It starts with inspiration; a character, a setting, a theme. After that, pen and paper will suffice. My pen first hit the paper while I was in South Africa, a three year stint in the rainbow nation that followed a year in hot, arid Sudan. Sweeping deserts and lush green bushlands, after such stunning landscapes it wasn’t difficult to find inspiration for a whole new world. The land of Shendi was born, a land that would be the setting for my first novel.
The challenge was set: could I write a story with an actual ending? I’d made many attempts as a child. Pages and pages of neat handwriting and convoluted plot lines, most often of animal adventures, but rarely, if ever, with a conclusion. Somewhere in the ether those sentences still drift without ever having found a home.
There was nothing exotic about the characters in those childhood stories, in fact diversity rarely extended beyond my pets. Looking back I’m not sure why, since, thanks to my dad, I had many animal encounters: a rescued piglet spent the night in the dog’s basket, a fallen blackbird recuperated in a box in the garage, not to mention two ducklings waddling around the lounge.
In the Sudan I found myself in the company of a rescued turtle, an abandoned kitten, and a feral cat family. I was fortunate not to encounter a Nile crocodile, particularly since crocodile watchers at points along the river were usually found sleeping. In South Africa my comfort zone was tested by snakes, many of them highly poisonous, monkeys, baboons and great white sharks, and that’s all before you enter a safari park. I still feel blessed by those experiences of wildlife.
It’s refreshing to learn of people who find creative ways to co-exist with wildlife, who look for harmony as opposed to destruction. A man working in a South African safari park travelled to and from work through lion territory on his bicycle. Seeing him, I was instantly worried that he was about to be eaten. We stopped and I asked him what he would do if he saw a lion. He replied, ‘Pedal fast’.
And so it starts with inspiration. I’m no expert but I do like to think I have an appreciation of the natural world, and despite what some world leaders would have us believe, the majority of us aren’t doing too great at finding that harmonious co-existence. So I set to work on a backdrop to this fantasy story of mine. Cause and effect. Destruction of the natural world leads to drought. Character is for another time, but just to say, in amongst the voices of the masses there are those who will spend their lives performing an elaborate rain dance.