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Interview with Jane Bwye August 2018   4 comments

I suppose we could consider this a relaunch of my author interviews. And what better person to be the focus of that than Jane Bwye, who was my very first author interview about this time four years ago. Jane is here to tell us about her new book and what’s going on in her life. Welcome back, Jane.

Jane Bwye PortraitThank you for asking me round to your place again, Lela. I’ve just done some prodding in the past and discover that I’ve been here a few times. In 2014 I believe I was the first person you interviewed on your blog. Such a lot has happened in four years, and the questions and answers have changed.

I lost my husband last year. Despite misgivings about being able to make ends meet, I’m thankful that my needs are small, and I can get by with a mixture of pension and a revived business – comprising marking exam papers and judging dressage. The writing is a significant loss-leader!

I was sorry to hear about your loss. Dressage? This is the first I’ve heard of that interest.

I’ve been passionate about different things over the years. Horses are a main love, and I was lucky to have them as a major part of my life. I desperately wanted to be a ballerina when I was young and slim. I’d take a portable gramophone into the trees on the school boundary and play classical music as I danced and dreamed. But then my thighs grew too big. This passion rubbed off a bit onto my daughters.

My family is my life, and always will come first. I am blessed with six wonderful children, and seven grown-up grandchildren. I’ve been waiting to be a great-grandmother, but perhaps that will happen eventually.

Bwye House

I know I’ve asked this question before, but what is something you cannot live without.

I still cannot live without a book to read.

Absolutely! We must feed our souls before we can produce from them. So tell me about your books.

Writing Breath of Africa had a transformative effect on me. It served as an excellent catharsis after having to leave Kenya. The exercise of writing, learning how to craft a plot and edit, and trying to find a publisher, absorbed many years. Then I was finally ready to put the past behind me and make a go of life in the UK.

My books were written from the heart. They were written for me. I rejoice in the wonders of nature and wide-open spaces, and my descriptions sometimes take over from the characters. There is so much beauty around us. Perhaps I should have been a poet but trying to learn the technicalities put me off. The plots are secondary, and I try not to make them too contrived. I have juggled with different viewpoints and tried different techniques. I’ve written in the first and third person through the same character, as in I Lift Up My Eyes, where I’ve used italics to demarcate the switches of viewpoint. I guess my preference is projecting my feelings through the third person, which makes for a more varied and interesting approach.

Bwye DressageI prefer the larger universe of third-person perspective too. So, I always ask this question and I love the answers I get. The remote Alaska is still there. If I dropped you off for an extended stay – taking care of all the essentials, of course — what would you do there?

From your remote Alaska cabin I would now walk, and sit, contemplating the trees and taking in the beauty of the scenery. Especially I’d sit on a rock beside a stream letting the movement and the sound of the water take over my senses. I can watch moving water for hours on end, letting my mind wander and looking out for fish, insects and small animals. Like before, I’d bring my binoculars and a bird book and glory in every sighting. I’d make a list. And perhaps I’d bring my computer and develop a database of all the birds I’ve seen, written on bits of paper in the several bird books I’ve collected round the world. But perhaps not. I wouldn’t have time.

Every morning on waking, I’d read a few chapters of my bible. I’ve been doing this for years, and each time I revisit a chapter I learn something new. As the years go by, I have more people to pray about. I’d bring a notebook and pen to jot down happenings and thoughts.

I would not go near the internet or bring my mobile phone.

That’s good because there’s no cell service at our cabin site. That’s one of the things we love about it — enforced unplugging. Tell us about the latest book.

Grass Shoots has turned into a book with a message. Originally, it was written as a sequel to Breath of Africa, and it is still a story of Kenya in modern times. But it is also a standalone. It projects into the future. It addresses the motives of giving and receiving, and in matters of charity and foreign aid, faces the problems of mutual respect, and the necessity for people to take ownership of their destiny. After reading this book, I want to make people think, and to feel that there is hope in Africa. Giving is not a one-way exercise, and the rest of the world can learn much from the African people.

I love hearing about your faith. Like me, you don’t write for a specially Christian audience, but you don’t hide your faith either. How do you manage that in the world we’re in today?

Bwye Going It AloneI am an author who is a Christian. Apart from St. Wilfrid’s, A History, commemorating the 50th anniversary of my church, I haven’t written specifically for a Christian audience, although I make no secret of my faith. My voluntary work as a mentor in a Christian charity helps people regardless of their faith or lack thereof. I believe there are many people with good intentions who would shy away from reading if they thought I was trying to convert them. I Lift Up My Eyes contains many deeply personal cries to God from the main character. Even my latest – non-fiction – publication, Going It Alone, contains a true example of African business enterprises co-operating under the umbrella of the Christian faith, which demands integrity.

I love that idea! So where can readers find you and your books?


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Setting Makes the Gem   Leave a comment

My friend Jane Bwye asked me for a guest post recently and here it is. The topic was novel setting.

Setting Makes the Gem

Today, Lela Markham shares a valuable message about settings for a book. A very warm welcome to my long-standing friend from Authonomy days; we are privileged to have you with us, Lela – over to you.


Some years ago, I had the opportunity to interview a jeweller. As part of the interview, he showed me some of the gems he was working on. I was unimpressed. Sitting there on his work table, they were dull and uninspiring. He was apparently used to that reaction because he then showed me what makes gems sparkle. He put uninspiring jewel upon jewel on a black velvet cloth and suddenly, they sparkled.

“Setting is everything,” he explained.

I am a character-driven writer. They appear to me when I least expect them and they want to tell me their stories, which is what makes the plot. Given that beginning, I focus my writing on relationships and how characters interact and react to one another. Setting is an afterthought … and yet, it is everything.

LMarkhamIt’s the writing equivalent of the black velvet cloth or the jeweller’s setting. It is what makes characters sparkle.

None of us live in a void space. We’re all surrounded by the world we live in. I live in Alaska, where the grandeur of the setting definitely can overwhelm the character, but it also shapes the character. People here cannot help interacting with the environment and even large personalities learn you must adapt to it.

When writing, I try always to remember that my characters can’t live in a void space any more than I can. They need a backdrop to sparkle against. Far more than simply a geographic location or an era that makes a nice backdrop for the characters to work out the plot in front of, setting creates a mood and atmosphere that directs the plot and challenges the characters.

For a gem, it’s all about how the jeweller cuts the stone. Similarly, it’s the little details that provide the sparkle by teasing the senses. What would a newcomer or even a resident see, hear, taste, smell or feel if they arrived in your story’s world that moment? Ever notice what people smell like when they haven’t seen a shower for a few days? The sky is blue, except when it isn’t and then it may be all sorts of colours during sunset, sunrise, as a storm is gathering or a tornado is about to hit. What does wind sound like as it sighs through palm trees? Different from how it sounds when it sighs through pines. If there’s an ocean to the east and a desert to the west, the wind from each will feel different on your skin. Small details are pennies that pay big dividends.

While the grand backdrop grounds the characters in reality and provides the reader with something to hang their imagination on, small details evoke the senses and bring the reader into the story.  Whether you start out with a setting that fulfils these requirements or add them later as I do, they are essential to good storytelling and make all the difference in how your story engages the reader.

Author pic ditch close-upLela Markham is the pen name of an Alaskan novelist who was raised in a home built of books. Alaska is a grand adventure like none other with a culture that embraces summer adventure and winter artistic pursuits.

A multi-genre writer, Lela has published tales of fantasy, alternate history, apocalyptic and political satire, but she’s also got works in progress for literary fiction, new adult, YA, mystery and, her nemesis, romance.

Lela shares her life with her adventuresome husband, two fearless offspring and an extremely-happy yellow Lab.



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A Visit with Jane Bwye   4 comments

Today’s guest on the blog is Jane Bwye, a longtime friend and fellow writer. Welcome back to the blog, Jane.

Bwye Author PicLela, it’s good to be visiting you again. While browsing through your Writing Wednesday blogs, I discovered our interview way back in 2014. It was the very first one in your series. You mentioned that I might be following it up with an article. Well – here it is – three years later, on the eve of the launch of another book!

GRASS SHOOTS, the sequel to Breath of Africa, will be launched on Amazon on 30th March, 2017!

Caption: Elephants in Shaba Game Reserve

“More rocks had appeared on the near shore, captured by the sun. She glanced at the original clump, and back again. They had multiplied, and were covering the sand bar. They were moving…  ‘You’ve seen the elephants?’”

Bwye breath of africa - 902kbThis tender inter-racial love triangle concludes the saga of Caroline’s and Charles’s inter-racial families. Their children climb an erupting volcano, explore archaeological sites along the coast, and go on safari in Kenya’s exotic game reserves. The book pivots round the devastation in a highland village caused by the violence after the elections of 2007.  It touches upon present-day problems with foreign aid, beset by politics and corruption. It explores the possibility of alternative ways to help, which include input from the people on the ground – the ordinary villagers – and a burgeoning Kenyan middle class.

That’s sounds like a great book, Jane … one that really touches on the issues faced in Africa today.

The words I wrote in our previous interview have evolved into the main theme which is one of hope, and charity.

Faith and hope are strong among the poorest of its people, who exhibit a simplicity, happiness and gratitude for the smallest of mercies. Volunteers from churches overseas have had life-changing experiences when visiting to help communities in Africa, and I suspect the spiritual benefit received by those offering charity can be 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.

Bwye Kenya07 003 (2)Although I have no personally had the opportunity to do missions in Africa, I have friends who are involved in mission efforts in Tanzania and I think you’re probably right about the spiritual benefit accruing as much ot the missionaries as to the recipients. It’s my experience that Christians who live in difficult circumstances are much more reliant on God’s grace as exercised through faith than we are in the 1st world.

The name of my fictitious charity, which is founded in the United Kingdom, is Grass Shoots; and a significant part of the action takes place in the make-believe highland village of Amayoni, which – in Swahili – means birds.

Bwye I lift up my eyesTropical forest grew in great entanglements around her and its immensity engulfed her. It was denser than she could ever have imagined, with myriad shades of green and mystical shapes and forms, vibrant with life. Bursts of song filled her ears, yet she could see no birds in the thick foliage, which rocked and swished as the wind gusted through.

            Suddenly a branch bent over with a crack, and something large and blue flopped partially into view. Her senses were filled with the glorious sight of a large bird, a flash of yellow on its beak, its blue-green feathers melding into the background. It stayed, majestic, still, for a breath-taking second, then crouched forward and hopped in smooth bounds up the branch.

            “That’s a great blue,” a voice said at her shoulder.

            “A great blue?”

            “Turaco. You’re lucky. They’re a rare sight in this forest. The name of the village you’re going to visit tomorrow is Amayoni, which means birds.”

            They were standing on a closely-cropped lawn gazing over the carefully cultured flowerbeds at a dense wall of trees. A stream raced between them and the forest, its bank smooth and inviting. On the other side, a disarray of broken sticks and branches trailed in the water. A tumble of trunks growing at various angles dissolved into the mass of trees, blocking off the evening sun.

Bwye Grass RootsShe stooped to dip her finger in the torrent. It was icy cold. She straightened her back and pulled her cardigan round her shoulders before following the manager into the Kakamega Forest Lodge.

There is an enhanced Glossary of terms at the back of this book.

This sounds like another great book, an excellent follow-up to Breath of Africa.

Thank you for having me again, Lela. I will be happy to return the favour any time.



Jane lived in Kenya for over half a century, where she brought up her large family. An intermittent freelance journalist and business owner, she has written a cookbook, Museum Mixtures (1989) in aid of the National Museums of Kenya, and a History of her church in Eastbourne (2013).

Her first novel, Breath of Africa (2013) was nominated for the Guardian First Book Award. It draws on her experiences growing up in the country she still calls her home. Grass Shoots, the sequel, completes a family saga through to modern day Kenya. The novella, I Lift Up My Eyes, (2015) is set in Sussex.

A world traveller, Jane has bought a bird book in every country she visited. Now living in the UK, she is a business mentor and dressage judge, while indulging her love for choral singing, tennis, and playing bridge.

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A Visit with Jane Bwye   10 comments

This week’s interview is with Jane Bwye – who has been on the blog before, but it’s been a while. She was working on a new book. Welcome back to the blog, Jane.

Jane Bwye Author PicThank you for asking me round to your place, Lela. I’ve always wanted to visit Alaska. I guess it’s the idea of all that snow and the remoteness which appeals to me.


We are remote, that’s for sure. So what have you been up to since your last visit to the blog?

You want to know a little bit about me…. I wasn’t quite born in Kenya, but lived there for over half a century.  Now my husband and I are retired in the UK. Our family of six children and seven grandchildren are scattered over three continents, so I have developed a taste for travel. In order to fuel this urge, I mentored small business start-ups and enjoyed it so much, I continued on a voluntary basis when the funding ran out. I am about to try public speaking (see my webpage: ). I joined Toastmasters International eighteen months ago, and relish the feeling of power when addressing a captive audience. I have an audition with the Women’s Institute on the 19th April, so please spare me a thought.


When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I have always been a bookworm, and as a teenager I dreamed of writing my own book, full of tingly love scenes. When I went to University I wanted to be journalist, and my first commission was a series of “Letters from Oxford” for the Kenya Weekly News. I have written short stories, articles and columns intermittently ever since. But the culture shock of living in the UK was too great, and I left Oxford after a year to go back to Kenya and get married to the man I’d left behind. I told him I was giving up my career for him, and I wanted five children; but it was no happily-ever-after story, because he died after twenty months, leaving me with three small children (including twins). I remarried, and am passionate about my family; everything else is dropped when they are around.


Jane Bwye Africa

What is something you can’t live without?

Of course I cannot live without a book to read, even when I know I have more important things to do. I taught myself how to read and knit at the same time, so I didn’t have to feel guilty, although sometimes the children suffered one sleeve slightly longer than the other, when I was carried away by a story.


What do you get up to when you’re not writing?

When I’m not writing, I live life to the full. Exercise is important, and although I don’t ride any more, I still play geriatric tennis and walk regularly. I judge dressage frequently, belong to a choral society, and play bridge.


Have any of the books you’ve written had a transformative effect on you?

Writing Breath of Africa had a transformative effect on me. It served as an excellent catharsis after having to leave Kenya. I indulged in nostalgia while pouring over old letters and diaries, and researching biographies and histories. The exercise of writing, learning how to craft a plot and edit, then trying to find a publisher, absorbed many years, and before I knew it, I’d become used to living in a very different world.


Do you have a special place where you write?

The world is my oyster! I have written everywhere. In bed before getting up in the morning, or writing a diary at night with old-fashioned pen and paper; at my computer; sitting on a bench on the south downs overlooking Eastbourne. On my travels I have filled notebooks with chapters while visiting family in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Australia, or friends in Ireland. I can sit in a corner and isolate myself even though family are bustling around me, but I prefer to overlook a garden or a field, or better still, the African bush. One place I cannot write is on aeroplanes or in airports.


Jane Bwye 2bookpic

Do your books have any recurring themes?

I am an optimist. I firmly believe that there’s always hope, even in the direst of circumstances. This is the recurring theme which governs my life and my writings. I like to think that Africa will overcome its shortcomings, especially the evils of corruption, through the sheer pressure of enlightened citizens shaming their leaders. As a Christian, I know how to seek an answer, and writing my books have helped me to search for solutions, for I allow my characters a free rein and am often surprised by what happens.


I’m going to drop you in a remote Alaska cabin for a month. It’s summer so you don’t have worry about freezing to death. I’ll supply the food and the mosquito spray. What do you do while you’re there and what do you bring with you? If you’re bringing books, what are they?

A remote Alaska cabin would be a wonderful place for me to be quite alone to commune with God and nature. I would bring several pens and plenty of notebooks; I would write a diary, maybe become a bit philosophical and try to put the world to rights. I would need my kindle, as it contains the Bible which I read every day. Perhaps I will load it with old favourites. It’s years since I’ve re-read War and Peace, and it is about time I got to grips with the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. I would need my binoculars, and a bird book; oh – and a walking pole, as I am sometimes unsteady on uneven ground.


Tell us about your books.

Breath of Africa was written for myself. But it was also inspired by the “tribe” novels of Nicholas Monsarrat. I wrote to him, saying the picture he painted of Africa was bleak and violent, and asking if he intended to write a more optimistic story. If not, I might be tempted… His widow replied saying that Nicholas had indeed intended to write such a novel: “Every good wish for the task ahead,” she said. “I expect it will seem daunting at times, but I hope it will give you great pleasure and satisfaction too.” You can read her original letter here:


I love that! What a great encouragement to you as a writer. But you didn’t stop with Breath of Africa. Go on.

I Lift Up My Eyes had been mulling around in my mind for many years. It was prompted by watching the sad consequence of a broken marriage after a friend’s husband was severely injured in an accident. Neither of them could handle the trauma of the change in their lives. I thought it was such a tragedy that they should have to suffer through no fault of their own. The process of writing took me on an exploration towards a solution, and I hope it may provide food for thought for readers in similar circumstances.


How does your Christian faith reflect itself in your writing?

I am an author who is a Christian. I don’t write specifically for a Christian audience, because I don’t feel qualified to do so, and I guess I prefer the gentle approach.

I have enjoyed your virtual company, Lela. I wonder if we’ll ever meet in the flesh?


I would love that! England seems a very long way from Alaska, but not so much now that Icelandia does an over-the-pole flight in summer. So where can readers find your books?


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