How to write about Africa – Binyavanga Wainaina

How to write about Africa – Binyavanga Wainaina
Where does one start? This eclectic collection of essays and articles effectively summarises the career of Binyavanga Wainaina. From Kenya to Transkei for education, to South Africa as student and illegal resident, and back to Kenya as a food fundi and journalist where he died aged 48 in 2019.

The book was recommended to me by a history colleague during one of our then regular discussions about Africa being ignored or, more often, being misrepresented by those who claim to know the continent. Binyavanga tells it as it is, often tongue in cheek. This, mainly in four essays, in a section called ‘A continent of satire’. The other section I enjoyed reading was ‘Away in South Africa and England’, three chapters on being an outsider in Cape Town, food, and Cured of England.

Binyavanga was a survivor – finding ways to make the situation work for him, despite all the odds being stacked against him. While his story is unique, there are similarities with many others, most of whom have, or would, not consider putting their experience down on paper.

See what the New York Times says about him.
And read his essay on How to write about Africa on Grant


Dave Robson appreciation

Dave Robson

I’m intrigued that so many think sailing is easy, but maybe that’s more to do with my personality and the books I’ve read.

Over recent years, a number of books about the ordeal of sailing have been published, a few of which are listed below. So, it was with some kind of relief when Dave Robson approached TSL with How to be a popular crew. It doesn’t tell you how to sail, but it does give good advice for the social side – crucial when a number of people, possibly strangers are living in such close proximity to each other. It’s also well worth a read if you want or need confirmation that life in a restricted moving vessel is not for you despite the allure of new places, beautiful calm blue waters and dreams of relaxing in exotic locations. And if you’re still not sure about sailing after reading How to be a Popular Crew, then try Dick Allan’s Sailing my Dream (2016) or Martinique Stilwell’s Thinking up a Hurricane (2012).

Another feature of How to be a Popular Crew is that at heart it’s about people being considerate and how to work together effectively – all skills needed whether sailing or not. In tackling these issues, the examples Dave uses (keeping anonymity of all) are helpful in developing, or confirming, a sense of self-awareness. Dave’s abililty as a coach/facilitator of life skills are clearly at play in his writing.

Since we published How to be a Popular Crew, Dave has gone on to write a young person’s book about a Shire horse Ben who is lonely and needs a friend. Ben’s Amorous Adventures, inspired by the horse next door called Ben who sadly died not long after, tackles issues of loneliness and friendship. Again, it’s a book which works on two levels – adult and young person. Dave explains more on his website where you can also see what else he has published and does.

As I write this, I await Dave’s next book for publication – keep an eye open. It’s bound to be something different which again works on multiple levels.

TSL books by Dave and some involving boats and sailing:

A version of this post was first published on 19 June 2018, this appreciation is 2024


Gandhi – a popular person?

Outside of book series, Gandhi features in the title of more than one book published by TSL. He is a complex figure. While many hold him in high regard, others see him less of a hero because of his biases and single-minded attitudes.
Whatever your views, he is a man who made his mark, together with others, on South Africa and the Asian sub-continent.

Gandhi’s influence stretched wider however – reaching as far as the USA as seen in the making of the film Gandhi and the fact that when Charlie Chaplin visited England he wanted to meet Gandhi. James Kenworth has depicted this meeting in the East End of London in his play When Chaplin met Gandhi. (see here for some vintage Chaplin film – no Gandhi though)

As a result of his actions and interpretation of religious views, he had a great influence on Hinduism in particular. Rajeshwar Prasad has tried to capture the essence of Gandhi and his life through poetry in Gandhi – The Messiah.

He also gets a mention in two stories in Sue Hampton’s Rebelling for life and in Mary Moore Mason’s Goodbye Hoop Skirts – Hello World!.

As with all ‘great’ men and women, there are multiple views and perceptions of the person. 150 years after Gandhi’s birth, more is being debated about the man. No doubt, as a result, more books on the man, and hopefully of others in his network, will make an appearance.


Solomonic Decorations – Owain Raw-Rees #Preview #Collectibles

Preview Solomonic Decorations - Owain<br> Raw-Rees

This book is neither a history of Ethiopia nor a series of biographies of the rulers described – such has been more properly attended to by more qualified persons elsewhere. My role has been that of an antiquarian – a person who studies or collects old and valuable or rare objects. I have not directly accessed any primary sources, but I have had the good fortune, often online, to be able to refer to a wealth of published material – articles, collections, biographies, histories, studies, reports and websites from which I have been able to extract and collect the many references to the Order of the Seal of Solomon.
From Emperor Tewodros II and the siege of Magdala, through the reigns of Yohannes IV, Menelik II, Iyasu, Zawditu and Haile Selassie I, this book traces the origins of the Order of the Seal of Solomon and its development into the premier award of the nation. Profusely illustrated with colour and black and white images, this 200 page hardback book is a definitive record of the Order. Also included are informative appendices concerning the origins of the Order of the Star of Ethiopia, and details of the Imperial Family Order and the Order of Negus Mikael.

About the author
Owain Raw-Rees was born in 1959 in Aberystwyth, Wales, UK, educated at Christ College, Brecon and read theology at Worcester College, Oxford. Subsequently he was commissioned into the Royal Welch Fusiliers. On leaving the Army he pursued a career in insurance and lived in the Middle East from 1989 until retirement in 2019.
Since 1993 he has been a regular contributor to the Journal of the Orders and Medals Research Society (OMRS) of Great Britain and to Miniature Medals World (MMW) – an OMRS Journal Prize and two Commendations and also two MMW Literary Awards and has contributed to the Journal of the Orders and Medals Society of America (OMSA) – ten OMSA Literary Medals. He is also regular exhibitor at the annual OMRS Conventions and has been awarded ten Exhibitor Medals – including four gold medals. In recognition of his research work he was awarded the Qu’aiti Sultanate Order of Distinction, 2000, and appointed a Member of the Order of the Star of Honour of Ethiopia by the Crown Council of Ethiopia, 2018. Through long involvement with the Association of Round Tables Arabian Gulf he was made an Honorary Life Member of the Association.

AI Solomonic Decorations - Owain Raw-Rees

To purchase a paper copy of the book, click on the image below.


Jane Lockyer Willis appreciation

Jane Lockyer Willis

Jane is for me the quintessential English lady. Her stories evoke an England of yester year infused with a gentle and often unexpected humour.

Her collection of short stories – Tea at the Opalaco – is a fine example. Jane has also published two short novels with TSL – Guys and Ghosts, set in an English village involving the pub and church. Her On the Fiddle takes us to another village setting where the manor house becomes the main focus of two petty thieves.

Prose writing is a hobby or sideline for Jane. Her main focus is theatre. She, with Melville Lovatt, was with New Theatre Company. Now her plays are available through a number of publishers – best to check her website. She has also had East Lane Theatre Club perform her work – Cocoa and Cuddles being the one we saw back in 2020. A multi-talented person, she also performs and paints. In earlier life she was a speech trainer.

If you’re looking for a tea-tme companion read, I recommend picking up one of Jane’s books.


Megan Carter appreciation

Megan Carter

Megan is another of TSL’s quiet authors. Social media and other such things are not her strength.
She prefers being with people and is quite community focused evidenced by the author sales of her poetry collection Amazing Grace.
If you are looking for a reflective read of a Christian or spiritual nature, why not give Megan’s book a read?


Ray Wooster appreciation

Ray Wooster

Ray Wooster is another of TSL’s early authors, also with a link to Harrow Writers’ Circle of which he was President when we met. Ray is also one of our authors who never typed his own stories, had a computer or engaged with social media. Ray has a very supportive family who helped with the typing and getting his texts to me.

Ray, at the time of writing this appreciation has dementia, but before this I could always rely on his quirky take on life cheering up my day. With his first royalty payment (he dealt with cheques), he gleefully told me he bought a Jaguar car – a Dinkie toy!

Ray was encouraged by his family to write his many stories down. He was a great story teller. This culminated in his trilogy since put into one book called A Boy’s War Journal. It’s essentially a what if Germany invaded London during WW2. Ray uses this scenario to set many of his own experiences of growing up in London during and after the war. Frustratingly, Ray is one of those authors who do not see a need for multiple edits of a text, not surprisingly given his school background. This put a fair bit of pressure on the editing process and although the book remains unpolished, it is a good ripping yarn – as told by Ray.
For many years, it was also one of TSL’s best sellers… Ray had a knack of getting people to buy his book without resorting to social media but he would never divulge his secret! Feedback on the book has generally been positive.

Ray’s next most popular books have been the short memoir series covering his life in the 30s and 40s, And the Baby Came Too, followed by Australia OAP Gap Year.

Less successful only in terms of sales but another good read is his Aunt Jane. Ray conceived the idea of Commuter books which we trialled – shortish stories to read on the bus or tube… he did his research first to work out demand etc, but the people he consulted, similar to himself do not purchase books in the modern way… I do recommend Aunt Jane.

Another venture was The Miller’s Boy, we ended up changing the title from Human Bondage (that’s still the title of the ebook though) as modern readers didn’t quite get the different meaning of the word ‘bondage’ – Ray’s story is historical fiction, telling the tale of a family sold into bondage to repay a debt. Another story I enjoyed reading.

Finally, there’s Michael’s Magic Motor Car – a children’s book of adventure. Another bit of fun – and a grandad features too…

If you’re after beautiful writing and prose, Ray is not the author for you. But if you’re after a good old story, well told about life in the early to mid-twentieth century, give Ray a chance.


Anna Ryland appreciation

Anna Ryland

Anna joined TSL near the beginning of our publishing journey, following a meeting with another writing group.

In bringing A Second Chance to print, Anna and I spent quite a bit of time going through already published books to get a feel for what we hoped would be the best font (readability and size) for her book to get the best balance with cost. TSL had started with the idea of a house font but it soon became apparent that this did not suit all books. It’s difficult to articulate but a story seems to come to light better if it has an approriate font – as I work with a book, it’s almost as though the story guides the asthetic too. Working with Anna on A Second Chance provided a valuable space to explore this aspect of publishing.

A Second Chance is a fairly long read by current publishing trends but that does not detract from the story – it would have lost too much of its essence had it been shortened. Often new authors ask how long a book should be – TSL’s answer: as long as it needs to be. A story needs to run its course. This doesn’t mean no editing or reworking, that definitely needs to happen, it simply allows an author the freedom to focus on the story and their writing.

A Second Chance is full of life encounters many of us would recognise, especially moving into a new and alien environment. While set in London before Britain joined the EU, the issues raised were just as pertinent for new emigrants during the EU years and most likely resonate even more in the current post-Brexit world. The protagonists in A Second Chance face similar challenges many of us do in strange new places, encountering people who are out to exploit others, some who are keen to help, others who hesitate to commit or trust and so forth.

My take on A Second Chance might appear too philosophical or analytical – don’t let that put you off. A Second Chance was for me a pleasure to read, it took me on a journey with all the necessary bumps and curves one would expect. Read it simply as a good urban adventure story of people adjusting to new lifestyles or for a reflection on society then and now. It’s up to you – I know I apreciate writing that works on muliple levels. And in the process you can learn a word or two of Polish.