Interview with Jane Bwye   6 comments

Image of J. L. BwyeJane Bwye and I met through Authonomy, a Harper-Collins site for writers to critique each other’s work and practice book marketing. We were part of a Christian writers’ critique group which provided the commonality for our very different books. When Jane’s book Breathe of Africa was picked up by Black Cat Publishing, she left Authonomy, but we reconnected here on WordPress and on Facebook. I have always appreciated her patience and sense of humor, so when she reached out to me, I naturally responded.
I hope this will be the first interview with a writer on Aurorawatcherak. Jane will be following up with an article, with perhaps more to follow.
Jane has been a businesswoman and intermittent freelance journalist all her life. She lived in Kenya for over half a century, where she went to school, and brought up her large family.
She wrote regular feature articles for the Daily Nation in the ’60s, and under a by-line BWYE THE WAY… for The Chronicle, in the ’80s. She has coordinated/authored a cook book in aid of the National Museums of Kenya, and is working on a short history in aid of her local church near Eastbourne.
Product DetailsHer first novel Breath of Africa took 40 years to gestate, drawing on her experiences growing up in the country she still calls her home.
A world traveller, she buys a bird book in every country she visits. Now “retired” to the UK, she mentors small business start-ups, judges dressage, and advocates for the elderly, while indulging in her love for choral singing, playing tennis, duplicate bridge, and walking.
Jane, tell me something about yourself
That’s an open question, if there ever was one, Lela! Where do I start – and end? One thing: I’m a dreamer; always have been. Sometimes I know it’s been a form of escapism. I’ve looked forward to bedtime when I can dream myself to sleep in a maze of fantasies and block out the hard bricks of what life has sometimes thrown at me.
Perhaps that’s how I’ve survived? And how I’ve been able to conjure up stories to write down. Sometimes I’ve had real dreams and I write them down, before they can fade away.
Why do you write?
I write to give body to my dreams and thoughts; and to describe turning-point events in my life – and there have been many. When I travel, I write a diary (as in my Friday Round-the-World blogs)
I guess there’s always been a bit of a historian in me, so I date my writings and find myself doing research when publication is the aim.
I love watching people and I can’t help imagining what they might be thinking. I like to think the observations are stored away in my mind, to come out when I create a character.
Sometimes I write to clarify, or even justify my thoughts and feelings.
And I chronicle events in the lives of my family members, because I love them.
I write for myself.
What I remember most about Breath of Africa is the visual images your words conjure. After only a few paragraphs, I was right down in the long grass, hearing sounds that could only be large predators on my scent. Every scene wrapped me in the sights, sounds and scents of Kenya. What was the inspiration for the book?
Need you ask! Africa and its wide open spaces was the inspiration for my book. And nostalgia, as I sat at my desk cramped into a tiny flat on a crowded street in a teeming city in the UK – gazing through sagging telephone wires towards the hills of the south downs.

One primary focus of the novel is the interaction and clash of two very different cultures and worldviews, how that leads to misunderstandings and abuse of those who are not “us”. Can you talk about that some?

I grew up in a country where black and white were starkly different, but more so for the grown-ups than for the children. We were kept apart by our disparate societies.
But I enjoyed being with the Africans who were employed in and around our home; they were my friends – more so than my parents, who were always occupied with other things.
I know that many children of that era felt the same way, and several books have been written of childhoods featuring friendships across the races. In my idealistic fashion, I wanted to write a book in which those friendships lasted into adulthood and beyond.
But I was shocked by the extreme antagonism exhibited by some of our neighbours. The horrors of the Mau Mau murders were kept from my knowledge within the protective environment of our home, although I sensed an increasing tension and lack of trust.

Clearly, you draw on a lot on your own experiences in Kenya. Are there any real people who inspired some of the main characters?

Within the freedom of fiction I let myself go when I created a caricature of several extremist farmers in the character of Myers the white settler farmer.

I guess I was thinking of my step-father in describing the benign Boney, Caroline’s father, in the beginning of the book.
And of course there’s lots of me in Caroline – and also in Charles Omari Ondiek, who was in part inspired by the proprietor of an African business magazine I once worked for briefly in Nairobi.
I combined aspects of different friends from my school days into the character of Teresa.
Mwangi, the Mau Mau oath-giver, was a figment of my imagination, and maybe part-product of reading Nicholas Monserrat’s horrific “Tribe” books. (see this post on my blog)
I sensed a strong feeling of hope in your writing. So many writers who take on Africa seem pessimistic about the prospects of healing the rift between those two cultures. And, I would note that it’s not just between white and blacks, Europeans and Africans, but also between tribal groups. Yet, there is love across the cultures in Breath of Africa?  The 20th century saw some horribly barbaric upheavals in Africa which has led many observers toward pessimism for the future. Do you feel that there is hope for Africa in the 21st century?
Of course there’s hope in Africa! Without hope, there is no life, and its people are vibrant and forgiving. Hope lies in the younger generations – epitomised in forward-thinking schools in Kenya, careful to keep an even balance.
It also lies in that great leveler, the sports field. I was actively involved in Kenya squash, where all races and tribes would gather for the sake of the game; tennis too, and rugby. Some sports, of course, integrate people better than others and now through sheer force of numbers, teams are largely of one colour – though I would be surprised if they contained only one tribe.
Neither is business concerned with ethnicity. Many aspects of commerce in the 21st century are global, even in Africa, despite being “forgotten” by the rest of the world.
It is politics and sensation-seeking media which side-line Africa and highlight its horrors.
There are horrors everywhere in the world. And for me, the Middle East is more of a lost cause than the so-called “dark continent.”


I came to know you through a Christian writers’ forum on Authonomy. Do you believe that Christian faith holds any hope for healing the rifts between people groups in Africa or elsewhere? And, if you don’t want to touch on that topic, I understanding and won’t have issue with it.
Kenya is largely a Christian country. Faith and hope are strong among the poorest of its people, who exhibit a simplicity, happiness and gratitude for the smallest of mercies. People from churches overseas have had life-changing experiences when visiting to help communities in Africa, and I suspect the benefit received by those offering charity is greater than that of the recipients.
Africa can teach the rest of the world a thing or two about faith, forgiveness and the philosophy of life.
I guess that is why I believe so firmly that there is a future in Africa – even though it may not be the same hope as understood by the rest of the world.
Are you working on another novel?
I Lift up My Eyes, a novella about what can happen to a relationship when serious illness strikes. It will be published by Crooked Cat later this year.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
If I can do it – so can you! If you persevere, you will succeed, and I don’t expect you to take forty years, as I did.
Book Trailer:
Link to my Website and Blog:
Link to
Link to Smashwords:
Lela – Thank you, Jane, for being willing to be my very first

6 responses to “Interview with Jane Bwye

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  1. Reblogged this on Jane Bwye and commented:
    There’s always Hope in Africa!
    I’m the first author to be invited on this Alaskan’s blog – thank you Lela for your hospitality today.


  2. Lela – thank you so much for your hospitality!


  3. Pingback: The Center of Her Thoughts | Jane Bwye

  4. Pingback: I Lift Up My Eyes | aurorawatcherak

  5. Pingback: Thank You for Having Me | Jane Bwye

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