The road to Blantyre City's location of Sigerege is dusty and bumpy during the dry season and it gets muddy and rutted when rains fall.
But in sharp contrast to the wretched state of the road, just some short distance before hitting the location's trading centre, there is an imposing wall fence that stands guard to an equally imposing mansion within it.
This is the plush abode for one of Malawi's [and Africa's] literary titans where he currently enjoys his well-merited retirement after spending fruitful years as a spirited writer.
He is one Aubrey Kachingwe, famed for being the first Malawian writer to publish with the prestigious African Writers Series. The celebrated writer published a political novel, No Easy Task, in 1966 just four years after African Writers Series was launched.
African Writers Series remains, arguably, the most significant publisher of African Literature in English as it has for decades been a vehicle for some of the most important writers Africa has produced.
Under the editorship of Nigerian Chinua Achebe the series has unveiled the works of African literary greats Wole Soyinka, Ngugi Wa Thiong'o, Bessie Head, Ama Ata Aidoo, Buchi Emecheta, Cyprian Ekwensi and Dambuzo Marechera, among others.
And such is the class of writers that Kachingwe finds himself in.
Birth of writing career
Educated in Malawi and Tanzania, Kachingwe reveals that he became a writer after drawing inspiration from his uncle Charles Wesley Mlanga.
"He [Mlanga] was working as editor for The Times newspaper [now The Daily Times] and each time I read his stories I felt the urge to attempt writing as well," says Kachingwe.
But unlike most authors in the African Writes Series who went on to publish more than one book, No Easy Task is the only novel Kachingwe has written during his entire writing career. The writer declares that he considers himself more of a short story writer than a novelist, after having contributed many short stories to both local and international newspapers and magazines.
"Actually, it was because of short story writing that some white people advised me to write a book manuscript and submit it to the African Writers Series, which at that time was looking for materials to publish. This was after they [the whites] had been impressed with a short story I published in one of the international magazines," explains Kachingwe.
He also recalls that he once survived on earnings realised from writing the time The East African Standard newspaper of Kenya commissioned him to write a lengthy short story that the paper serialized in its editions for weeks on end.
"It was a fast way of making money. That explains why I never had the ambition to publish my short stories in book form – I preferred submitting them to newspapers and magazines because that way I made money quickly," he says with a grin.
Apart from creative writing Kachingwe at some point ventured into journalism. He says this was out of the desire to pursue his uncle's career hence after spending some years in Malawi and Tanzania he trekked to London where he did some college studies and practiced journalism.
"I was highly ambitious in those days. For your information, from London I came back to Malawi and worked as a correspondent for the internationally acclaimed Reuters News Agency," boasts the writer.
Past and present
There are still very few Malawian writers who have published their works with African Writers Series let alone other international publishers. Notable writers that instantly spring into a literary enthusiast's mind are Jack Mapanje, Legson Kayira, Steve Chimombo, Frank Chipasula, Walije Gondwe, Dede Kamkondo and David Rubadiri.
Kachingwe says there is a plausible explanation why many writers belonging to his generation never published internationally, citing the then political environment prevailing in the country.
"I know writers who would have loved to publish with international publishers but there was a general atmosphere of fear since even an innocent story could be interpreted otherwise and unexpectedly land one in trouble. But I cannot tell why the current generation of writers has not been aggressive in taking their works to international level. As an arts journalist find out and come back to share with me your findings," he says teasingly.
He goes on to say that he does not compare literary works from the past to those written these days, arguing that doing so would be unfair because of the changes that have occurred mainly in Malawi's socio-political set-up.
"I still enjoy reading short stories. Sometimes I come across a good story such that I get compelled to read it twice. A fine creative writer should address issues that appeal to readers – write about issues on the ground which people are familiar with; choose a setting that they know and, finally, choose your words carefully," Kachingwe advises, adding it is such type of writing that propelled him to international glory.
No Easy Task
Ironically, Kachingwe confesses he does not remember the story in his novel. Born in 1926, the literary giant is now old and frail such that it is, surely, not an easy task for him to call to mind what he wrote decades ago but what he says he cannot forget is that "the story is political in a subtle way".
Another surprise is that currently the author does not have even a single copy of the novel and he discloses that each time he acquires one it immediately gets stolen.
But information sourced from the African Writers Series website has it that the novel is set in an imaginary British colony in Central Africa, giving a picture of life and political feelings during the years of Federation. They were years of tension, hysteria and bitterness.
"The story has a pastoral freshness, an engaging puritanism both in language and treatment of incident. The writer is certainly not out of sympathy with African nationalism and his acceptance of its values sometimes seems dangerously simplified. It is a story that never has the ring or flavour of propaganda. The impression created is one of gentleness and calm, and while riot, arrest, ill-treatment of prisoners, violent death and suicide all occur, they do not disturb the muted, unsensational tone," the review of the novel on the website reads in part.
The review further points out that like the hero of his novel, Kachingwe is himself a journalist by training and this had, in a way, impact on the book's style of writing since "journalism is often associated with sensationalism, affected use of language and overwriting".
When asked whether the Malawian or the African audience should expect fresh literary works from Kachingwe, the writer is very blunt in saying that he no longer has the passion to write.
"I lost the zeal to write sometime back. You need to have the enthusiasm and inspiration to write and I no longer possess these elements today," he says.
What keeps him busy these days, says Kachingwe, is farming and laundry business. He rears cattle, pigs and birds within the confines of his massive Sigerege compound and a farm in Zomba while his Rapid Steam Laundry has branches in Blantyre and Zomba.
"Let me advise the youth to invest some of their time in writing. I may not have made too much money from the career but the fame coupled with the fact that my novel is a prescribed text in some colleges around the world gives me immense satisfaction," thus Kachingwe signs off.