By trying often the monkey learns to jump from the tree. ~ Buganda proverb
I’ve learned a few things about writing in the last few years. Things like: set aside some time to write every day, show, don’t tell, and that common adage shared by all writers: there is no such thing as writing, just rewriting and more rewriting. But I will never forget how I learned to let my characters, not me, tell the story. All writers have a writing zone. A state of mind that leaves the writer so attuned to what is occurring on the page that nothing in the real world exists. I’ve heard of friends who are so into this zone that they didn’t hear the timer on the oven and only came out of their fantasy land when the smoke detector relayed the ominous news: they would be eating out, again. I was in my writing zone one morning, creating a scene in the second book in the Stones trilogy, when it happened. An event had played in front of me much like a TV show and I was merely writing it down. Suddenly, I was no longer watching this scene. I was part of it, sitting with Eseza, helping her prepare her evening meal over a fire. And there, in front of her, were two bags, a burlap bag that held her meagre kitchen and another bag: black and tightly secured with a knotted rope. Eseza set her stirring spoon on a rock and motioned for me to draw closer. I did and she opened her black bag to reveal its contents. I peered over her shoulder and looked in. I gasped and took a step back. Then I looked at Eseza and watched the tears fall from her eyes. “Oh, Eseza,” I said. “I’m so sorry.” And I cried as I held her tight. I will never forget that moment. Eseza became very real and alive to me that day. I understood her more and I think I was better prepared to share her story after that. And that was a very valuable lesson for me: Let your characters tell the story. They know it more than you do. After all, they’re the ones living it, not the writer.
I’m not a real snake lover. Matter of fact, just seeing a photo of a snake gives me the eebie-jeebies. Even the mere sight of a simple guarder snake, slithering through the grass on our lawn, will send me to high ground. My kids know this. My husband knows this. Even my dog knows it. So I think it came as a bit of a surprise when we came upon a black mamba on our safari one day and I stood wide-eyed and exclaimed, “Cool!” as I urged my husband to take as many photos of this 9 foot creature before it slithered away. It was so unexpected. We were speeding along a road through the savannah, trying to make good time so we could make it to the next ferry crossing. Gary and I were standing in the jeep, getting a better view of all of the animals wandering in the distance: elephants, giraffes, kobs, wildebeests, and getting hit by any flying dung beetles that just happened to be in our path. I was remarking to Gary how much of a wuss he was for hiding behind me and using me as a bug deflector when our driver hit the brakes, came to a sudden stop, and exclaimed, “Black mamba!” Now I don’t know if you know anything about black mambas, but I can tell you this. If you see a black mamba don’t waste your time running. It will see you, it will catch you, and it will kill you. It’s best for you to just stay still, say a short prayer thanking God for your good life, and accept your fate. It is one of the most deadliest snakes and is feared by every creature on earth. But we were in the safety of our jeep, and had the ultimate position to take a few photos before it slithered into the thick grass, away from the nasty tourists who had just disturbed its afternoon nap. “Cool,” I said, as I turned to my husband and removed another dung beetle from my hair, “Why don't you get out and get a close up?”
Strange photo I know, but I love it. I took it one afternoon while sitting on a mat with a family in Malawi, chatting about their future. It was a lovely time getting to know Jackson, his wife Prisca and their children. But as I looked at Prisca's feet and mine I couldn't help but think of the differences between our lives. The many miles she walked just to fetch water, tend the garden, and look after her children compared to the pampered life I and my un-callused feet have enjoyed. Lots of differences between us, that's for sure. Can't help but admire her and all the women in Malawi. Gives a whole new understanding to the strength of woman and mothers. Yep. Powerful women. The children in Malawi are in good hands.