Monday 28 May 2018

#Bootleg Beatles- Yeah! Yeah!

How Did That Happen?

My Monday theme is likely to be taken over occasionally by personal blog posts rather than posts to do with writing. That is the case today because I want to take the opportunity to describe an event  attended last weekend.

Saturday 26th May 2018, I went to a very special concert in Glasgow (Scotland) which was held at the Kelvingrove Park Bandstand Arena. Kelvingrove Park is a well-established one that started life as the West End Park in 1852. Its bandstand was a well-used and popular venue during the summer months for more than a century, but it eventually fell into disrepair and was subject to vandalism around the mid 1990s. 

However, when Glasgow became host to the Commonwealth Games in 2014, it got a new lease of life. A large injection of cash (around £2 million) restored the area to a beautiful venue for outside concerts. An open-air amphitheatre isn’t weatherproof, but I’m glad to say that the weather behaved beautifully last Saturday.  

It was an extra special time for me since I was meeting up with old school friends of mine – two of whom I first met when I was only seven years old and went to the same Broadholm Primary School, and another two whom I met at 12 years old at Waverley Secondary School.

Along with a few other girls, we screamed ourselves hoarse at a live Beatles concert in the Odeon Theatre, Glasgow, on December 3rd 1965. That was the one and only time I ever saw the Beatles but when my friend, who still lives in Glasgow, realised that a Beatles ‘lookalike’ band were playing at the Kelvingrove Bandstand we jumped at the chance to see them. 

They are the Bootleg Beatles and they were fantastic or in the parlance of the 1960s – they were FAB!

Their music sounded very much like the original Beatles. The one playing Paul looked a bit like paul but definitely sounded like Paul. George and John were dead-ringers for the early Beatles. Ringo was too far off to see properly though he definitely had a look of him. When they changed wigs and clothes for the Sgt, Peppers era, John was so amazingly alike.

All told, the venue was very well-organised and the concert brilliant! I’d recommend The Bootleg Beatles anytime. The audience, comprising all ages, had a wonderful time.

We loved it Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!


Friday 25 May 2018

#Aye. Ken it wis like this...with Dan Morales

Series image - Dunkeld Cathedral 
My Friday series continues...
where guest authors are invited to share a post with us about the historical background to their writing. Today, I'm delighted to welcome a new author guest, Dan Morales, whom I've met on the Historical Novel Society page on Facebook. Tim's here to share his very-recently published debut novel with us, which reminds me very much of my primary teaching days when I had to teach WW2 to my classes of 11-12 year olds. I always enjoyed teaching all historical eras, but WW2 had so many aspects that could be focused on. Though, I have to say that the premise for Dan's novel never occurred to me, back then! 

In addition to a very intriguing post about the background, Dan's sent along some great scene-setting illustrations. Welcome to my blog, Dan - please tell us what historical circumstances surround your novel . 

Nancy, thank you so kindly for having me.

My debut novel, The Scouts of St. Michael: OPERATION ARCHANGEL was inspired by a comment made by the late great Capt. Eric Brown of Royal Air Force fame. Through some extraordinary events, as a young man Capt. Brown, an ex-boy scout, spent an extended period of time as a guest of the Hitler Youth on a visit to pre-World War II Germany (war was declared while he was visiting and he was escorted to the border with his automobile and instructed to leave the country). 

The ‘Eureka’ bulb flashed in my head. “Boy Scouts vs. Hitler Youth!” I had never read a story that pitted the two like-but-very-different foes against each other and it sounded like a story others might be interested in reading. I figured if the tale was ever going to be told, I was going to have to tell it. But the spark of an idea and tag-line does not a story make and that’s all I had, so I started the writing process by reverse engineering my story.  What does that mean?

Being a Yankee, my mind immediately imagined my story with American Boy Scouts as the protagonists. But historically speaking, the United States didn’t enter World War II until 1942 and the fighting took place thousands of miles away. Those two facts meant that trying to create a plausible piece of historical fiction would present a huge challenge. 

In my case, the basic premise of my story dictated when and where the setting had to be.

My solution was to make my boy scouts English. Problem solved. The timing could now be correct; the setting would be England, summer 1940, when the Germans were already in France and parked on the doorstep and threatening England with Operation Sea Lion and invasion (which as we all know, thanks to brave actions of the RAF Few, was scrapped). 

Once I decided on time and general place the real work of research began. I literally pulled up an online map and started looking for a small village located in southern England, between London and the coast, all within the sight and reach of Nazi air raids and bombers.

St. Laurence Church in Hawkhurst, inspiration for 
St. Michael’s Church and Boy’s Home. 
Image - courtsesy of Dan Morales
I was drawn to the village of Hawkhurst in Kent simply because it had an interesting-sounding name.  As it turned out, I picked a good one.  From Wikipedia: “Hawkhurst has over 1,000 years of recorded history. The oldest known settlement was the Saxon manor of Congehurst, which was burnt by the Danes in 893 AD. There is still a lane of this name to the east of the village.”

As I came to learn Hawkhurst has a sorted past, being home to a group of thieves, highwaymen and smugglers back in the 18th century. They were known far and wide as “The Hawkhurst Gang,” which I was able to incorporate into my story, as my main characters are six orphans from the fictitious St. Michael’s Home for Boys, which is also based on an actual location in the village of Hawkhurst. The Church of St. Laurence served well as an ideal setting for the home and its cast of characters.

Covert workshop at Trevor Square, 
Knightsbridge, South Kensington 
– used by the SOE as Camouflage, 
Photographic and Make-Up Section, 
Station XVa.
-image courtesy of Dan Morales
I won’t sugar coat the process. At times it felt very daunting to be writing about a place I knew little about, had never visited and could only see on the internet in its current state, not as it stood back in 1940. I often asked myself, “What do you think you’re doing?  You live in Chicago. You can’t possibly pull this off.”

Oh but for the help of a very patient and very kind publisher, who just happened to have grown up in the village of Worthing on the southern tip of England. Saints be praised! He suggested I hire an English editor, which I did. He also suggested books I should read, movies I should watch and gave me innumerable tips on what I had gotten right and wrong. I had gotten less wrong than right but with an open mind and years of experience in advertising (where rule No. 1 is don’t fall in love with your work), I took the feedback and direction constructively and set out working to make it as right as I could. 

“Stately ‘ome” Arisaig House, Arisaig, Invernessshire
 used as STS 21: Commando-style Training School
-image courtesy of Dan Morales
As for other locations, in the course of the story the boys are approached by the powers that be to become part of a special team of undercover agents (for the newly formed Special Operations Executive) which then moves them all around England and Scotland to covert training schools, which were like day camp for adults. All of these locations were/are actual places, many in grand country houses (famously referred to as the “Stately ‘omes”) used by the SOE in 1940 and were easy to find listed in great detail on Wikipedia.

Would I do it again? Of course, actually I’m doing it now. Book II in the St. Michael series is set in occupied France and Nazi Germany, but I’m approaching the writing of this part of the story differently.
Much like in the movie business, this time round I’m “scouting” locations for the major story events.  The research/writing process has been underway for several months now and I’m learning more about France and Germany than I ever thought I would, but that’s awesome. Each bit is another possible storyline to investigate.

(Mont St. Michel in Francejust one of the many interesting 
places I hope to take readers in Book II of the Scouts of St. Michael series - Image courtesy of Dan Morales) 

For me writing has always been as much a learning process as it has a creative one. And there’s nothing more inspiring than diving headfirst into extensive research when trying to create an engaging and realistic world for my characters to inhabit and my readers to get lost in.

Buy link

Find more information here:
about the novel
about Dan Morales 

All images are in the public domain and/or permissions to use are available.

Thank you very much for sharing your debut novel's background with us today, Dan. I wish you the very best for all of your writing projects, current and future.


Tuesday 22 May 2018

Fear of Fear at C.J. Suttons' blog

Happy Tuesday to you!

It's been a hectic day already. I managed a little bit of writing this morning, and spent the rest of the day with my grandkids doing lovely things like baking a lovely sponge cake, and playing around and about at everything and nothing.

I've also been busy in the virtual sense since I'm over visiting C.J. Sutton's blog today. His theme was an interesting one- 'Writing Fears' and you can find my post HERE.  Topaz Eyes features since it fits that theme fairly well!

There are some excellent posts on his theme that you can check out as well.


Monday 21 May 2018

#Monday Matters- #How Did That Happen? #historical sites

#Monday Matters...

where my theme is to interpret "How Did That Happen?" I'm using the slot today to explain how 'names' happen to be chosen for my novels. 

Writing a novel can involve some very interesting decisions over the use of names. My Celtic Fervour Series includes many different types of names – names of characters, names of places, names of rivers, names of tools and implements, even names of units in the Ancient Roman Army.

I’ve always found great pleasure in finding a name that really suits what I want to describe, yet I’m also always careful, and incredibly cautious, about choosing names that are as accurate as can be. In The Beltane Choice, Book 1 of the series I wanted a credible location to site the clan members who would be the main characters of the novels. I looked at Ordinance Survey maps and chose sites which had been marked as of historical significance, sites which had been identified as having Celtic hillforts.
copyright Nancy Jardine for Book 1 The Beltane choice 

Since I decided to start my series in the area where the Ancient Roman Army began to infiltrate and subdue the ‘barbarian’ north, the land settled on by the Brigantes Federation of tribes was the sensible choice as a start-point. Archaeological evidence seems to indicate that the Romans had some major confrontations with the Brigantes around the time of Queen Cartimandua’s demise/ disappearance, these engagements backed up by a small amount of historical record – around AD 69. During the previous couple of decades (approximately AD 50-69)  Queen Cartimandua’s dealings with Rome seems to have kept her territories relatively stable, but her rift with her husband King Venutius changed the political stability of the region. The year of the Four Emperors in Rome, AD 68/69, meant military volatility throughout the Roman Empire but that was also happening in Brigantia since Venutius’ troops were in revolt, a civil war against the forces of Cartimandua.

copyright Nancy Jardine for Book 2 After Whorl: Bran Reborn
It’s thought that a site named Stanwick in present day Yorkshire was the main hillfort of Queen Cartimandua or of her ex-husband Venutius after she divorced him. Which ruler used it didn’t matter for my purposes, since I chose not to use Cartimandua or Venutius as my main characters, though I knew they would be mentioned in the novel. My clan was going to be fictitious so I chose a location further north in Brigantia, a place marked on the OS map that had the remains of a Celtic hillfort nearby. My clan then were named Garrigill after their Garrigill hillfort.

The battle, which is mentioned at the end of Book 1, I named as the battlegrounds of Whorl. This is purely fictitious but I chose Whorlton on the OS map for a particular reason. There’s no historical or archaeological evidence for this being a Roman/ Iron Age tribal battle site but the Celts tended to choose a location that had a low foothill flanking a flat plain, where the infantry would be terraced on the foothills with a good flat valley floor for the chariots to ride back and forth. The hill of Whorlton seemed a perfect location for me, convenient because Stanwick isn’t too far off and the area in between a good mustering site for the forces of King Venutius and for the Roman Legions led by General Petilius Cerialis to march to.

Other locations in my series have also been chosen with great care, because I love the research involved and like to know they really work for me!


Friday 18 May 2018

#Aye. Ken it wis like this...with Tim Hodkinson

My Friday series continues...

where guest authors are invited to share a post with us about the historical background to their writing. Today, I'm delighted to welcome Tim Hodkinson whom I've met on the Historical Novel Society page on Facebook. Tim's here to share a new novel with us which has the dark undertones of an early Victorian society who did things a bit differently from I'd expect to happen now. In addition to an excellent post, he's also sent along some gruesome illustrations! 

Welcome to my blog, Tim. Please share your setting with us...

Tim Hodkinson
My name is Tim Hodkinson, I am a Northern Irish writer and Nancy has kindly offered me a slot on her excellent blog this week to talk about the historical background to my latest novel. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the title, “The Undead of Belfast” is set in what is now the capital of Northern Ireland, but in 1839 during the early years of the reign of Queen Victoria. The book is (hopefully) a chilling tale that sprang from my love of classic Gothic fiction.

Belfast has become famous for many things over the years, from building the Titanic to being a battleground for the Irish Troubles, however the elements that form the basis of my novel may come as a surprise to some.

My book is set at a very exciting time for Belfast. The early nineteenth Century saw it grow from a small village to an industrial giant. Alongside that growth came wealth and a surge in learning, the arts and progressive politics that gained the town a nickname it shared with Edinburgh, “The Athens of the North”. A college, a museum, a society for the promotion of learning and a botanical garden all arose at this time.

However it was, as my book puts it, a town that was “blossoming but already beginning to rot”. Population movements had already brought the first sectarian riots to Belfast’s streets. Outbreaks of violence led to famous political cartoons that portrayed “The Irish Frankenstein” - a violent monster created by radical political thought. More recently, The "Frankenstein Chronicles", a TV Series starring Sean Bean, were partly filmed Northern Ireland. However something a lot of folk, even from Belfast, seem unaware of, is that the town has a more fundamental link to Mary Shelley’s original novel “Frankenstein”, first published in 1815. 
Courtesy of Tim Hodkinson

In Chapter 20 of Shelley’s book, Victor Frankenstein ends up washed up in Ireland - somewhere on the north coast - either Antrim or Donegal. He is wrongly accused of murder and ends up being transported "about one Hundred miles south in the County Town" to stand trial. This could only be Belfast, and this is the central premise for my book: Someone in Belfast begins resurrecting the dead using the secrets discovered by Victor Frankenstein. When the undead turn murderous, Captain Joseph Sheridan, a consulting detective from Dublin who specialises in investigating the supernatural, travels north to probe the mystery. In Belfast, he joins forces with a Belfast policeman, Abraham Harpur, and Emily Brunty, a school mistress hiding her secret desire to be a journalist, to investigate the mystery.
Courtesy of Tim Hodkinson

Joseph Sheridan was named after one of my favourite gothic writers, Joseph Sheridan LeFanu. Emily Brunty’s name is a nod to another gothic writer with surprising Northern Irish connections. The father of Emily Brontë, the genius author of “Wuthering Heights”, came from a small village about thirty miles from Belfast called Rathfriland. His name was actually the more Irish sounding Patrick Brunty. When he won a scholarship to Cambridge University, Patrick changed his name to the rather more elegant sounding Brontë, and it was this name he passed down to his illustrious daughters. Anne Brontë came to her father’s home on honeymoon. We can only wonder what she made of Rathfriland. My Emily escapes her limited life as a school mistress in a small country school there to try to break into the male dominated world of Belfast Newspapers.
Courtesy of Tim Hodkinson

Any self-respecting mad doctor bent on resurrecting the dead needs a supply of bodies. Also like in Edinburgh, early Nineteenth Century Belfast also saw a flourishing trade in body snatching. Corpses were stolen from local graveyards and shipped in Whiskey barrels to the Anatomy Schools in Edinburgh and Dublin. When we first meet Constable Harpur in my book he is enduring a freezing night in Belfast’s New Burying Ground cemetery on watch for the “Resurrection Men”, as the body snatchers were known here. 

It was two ex-patriots from Ulster who became perhaps the most notorious merchants involved in this gruesome trade. William Burke from Urney in County Tyrone and William Hare from Poyntzpass, near Rathfriland, settled in Edinburgh and got themselves into the body snatching business.
Courtesy of Tim Hodkinson
However digging up fresh corpses in dark cold graveyards was hard work, and Burke and Hare realised it would be easier to create their own fresh corpses, moving from body snatching to murder. 

When their scheme was discovered the resulting scandal moved Parliament to action and the Anatomy Bill was passed in 1832. This meant that the bodies of the destitute who died in the Poor House could now be used for dissection and there were always plenty of them. Overnight, the market for illicitly obtained corpses dried up and the body snatchers were driven out of business.

Burke and Hare -Wikimedia Commons

As for Burke and Hare, proving that there is no honour among thieves, Hare was the first person to "turn King's evidence" in a British Court of Law. In return for immunity from persecution, Hare testified against his colleague and Burke was found guilty. Burke was hanged in January 1829. Ironically, his body was then dissected and his preserved skeleton is still on display in the Edinburgh Medical School. Hare was officially last seen heading for the English border. A report in the Belfast Newsletter some years later, however, relates how he turned up in a pub in Poyntzpass. A local recognised him and he was run out of town by a stone throwing mob. A man like Hare had the sort of skills that would be useful to the man who is the villain of my book.

So that is my novel, The Undead of Belfast. It is set in a town you will probably have heard of but at a time when there was a lot going on that might surprise you about the place. I would love to think it’s a scary read, but really it’s a bit of fun. As one reviewer on Amazon describes it, “a classic ripping yarn”.

Ireland, 1839. Belfast is a city that is blossoming but already beginning to rot. Amid its crowded streets, linen mills and factories body snatchers are on the loose and a homicidal maniac is on a killing spree. Witnesses claim that the murderer is an executed criminal who should be dead and buried.

Captain Joseph Sheridan is a consulting detective from Dublin who specialises in investigating the supernatural. Bereaved by the death of his beloved wife, his work has been a ten year forlorn quest for evidence that there is any life beyond death. Sheridan travels north to probe the mystery. In Belfast he joins forces with a Belfast policeman, Abraham Harpur and Emily Brunty, a school mistress hiding her secret desire to be a journalist. Together, they seek the truth behind who is resurrecting the murderous dead. 
Buy in paperback from Amazon 
Buy in ebook format from Amazon 
Read more about the novel on Facebook  

A bit about Tim:
Tim Hodkinson was born in 1971 in Northern Ireland. He studied Medieval English and Old Norse Literature at University with a subsidiary in Medieval European History. He has been writing all his life and has a strong interest in the historical, the mystical and the mysterious. After several happy years living in New Castle, New Hampshire, USA, he and his wife Trudy and three lovely daughters have returned to a village in Ireland called Moira.

You can find lots more about Ulster history and my other books on Tim's BLOG  and Tim's  Amazon author page

Thank you for visiting today, Tim. I knew a little of Burke and Hare's exploits in Edinburgh, and knew there was an Irish connection, but I didn't know those interesting 'Frankenstein' details that you've given in the above post. Your novel might be a bit too scary for a 'feartie' like me - but it's sure to have a firm following! My very best wishes with all of your writing projects.

Monday 14 May 2018

#Monday Matters- How Did That Happen? with Joan Livingston

#Monday Matters...

is back again where authors are invited to interpret my "How Did That Happen?" title in any way they choose.

Today, I'm welcoming back a Crooked Cat Books author friend - Joan Livingston - who has a fabulous post to share with us. Her topic is essentially 'her mother', and it can't be all that often that an author actually includes her/his mother in their latest novel. 

I'll hand over to Joan and let her explain How did That Happen! 

My Mother is a Character

Algerina Medeiros
In real life, my mother, Algerina Medeiros is a smart and spunky 94-year-old woman. She’s also the inspiration for Isabel Long’s mother in my new mystery, Chasing the Case, and being a big reader, she gave her approval. Yes, my mother is indeed a character in my book.

Both Isabel and her mother, Maria Ferreira are widows. Maria, who is 92, came to live with her in the town of Conwell in Western Massachusetts because both were tired of living alone. Also, Isabel has the most room of her siblings.

Maria likes to stay up late reading and watching TV. Being Portuguese, she makes family favorites like kale soup. And when Isabel takes on her first case, her mother not only gives her wholehearted support, she helps out.

I like Maria. She’s got a quick sense of humor. Isabel says she inherited her nosy gene, which came in handy when she was a journalist. Now, it will help her as a P.I.

Isabel’s first case involves disappearance of a woman 28 years earlier in Conwell, which only has a thousand people. She has the time, given she lost her job as the managing editor of the newspaper where she worked for thirty years. And, she has a Watson in her mother.

Here is a brief excerpt. Isabel is burying a dead pet cat in the backyard.

I dig the shovel’s point into the earth. I chose a spot in the backyard away from my vegetable garden. Damn, it’s cold for late October. The ground isn’t frozen yet, thank goodness, or I’d have a problem today. I’m in a sweatshirt and wearing gloves. I swear I see snowflakes when I glance up from my digging.

I hear a tap at the kitchen window. My mother’s face is in the glass. Ma came to live with me this summer. Her name is Maria Ferreira. She didn’t want to be on her own, and I’m her kid with the most room, lots of room, actually. She’s been a widow a few years. Having your ninety-two-year-old mother move in could be a pain, but not my ninety-two-year-old mother. She hasn’t lost her edge. She stays up past midnight, later than me, watching TV and doing puzzles. I got her interested in some of the stuff in our dinky town, plus there are the kids and granddaughter.

Ma still drives. She’s got a heavy foot like she’s behind the wheel of the getaway car in a bank robbery.

The other day I told her, “Ma, you’re moving a little bit fast.”

She joked, “No, it’s the car.”

I laughed.

I let her drive me around, so she doesn’t forget. That will change this winter. My commute to the newsroom was at times an adventure, snow, and the worst, ice. Sometimes I had to find a place to sleep in the city. The road crews do their best, but the weather can be unpredictable and fast.

Ma checks my progress. I asked her not to come outside because it’s so cold. I give her a wave and keep digging.

My mother read Chasing the Case, plus my other books. Actually, I credit her for my love of reading — she took us to the library at least once a week. She says she loved the book, but she did have a question. How about writing a historical romance next? Oh, my mother.

Joan Livingston
Joan Livingston is the author of novels for adult and young readers. Chasing the Case, published by Crooked Cat Books, is her first mystery and the first in a series featuring Isabel Long, a longtime journalist who becomes an amateur P.I.
An award-winning journalist, she started as a reporter covering the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts. She was an editor, columnist, and most recently the managing editor of The Taos News, which won numerous state and national awards during her tenure.
After eleven years in Northern New Mexico, she returned to rural Western Massachusetts, which is the setting of much of her adult fiction, including Chasing the Case and its sequels.

Twitter: @joanlivingston


Chasing the Case

How does a woman disappear in a town of a thousand people? That's a 28-year-old mystery Isabel Long wants to solve.
Isabel has the time given she just lost her husband and her job as the managing editor of a newspaper. (Yes, it's been a bad year.) And she's got a Watson — her 92-year-old mystery-loving mother who lives with her.
To help her case, Isabel takes a job at the local watering hole, so she can get up close and personal with those connected to the mystery.
As a journalist, Isabel never lost a story she chased. Now, as an amateur P.I., she's not about to lose this case.
Chasing the Case officially launches May 18.

Here’s the link to order Chasing the Case in paperback, or the Kindle version:

Your mother sounds like a very interesting person to know, Joan, and the book a very entertaining read that I'll look forward to. 

It was my father who took me to the library as a kid. At that time, my mother always said she had no time, or energy to read at night. She also had the excuse that when she was growing up her own mother frowned upon my mum, or my aunts, (the female siblings) spending time reading, though it wasn't a problem to my grandfather who was a well-educated shipyard worker on the Clyde, in Glasgow. Of course, my grandmother had no issue with my uncles if they picked up a newspaper, or a book! 

By the time I was in my late teens, my mum was visiting the library and taking out a couple of books each week. She liked historical sagas and romances but to me, she was a very slow reader. I could read about five books in the time it took mum to read one novel, though the time taken was immaterial. By then, she loved being immersed in a book.

Thanks for sharing your mum with us today, Joan. Best wishes with your newest book launch that's coming up very soon (18th May 2018)! 


Afternoon Tea? Why not!

Saturday was such a fine day!

St. Giles
There was nothing particularly usual about it, since I was up around 5.30 a.m. to get organised for a long bus/coach journey to Edinburgh. Breakfast over, showered and dressed, I was ready to leave the house at 6.45 a.m. to catch the local bus into Aberdeen. I had about a 15 minutes turn-around before boarding the next coach to Edinburgh- just long enough to buy a bottle of water and visit the Ladies (Yes, there is a toilet on the coach but I'm not a lover of using it).

Fiona, Me, and Ann
I love going down to Edinburgh but I don't drive down - the coach is so much more relaxing and there's no problem about finding an extortionate parking space. The downside is that it takes me around 4 and a half hours by 2 buses (each way), whereas driving down might be around 3 hours. Taking the train is possible, but I'd still have a journey into Aberdeen to pick up the train. The train isn't cheap, so that would be added expense, and since it only costs me £1 to book a seat on the bus - I go by bus!

My thanks to the #Scottish Government for arranging my 'Free' bus transport around Scotland- I can't thank you enough for this pleasure. I don't use my free bus pass all that often, but I really appreciate having its occasional use.

A short walk from the bus station in Edinburgh and I was at the venue for my Afternoon Tea meet-up with the ladies of the Romantic Novelists Association Scottish Chapter and what a fine afternoon it

The best thing wasn't the very beautifully presented food but it was being in the physical company of other like minded authors who are usually only virtual names. It was excellent to be a part of such a short but very important event on the RNA Scottish calendar.
Writers Museum 

I also had a little time to walk around the busy Edinburgh streets before our meeting. The Royal Mile being near our venue -The Scotsman Hotel. Sadly, it was too short to be involved in any of the numerous Tourist Trap tours. Once again I got to 'The Writers Museum', but had no time to browse around inside. That can be for another visit and another day!


Friday 11 May 2018

#Aye. Ken it wis like this...with Jane Bwye

My Friday series continues...

where guest authors are invited to share a post with us about the historical background to their writing.

Today, I'm delighted to welcome back Jane Bwye who has been a very good author friend for more than five years, since we have the same publisher in Crooked Cat Books.  

Jane Bwye
Though my series image is of a snowy Dunkeld Cathedral, Jane is about to transport us to a different part of the world, one where she uses her personal experience of living there to write her excellent novels. Ditch the fleecy jackets for now, because Jane is about to transport us to a lovely sunny place. 

Welcome again Jane, and please tell us about the historical background to your novels...

Thank you, Nancy, for asking me back to talk about a subject dear to my heart – the historical background to my first novel, Breath of Africa.
I lived in the East African country of Kenya for over half a century, and readers suspect the book is an autobiography. They are right to a certain extent, but I’ve let my imagination run riot in many places. That’s the joy of writing fiction.
The book covers a thirty-year period between 1952 and 1982. At the start of each of its four sections I have included a summary of political history, and there is a Glossary at the end, which provides translations as well as extra snippets of information, which would have spoiled the flow of the novel.
The story starts with two girls breaking out of school during a curfew at the time of the Mau Mau emergency. This triggers a drama of psychological terror fuelled by an oath administrator, Mwangi.
Courtesy of Jane Bwye

Ten years of tribal, racial and politic turbulence became the catalyst for Kenya’s swift transition to Independence. Nobody was ready for it.
There was a major exodus of settler farmers in the run up to Independence in 1963. The large Indian middle class huddled together in trepidation, feeling vulnerable to takeovers of their thriving businesses. The Africans rejoiced, but they quickly learned that governing their diverse citizens was more difficult than they could ever have imagined.
And there was the dim world of those of mixed race. Nobody wanted to acknowledge these unfortunate products of secret liaisons. They were shunned by Africans, Caucasians and Indians alike - swept under the carpet.
My book addresses this problem, weaving a love story which links the main characters: the daughter of a white settler, Caroline; the son of an African farm guard, Charles Ondiek, who defies prejudice and graduates from Oxford University; and Teresa, the result of a coupling between a “poor white” and an Indian coolie who had worked on building the railway.
Kenya’s railway had marked the beginning of colonialization in Kenya. The British believed they would have a head start in the scramble for Africa if they built a link between the coast and Lake Victoria, the source of the Nile. And it forms a backbone of the country to this day.
Menengai  Crater- Courtesy of Jane Bwye
Caroline takes her son on the night train from Nairobi to the coast. There is a romance about the gentle rocking motion as the wheels clack along the track and the occasional haunting whistle sounds in the night. In the dining car they eat from crockery marked EAR&H (East African Railways & Harbours), using silver service cutlery and they wipe their mouths with starched damask table napkins. When the train pulls into a station at dead of night, she hears the guard shout and sees him exchange the token key – a long stick with a basketlike top, much like a lacrosse racquet.
There is another side to Kenya’s history. The country has been mainly Christian since the missionaries first explored the interior in the 19th century.

My characters are Christians, but superstition clashes with their faith when they are targeted with Mwangi’s curses. And Charles’s family are especially torn, as they are the spiritual custodians of a secret ancestral cave in the desert, and Kenya is known as the cradle of mankind…

Jane - experiencing the desert
… which brings me to what many people have identified as the main character of Breath of Africa: it’s amazing scenery and ancient extinct volcanos; and its expansive deserts, which comprise two-thirds of the country.

I hope you will enjoy reading the book:

And its sequel, which brings the story of Kenya up to the present day:

Jane’s website:

A bit about Jane:
Jane has been an intermittent freelance journalist, a businesswoman and mentor for most of her life. She has written three novels, a cookbook, a 50-year history of her local church, and coming out this summer is a beginner’s guide to starting your own business, called “Going It Alone”. Her children and grandkids are scattered over three continents, so she developed a taste for travel, and in 2001 “walked” round the world, buying a bird book in every country she visited. Now “retired” in the UK, she gives talks, and indulges her love for playing bridge, judging dressage, and watching tennis.

Thank you for contributing to my series, today, Jane. It's alway a pleasure to read your wonderful novels, and I wish you the very best with all of your future writing related projects. 

Till the next 'Aye. Ken it wis like this' post, have a great week.