I’ve got a very special guest coming to visit at the Bingergread Cottage today. She is a lady who has travelled widely and, like me, lived abroad for long stretches so we have a bit in common. Welcome JANE BWYE. Do come in and make yourself at home. There’s fruit cake or jam sponge and the kettle’s boiling on the stove.
What a lovely warm welcome, Ailsa. It is good to be at the Bingerbread Cottage at last – and to see you again. It’s a long time since last June, when we met in the flesh in Edinburgh. I’ll have a piece of jam sponge, if I may. And there’s nothing like a cuppa tea after a journey across the Channel.
So, I read your novel “Breath of Africa” and was enthralled by it. Clearly it was based on some of your life experiences but how much, exactly?
A great deal of my book contains my own experiences – but only a small portion of my eventful life is to be found in my book! I have been to all the places described.
My best friend and I really did break out of school in the middle of the night during the Mau Mau emergency, but that first chapter is a much-embellished version.
Unlike Charles who stayed the course, I left Oxford after a year to get married. Twenty months later my husband died, and the circumstances are accurately described in the scene of Brian’s death. I was left, like Caroline, with a six month-old baby and then discovered I was pregnant with what turned out to be twins. I thought if I included them in a novel, people would consider it too far-fetched.
Yes, a lot of my life has been too outrageous to be included, too, Jane!
I ran a guest house in Nairobi, and briefly worked for a Kenyan business magazine. I owned and trained a racehorse once, and was involved with the Kenya Museum Society for several years.
Finally, my children were in their late teens when on their way back from the coast on the night of the 1982 coup. Our old VW Kombi gave up the ghost on them that night, and their experiences on the rest of the way home gave my imagination plenty of rein, inspiring the closing chapters of the book.
Wow! Please tell me some important moments in your life – things you achieved or when you were happiest.
When was I happiest? I re-married and had three more children. We had a wonderful dream house on what I considered to be the top of the world, looking down a wooded valley and over to the city of Nairobi twenty miles away. On a clear day, you could see the faint outline of snow-topped Mt. Kilimanjaro rising like a Christmas pudding on the distant horizon. I would take my children and my pupils riding through the tea fields of Tigoni. They learned to play golf, and tennis and squash at the local club. It was an idyllic upbringing for them.
My most challenging achievement was after the family fled the nest. I completed a distance degree in four years, then survived five years as Head of Computer Studies in the secondary school which educated the children. Talk about a round pin in a square hole … but it was necessary, to see our youngest “afterthought-with-no-thought” through school after my husband had to retire for medical reasons.
Go on, admit it, Jane, you’re a born slacker. Sorry, that’s a joke. That was amazing. What are you working on now? Is there another African novel in the offing or is your next work something different?
A novella called “I Don’t Want to Be Here”. I guess it is another loosely autobiographical novel, not as easy to write as Breath of Africa, although it has only taken me a year to write. It is a story about love, lost and found, and what can happen to a relationship when serious illness strikes.
(Ailsa nods quietly, knowing what that feels like)
Then, I’m looking forward to going back to Kenya to do research on the sequel to my African novel.
What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?
When I’m at home, I read, and write. But I enjoy many other things. I am slowing down, getting forgetful and am frequently tired, so I really must cut down. Trouble is, I don’t want to give anything up. My major activity is two days most weeks mentoring small business start-ups and writing CVs for the unemployed at a local charity where I’m a Trustee. I keep in touch with the horsey world by judging dressage, I am a member of a choral society, play bridge, and still enjoy wielding a tennis racquet. I mark exam papers, which provides me with the means to go travelling. I like to go away every other year, as my family is far flung between Australia and Africa.
Dressage? Did you say dressage? Oh, my old passion. What are your most / least favourite things about being an author?
Least favourite? I discovered that this past weekend – standing around waiting for punters to entice into a pop up bookshop on a cold day, with no heating, and no chairs.
Best was when I talked and read from my book to a writers’ group. It gave me such a buzz.
What are your ambitions? Where would you like to be in five or ten years’ time?
Wow! I’m always inviting my clients to dream, and haven’t done it myself for years…
My ambition is for Breath of Africa to help fund small business start-ups in Kenya, and I’m looking forward to writing the sequel. It would be good to find a publisher for the novella when the time comes
In ten years’ time, I can picture myself living quietly in a little cottage, with a garden where I can sit out and enjoy a country view. I’d like a couple of dogs for company, and to be within reach of family. Not much.
Author page: http://www.facebook.com/JLBwye