Brian Mzana Mthimkhulu from Zimbabwe is a published writer, civil servant and human resources practitioner. He graduated with a Sociology BSc in 1980 at one of the University's predecessor institutions but has never forgotten his time here – so much so that his latest novel centres on a fictional London Met law graduate.
Can you tell us a bit about your London Met student hero in your latest novel? Is it autobiographical in any way?
The hero in the book is called Tusang Banda, and his girlfriend and later wife is Alice. Both were students at London Met. To coin a word, the novel is friendiographical, ie several of the main characters are based on my friends during the time I was at the Polytechnic of North London. I have kept myself updated on the developments at the University and hence the novel's initial setting is London Met.
We'd love to hear a little about your previous book, The Rock Strikes Back, and what inspired you to write it?
The Rock Strikes Back is an anthology of poems that highlights the plight of women and workers. As a social science student I internalised progressive views and this hopefully shows in some of the poems. The book was reviewed by my country's biggest daily paper – The Herald.
How did the collaboration with the illustrator come about?
Boyd Maliki is one of Southern Africa's most popular cartoonists. Before the book we did not personally know each other. I approached and asked that he illustrate the poems. After reading the poems, he agreed to illustrate for a nominal fee.
Was the book easy to publish?
The book is published in print and as an ebook. Publishing was not difficult. The hard part is in promoting the book. In Zimbabwe only text books enjoy good sales.
Why did you choose to study here?
At the time, thousands of Zimbabwean students were in the UK for political reasons. I wanted to do a degree in social work and the British Council advised that I went this college. At the college, I got out of the lift at the wrong floor and went to the Sociology department. The friendly receptionist welcomed me and since there was a possibility of later changing to social work, I thought I would give sociology a try. After a week I decided to stay.
Can you explain a little about your varied career?
I'm now retired and a full-time writer. I've been a labour officer at the Ministry of Labour, a human resources practitioner for various organisations and a writer (newspaper columnist, poet, short story writer and playwright). I also publish a blog – Our Evolving Culture.
How do you think your sociology degree equipped you for the many things you're doing today?
The degree has been most useful in my work as researcher and speech writer in the Ministry of Labour and as a newspaper columnist. The writing of 2,000-word essays and presenting at tutorials were excellent training for newspaper writing. I had to acquire a human resources certificate to be a practitioner. After a degree, the course was easy once you told yourself not to argue but to learn the various procedures within the HR functions.
What was most memorable about studying here?
Memorable moments include discussions/arguments at the Students' Union.