Wednesday, 27 August 2014

'Breath of Africa' by Jane Bwye

Guest article by Jane Bwye, 

author of  the highly regarded  'Breath of Africa.'


 As a young girl I used to curl up with a book on the window seat of our sitting room, sometimes gazing out at the garden. For we had a farm in Africa … not, like Karen Blixen, at the foot of the Ngong Hills, but overlooking the Great Rift Valley, where Lake Nakuru and its flamingos lay half hidden behind a hillfold.


Flamingos and cormorants on Lake Nakuru

I’ve always been a dreamer, and I’ve learned that dreaming is a powerful thing. Twelve years ago I found myself in a place I did not want to be due to circumstances beyond my control. I did not know how we were going to survive, and then I was challenged to write a wish list. I was told that if I didn’t know where I was going, if I had no objective, I would never get there.

Was this person crazy? But for want of anything better to do, I complied, and found the exercise quite stimulating. I wrote down my wildest wishes, visualised them, and put the list in the bottom of my in-tray to re-visit and renew every year.

Bryce Canyon, the US on 9/11/11

            I’ve been round the world, but there are still so many places to see. I went to the Galapagos Islands, Egypt, Israel, and to Australia and back. There is still the Far East and Russia, and when I get really old and doddery, most of Europe.

I dreamed of setting up a Granny travel fund for my seven grandkids, all in Australia. That was indeed building castles in the air, given our circumstances at the time. But do you know, two of them have already claimed from that fund!

I wanted to write a book and have it published by a real publisher. Now that was far-fetched, but it had been my dream ever since I’d learned to read. You can lose yourself in a book, you can forget your surroundings and you can write – pour out your soul as a catharsis when you’re caught in a place you never wanted to be.

That’s what I did. I wallowed in nostalgia as I dug into old diaries, letters and jottings, sifted through old photographs, and relived it all again while I researched the turbulent history of my homeland, which was Kenya. That’s how BREATH OF AFRICA was birthed after a gestation period of forty years. The birth was protracted: over seventy rejections from publishers and agents – and that’s not counting the no-replies. Countless edits and re-edits. And I know it’s a cliché, but it was well worth it in the end, and I wouldn’t have had it otherwise.

Two reviews of  'Breath of Africa' 

By 'Reading Otter' on March 28, 2014, 
It is rare to read a novel set in the heart of an important world even, written by someone who was an eye-witness This novel contains several threads set against the background of an awakening African independence. The new order is mirrored in personal relationships. Who will accept it and who will be swept away by it? The old ways will prevail, they will not lie down and die but will they succeed?
This is also a very moral tale by someone who obviously loves the country and her descriptive powers made me feel that I was there. I havenever been to Africa but now feel I know it better.

By R. Nicholson-morton on July 15, 2013,  on

I fell in love with the continent of Africa as an adolescent and was fortunate to visit a couple of countries there some years ago. This is familiar to me, evoking the sounds, smells and sights, and written with heart.

Spanning almost thirty years, this novel follows the trials and tribulations of Caroline, a girl from a privileged background in Kenya. Her childhood with best friend Teresa is scarred by the State of Emergency that existed due to the Mau Mau uprising. Two other significant characters are Charles Ondiek, a farm labourer who aspires to study in Oxford and Mwangi, a wielder of effective black magic curses. Interwoven in the story is Kenya's transition to independence under Jomo Kenyatta.

`The great canopy of sky overwhelmed her; she breathed in deeply, savouring the immensity of the scene. The breath of Africa filled her being. This was her country, her home.' This quotation comes from p92 - but the breath of Africa permeates the entire book and certainly reminds me of Doris Lessing's 'The Grass is Singing' in the depth of feeling by Jane Bwye for the dark continent.

Despite tragedy and disappointments, Caroline survives, an example of fortitude in an uncertain world.

Breath of Africa is a novel of recent history that sheds light on the place and the period. There's a useful glossary at the back.

About Jane Bwye. 

Jane Bwye, an intermittent freelance journalist who lived for fifty-five years in Africa, has dedicated her book Breath of Africa, to the people of Kenya. Described as “a hymn of joy to Kenya,” it can be bought from and, or the publishers



You can read more about the book on Jane’s website and blog:


Jane Bwye's second novel will be launched on 7th October, 2014; not the sequel – yet – but a glimpse of the pain of being in a situation where you never wanted to be.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Boy beaten for refusing to be confirmed into the Catholic Church.

Boy beaten for refusing to be confirmed into the Catholic Church.

Yes, it did happen. It was a nun who did the beating. It was around 1960.

She unbuckled her belt. I felt her iron grip on my upper arm. Then I felt the first stinging blow. My blood thawed, then boiled. I welded my teeth together and commanded my vocal chords to be still. I ordered the little voice in my head to repeat over and over, “You can’t hurt me, you stupid evil bitch . Enjoy this, because you will never beat me again.” She beat me more savagely than I had ever been beaten before. She commenced the beating in her office, but I tried to run and she followed me and beat me in the hallway . I ran to the asphalt quadrangle between the kitchen and the playground. She followed me there and made a ceremony of beating me in front of fifty-eight pairs of watching eyes, stopping all pretence of play. She beat me with the buckle end of her belt, and it cut my skin. She beat me until I fell to the ground, then she paused and ordered me to rise and beat me until I fell again. When, finally, I could not rise again, she thrashed and flogged, and when I curled up in a little ball to try to protect my tenderest parts from the blows, she kicked me again and again with that heavy black boot. All the while she shouted at me that I would take the Catholic faith, if she had to beat me to within an inch of my life to make me.

When she was done with me, a herculean six-foot-one-inch one-hundred-and-seventy-seven-pounds of black-robed, leather-booted crone collapsed against the kitchen door huffing and snorting, her face ashen, her wimple sweat-soaked, and her lips and chin sagging. The strap fell from her grip. While I lay consumed with an agony more terrible than I could ever have imagined suffering, and with a murderous rage more intense than I could ever have conceived it possible to feel, the Mother raised her hands to clutch her chest and closed her eyes.

The next day , I was called to the Mother Superior’s office to be advised I would be sent to an Anglican Boys’ Home in a small town about an hour away.

And that was very good. It meant that Paul did not go to St. Vincent’s , a boys' home in Westmead, run by priests.  Even then, the boys knew that the priests liked to rape those they were supposed to be looking after.

It is strange. I always  viewed the 1950s and 1960s as civilised times in Australia. It was an era of prosperity. Certainly there were poor - there are always poor for whatever reason. But most people of that time were enjoying a standard of living far better than their parents, and improving all the time. They were good times.  So to hear about a child being taken from his parents to an institution, and then treated very badly indeed - it is a shock. An eye-opener, and something that makes me furious even now.  For most of the culprits are still alive, and have never been punished.  They are even revered - nuns. Supposed to be so sweetly serenely devout.  The wicked women in this true book gives the lie to that fabrication.  

This book is truth - though names are changed to protect the guilty and occasionally the innocent who don't like their circumstances being made public. So truth, but somewhat fictionalised.  

A hit on the head with a pencil case began Paul Wilson's lifelong battle against the system and the pencil-pushers who tormented him... but nothing could break his indomitable spirit. Paul was a fifth generation, native-born white Australian, and a stolen child. Bureaucrats stole him twice. So-called ‘women of God’ and a misguided carer stole his identity, his heritage and his self-respect. Journey into the home and lives of a battling Aussie bush family and weep over cruel injustice that breaks a mother’s heart and kills a father’s soul. Witness child abuse and deprivation in an almost Dickensian world. Meet foster parents whose dedication and caring gives orphans and waifs hope for a future. Follow Paul’s struggle through adult life, sharing his and his family’s pains and joys. Celebrate his triumphs. Mourn his foolishness. Admire his strength and courage as he fights continuing injustice, haunted by demons from his past and nursing an insatiable thirst for revenge. A story that illustrates the beauty and strength of the human spirit and the power of family love.

A recent review.

Format: Kindle Edition

"The Pencil Case" a definite must read, is a spell-bounding, page turner based on a partially fiction, but well-told story about a young boy and his sister's unfortunate fate of life. This pair were removed from their parents who loved them more than life, and thrown to people who cared less, but why?

If parents are financially impoverished does it mean that they don't love their children and can't provide properly for them? How healthy could it have been to be placed into an orphan life full of cruel evil nuns who beat and tormented sweet little children, and emotionally scarred and ripped them of any chances of a wholesome and balanced life?

Follow author Lorraine Cobcroft, who is a skillful writer that told of a story that she has heard from her husband, and carried into her own adult married life in a very unique way. It takes an adept and proficient writer to weave a story on paper from another's perspective while allowing the reader to paint a strong vivid picture of past tragic accounts.

Because part of her husband's life spilled over into Lorraine's life, she had to feel the pain as she scripted her manuscript. I can only imagine her trickled emotions as she managed to write, revise and edit her book chapter after chapter.

As an African-American, I am happy that I had a chance to read this heartrending story. It definitely sanctioned me to gain a different cultural perspective as I embellished my understanding of how other races of people experienced prejudice and unfairness within our diverse society.

"The Pencil Case" should make its way as a very prominent and popular stage play one day. I hope to have the opportunity to be in the audience for its opening debut.

I cannot see this as a stage-play, but maybe a film. It is an important book, and should be a required read for any Australian.  These are things that should be known.  With the ongoing  Royal Commision into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, much of it by the Catholic Church, more people are talking of it, and more people are talking about the evil done by that once respected organisation known as the Catholic Church. There were priests whose crimes of child sex abuse lasted 40 and 50 years!  And all the time, the priest was not only protected, but allowed to continue abusing children - maybe transferred if the complaints became too loud.  

I hope that one day the wicked people who so abused a boy - many boys, many girls - will be made to pay. At the very least, they should face what they did. I do not believe in any sort of a heaven. If there was, these 'brides of Christ' would not make it. Did they believe?  Who knows?

The Pencil Case is  by Lorraine Cobcroft;

The book is available from most online sellers, including Amazon.


'Lionel's Wedding' is not yet available. Publication date, 17th October, 2014.

Friday, 15 August 2014

'In the Wet' by Nevil Shute

  Nevil Shute

Nevil Shute was an Australian author whose books I read when young - my mother's books. I've come across a few of them recently, and find that I enjoy them as much or more now than when I was fifteen. He was an exceptional author.  He wrote 'On the Beach,' an apocolyptic novel written a long time before they became fashionable. The world is slowly dying from the radiation spreading from World War 3 - the last war. It was made into a film, and so was at least one more of his books -  'A Town Like Alice.' Others of his books are 'The Far Country,' 'Requiem for a Wren,' and 'No Highway.' 

 'In the Wet' was first published 1953.

The wonderful thing about being an author is that your books have a life of their own. The author may die, but the book lives on. This copy was a battered paperback, published by Pan in 1969, once owned by Stanthorpe State High School, and with a sticker saying 30c on the front. I rather like books with a history. It's in my hands now, to be added to my small collection of Nevil Shute books.

'In the Wet' has an unusual plot. It is part set in the Australian Outback, 1950s, and written from the point of view of a Church of England priest.  A dying alcoholic tells him a story of his life - except that his life is in the future, maybe a future life. It is a story of involvement in high affairs, when England has become a socialist state, grey and dreary, and her queen finds her life plagued by hostile politicians. She decides that the thriving former colonies might be a better place to live.  She is Queen of Canada and Queen of Australia as well as Queen of England, something that is often forgotten.

One thing that Shute talks of that is worthy of some real thought - that the system of one man/one vote will not elect the best politicians, rather it is apt to elect the one who makes the most generous promises. He suggests a multiple vote system - that everyone has the one basic vote, but can earn an extra vote for higher education, another vote for living and earning money overseas for a certain period of time, another for a stable marriage and family, etc. Being a serving officer of the church also earned an extra vote. (this book was written before the scandals of the church and its coverups of child sexual abuse by its priests.)  The queen could also award a vote - 'the seventh vote.'  

He has a point about his 'multiple-vote' system - surely a person with some education and intelligence should be able to choose more wisely than a no-hoper who never did anything in his life but get drunk, sire illegitimate children and collect the dole.


There is an author's note at the end. I was impressed by it.

'In the Wet' speaks about things that 'happened' in the 1980s, and was written in the 1950s. The book I have recently completed was set in 2009 to start with, and concluded in 2047. So, like Nevil Shute, I range forward a few decades.

He wrote:

'No man can see into the future, but unless somebody makes a guess from time to time and publishes it to stimulate discussion, it seems to me that we are drifting in the dark, not knowing where we want to go or how to get there.'

and 'Fiction deals with people and their difficulties and, more than that, nobody takes a novelist too seriously. The puppets born of his imagination walk their little stage for our amusement, and if we find that their creator is impertinent, his errors of taste do not sway the world.'

I would have liked to borrow it and apply it to my own book. But I am not in the class of Nevil Shute. It would be just too impertinent.
It is a little eerie,  though. I wrote things in my book that are now happening. I'm not trying to update to take recent events into account - my story is that Shuki has some influence on world politics, and maybe the recent awful events in the Middle East could have been avoided if he'd been more than a fictional character.
Publication date for this book is set at 17th October this year.  



Nimbin - exotic, free life-style? Or tawdry, nose-wrinkling?

Nimbin, NSW, Australia.

Nimbin - marihuana capital of Australia. Where marihuana plantations thrive, policemen turn a blind eye to the sale and the taking of drugs, and the lifestyle promoted is 'alternate.'

Nimbin is in a lovely part of the country, hilly and green and fertile. I assume it was a normal town once, but in the 60s and 70s, there came the hippies, the flower-children, and the drugs. Many of the people stayed, and certainly the drugs stayed.

These days, it is a tourist mecca. On the Sunday that we visited, it was difficult to find a place to park. Most of  the vehicles were 4WDs, maybe belonging to the wandering tourists, maybe belonging to locals. Oddly, for all the vehicles, the streets were not crowded, so I don't know where the people were. Church? I hardly think so.

We didn't stay long. Not only that the drive to the place proved hazardous - the roads were narrow and winding and some of the drivers appeared unwilling or unable to keep to their own lane. Driving under the influence? Maybe. Or maybe just that they don't care about safe driving - habitual use of drugs would have that effect.

The town - colourful?  It was that, and there was evidence of creativity, but not actually of much quality. The impression was more of tawdry decay. A house/shop, for instance, that showed that it had once been painted, but maybe fifty years ago - pre-hippy era. The timber around the windows showed the dark wetness of rot.

Men with dread-locks, a boy of around ten openly trying to break into a gumball machine, either for the money or the gumballs, and some people who looked old, old, old, and yet not. They were upright, but with ancient, discontented, raddled faces. In their sixties would be my guess, but their faces looked eighty. Did they maybe arrive when they were young, and live in some shack without comforts?  Maybe they were trying to 'live the simple life,' and whenever they felt the cold, they took another trip on whatever drug was handy.  However they spent their life, it appears that it might not have been good for their health.

There were numerous shops with displays of tourist goods. They were far from cheap, though some were quite interesting, unusual things. But I turned from any thought of leaving money in that town when I saw something that looked like a glue stick. It said something like -  'Discreet. Get high and no-one will know. You can sniff in front of your parents and they won't know.' I have seldom seen such an utterly unethical and irresponsible product aimed at children.

I would have left then, but my companion was not yet ready to leave. The next thing to offend me was a display of tee-shirts. Some were vulgur, more so than any I'd seen before, (and I've seen some pretty awful ones.) and others illustrated someone sniffing up a line of powder - cocaine maybe. Despicable.

And so we left. So much for Nimbin.

A few days after I wrote this post, the Nimbin museum and a house or two burnt down.
I promise it wasn't me.



Thursday, 14 August 2014

Alistair MacLean and writing courses:

Alistair MacLean and writing courses: 

I found this interesting little article in the back of a collection of short stories by Alistair MacLean - 'The Lonely Sea,' published 1985.  (He died a couple of years later.) I assume we all know just how successful Alistair MacLean was. I know that I was one who always immediately bought any new book by Alistair MacLean, one of my very favourite authors.

MacLean as shown
 on the back of one of his books.
Some comments he made that I found especially interesting -
'I did write a couple of books which I thought might be judged meaningful or significant but from reader's reactions I was left in no doubt that the only person who shared this opinion was myself. .... 'I have, since then, concentrated on what I regarded as pure entertainment.'

MacLean says he feels no responsibility towards book critics. And note this quote:
'I'm afraid that I class book critics along with the pundits who run what it pleases them to term 'writing schools.' One must admire their courage in feeling free to advise, lecture, preach, and criticise something which they themselves are quite incapable of doing.'

Oh, how I agree with this!  Being in a community of writers, and would-be writers, I hear so much nonsense about the 'rules' of writing - never use 'that,'  never use 'had', never use adverbs -  all sorts of nonsense. For me, I use whatever word I need in order to best communicate the meaning. For advice on writing, I'd go with what Anne Rice said on her web-page once - You want to learn to write?  Just write.

 Alistair MacLean again: 'My greatest responsibility and debt are to those who buy my books, making it possible for me to lead the life I do. Moreover, while deriving a prefectly justifiable satisfaction in pointing out my frequent errors of fact, they never tell me how to write. I am grateful.'

He is one of many authors who have given me a great deal of enjoyment. What would life be without the privilege of living lives that are not your own?  Lives that are more exciting, more exotic, more dangerous?  (Except that the reader suffers no hurt, of course.)  What would life be without books?

For politicians, footballers, Catholic priests and Muslim imams

Do you need to be told what is good and what is bad?

There are some people who seem to have no sense at all about what is right and what is wrong. Politicians are notable - they have to have a 'Code of Conduct' written down for them, it appears. Most of us have no need to be told what is right and what is wrong. We know.

A politician handed a blatant bribe recently excused himself by saying, 'I was quite naive in a political sense at that stage.'  If he was that 'naive' then he had to be stupid. And stupid people have no business seeking to run for parliament.  (Andrew Cornwell, NSW Liberal, according to the Australian, 12/8/14.) 

Footballers. They have educational courses in how to treat women. It seems they don't know that women should be treated with respect - someone has to explain it to them!

Mr. George Pell, former arch-bishop of Sydney, who now has a position at the Vatican. He appeared at the Royal Commision into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.  His policy was to go after those who sought damages from the church, with all the muscle the church could muster. And since the Catholic Church is very rich, that was a great deal of muscle. If a victim pursued his claim, he risked being banktupted. George Pell ordered this even when he knew perfectly well that the accusations were justified.  His response when this was brought up?  That the policy was 'misguided.'   Misguided, Mr. Pell?  Try wicked. Try evil. Try frankly BAD!   (This response by Pell was shown on 'Four Corners,' ABC, 11/8/14.) 

Mr. Pell, of course, is a Catholic priest.  There has been so much about the abuses of Catholic priests these last ten years or so, that I wonder if any of them have the slightest conception of the difference between right and wrong. So many of them were abusing children that they all had to know about it. And none of them chose to try and do anything. Worse. They acted to pretend it was not happening. One instance - a headmaster of a Catholic school objected to the priest routinely abusing the children -  and was fired. ('Four Corners,' ABC, 11/8/14.) 

More about religious leaders, this time, Muslim religious leaders. ISIS, formerly ISIL, currently calling themselves 'Islamic State' and probably something else entirely next week. They are murderous terrorists. They behead enemies - no such thing as relatively civilised 'rules of war.'  Not that war is ever civilised, but I doubt if humanity has seen anything as utterly barbaric as this mob for many, many centuries. All of this is well known. It is not propaganda, it is their own boasting on social media. Pictures on social media. A child holding the head of a victim, posted by his proud father!

So what do our local Muslim leaders have to say about this?  Thankfully, at  least some have condemned it, notably 'Lakemba Community Leader, Jamal Rifi, (planning to run for NSW parliament next year according to the Australian, 12/8/14.)     

But others do not choose to comment. Board of Imams Victoria president, Sheik Gul Saeed Shah declined to comment because 'he did not know enough specifically about Islamic State.'   (The Australian, 12/8/14.)  He could not fail to know something of what they are doing. So is he lacking a sense of right and wrong?  Or is he merely afraid of the swine? 


So for politicians, footballers, Catholic priests and Muslim imams, I'll try and explain in terms you might understand.

To hurt others is bad, to help others is good.  Got it?  Not so difficult now, is it?

 So how about acting on it?