Book launches in Zimbabwe

Martin Goodman - 11th February 2006

So a new novel's out, at last. Slippery When Wet has been through many drafts in the last fifteen years. The final one came at Easter 2005, when Transita in Oxford welcomed it to their new list. I was surprised at the extent of the reworking - trimming 5,000 words from the manuscript and adding 15,000, much of the boost coming in the section set in Thailand but I worked on evoking Bangladesh more powerfully too. Since my journeys in Peru researching for I Was Carlos Castaneda and the resultant near-death experiences I've been somewhat wary of travel. However I'm just back from a thoroughly grand trip to Zimbabwe. I was invited over there by the British Council to run a sequence of creative writing workshops in Harare and Bulawayo and extended the trip by a week, reaching Matobo National Park for a wondrous three days in the bush, and meeting with a number of the country's top writers to prepare a news article. My trip coincided with the launch of the new novel. Where better to promote a January release than in gardens in the north of Harare, giving a reading to 80 guests already wined and dined in splendour? In commercial terms, of course, such a launch is a no-hoper - Zimbabwe is perilously short of foreign currency as well as paper. It did, however, let me simply present the book without the added need of the hard-sell.

Book launches are odd things. One of my first wake-up calls to the difference that is America saw me at a book launch in the sheek city of Carmel, back in 1994. Rianne Eisler proclaimed her new book to be the best written since the Bible - and in fact, being written by a woman, could be argued to beat even the Bible to the best-ever title. Book launches in Britain are often far more demure, authors somewhat more shy of bombast. In Zimbabwe they seem to go to the other extr. The Book Cafe in Harare hosted a private party to herald the arrival of Fay Chung's Re-Living The Second Chimurenga. Fay Ching took to the podium, alongside Professor Kamba in the chair and a comrade from that war of independence, Wilfred Manda. Mr Manda began the evening - with a most generous and astonishing attack, point by point, on the veracity and tone of the book. Memoirs of the war are rare. One can see why. Members of the audience chose to make speeches of their own rather than pose questions. Fay was plucky when her own turn came, but how tough it was for her. Wartime heroes are tough-skinned I suppose. As a writer I'm ready to be more vulnerable. Review me as you wish, but on my launch let me have praise and wine. I'm waving something dear off into the world.

the Australian Nobel winnner Patrick White used to tell young writers they should avoid all self-promotional activities. He expected the young writers to ginore the advice, but was sure such a circus served no purpose whatsoever. Faced with the prospect of doing the rounds of the local bookstores checking if they would stock the new book (they have been kind and obliging) I let some of my true feelings about promotion come out in a poem. Here it is:

On Launching a New Novel

My book is filled with skies.

Characters flash moods around its landscape,

prompted by wounds

stored in their guts

so deep and moist

They never heal

I write words

that aim for silence,

where the reader pauses,


to become those wounds and skies

I donít want to sell my book,

to stand at readings and

look for laughs, sympathy

and sales.

Take it quietly and read it quietly.

If you like it

stay quiet about it.

If you donít like it

be as noisy as you like.

This book wasnít meant for you.

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