This blog is not about writing, although there are one or two excursions into aspects of the creative process. No. This blog is mostly about place. Land and landscapes – actual and metaphysical: the bedrock of existence and also, in that conjured ‘sense of place’ the bones of all memorable fiction. These days I live on the edge of Wenlock Edge, an upthrust limestone ridge of vast antiquity. Some four hundred million years ago it lay prone, the floor of a shallow tropical ocean. This was the Silurian Sea that, before tectonic shift and shunt caused it to pitch up in Shropshire, in England’s Midlands, lay south of the equator somewhere off Africa’s east coast.
In my writer’s mind this extraordinary geological structure, some twenty miles long, feels like a threshold, or better still, a conduit through time and space. There’s a certain congruency too. Before I came to live on the Edge, I had lived in Kenya for seven years, with a nine month stay in Zambia in between. But Shropshire is the place I am from (well mostly), and the notion that I have somehow come home and at the same time returned to the place I had left, though in quite another age and hemisphere, tweaks my imagination.
So: this is where I post impressions (often more visual than verbal) of the place where I am, and the places I have been; and sometimes they get mixed together. But that doesn’t matter. These days too, I might say I am more of a gardener than a writer. Or at least, and here I’m taking a leaf from the late-days account that R.S. Thomas gave of himself as poet and/or birdwatcher, I might say that on days when the writing goes well, I am a writer; on the days it goes badly, I am a gardener who takes photos. But however you find me, welcome to Writer on the Edge.
I began writing while I was living in Kenya. At the time, when it came to children’s fiction, the Nairobi bookshops mostly stocked European imports, Enid Blytons and Hardy Boys reprints. There were few stories that featured African kids as heroes in their own time. This made me angry enough to overlook my presumption in appointing myself, an English ex-patriot, to do something about the situation. My fury carried me a long way. Zimbabwe Publishing House and Phoenix Kenya accepted my first two works, a picture book Flame Tree Market and short novel, Jessicah the Mountain Slayer. These titles won first and second children’s literature prizes respectively at the 1995 Zimbabwe International Book Fair. That is a long time ago, but is still a source of deep satisfaction. Extraordinarily too, both titles have remained in print in Kenya ever since, or at least they were at my last royalty pay-out. (Over two decades now!) My next two stories were also published for African young people, Joe Sabuni P I (Heinemann JAWS) and Sea Running (Macmillan Pacesetter). Joe Sabuni was later translated into six Zambian languages as a means (rather obviously to my mind) of encouraging teens to read by giving them books in their mother tongue rather than in their second language, English.
Meanwhile my African short stories were being published for children of all ages in the United States in Carus Publishing’s Cricket, Spider and Cicada magazines. When I returned to the UK I was commissioned by Ticktock publishers and Compass Point Books in the US to write a 6-book creative writing series for 8-10 year olds. The series won several awards. The UK edition Write your own adventure stories won third prize at the inaugural Society of Authors’ Educational Writers Award, and Write your own science fiction stories gained (of all extraordinary extraterrestrial entities) a special Golden Duck award for ‘encouraging excellence in children’s Science Fiction writing’. I take heart from the fact that J K Rowling has also won a Golden Duck.
My most recent works have been quick reads for unkeen teen readers for Ransom: Mau Mau Brother; Mantrap and Stone Robbers. I also reworked one of my Cicada Magazine stories, Losing Kui, as a Kindle e-book. It was originally published as El Nino and the Bomb (Nov-Dec 2008). Cicada publishes literary fiction that appeals to both an adult and near adult readership. My very good friend, Buffalo artist, Kathleen Collins Howell, kindly created the cover.
Things are going from bad to worse in Ingigi village. No one knows why five-year old Kui has gone missing. Nor does Sergeant Njau want to find out. He has his own problems, pressing matters that are far from legal. Then there is the endless rain. Will it never stop? Some Ingigi folk think it means the end of the world. Old man, Winston Kiarie, has other ideas. He senses some man-made disaster, and when it happens, it is worse than his worst imaginings. The fierce storms are causing landslides and throwing up British bombs, unexploded for forty years. Their discovery is giving the Assistant Chief ideas: how to make himself very rich. And then there’s young Joseph Maina and the primary school drop-outs thinking they have found treasure, and about to do something very, very foolish. Meanwhile, is anyone looking for Kui?
“Losing Kui” is a fast-paced novella of interwoven tales. There are secrets, conspiracies, tragedy and dark comedy. The setting is a fictional East African country in the late 1990s, a time when El Niño rains were causing havoc. The author lived in Kenya during most of the 1990s, and much of the story was inspired by real events.
5 star reviewed
More about my published books and stories HERE
The story that inspired a children’s opera HERE