Sue, thank you for having me back on this auspicious day – you talked about family histories on my blog a few weeks ago. We writers are taught to tell of what we know, and our families are ingrained into our very beings. I’ve often said that my family is my life.
And my life is a patchwork of catching up with the past. I’ve come to writing books late because of the demands of family, but along the way have stumbled upon some extraordinary icebergs.
I only met my father a couple of times. He had an Austrian surname, which changed when he became naturalised British. I’m told that General Orde Wingate is a vague ancestor. There must be a semblance of truth, because Wingate was my father’s second name. But I’m too busy to go digging.
In the year 2000 I found a half-brother (I’ll call him Jim) in Cape Town and enjoyed supper with his family. It was weird; we started arguing with each other over a triviality, just like typical siblings. He has two younger brothers living in South Africa, and we have a half-sister from yet another mother. “Our father,” as we called him, had passed away the previous year, which unsurprisingly was news to me, and then this sister appeared out of the blue…
I wondered if Jim thought she was after an inheritance, and I quickly quelled any similar thoughts he may have had about me, the first-born (I think…).
He told me that when he was twenty-one, he went on a long car drive with our father through the South African desert from Cape Town to Johannesburg. Jim had been brought up to believe he was the eldest son. They picked up a newspaper from a wayside eating place and Jim opened it as they continued their journey. Spread across the inside pages was a glamorous photograph of a woman hanging on the arm of a film star.
“Sue C-,” said Jim. “Dad – I wonder if she’s a relative of some sort…”
Our father braked hard and pulled into the side of the road. He snatched the paper from Jim’s hand and studied it.
It turned out Sue C was a half-sister, from his second wife in what was then Rhodesia. The remainder of the journey was spent in outrage and recriminations. Jim never did get on with our father. He told me as a small boy he was made to play tennis, but in a fit of temper, smashed the wooden racket over his knee and refused point blank to carry on. Our father used to attend Wimbledon every year; I now know the source of my love of this game – it must be in my blood.
The story gets weirder, but I’m not divulging any more, as the seed of another book is germinating in my mind. Truth is indeed sometimes stranger than fiction.
People ask me how much of BREATH OF AFRICA is autobiographical. I say the story is made up, but the scenes draw from my experiences in Kenya. But a close friend pursed her mouth when I told her this.
“It’s not fiction,” she said, with a knowing look. But even she cannot know everything.
Which brings me to the present. Today - Tuesday 7th October - my second book, a novella, I LIFT UP MY EYES is launched!
There is no hint of Africa in its pages, but there is a sense of loss and frustration and an attempt at coping with some of the hard knocks which life can throw at you. There is also love lost and found, and a life-changing situation.
Here, the characters are a fictitious conglomeration of people who may have crossed the paths of my life; but who is to say how much of the emotions are mine and those of my family?
Wow, Jane - what a fascinating story! Thank you so much for sharing it!
To buy Jane’s new book, click here.
Jane Bwye’s website: www.janebwye.com