Tag Archives: Zambia

Writing yourself

I am assuming it is true for all authors, but know that this is true for me: a lot of me has gone into every piece of writing I’ve done. I am not sure how it could be otherwise.

I tried once, as an exercise, to see if I could write something in a genre and style unlike my own – just to see if I could do it. I could, with difficulty, but the result was highly unsatisfactory and when the laptop courteously enquired as to whether I wanted to save it I said no.

Both The Butterfly Heart and The Sleeping Baobab Tree tread on ground familiar to me as a child growing up in Zambia. Writing them has freshened up warm and rich memories and brought them back into the forefront of my mind. I am grateful for that. The other pieces of writing I have been working on are a novella set on Death Row in South Africa prior to the abolition of the death penalty and a full length novel set in South Africa again in the late eighties. Both of these delve into more recent memories of mine and writing them enabled me address the memories and find a place for them.

With the as yet unpublished  full length novel,  called Turn Left at the Camel Thorn Tree, the story allowed me to look at the question of belonging (it’s alternate name being Who Here Belongs) and a sense of place. Having lived in many places and never truly been of those places, it is a question that intrigues me.   And I use the word intrigue advisedly, as it does not distress me – just interests me. I feel privileged to have lived in all of the places, including here in Ireland.

With the novella, called No Shoelaces,  the issue is simpler. The novella attempts to take readers into the belly of a place manned by people whose only function is to keep people alive until it is time to kill them. Scheduled date and time. Luckily the place in question now houses a Death Row museum in South Africa. But not so in many other parts of the world. America springs to mind. As does Pakistan which recently ended a five year moratorium and announced plans to execute the 400 prisoners who the government says are under sentence of death. Other groups put the number as high as 8,000. A popular move in Pakistan, something no doubt that Nawaz Sharif is well aware of, but in my view a huge step backwards for the country.

In talking about ‘writing yourself’ I am not for a moment talking autobiography – it is just that the adage ‘write what you know’ holds true for me. It is quite simply just easier. And more real. I for one am going to stick to it.

St. John’s and The Butterfly Heart

As mentioned in the last post I spent a while last week in St. John’s School, Kilkenny. Below you will find some examples of the work Ms. Mackey’s class has been doing on The Butterfly Heart.

One of the groups did an Alphabet Book – they used every letter of the alphabet in words relevant to the book. I cannot scan the whole thing in so have just put in two pages to give you an idea. That group was Patrick, Katie, Lenka, Tony and Liam. The other groups have their names on the pages.

Thank you again, all of you, for the effort you have put into reading and understanding the book. I hope one day some of you might get a chance to visit Zambia and see it for yourself.

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The Sleeping Baobab Tree

So, here it is – not launched yet but a pre copy. I love it!

Release date 2nd May.

The Sleeping Baobab Tree April 2

And here, with its older sibling!


The Child Within

The young girls in this video speak for themselves far more eloquently than I could. Heartbreaking.


Confucius and Lilayi Twitti School Project

I have been thinking about teaching and learning for a while now – perhaps because we are nearing the end of school attendance with our own children, perhaps because of visiting so many schools in the past six months but perhaps because of this picture, which arrived in my inbox courtesy of Chipasha Luchembe from the Zambians in California community.

School 1


Perhaps because once upon a time I was a teacher.

It is a formidable responsibility that you take on when you stand in front of a class of ten, twenty, thirty, fifty or one hundred children and direct their learning, impart knowledge – educate them.

Confucius, a teacher himself, placed enormous emphasis on morality, self control and respect – and on study and discipline. One of his more famous quotes relates to this: “He who learns but does not think is lost. He who thinks but does not learn is in great danger.”


He did not in any way mean rote learning – his teaching was defined by its questioning nature, literally. He would ask students questions, pose problems and get them to arrive at the answer. As he himself said  “I only instruct the eager and enlighten the fervent. If I hold up one corner and a student cannot come back to me with the other three, I do not go on with the lesson.”

One of the blessings of being a teacher is that you are given an opportunity to have a positive impact on the lives of those you teach, and likewise they can have a positive impact on your own life. It can be a rewarding, wonderful job. I remember being told of science teachers in Zimbabwe, many of whom had not been paid for months on end, travelling miles – some walking, some cycling, some in cars using up scarce diesel – to attend a Science Teachers workshop. Taking time they could ill afford in order to improve their skills in the classroom. There are many students who have a lot to thank those teachers for.

In looking up teaching in Zambia after seeing the picture that Prof Luchembe sent on I came across one of many inspiring stories. It is the story of teachers Mr. and Mrs. Maonde from Lilayi. They had both retired from teaching but began to teach children in their own home. They started with five pre-schoolers but by 2005 they had 200 pupils coming in shifts to their home to be taught.

The couple got in touch with teachers they knew in Canada and out of this an initiative called Friends for Zambia was started to raise funds to build a school in the area. The result is this.

Twitti School in Lilayi

Twitti School in Lilayi

There are now 370 pupils in the school from kindergarten to Grade 9. Some achievement. All stemming from the dedication of two inspired Zambian teachers, Simon and Lydia Maonde and two inspired Canadian teachers who had taught as volunteers in Namwala Secondary School – the school at which Simon Maonde was headmaster!

Take a look at their website here


The Next Big Thing – Blog Hop

How the Next Big Thing blog hop works

An author answers ten questions and then tags other authors to do the same thing the following week on the same day, which in this case is a Wednesday (I am a little late..)

Tom O’Neill tagged me.

Tom O’Neill had his book Old Friends: The Lost Tales of Fionn Mac Cumhaill published recently. He likes writing for both old adults and young adults. It allows him to spend time amongst strange characters and to add to the public body of lies. Other preoccupations: Africa, farming, and restoring castles. You can find out more at Tom’s blog.

FionnTalesCover 2

Here are my answers to the questions..

What is the working title of your next book? 

The Sleeping Baobab Tree

Where did the idea come from for the book? 

It came to me as I was looking at photos of Baobab trees (as you do) and I came across one at a place called Ingombe Ilede, roughly translated as The Place of the Sleeping Cow. It is in Zambia and nearby an ancient burial site. A magical place.
What genre does your book fall under? 

Magical realism.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition? 

A hard one, but as the book is set in Zambia I would like actors from there to play the roles rather than people from other countries pretending to be Zambian.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? 

Three friends and an old woman embark on a journey, each of them hoping to right wrongs, both past and present … but dark clouds are gathering and ancient magic is in the air beneath the shadow of the sleeping Baobab.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? 

It will be published by Walker Books in London.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript? 

This book has taken many twists and turns along the way so that’s a hard one to answer!
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? 

Certainly my first book, The Butterfly Heart, not sure which others.
Who or what inspired you to write this book? 

Primarily my love for Zambia inspired me – it is where I spent my childhood and my memories of it are vivid and clear.
What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

 One of the sub-themes in the book is the damage done by those people, scientists among them, who have spent many years denying the existence of HIV/AIDS. In the process they have caused the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives.

Tagged Authors

I have tagged a few authors as it seems as though the Blog Hop allows you to do this. However if my tagees (!) wish to limit themselves to only one other author, that is no problem.

 I have tagged Jean Flitcroft, Jean is the author of The Cryptid Files series published by Little Island and you can read more about Jean here. In this series Jean’s love of travel, her scientific background and her writing skill have combined into three wondrous tales of Crytpids. So far the books have taken us from Loch Ness to Mexico and finally to a remote island off the coast of Canada.

I have also tagged Vukani Nyirenda. Vukani is a Zambian writer specializing in children’s folktales based on Zambian folklore. He has published two picture books and many of his stories have been published online and in magazines. He currently lives in Ontario, California. You can read more about Vukani here. 

I have tagged Colleen Cailin Jones. Colleen lives in Cork and is a Canadian writing for children. She is also a very active member of SCBWI (the Ireland chapter) and a Sacred Heart singer. You can find out more about Colleen here.

And, finally, I have tagged another O’Neill. John O’Neill, who hails from Ballon in County Carlow, is the author of the book Children of the Cromlech, as well as the script-novel Ned Hickey.  John lives in New Zealand now.

Mutinta (again)

I have posted videos and songs by Mutinta before – and here’s another one .. she is a young singer from Zambia and I love her voice – this one is quite different to previous one but still brilliant. And, to top it off, the video is set in Zanzibar – absolutely exquisite.

Libraries in Zambia

Have just posted in the Reviews section a review that was sent on to me by the Lubuto Library Project , written by a volunteer who was working with the library in Lusaka. It brings to mind a library I have written about a few times on the blog, the Nkhanga Village Library. It was officially opened on December 8th 2012 and it now has 3,798 books with a capacity for many more.

Nkhanga Village Library

Congratulations to Prof. Mwizenge Tembo and all of those who worked to make this dream a reality. I am sure that many hours of pleasure and learning will be had under its roof.

More details on Prof. Tembo’s website and in Rainbow News

Mosi-oa-Tunya, The Smoke that Thunders

BBC Documentary on Mosi-oa-Tunya, the Victoria Falls, in Zambia. Some incredible footage of the mighty Zambezi River accompanied by the story of those whose homes are near its banks and who depend on it for their livelihood.

Happy Independence Day Zambia

At Midnight on October 24th 1964 Zambia became independent. So, Happy Independence Day Zambia!

My brother John Leyden was born in Kitwe, Zambia in the year of Zambia’s independence so here’s a song for Zambia from his band Mango Groove. The song when it was written was dedicated to Spokes Mashiyane, known as the King of Kwela. But for today I feel like dedicating it to Zambia, a Special Star.