The Celebration Husband


Maya Alexandri appreciation

Maya Alexandri

Maya was one on our very first authors when we decided to launch TSL. Her book, The Celebration Husband, was (and remains) in my opinion a great book – it’s a novel set in Kenya (then British East Africa) during World War 1. In addition, Maya researched the life of Karen Blixen aka Isak Dinnesen who became the basis of her main character.
Since publishing The Celebration Husband, Maya has gone on to write other books and short stories, some of them award-winning. This is great for her as her writing is good, although definitely not my cup of tea (and not published by TSL). The Celebration Husband is an anomaly in her collection – at least at face value, for which I am grateful. It is a pity though that the book hasn’t sold as well as we hoped it would despite it hitting the market at the start of the centenary of the 1914-1918 war. Maya took a chance going with a new publishing house – thank you Maya!
We both learnt a lot about the publishing business and, I think, about ourselves in bringing The Celebration Husband to the world. Despite its rough start, The Celebration Husband continues to sell steadily – evidence of the peaks and troughs of interest in the Firat World War and Africa, and the randomness of social media in engaging an interested reader at the right time.
I know I’m biased by the topic, but I do believe Maya’s encapsulation of the atmosphere of the war in Africa and the adrenalin adventure aspect rival Wilbur Smith’s Assagai (2009) – both books having strong female protagonists (as they were at the time). The war aside, The Celebration Husband is a book about loyalty and betrayal on numerous fronts, adventure and overcoming adversity.
If this is not quite your scene, you might want to try some of her other works – Dylan Thomas being her great influence. However, I strongly recommend The Celebration Husband.



Feminism is a word that gets me cringing – it’s a label and one I don’t want to be boxed into. Don’t get me wrong, I’m really grateful for what the Suffragettes did – one of the reasons I believe all people should vote even if you don’t think putting a cross in a box will make a difference (my other ‘must vote’ reason is seeing what being able to vote meant to so many in South Africa in 1994. People died to have a say, I can’t ignore that.) Over my short life, I’ve come to realise there are many feminisms and the one I most closely associate with is what I equate to Female Consciousness (taking Steve Biko’s Black Consciousness as a starting point). I don’t have to change my behaviour to be valued or to have my femininity recognised. I am valued because I am true to myself and my beliefs.

An author I value for a seemingly similar view is Doris Lessing. But it is Margaret Atwood who inspired this post. Well, not Margaret herself but rather an article on women becoming feminists because of her. A Handmaid’s tale is one of the most powerful films I’ve ever seen to the extent that I’m too afraid to read the book. It resonates today, not because of the position of women, but rather because the human race doesn’t seem to learn from the past. We glibly accept what is fed to us through the media, accepting policies in the work place because we’re too scared not to (what happened to common sense?) and giving in to the general hysteria around us.

I know many powerful and strong women who just get on with the job, confident in their belief of what they’re doing: Ruth First and a young Winnie Mandela who fought against colour discrimination; Olive Schreiner, Gertrude Page, Doris Lessing, Margaret Atwood and other writers who use(d) the pen to comment on social inequalities and unjust actions irrespective of gender; Emily Hobhouse campaigning against the Boer War concentration camps, Florence Nightingale nursing in the Crimea, business women who have broken the perceived glass ceiling because of being good at their job – taxation, economics, education. And crossing into a new culture, watching the documentary of Hooligan Sparrow at The Rights Practice. Ye Haiyan (aka Hooligan Sparrow) is a remarkable person protesting against the inequalities in Chinese society – in this case the use of school girls who are sexually exploited. Although the focus was on Ye Haiyan as the driving force, she could not have achieved what she did (and continues to do) without the support of others.

I can’t help but think that if we stop getting side-tracked by the label of feminism, and just get on and do, society as a whole will be in a much better place. And, I’m reminded of two books different in style and detail but similar in setting and having strong women as the main characters; one written by a woman (Maya Alexandri), the other by a male (Wilbur Smith); the latter makes no mention in the blurb of the women involved – I assume because of the readership Wilbur is appealing to(!).

first published 31 May 2017, updated 2024



For those who don’t know me, I love cows!

I think my love of cows goes back to my childhood (one of my grandfather‘s was a dairy farmer for a while) but that’s a story for another day (or couch). Cows are serene animals and their colouring and proportions just seem to fit no matter where they originate – although having said this, perusal of Beautiful Cows led to two exceptions: the Belgian Blue (disproportional) and the Charolais (too much like a sheep – another of my favourite animals).

Has anyone found the answer to this question by Bill Watterson “Who was the guy who first looked at a cow and said ‘I think I’ll drink whatever comes out of these when I squeeze ’em?” ?

Recently, I came across an article about  Cows going to Antarctica in 1933 – I wonder how they survived?

Cows and their relatives feature in numerous books. Some on my list, other than Beautiful Cows, already mentioned, include:

Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
The Secret Life of Cows by Rosamund Young
Bringing the rain to Kapiti Plain by Verna Aardema. Although this is a Nandi tale, it has an image of a Maasai – well known for their love of cows.
A Boy’s War Journal by Ray Wooster
The Celebration Husband by Maya Alexandri
The Lake Tanganyika Expedition 1914-1917: A primary source chronology by GWAA
and various by Laurens van der Post who was a dairy farmer for some time.

And although no mention in the book, The Moon is Toast, by Andrew Samson, cow corner is a fielding position in cricket. I think the link explains why the term does not feature in the diary of a cricket statistician.

I couldn’t resist this quote by Dorothy Sayers: “Facts are like cows. If you look them in the face long enough, they generally run away”, or perhaps they just got bored!

Since first writing this post, cows have been a major part of Marthe Kiley-Worthington’s Family are the Friends you Choose

The image of the cows is from the Milk Exibition which was at the Welcome Institute, April 2023.

Have you seen?


Ships, boats and things that float

Ships have been featuring quite a bit in my life. In particular I find it incredible how the huge hulks of metal can float on water whilst the little ones stay upright. I’m not a water baby, much preferring to fly (it’s more likely to be a quick end) than boats (slow, sharks and cold water). This hasn’t stopped me travelling by boat on occasion but more significantly being around people who like boats.

An abiding memory are two cousins whom I hadn’t seen for many years at their 21st birthday party. They were water babies and their party was at a lake where those who wanted could waterski. During the afternoon a storm brew and the boats were being tossed around. Never fear the two were out there tightening the ropes and whatever needed doing to prevent the boats sinking. The rest of us watched hands in mouths and I recall our grandmother freaking out at her son for not helping his children. He nonchalantly replied ‘They know what they’re doing, they’ve done it often enough.’ My other abiding memory was joining my uncle and aunt on their yacht (thankfully in a quiet harbour) from where we attended a party on a huge cargo ship. A potent punch was the highlight of the day but alas I cannot share ther recipe as it went AWOL some years ago. It well deserved its skull and crossbone warning.

These two annecdotes lead beautifully into two autobiographies I’ve read about a life on the water, enhanced by having met the authors.

George King’s A love of ships (1991) described as “The story of BP’s huge growth during the tanker boom, told by a Scotsman who worked for the company for 40 years, working his way up from midshipman, to captain, to managing director of BP Tankers with 100 tankers to supervise.” ( All I can add to this apt summary is to be sure to read the book with a Glaswegian accent. I met George well into his retirement and a more unassuming man you couldn’t imagine.

Martinique Stilwell’s Thinking up a Hurricane (2012) I happened to be in South Africa when I heard there was a book launch of Niki’s book at Love Books in Melville. Naturally I had to buy a copy and what an honest account of growing up on a yacht. It clearly demystifies the glamour of yachts in tranquil blue harbours we see on telly.

Linking in with TSL’s Great War in Africa imprint, three books come to mind:

Tarzan of Greystoke ended up being born in Africa when the ship his parents were travelling on sank off the African coast. In volume 7 Tarzan participates in the First Wrld War in East Africa. Another African shipwreck book is The Caliban Shore by Stephen Taylor (2004)

The African Queen by CS Forester (1934) The film is wonderful but I much preferred the book written before the movie version. It tells the story of a little boat going to sink the German von Goten (today’s MV Liemba still serving on Lake Tanganyika). The factual account behind the battles on Lake Tanganyika was published by TSL in 2016.

Finally, John Jewell’s factual Dhows at Mombasa (1976) John first went to Africa in 1918 when his mother joined his father, a doctor who had been On Call throughout the East African Campaign.

Ships feature in TSL published novels The Celebration Husband (2015) by Maya Alexandri – a novel set in the First World War in East Africa, and in Broken Ties of Time by Josie Arden – a family saga stretching over 400 years.

And a final nod to the article which promoted this post being completed.

First published 23 July 2016