'amabooks: In Conversation with Jane Morris
"Zimbabwean literature brings into play the voices and actions of the human experience that has made Zimbabwe what it is and what it can become."
TM: Tendai Machingaidze
JM: Jane Morris
TM: Tell us about yourself - Where you are from; Where you studied; Where you’ve worked.
JM: I'm from the South Wales Valleys, an area that once flourished from the coal and steel industries that no longer exist. My secondary schooling was at Hafod-Y Ddôl, a school that taught Latin, Russian, German and French, but no Welsh. I went on to study American literature in England at the University of Sussex and University College, London before undertaking social work training at the University of Leicester and, finally, I thought I would give Scottish education a try through a course on social work education at Strathclyde University.
After social work and social work education positions in the United Kingdom, I moved to Zimbabwe in 1994, with jobs as lecturer, proofreader, agony aunt and social worker and trainer.
TM: Tell us about ‘amabooks. What inspired you to start it? What kind of titles/genres do you publish? What other services do you offer?
'amaBooks is a very small independent press that began publishing in 2002. We could just as easily have been called Accidental Books as we fell into publishing by accident. As a social work trainer I was involved in training volunteers at the inception of Childline in Bulawayo. The organisation was seeking ways to raise funds and the writer John Eppel donated a collection of his poems, which we published as John Eppel Selected Poems 1965 - 1995. The anthology sold very well and all the proceeds went to help in the setting up of Childline. Following on from this success, my husband and myself, John Eppel and two other friends set up 'amaBooks and began by publishing two of John's novellas. 'amaBooks is now run by myself and Brian.
In the early days we published a few non-fiction titles but now focus upon novels and short stories. It is often hard to slot titles into genres - Tendai Huchu's The Maestro,The Magistrate & The Mathematician could be categorised as a spy novel and Bryony Rheam's All Come to Dust a crime novel. Basically we don't favour a particular genre and welcome submissions of good Zimbabwean creative writing.
We will occasionally do editing and proofreading on a commercial basis.
TM: What challenges did you face opening a publishing company in Zimbabwe? What successes have you had over the years?
When we started amaBooks we knew very little about publishing and what was entailed in producing a book. We were very fortunate to be guided in our first publication by a very helpful, patient printer who took us through the process step by step, and by meeting writers who were keen to be published and understanding of the delays and problems that so often occur in the publishing process.
We lived twenty five kilometres outside Bulawayo and, like many independent presses the world over, our office was a room in our home. Communication became a problem with no cell phone coverage and the landline down for weeks at a time. During the rainy season the electricity was off for days and sometimes weeks. The Zimbabwean economy had already started its decline affecting sales and outlets selling books became fewer and fewer. But the challenges have been far outweighed by the joy in seeing a book come to life. At the outset we decided that we wanted to provide an opportunity for new writers to get published and we were able to achieve this by providing a platform in the Short Writings series, using the pieces of new writers alongside those from more established writers.
TM: Why is local publishing of Zimbabwean voices so important to you?
Growing up and going to school in Wales I had little knowledge of Welsh literature. As I grew into my teens I began to realise that there were Welsh voices other than Dylan Thomas and a whole world of Welsh literature to discover. Things have, thankfully, moved on since then and there are initiatives to support Welsh literature and I wish for the same in Zimbabwe. I regretted not having read Welsh literature as I think that reading voices from your own country helps you to find your place in the world, so I believe that Zimbabweans should have access to Zimbabwean writing as well as that from around the world. Zimbabwean literature brings into play the voices and actions of the human experience that has made Zimbabwe what it is and what it can become.
TM: What advice would you give to aspiring Zimbabwean authors seeking to get their work published in Zimbabwe and abroad?
I think the advice given by most publishers is similar - read, read, read. Read as much and as widely as you can. By reading avidly you will be in a better position to gauge your own writing. To help you develop writing skills, join a writers group and seek feedback. Look for opportunities such as writing competitions - for example, the Intwasa Arts Festival holds an annual short story competition. With online magazines there are more outlets that accept stories and poems.
Do research before submitting a manuscript to a publisher - establish which publishers bring out the sort of book you've written and follow their submission guidelines. Don't submit slipshod work - check spelling, grammar etc.
If you want to self-publish, get the work edited and proofread.
Don't get disheartened.
Find out more about 'amabooks at: http://www.amabooksbyo.com/