Tefuga – BBC Interview and Review

There are very few recordings of Peter talking about his books publicly available.  The BBC obituary programme, Last Word, included a couple of very short bursts of Peter talking about his writing but there is little else.  So we were delighted to find that the BBC World Service’s Meridian programme has a 1986 recording available to listeners via BBCiPlayer, which includes both an interview with Peter and a review of the just published Tefuga.

In Tefuga, Peter returns to Africa (this time to Nigeria) in a story both set in the present day (1986) and in the past (1923). Described as an “amusing and elegantly structured tour de force...” by the New York Times, it is easy to see that the background and themes draw upon both his own childhood in Southern Africa and his parents’ experiences as newly weds there in the 1920s.

The Guardian review said: “he writes as though there were witchdoctors present at his christening.”  No witchdoctors but he was born in Livingstone in what was then Northern Zambia (now Zambia) and loved to tell stories of his early childhood there: of swimming in the crocodile-infested river; of his pet mongoose; of running around wearing nothing but a large pith helmet.  His brother, Hugh, spoke about this clearly idyllic childhood at Peter’s memorial.

Richard and Peter (at the back): Livingstone 1932

Sadly, Peter’s father died in 1935 and the family had to leave Africa and return to England.  Peter was only 8 years old at the time. He never returned to Africa but explored his feelings and ideas about power, politics and relationships in various African settings many times in his writing.

Listening to Peter’s voice in the BBC interview as he talks about Tefuga brings him back very vividly.  This was from a time when he was at the height of his writing, much honoured and celebrated in the UK and internationally for both his adult novels and his children’s literature.

Philippa Dickinson