The Best Chapatis I have Ever Tasted

It is Tuesday 27th February, 2018.

Joseph picks me up in his taxi at 8am for the four and a half hour drive to Kajuki. Good roads all the way. It is very built up and scarcely recognisable through and beyond Makuyu, where I used to play tennis matches in days gone by. Even the vast acres of rice in Mwea are part hidden behind rows of roadside buildings. It is mid-morning. Mt. Kenya shows briefly stark on the skyline, but is too distant for a photo. We stop at Barclays Bank in Embu as I want to cash some money to pay Joseph for the journey. The ATM machine will not accept my card, so I wander into the bank for help, braving curious eyes. I approach a large lady sitting lethargically behind a desk.

“Have you tried using a credit card?” she mumbles, as if I should have known better. Obediently I go back to the machine on the outside wall. She’s right. I pay Joseph, and we continue our journey. The road is punctuated by frequent bumps and rumble strips, forcing the traffic to go at a reasonable pace. The further north we go, the more boda bodas flash past.

We turn onto a newly tarmacked road, which peters out the final few kilometres before Kajuki village. The deviations are dusty and extremely rough. I learn that the contract is due to finish next month but there is no sign of any construction activity.

Kenya18 Veronica

A lovely greeting at the priest’s house from Veronica the project leader, beautifully dressed in blue. We wait in a soft breeze on the veranda and the cook serves us a simple lunch of vegetable stew, rice and the best chapatis I have ever tasted.

I do a quick tour of the project goats, pigs and cows, then Veronica takes me to the adjacent school. It is half-term, and nobody is there. “We have nearly 400 pupils, she tells me, both day and boarding.

David Baldwin’s charity, St. Peter’s Lifeline, has built four schools in the area, and the people clearly love him dearly. Forty children to a classroom, which are very basic and sometimes crumbling with use. The new school meals project is drawing in the children from far and wide.

Kenya ecolodge

Kajuki Eco Lodge Reception

I retire to the Kajuki Eco Lodge for an afternoon siesta and I am welcomed with a soft drink, and lovely cold towels to soothe my brow. The attendant leads me to my room, turns on the fan and goes. The double bed is inviting, and I am pleased to note the mosquito net and coils but see no matches to light them for the night. Loud music blares from the public rooms all afternoon, but I am too tired to get up and ask them to turn down the volume. After a while I have a refreshing shower under inaccurate spray from an erratic head. The toilet lid is broken, and the window latches don’t hold. But there is a plentiful supply of very necessary drinking water.

I wander into the public rooms by the back way, through the empty kitchen. Loud speakers are still blaring over the deserted gardens.

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That evening I say goodnight to Veronica, who leaves for home – over an hour’s drive away on a rough track in the direction of Mt. Kenya. She offers to bring me freshly picked avocados and mangos from her trees in the morning. I spot some golden weavers, hadada ibis, wheatears, and I think I hear an oriole. Fires burn on the far hills. It is probably charcoal burners, I am told; dangerous in this severe drought.

Father Frankline hosts me, his assistant priest and my driver Joseph at another very tasty African meal at the presbytery. It is my first experience of matoke, green bananas which when cooked taste like mashed potatoes. Father Francine encourages me do most of the talking, and I learn that he is the third of nine children, only one of whom is a girl. He went to seminary for nine years in Langata.

I sleep reasonably at the Eco Lodge on the spacious bed under the net but have to leave the bathroom light on as there are no bedside lights. Nor is there a waste basket in the room…

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I’m On Line!

Jane Bwye and Ray Dadswell All About Eastbourne 23rd May 2018

Eastbourne On Line podcast pic

http://eastbourne.online/jane-bwye-and-ray-dadswell-all-about-eastbourne-23rd-may-2018

For best results, you need to turn off the music at the top right of the screen, before starting the podcast.
There is a bit of local chitchat for the first 3 minutes…

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Setting Makes the Gem

Today, Lela Markham shares a valuable message about settings for a book. A very warm welcome to my long-standing friend from Authonomy days; we are privileged to have you with us, Lela – over to you.

*** 

Some years ago, I had the opportunity to interview a jeweller. As part of the interview, he showed me some of the gems he was working on. I was unimpressed. Sitting there on his work table, they were dull and uninspiring. He was apparently used to that reaction because he then showed me what makes gems sparkle. He put uninspiring jewel upon jewel on a black velvet cloth and suddenly, they sparkled.

“Setting is everything,” he explained.

I am a character-driven writer. They appear to me when I least expect them and they want to tell me their stories, which is what makes the plot. Given that beginning, I focus my writing on relationships and how characters interact and react to one another. Setting is an afterthought … and yet, it is everything.

It’s the writing equivalent of the black velvet cloth or the jeweller’s setting. It is what makes characters sparkle.

None of us live in a void space. We’re all surrounded by the world we live in. I live in Alaska, where the grandeur of the setting definitely can overwhelm the character, but it also shapes the character. People here cannot help interacting with the environment and even large personalities learn you must adapt to it.

When writing, I try always to remember that my characters can’t live in a void space any more than I can. They need a backdrop to sparkle against. Far more than simply a geographic location or an era that makes a nice backdrop for the characters to work out the plot in front of, setting creates a mood and atmosphere that directs the plot and challenges the characters.

For a gem, it’s all about how the jeweller cuts the stone. Similarly, it’s the little details that provide the sparkle by teasing the senses. What would a newcomer or even a resident see, hear, taste, smell or feel if they arrived in your story’s world that moment? Ever notice what people smell like when they haven’t seen a shower for a few days? The sky is blue, except when it isn’t and then it may be all sorts of colours during sunset, sunrise, as a storm is gathering or a tornado is about to hit. What does wind sound like as it sighs through palm trees? Different from how it sounds when it sighs through pines. If there’s an ocean to the east and a desert to the west, the wind from each will feel different on your skin. Small details are pennies that pay big dividends.

While the grand backdrop grounds the characters in reality and provides the reader with something to hang their imagination on, small details evoke the senses and bring the reader into the story.  Whether you start out with a setting that fulfils these requirements or add them later as I do, they are essential to good storytelling and make all the difference in how your story engages the reader.

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Lela Markham is the pen name of an Alaskan novelist who was raised in a home built of books. Alaska is a grand adventure like none other with a culture that embraces summer adventure and winter artistic pursuits.

A multi-genre writer, Lela has published tales of fantasy, alternate history, apocalyptic and political satire, but she’s also got works in progress for literary fiction, new adult, YA, mystery and, her nemesis, romance.

Lela shares her life with her adventuresome husband, two fearless offspring and an extremely-happy yellow Lab.

LMarkham

 Amazon

Aurorawatcherak Blog

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lelamarkham@gmail.com

 

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Not Much Has Changed

My Kenya Diary. March 2018

We drove in a steady stream of traffic over the top escarpment road to Lake Naivasha. I noticed an alarming number of clearings in the forest, which allowed me to admire the stupendous view over the Rift Valley, but it is a sad time for the environment. We heard on the news that commercial logging was going to be stopped, but I wonder how effective it will be, and who will plant more saplings in the future?

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The road was in excellent shape. We popped in to say jambo to an old friend, then carried on to the Yacht Club, where school cadets were having a weekend of sailing. We took the ferry boat to get on the island and I noticed some people examining the causeway, which had started to emerge as the waters of the lake receded. The Committee was planning to repair it so that members could drive their cars onto the island. With hindsight, this was a futile exercise as now – two months later – the whole country is suffering from unprecedented rains and the lake has risen again.

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We watched a dozen optimists and lasers milling about in shifty winds on the lake. The Commodore greeted us, and I recognised friends from my sailing days. Not much had changed on the island, but the vegetation was parched and brown. Dozens of boats lay under dusty canvas. A professional company from the coast was organising the youth training sessions, which are popular among the schools.

 NYC1Although the heat of the day beat relentlessly down, I went on my favourite walk round the island, my binoculars dangling from my neck. There were hardly any birds to be seen, and I retreated to the clubhouse for a glass of water. A sudden gust of wind caused havoc among the boats. Several capsized, to the consternation of the parents watching, helpless, from the shore, and the instructors brought them in for an early end to the afternoon. We left them to it, and checked in at Carnelley’s camp, further round the lake.

Here the grass was green, with pleasant clearings round the bandas, kept moist by plenteous watering. Itnyc4 was an oasis after the heat and dust of the road. Our banda was quaint. We enjoyed the solar-heated showers; and reclined on a padded seat on our veranda behind the campsite, which overlooked the lake through the fever trees. 

nyc6We drove to west side of the lake for supper at the Ranch House Bistro on the terraced lawn overlooking the “little lake”. My beef stroganoff was delicious. In the field below us Impala, warthog, guinea fowl, and vervet monkeys mingled. As evening fell, a small family of zebra passed through.

Near the main house a TV faced outwards, and several people were avidly watching England lose to a more adventurous and sparky Scotland in the six-nations rugby cup. We joined them, huddling over a warm brazier in the evening chill. On the drive back to Carnelley’s in the dark a timid duiker crept along the embankment, and a young giraffe browsed at the roadside.

Naivasha

In the morning we watched the sun rise through the fever trees.

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A woman sat cross-legged on a blanket doing yoga to greet the day. Egrets picked at insects along the shore; I spotted hadada and sacred ibis, yellow weavers, a black drongo, and several superbly coloured starlings. Egyptian geese flew in, parakeets chattered high up in the trees and fish eagles called with their evocative cry.

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A couple of early fishermen dangled their lines from the jetty. In the water close by, two hippos betrayed themselves, showing their rugged faces over the ripples from time to time.

We made our way through the camping ground for the breakfast part of our deal. A large bowl brim-full with beautiful crunchy muesli, the nuts easily broken apart by my ancient teeth; honey, and banana slices with yoghurt; delicious and very filling. I could not finish it. Back at the banda I had a second hot solar shower and changed into my togs ready for business – another talk – at the Gilgil Club.

We idled away the time with a mediocre cup of coffee at La Belle Inn. However, the veranda tables under bright red cloths were decorated with sprays of roses, and the smartly uniformed waitress was proudly efficient.

We missed the first turn to Gilgil, so had to negotiate the chaotic, dusty, crowded town centre before finally arriving at the Club. Nobody was there.  A phone call revealed that not many people would come for lunch, as an important cricket match was on at the nearby polo ground.

A lady wandered over from a nearby house, and I introduced myself. “Oh, are you here for the talk?” she asked. “I thought it took place earlier this morning.”

“No problem,” I said, prepared for anything – or nothing. This was Africa, after all…

 

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The Most Fabulous of Cities

I am delighted to welcome fellow Crooked Cat author, Carol Maginn back to my blog with her new book, Daniel Taylor, an intriguing thriller set in Rome. And there is another exciting thriller gestating in the background, too. I don’t know how she finds the time in her busy life as a solicitor and teacher. Over to you, Carol!

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Hello Jane, and thank you so much for inviting me onto your blog.

Rome statue

Daniel Taylor is set in Rome, which is, of course, the most fabulous of cities. I was lucky enough to live there for a while, and the novel evolved over my months of travelling on the Metro and weaving my way through the crowded city centre. It was a great setting for a thriller, I felt.

Rome past

There are two Daniel Taylors in my story – one an expert in finding lost objects, who of course knows Rome well, and the other a burnt-out advice worker who has arrived in the city for a two-week break. The first, a poised visitor, has all the knowledge and skills I’d have liked to have: fluency in Italian, a detailed knowledge of the layout of the city, and casual competence. The second is much more like me – frequently baffled, often lost in the language, and stunned by the beauty of Rome.

Their identities become mistaken, and their fates become increasingly intertwined. This too seemed right for Rome, where the magnificence of the past and the busy, complicated present co-exist as if history has somehow telescoped.

coffeestone books

Setting will also be vital in my third novel, The Case of the Adelphi. This, I think, first germinated a long time ago, while I was employed in the record office of my home city, Liverpool, and worked with the library’s nineteenth century records. These are fascinating. Liverpool in the 1840s and 1850s was growing at the same dizzying, chaotic pace as New York, with vast fortunes being amassed, and the poor of the city living in often desperate conditions. The Adelphi was the leading city hotel, and its manager, James Radley, could count figures such as Nathaniel Hawthorne and Charles Dickens as friends. It’s still a landmark today, although my nineteenth century version of it was demolished in 1914, and rebuilt as a beautiful, Art Deco-influenced building.

The Case of the Adelphi is a tale set in the hotel’s nineteenth century heyday. It plays with the period’s fascination with the supernatural, and hopefully expresses both the belief and scepticism of the time.

Liverpool has a past as vivid and colourful as that of London, but, unlike London, not all its stories have been told….yet.

scottsvalleyphoto

Carol’s Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Carol-Maginn/e/B00H4I0TTI/

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Don’t Leave Kenya – Let Your Parents go Back to Europe and the US!

Every time I go to Kenya I make a point of touching base at Hillcrest Secondary School. It played an important part in the life of our family for over twenty-five years.

On the first day of my recent holiday, I found myself there again. It was a sad occasion as Glyn Duffield, a teacher for over thirty years, had died of a heart attack on his way to school. His memorial – true to African tradition – was late in starting. Two hours followed, of reminiscing by friends, students, and fellow teachers; many poignant tributes to a much-loved and brilliant maths teacher. It was a secular affair, as Glyn was an unbeliever. But it became more prayerful as the occasion progressed. I hadn’t realised that Glyn had such a musical influence on the students, and they did him credit with the quality of their emotional performances.

A fortnight later, in response to an invitation to attend the opening of Hillcrest Sixth-Form block, I arrive again at the main entrance.

Conceived about thirty years ago and now all-but finished, the block stands proud, overlooking the left side of the playing fields. I am the first to arrive. A somewhat distracted lady oversees the tying of tapes across two banners. Something has gone wrong.

Hcrest commonroomI wander towards the building, peering into the dining hall laid out with rows of seats facing a rostrum. I climb the stairs to the second floor, smelling new paint. The common room is pleasantly decorated and furnished. The study room equally well designed for groups or singles. Classrooms await action. The students will start using all facilities next week, I am told by a passing teacher.

HcrestBy the time I complete my solitary tour, others are being shown round. I pause to take a photo of people arriving under the banners below me, then descend the stairs to claim a welcome soft drink. There are no chairs. I go to sit down in the hall, but some students wander in, and I am politely directed back outside.

“We’ll bring you some chairs.” But none are forthcoming. About thirty or forty people now stand around in the dappled shade, holding glasses, or cups of tea.

There is a flurry of activity, and Dr. Richard Leakey arrives. He is escorted without preamble into the hall, and the doors are closed. We wait while he addresses the sixth-form scholars. Tasty bitings appear with appetising dips, and I lean heavily on a high circular table. There isn’t even a wall nearby to sit on.

Hcrest Leakey tapeAt last the doors open and Leakey reappears. A remarkable man, able to walk by himself on prosthetic legs on level ground; his face heavily marked with skin cancer. After a few words from the new Headmaster, Leakey marches to the tapes armed with a pair of scissors and with his back to us, quickly cuts through them. A smattering of applause, then we are herded into the hall with the students and treated to a half-hour lecture by this international celebrity. He hasn’t lost an iota of the charisma I remember from my days with the Kenya Museum Society nearly forty years ago. His theme is twofold.

Pre-history. Africa, and Kenya in particular, has been proven as the origin of the human race. The first men were black, not white.

Leakey doesn’t want to go into religion, but is quite clear that man evolved from apes, admitting that some faiths have now acknowledged evolution. He talks about that fine line between an animal and a thinking human being who can make a tool to cut animal skin and flesh, so he can eat. But animals can also think and feel emotion.

Leakey doesn’t believe in God, or that man is “made in God’s image.” That has always been his stand. But he seems to have softened somewhat. He talks about that fine line being the ability to use “imagination”, to think and plan ahead, which leads him neatly into his second point.

The environment. Preserving the elephant; the conflict between man and animals: which should we put first?

Ourselves – man – undoubtedly.

We have created ever diminishing areas for the environment and wildlife. Elephant and rhino poaching has decreased to minimal figures over the past three years. But there is nowhere to go for the animals. They cannot roam free as they used to; they are confined to “islands”; and – as is the case with all islands –  the road to extinction is rushing ahead. There is nothing we can do about it. We have to accept it.

Like global warming, he says. It is happening. It cannot be controlled. It is too big.

BUT – Leakey turns to the students. “It is up to YOU – the younger generation – to use your imaginations. Think of ways hitherto undiscovered, to cope with the big changes which are looming ahead.”

Leakey and his generation are too old now. The human race has reached the pinnacle and is now on the descent to extinction – maybe in tens of thousands of years’ time. But in the meantime we have to learn to cope with the changes around us. The way is already being explored. Genetically modified foods, DNA and genomics, immunology. Diseases are now evolving and immunising themselves against known vaccines and remedies. There is much work to do. Students are now at the cutting edge. Africa, and in particular Kenya, lies at the forefront.

“Don’t leave Kenya,” Leakey tells the students. “Let your parents go back to Europe and the US. You stay here and be at the forefront!”

In answer to a question on what he considers his greatest achievement, Leakey points to the future.

His new “cathedral” will be a museum in the Lake Turkana desert, designed to celebrate human evolution. Daniel Libeskind, the architect who rebuilt the World Trade Centre, started  working on it last year.  Leakey wants a completely new look, an interactive monument to evolution. Construction is expected to start in 2019, and I thought I heard him say the estimated cost was over eighty million pounds.

Coming from a Christian base, I am also optimistic about Africa, and the opportunity its people have to surge forwards. The theme is followed in my novel Grass Shoots. Have you read it yet?

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Creating Credible Scenes

It’s a great privilege to host long-time friend Nancy Jardine once again. She is an eminent historian and novelist, and her dedication to detail leaves me utterly in awe. No wonder her books are so rich and satisfying. And she has produced some atmospheric photographs to give us an idea of the scenery where her characters lived in days gone by. Over to you, Nancy.

Hello Jane. Thank you so much for inviting me today. It’s always lovely to make a return visit.

Research generally plays a large part in the preparation for a historical novel. Depending on the era chosen, that can be a fairly simple process of going to prime sources, text books or academic papers to locate the information that can be used to create a credible setting.

In my case, since my historical fiction series is set almost 2000 years ago in northern Roman Britain, prime sources for this are non-existent. Some copies of ancient works I have to use with caution, because they are likely to be translations, and have possibly been subject to miscopying and/ or scribal misconceptions. There are plenty of non-fiction books I can read that give me useful general information on Roman Britain, but they are based on interpretations of what the era might have been like, and few of these books mention the barbarian areas of north-eastern Scotland. My task, when writing my fiction is to amalgamate lots of those interpretations and use them in conjunction with the archaeological record for the areas involved. But sometimes I need even more than that.

My imagination has to work hard, but not so hard it becomes historical fantasy. To date, readers and reviewers of my Celtic Fervour Series have enjoyed that I’ve striven to create credible scenes, and that’s my future aim, as well.

The organic nature of my research is very exciting, because there’s always some new theory or interpretation formed from the latest archaeological investigations using fancy new techniques which, sometimes, supplant interpretations of the previous decades.

While writing Book 4 of my Celtic Fervour Series, Agricola’s Bane, I’ve had to use additional sources of information to those already mentioned above to give me a better feel for what my setting was like. My characters in Book 4 inhabit their lifestyle much as in Books 1, 2 and 3. Their clothing, and the other daily trappings in their houses, is similar but the physical landscape they live in has become much more important because the countryside is deeply related to the plot of Book 4.

The action in Book 4 moves further north into new parts of north-east Britannia (current northern Aberdeenshire, Banffshire and Moray). While writing about the setting, there have been some niggling aspects of geography for me to solve before I’ve been happy with my story development. The physical landscape of the few higher hills around the area hasn’t changed appreciably in shape and elevation from 2000 years ago, since there have been no major earthquakes, or anything that would make noticeable differences. What has changed is the vegetation across the region, so whether describing the higher areas, or the valley floors, I can’t assume they looked as they do today.

bog

2000 years ago much more of the land was covered in blanket bog which encroached right down to lower levels. Since the 1700s, mechanisation improved farming techniques, gradually at first, and then the pace picked up during the twentieth century. Lots of that original blanket bog stretching from the surrounding hills down towards valley floors was successfully drained, and is now well maintained, so what I can see now are the fertile fields of Aberdeenshire and Moray – though to be fair, the Laigh of Moray (flatlands) had the best fertile fields of 2000 years ago, but they were not as extensive as they are now.

How do I know this? I’ve used information from the Forestry Commission; Woodland Trusts; History of Farming in Aberdeenshire; and soil sampling research from archaeological excavations.

The sea coast of Aberdeenshire and the Moray Firth have also changed, a little, over those 2000 years, mainly due to coastal erosion. What I can visit today, is not necessarily what was there 2000 years ago, when General Gnaeus Agricola marched his Roman legions up and down the area.

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Dunnicaer is at the centre top of this image

In some coastal bays, like those near Stonehaven, what are now sea-stacks of rock standing proudly separate were once joined to the land as promontories, or perhaps by a land bridge of some sort. The rugged-sided stack named Dunnicaer, a short distance from the iconic Dunnottar Castle, has been of great interest to me during the last few years.

Dr, Gordon Noble and his teams from the Department of Archaeology at Aberdeen University have been scaling up the stack with support from a trained mountaineer, to excavate what remains of the top surface. Their findings have been impressive and prove fort habitation back to the Pictish era AD 400-600. Someone of high status appears to have lived there in a small wooden hall surrounded by stone fortifications. (The Pictish word for fort is ‘dun’) It’s unlikely they climbed up and down every day like the archaeological team, so some fairly major form of erosion has occurred to separate the area from the bay cliffs. The natural erosion has left the team with only a small part of the fort to excavate, since the seaward side has already tumbled down into the sea.

Duart Castle

If Dunnicaer was inhabited around the fifth century AD, then I like to wonder if it was also occupied during my era of AD 84. The concept of ‘kingship’ seems to have been absent during the time of the Roman invasion of the area, but that doesn’t rule out the possibility there was a roundhouse village there because it is an incredibly commanding position whether for defensive purposes, or purely for the view afforded from it. However, if I did include habitation there in my novel, I would probably be straying into the fantasy of authorial licence.

 A recent hypothesis is that the fort on Dunnicaer was possibly abandoned sometime around the 6th century AD and the ‘kingship’ site moved to the promontory where Dunnottar Castle stands today. Dunnottar is likely to have been the site of a siege (Duin Foither in AD 681 – Annals of &Ulster). The ruins in the photo are of a later medieval castle, but I think the photo shows how natural erosion can separate land to become a sea-stack.

nancy

You can find Nancy at these places:

Blog: http://nancyjardine.blogspot.co.uk  Website: www.nancyjardineauthor.com/  

Facebook: http://on.fb.me/XeQdkG & http://on.fb.me/1Kaeh5G

email: nan_jar@btinternet.com  Twitter https://twitter.com/nansjar

Amazon Author page http://viewauthor.at/mybooksandnewspagehere

Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5139590.Nancy_Jardine

 

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