It is Contemporary Fiction Week at Crooked Cat Books Facebook Page – and I’m in the company of two awesome authors. We’ll be sharing titbits, and here’s one of mine…
Not The Whole Truth
People have often asked me how much of my own life is portrayed in BREATH OF AFRICA. I say that the story is fiction, but the book draws on my experiences. However, that’s not the whole truth.
My life started naturally enough. I grew up in the Rift Valley and went to school in the Kenya Highlands, then on to Nairobi.
I loved horses. While at boarding school I would just live for my Saturday riding lessons at the nearby racecourse. My best friend and I were a bit hare-brained; we used to break out of school at night at the height of the Mau Mau emergency.
Here is a piece from the first chapter of my book, which has a whisper of truth about it. I’ve embellished it rather, but that’s the beauty of writing fiction.
“Powerful muscles moved beneath her, thrusting her from side to side. She abandoned the rope and leaned along Domino’s neck, clinging onto the coarse hairs of his long flowing mane … She closed her thighs, urging Domino on and called to him. An ear flicked back in acknowledgement and his gallop quickened. The whole world was rocking, swaying, thundering, but she drew ahead and the winning post flashed by.”
Things went a bit wonky after I left school. My brain was the cause of high hopes. My parents suggested I should try for Oxford, but there was a particular nun in Nairobi who told me I was crazy to sit for the Oxford entrance exam AND do my Higher School Certificate at the same time.
“You’ll fail both.” She declared one day in a rage when I gave her some mediocre history prep.
Well – that did it. I just showed her. I got into Oxford – and basked in the glory of achievement. I loved the University life. But the vacs were long, and the English way of life very alien.
Charles is my African character, and these are his first impressions of London:
“It was afternoon. It must be afternoon. The sun was thirty degrees from the horizon and yet his watch said ten o’clock. It was going to take time to get used to this strange phenomenon. That orb, weakly glowing through the smog, seemed to remain stationary all day.
Wet glistening streets slid past … Monotonous brick buildings crept by, covered with grimy filth. Did people really live there? He stared at the terraced houses lining the street. No earth, no trees; just a front door and the pavement.”
I was sooo home-sick. You can read glimpses of my emotions through the character of Charles. My father refused to let me come home for the three-week Christmas vac, just to touch base.
“You must stick it out, Jane,” he said.
I’d left behind the son of a neighbouring farmer – I’d met him before going up to Oxford, and – well … you know –
When I was finally allowed to come home at the end of my first year, the strain was too great, and I made the decision not to return to Oxford. What heartbreak – what drama and outrage! Eventually my parents swallowed their humiliation and gave us a lovely garden wedding. But I’m afraid the happily ever after bit did not last.
Twenty-two months later, my husband died – and yes, there is a chapter in the book which describes exactly what happened. I wrote it down all those years ago as part of a catharsis – a coming to terms with life. I do that often.
Truth is stranger than fiction. And some truth would never be accepted as fiction. In fact, I was left with a six month old baby and then I discovered that I was pregnant. I only knew it was twins eleven days before Colin and Kathy were born.
That’s enough for now. You’ll have to wait until Wednesday to learn why a part of my life has been a bit upside down.
You can find out more about BREATH OF AFRICA on my WEBSITE: http://janebwye.com/mybooks/breath-of-africa