Welcome to, Samantha Ford, “stylish globetrotter” and author of The House Called Mbabati. I’ve just “met” her, and can relate to her love of travelling and especially of Africa.
Samantha has chosen to talk about settings in the form of an interview with Ker & Downey, who describe her as “… a globetrotter in every sense of the word … You can tell she’s well travelled and well-versed in the art of observing her surroundings. It’s these experiences that provide inspiration for her novels.”
One word that describes you?
Dromomania…it’s what I do.
Where is home?
I have been traveling since I was a little girl, two years here, two years there – different country, different culture, different languages, different schools – I thought everyone lived like that!
I am a relentless traveller and settle wherever I think I’m going to be happy – when I get restless again I try somewhere else, but Africa always calls so I go back often. As a child I went to school in Europe and the Far East – so, I’m not sure where home is – probably wherever I am at the time.
You’ve lived all over the world. How have your travels influenced you as a writer?
I love new places and I love meeting new people, everyone has a story to tell about their life and I like to hear them no matter how ordinary or extraordinary. As a writer I like to watch people in different environments and try to imagine what it must be like to live their lives; always good fodder for the next story.
Any particular place you’ve lived that was your favourite?
Tough question! I have loved a lot of places, well, perhaps not Nigeria…New York City was a great adventure, Botswana, Kenya and South Africa were wonderful as was the South of France where I lived for four years.
I’ve dedicated The House Called Mbabati to the author John Gordon Davis who wrote many books I loved. My favorite was Hold My Hand I’m Dying. It was a great love story, unbearably sad, and years ahead of its time. I enrolled in his writing course two years ago. He was living in Spain then, but I wasn’t really interested in improving my writing skills, I just wanted to meet him – so I didn’t learn a thing, but met one of the greatest fiction writers to come out of Southern Africa, and it will remain as one of the highlights of my writing career. I’m enormously flattered he read my book during the course and happily endorsed it.
Favourite place to write?
I write wherever I am, out in the bush, on the beach, at a pavement cafe, absolutely anywhere. I always have a notepad and pen with me in case I spot something, or someone who looks interesting, or maybe someone with an odd look about them – then I transfer it all into the body of my story.
Where did you draw your inspiration for the book?
When I lived in France there was an elderly woman who used to shuffle around the cafes asking for money and I used to wonder about her life and how she had ended up on the streets. Then one evening I was walking home and saw her sitting in a very posh bar with a glass of champagne in her hand! That gave me the inspiration for Nicola Gray, the main character in The House Called Mbabati and from there the story just grew.
Your scenes describing the bush are so realistic. How many years did you spend in Africa?
I was nine years old when I first came to Africa where my father had been posted. I fell in love with Kenya, the wildlife and the people. I lived in Cape Town for many years and spent ten of those with my own safari business which I loved. The bush is a wonderful place to get your balance back in life, to pause and take a breath. The animals don’t care about money or politics or the violence in the world today – they just get on with the business of being animals. They can teach us a lot I think.
Favourite safari destination? Why?
I think Kenya is my favourite safari destination. It’s so different to any other. When most people think “safari” they think of East Africa which probably has something to do with the sumptuous movie “Out of Africa.”
Having said that Botswana is a magical place, and, again, quite different. It’s probably the most tranquil place I have ever been to and completely unspoiled.
Most memorable adventure in the bush?
Um, I don’t think I’m going to tell you about that!
Were there any properties that provided inspiration for Mbabati?
I once stumbled across an abandoned house out in the bush in Zimbabwe. This was years ago, but it looked so forlorn and mysterious. I wondered who had lived there and what had happened to them. I thought about it for years afterwards. That house became Mbabati.
You’ve travelled extensively. Is there something you always pack in your carry on?
Yes! I always travel with my skin care products, my make up, and my Bose ear phones – and credit cards, of course.
What is your favourite destination? Why?
I really don’t have a favourite destination. All the places that I have travelled to and lived in have been my “favourite” until I get restless again and move on. My family thinks I am completely mad not having a permanent base anywhere, but it’s liberating to be able to move on without a backward glance. For instance I have always wanted to take a look at Malta, so last month I did! I think possessions possess you in the end. I can’t think of anything worse than opening the bedroom curtains each morning and seeing the same view you have been looking at for fifty years – it just wouldn’t work for me.
What’s next? Another book?
Yes! My third book is finished, I’m just starting the edits and I’ve come to South Africa to do this. The world is a worrying place at the moment, with so much violence. There doesn’t seem to be any good news out there and it can be overwhelming. Writing, for me, is the great escape. I put on some classical music and dive into a world I can create; where I can live for a few precious hours without thinking of anything else. I like to write strong stories with memorable characters, and if I’m having a bad day I can always knock one of them off!
It’s hard to make a reader cry but I have to say that even after writing The House Called Mbabati and going through it at least forty times to edit – there are two parts of it that still make me well up!
People often ask me if I’m nervous to travel now, if I’m not scared of being blown up somewhere along the way. This is what I tell them: the safest place to be in the whole wide world is out in the African bush.