris Lessing and Virginia Woolf

How would you describe your style of writing?
People tell me my writing is very easy to read, conversational in tone. I like using first person narrator who builds up a relationship with the reader.

How difficult was it for you to become publish?
AmaBooks were familiar with my work, so they were keen to read This September Sun when I told them about it. However, finding a publisher outside of Zimbabwe has proved quite difficult. I think that publishers have quite set ideas about what they want from Africa in terms of storylines.

How did you feel when you saw your name on the cover of the book?
It was very exciting. I felt a huge sense of accomplishment.

Tell us something about your book, This September Sun.
It's basically the story of the relationship between a young girl, Ellie, and her grandmother, Evelyn. Evelyn is not your conventional grandmother: she separates from her husband and finds herself a job, a flat and a boyfriend. Ellie finds herself as the go-between her grandmother and the rest of the family, who all feel she has done the wrong thing. Ellie eventually grows up and goes to live in the UK, where she studies literature. She longed to leave Zimbabwe, but now finds the UK cold and lonely. She returns to Zimbabwe on hearing that her grandmother has been murdered and is assigned the task of going through her things. On discovering Evelyn's letters and diaries, she discovers another side to her grandmother and unlocks some long-concealed family secrets.

What particularly motivated you to write this novel?
I started off with the first line which came to me after a conversation with friends in which someone said that the British flag was burned at Brady Barracks in Bulawayo at Independence in 1980. Then I wrote the first chapter and thought, what now? It all came from there.

What do you intend to achieve with your writing?
At the moment, my motivation is almost purely financial. I want to have enough money to stay at home and spend time with my young daughter and write without pressure of a job. I don't have any particular message, but I do feel that I had something inside of me that needed to be expressed and now I've done that I think my next book might be quite different.

Has being published changed your life?
Not dramatically, but it's very nice when people tell me that they've really enjoyed reading the book.

Who are your target audience when you write?
I don't think of anyone in particular and I know that a wide variety of people have enjoyed my book. It seems to have an equal appeal to those who also grew up in Bulawayo around the same time, but is not limited to them.

What do you intend to add to the Zimbabwean Literary-Scape, which I see to be growing day by day?
I'd like to think that I've opened a different perspective onto white Zimbabwean life and also shown that subject matter need not be limited to poverty, AIDS, suffering and the like.

What is it that makes Zimbabwean writers stand out? For instance, Irene Sabatini won the 2010 Orange Prize for New Writers with The Boy Next Door.
I haven't actually read Irene Sabatini's book so I can't comment on that score. I think partly there is a longer history of writing in Zimbabwe than in other countries, Zambia, for instance, and so Zimbabwean writing has had time to develop. I also think there has been greater interest in Zimbabwe over the past ten or so years because of the political and economic situation there. Times of crises traditionally spawn good writing as well.

Your book has just won the Zimbabwean Book Publishers Award for 2010. What does this mean to you? And does it put some pressure on you regarding your next novel?
I was pleased to win the award as it means my writing is valued, especially in my own country. Yes, I do feel the extra pressure to get on with writing another novel.

What do you do apart from writing?
Mainly look after my two daughters. That doesn't leave me much free time! I love reading, though, and enjoy taking the opportunity to curl up with a good book. 

Where could we get copies of your work, outside Zimbabwe?
At the moment in the UK, it is available through Books of Zimbabwe. It is on sale in certain bookshops in South Africa and Zambia.

Any work in progress?
Yes, I have started my second novel and also have lots of ideas for a third.


  1. I'm happy that this author is candid. When asked about what she intends to achieve with her writing, she simply says: '... is almost purely financial.' Here she is winning her first award. I like this interview.

  2. Thanks Geoffrey... I liked her candidness...

  3. I really liked her comment about publishers having their own ideas of what they want. That kind of relates back to what you said about Uwem Akpan's collection of stories, and my feelings on that book. The books that get picked up and get big here in North America are often the negative ones. I love the every day stories that show it's not all AIDS and death and poverty!

  4. Yes Amy, so in effect they determine what we should be writing. Which is bad. Stories should be from all angles and perspectives. After all, who determines the quality of a story?

  5. Exactly Nana! I especially don't understand the people who think that a country like my own (Canada), for example, can produce stories on any subject under the sun but then only want or expect a small number of topics from another country!

  6. The same happened to Chimamanda when looking for a publisher for her novel 'Purple Hibiscus'. It has happened to many others. However, if you portray the poverty, the abjectness of a dire situation, the paucity of food and abundance of food, you are picked up and published. and you are right, that's why I made that point concerning Uwem's book. At least after travelling to all those villages he could have gotten one story about people who don't live in skyscrapers or mansions but are satisfied with their living. The work I do takes me to typical villages and I have seen a lot of very satisfied villagers, who are not drawn by the quest of money with its dangling complicated appendages.

    Thanks Amy.


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