It took more than sixteen years for my novel A Nightingale in Winter to find its way out of the attic and to get published. I thought that must be some kind of a record, but I was wrong. This week's guest on my Write Despite blog feature about authors who have overcome obstacles in order to get their words out there is Crooked Cat author Jane Bwye, whose first novel Breath of Africa took forty years to see the light of day. I can't imagine how it must have felt when Jane finally saw her words in print.
But I'll let her tell the story. Welcome, Jane.
Thank you Margaret for giving me this chance to think over my writing habits. It’s been an enlightening experience.
What challenges have you had to overcome or deal with in order to write?
Conflicting priorities. I was never good at balancing my life, although as I’ve grown older, I like to think I’ve learned better habits. Once I focus on something, I am totally immersed in the task at hand, and everything goes out the window - that has included family!
Mummy often didn't even answer when she was spoken to, and once she even forgot to collect somebody from school... My husband and my first five children suffered when I started writing Breath of Africa. They didn’t say anything. They just looked more and more unhappy until I had to take notice.
How do you think this challenge has impacted on your writing?
…Which was why my first book took forty years to come to fruition. Looking back, I believe the long gestation period was good for my writing. I was that much more mature, and had many experiences to ponder over. Once the children had fled the nest, and our “afterthought” was at University, we came to live in the UK and I had time on my hands. I was able to set and keep to objectives, but I yearned to be back in Africa.
What was your greatest fear when you first started to write?
I had no fears. I’ve been a freelance writer since my first commission at the age of twenty. I knew I could write, and had many stories and articles published. When I started writing my book, I would wallow in nostalgia for hours on end at my desk, while my husband ensured I wasn’t distracted by household chores. However, I soon discovered that I did not know how to write a novel! I had to learn the difference between a story and a plot, and the technique of viewpoints among many other things.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to write, but who is feeling held back by circumstances and/or challenges?
My advice to aspiring writers facing challenges is always to be humble. Look anywhere and everywhere for advice and inspiration. Go to conferences and workshops, rub shoulders with real authors, soak in the ambience. Ask for BETA readers and offer to do the same for others. Always seek to perfect your work. And never give up – even if it takes forty years.
Tell us a bit about something you've written that you're really proud of, or something you're writing now.
Of course I’m immensely proud of Breath of Africa. I still can’t believe that it’s my book which won a Gold Star on the Harper Collins Authonomy website, was nominated for the Guardian First Book and Not-the-Booker Awards, and has been likened to the works of Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing. It is an Amazon best-seller, and has put me back in touch with people I had forgotten I’d ever known.
I am also happy to have found a charity to support with the book – helping a tiny village called Kajuki in the shadow of Mt. Kenya.
I still regard Africa as my home, and here is my favourite excerpt from the book.
Caroline and Brian are courting…
“Their favourite place was the rim of Mt. Menengai, the volcano overlooking Nakuru town; smaller than Ngorongoro, it had its own dramatic character. They stood on the jutting promontory and looked over the dense scrub in the crater depths, interspersed with black mounds of glistening lava, a dark, forbidding country.
“It’s the third largest crater in the world,” Brian told her. “I read that somewhere.”
Caroline gazed beyond at the vastness of Africa which rolled through patterned farmlands, across hills and plains into the hazy distance. As evening fell, grey clouds crept along the crater depths and swirled up the cliffs, snatching at them with wispy fingers, as the wind caught and tossed the vapours into nothingness among the trees.
They walked towards the car, but a sudden movement in the long grass near the forest distracted them. Brian turned off the track, parting the stalks in front of him.
“Careful of snakes!” Caroline warned.
She followed, treading in his footsteps. As they approached the thrashing, it increased, and she saw the soft brown hide of a female impala, its eyes wide with fright. One leg was caught in a loop of wire.
“It’s a trap, but the wire hasn’t tightened too much. I’ll see if I can free her.”
Brian caught hold of the leg and the animal stilled. She seemed to know they were trying to help. He struggled with the wire, and eased it over the hoof. He let her go. The doe stood there for a second, then moved her leg and took a small step. She bounded away and the grass closed behind her. It was as if it had never happened.
The sequel concluding this family saga is nearing its completion, and if it meets with the publisher’s approval, my cup will be full.
Thanks so much for apearing on Write Despite, Jane. It has been fascinating to read about your book and you writer's journey! Here are Jane's links, below.
Until next time!
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Jane-Bwye/e/B00BOK0NN4/
Breath of Africa paperback: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Breath-Africa-Jane-Bwye/dp/1908910798/ref=la_B00BOK0NN4
Breath of Africa ebook: http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00BOAK0FA
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