Review

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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

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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

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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Melville Lovatt appreciation

Melville Lovatt

It is thanks to Melville Lovatt that TSL started the TSL Drama imprint. At the time he was with the now-closed Harrow Writers’ Circle and at one of our input sessions, liked the look and quality of our printed books (thanks lulu.com). In addition, the script company he was with, New Theatre Company, had decided to close after the death of one of the partners. The other major influencer was that TSL’s ethos seemed to mirror that of New Theatre Company. It’s good to know there are (and have been) others out there with similar views.

As a result, TSL has published Melville’s catalogue of scripts which include monologues, one act and full length plays as well as more recently poetry. A number of his pieces have won prizes as you’ll see on his TSL bio page and some of the book covers. One of the things I found, especially with Melville’s monologues, are that his character voices come to life in ways not all writers manage. It’s rare (at least in my experience) that one hears a distinct and different voice whilst reading through his work. Melville is a keen observer of situations which comes across in his scripts and poetry – he captures an essence of what I see as English life in much of his work, and on occasion has played around with different takes on the same event as seen in two of his scripts: The Lamp and Small Mercies.

Moving into the world of drama and theatre has been a journey for TSL especially as it’s not the major focus of the company nor its directors – who can only claim to have regularly attended alternative (and protest) theatre back in the day in South Africa with the odd audience excursion into theatres in the UK. Theatre is a tough world to break into – it’s mainly down to the script writer developing relationships with potential directors and theatre group creative decision makers and this requires tenacity. It also requires the script writer to know when best to have their script published as not all theatres like to work with material which is ‘already out there’. The network is also important and thanks to Melville, TSL has links with Player Playwrights which meet in Kilburn, London, and more recently through extended networks has made links with London Playwrights (watch this space…)

Due to Melville’s tenancity and involvement in the world of theatre, a few of his plays have been performed, most notably by East Lane Theatre Club, London. See his bio for other performance venues.

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Josie Arden appreciation

Josie Arden

Josie is one of TSL’s early signings. At the time, she was a member of the Harrow Writers’ Circle (sadly since closed) along with various other TSL authors. In some ways, Harrow Writers’ Circle could be said to have provided TSL’s core.

Josie had self published her Broken Ties of Time as a paper and hard back book which TSL launched as an ebook. This is an epic read, covering continents and classes. For all its length I recall it being a fairly fast and engaging read. Drugs, shady business dealings and double crossers out for their own gain abound.

In addition to Broken Ties of Time, Josie also published two collections of short stories – essentially pieces she wrote for Harrow Writers’ Circle competitions, etc. These cover a variety of topics and styles. You can see a bit more below of what I thought of the collection soon after publishing it.

At the time I was working with Josie on both Broken Ties of Time and the two volumes of This and That, she was nearly blind. Her tenacity in ensuring all was as perfect as it could be are an enduring memory. Josie is old school – something to be valued in this day and age of quick change. Whilst she could, although not engaing with social media, she would promote her books in her own way, sadly however that was not for long as her declining sight restricted her independence. Her three books, all available through TSL are testiment to a bye-gone era of writers.

The two volumes of This and That contain a total of 47 short stories arranged alphabetically by title. In some ways it’s an odd assortment of stories, all written for competitions at various stages throughout the author’s writing career.

In the main, however, the stories can best be described as sweet and gentle, ideal for someone wanting relaxing, pleasant read without having to work too hard. It’s the kind of book one can sit down and enjoy with a cup of tea. Having said this, there are some twists and turns in many of the tales, some going in unexpected directions.

The following stories stand out for me, months after having read the book, which is testament (at least in my opinion) to a story well told or which hit a nerve:
Can do Cindy (vol 1): This is the only story in the book which is specifically for children and was written to help the author’s granddaughter through a difficult patch. I love the talking trees.
Foxton Locks (vol 1): It must be the history research aspect of this story that hooked me. Investigating a painting can lead to some incredible discoveries.
Lotta Terracotta (vol 1): the colours evoked by the terracotta and the twist in the tale make this one a highlight.
Just a little pet (vol 1): every parent’s (and aunt’s) nightmare come true. Little boys will be little boys. I say no more, except mention reptile, so as not to give the story away. The young lad should be given credit for ingenuity.
York Express (vol 2): Things are not what they appear in this station encounter. How many times do we misread a situation and end up suffering the consequences unless a chance encounter gives us a second chance.
Norwegian experience.
The last rose of summer (vol 2): people are not always what they seem, but a bad situation can be turned to something good.
Carry on Red Cross (vol 1): What a community can achieve working together, or is it because of who you know?
The Spanish Christmas (vol 2): all’s well that ends well. Who knows how and why things go the way they do. A story of love and friendship.

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Somo ML Seimu appreciation

Somo ML Seimu

Seimu joined TSL as an author following his submission to There Came A Time 2 of two articles on the legacy of the First World War in Tanzania in relation to coffee and cotton production.

Having studied in the UK, Seimu is based in Moshi, Tanzania, where he is now a professor at the local agriculture college/university.

His monograph published by TSL on the history of co-operatives in Tanzania gives an insight into the trade of coffee and cotton in East Africa from the time of the German occupation of what is mainland Tanzania (Tanganyika) in the late 1890s through to 2013. Having spent many a week in Tanzania over a nine year period, and having a very fond spot for Moshi and Kilimanjaro in particular, as well as being a coffee drinker, the topic of this book really appealed to me. Reading the text was treading familiar ground with many of the places mentioned.

With a great interest in the Great War in Africa I also enjoyed discovering what men who had been involved in the First World War in East Africa did after the conflict – such as Charles Dundas; and to see how the local chiefs worked with and against the colonial and, later, the national government infrastructures.

This book should appeal to mainly readers interested in African economics and politics, although social historians should also find something of interest in it. And for coffee lovers – well, discovering what happens behind the scenes might make you appreciate that cuppa a little more… although we shouldn’t forget the role of cotton in the manufacture of clothing and other commodities.

Seimu has also co-authored with Marco Zoppi: “The Influence of Settlers’ Community in Shaping the Colonial Agricultural Marketing Policies in Tanzania”. African Economic History.