Jun 2016

Letters from Elsewhere

Today’s guest speaks to me from Africa and is brought by Jane Bwye.


Thank you for having me, Miriam, and letting me come alive from the pages of Breath of Africa.


You ask me to speak for myself? Where shall I start…

My birth name was Charles Omari Ondiek and I was born in a remote village called Amayoni (which means birds) in a beautiful pocket of tropical forest in the western region of Kenya.

But I’ve used different names in the course of my tumultuous life. At Oxford, I was known as Charles (yes, as a student more mature than most, I graduated in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from that venerable university in the early 1960’s).

But when I returned home and started a career in journalism I had to cover my tracks for fear of being discovered by Mwangi, a Mau Mau oath-giver who’d placed a curse on my family. So I called myself Ondiek, a name which is shared by very many people. I still shudder to think of that curse, and the fear which consumed me. Mwangi caught up with me eventually, and I was left for dead. That is where the book left me, gasping to catch up with my only son, whose mother had already succumbed to the potent curse.

My son, half black, half white, was intensely angry because I changed my name again, and disappeared.

Oh – what a tangle of events and emotions we separately went through. And now in the evening of my days, I am Charles again, looking back and wondering what might have been – could have been, if…

But it’s no use looking back, however much we are tied to our grass roots. That’s why you should also read Grass Shoots, the working title of my creator’s next book.

Kenya, my country, continues to stumble along through the impediments of violence, politics and corruption. Is it making progress? What you think depends on who you are and what you mean by progress…

Thank you, Charles. I have read your story in Breath of Africa and was moved by it.

About Breath of Africa

51nyeeudxzlDedicated to the people of Kenya, BREATH OF AFRICA is a novel by Jane Bwye, retired businesswoman and intermittent freelance journalist who lived over half a century in Africa.

After the 2013 elections and the Westgate siege, Kenya moves on in hope, epitomised in the book, which means different things to different people; it can be read as a love story, a psychological thriller, or as an exploration into the interactions of people of different races. Superstition and Christian faith clash. And the stunning beauty of the country is a major character in itself.

Caroline is a privileged woman from the highlands, and Charles Ondiek, a farm labourer with dreams of Oxford. A drama of psychological terror is fuelled by Mau Mau oath administrator, Mwangi, but against the backdrop of Kenya’s beautiful but hostile desert, the curse is finally broken.

About Jane Bwye

janeJane has been a businesswoman and intermittent freelance journalist for fifty years, mainly in Kenya.

Six children and seven grandkids are scattered over three continents. She developed a taste for travel, and in 2001 “walked” round the world, buying a bird book in every country she visited. She has written numerous magazine articles and short stories, two newspaper columns and several newsletters. She co-ordinated a cookbook, “Museum Mixtures” in aid of the Kenya Museum Society in 1989, and has written a History in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of her local church, St. Wilfrid’s. Breath of Africa is her first novel, published in 2013. I Lift Up My Eyes, published in 2014, is a novella set in East Sussex.

Jane has managed her own Guest House and Riding School, and worked as a freelance Secretary. While home-studying for a degree, she started a consultancy business, providing human resource and computer advice, locum services for small businesses, and doing Organisation Reviews and Project Management for leading Management Consultancies in Kenya.

After graduation in 1995, she became Head of Computer Studies/IT at Hillcrest Secondary School, Nairobi for five years.

From 2002 Jane has operated her own consultancy in Eastbourne, UK, mentoring small business start-ups as an Associate of EDEAL.

Just a bit of fun. Or is it?


St Petersburg: Hermitage General Staff Building (photo by David Drori)

From her window seat,
Using arms and feet
And an energy burst,
She gets out first.
Olga and Sasha
Belong in Russia.

First she is, through
The passport queue.
Then she waits for her case
Despite winning the race.
Olga and Sasha
Belong in Russia.

He stands with a pout.
The two hurry out.
No time for a joke.
They both need a smoke.
Olga and Sasha
Belong in Russia.

In the evening okroshka
With beef and vatrushka
Then out to Tchaikovsky,
Chekov or Ostrovsky.
Olga and Sasha
Belong in Russia.

Letters from Elsewhere

Well, I seem to be making a habit of attracting prisoners! Today, James shares the letter he wrote in Ely’s gaol to Clare at Bethel Manor Estate. James is brought by Beatrice Fishback.

From: James Blackwell
Ely’s gaol

To: Clare Shaw
Bethel Manor Estate

My Dearest Clare,

Through a small peephole in the thatched prison, I observe the blackened sky filled with stars. The vastness stretches like an ornate, handcrafted piece of velvet needlework. It contrasts with the stink of this gaol where I find myself being held without cause. I’m unable to come to terms with why God has forsaken me in this place of filth, and with two companions that reek of rotting flesh.

The beautiful night sky, and pinpoint of fresh cold night air are a stark contrast from what lies within these prison walls. Through the stars, I am reminded of how different you and I are. You are the sparkle, and I the unworthy. You are the beauty, and I am the ugliness. You live in a world of generosity and love, I grew up an orphan with parents who abandoned me.

Yet, one of my companions has spoken of how God can work in even the direst of situations. His name is Matthew, blind and thin as a skeleton he still prays when all seems hopeless.

I’m learning to be thankful in this place and counting the stars is a reminder of the many ways I have been taken care of in my life. Margaret and George Owen, at the orphanage in Bristol, loved me as if I were their own. I had a roof over my head and food to eat. I never had to beg or scavenge like an animal to stay alive. The other children in the orphanage loved me as if I were a brother, and we cared for each other when times were difficult.

It seems unimaginable that you and I could ever be together with our differing backgrounds, but in my dreams I long to hear your voice and see the glimmer of laughter in your deep, dark eyes.

Clare, in seeing the stars I am reminded of you. We don’t know what lies in the future, but I wanted you to know that for the moment you are the bright light that shines in my dark world.

With deep fondness,

About Bethel Manor

BethelManorBristol, England in the mid-nineteenth century is rife with change. For one young man, James Winthrop Blackwell, change is what he yearns for. Abandoned as an infant at Alpheton House orphanage in Bristol, he comes of age and struggles to make sense of the God of his youth, unable to come to terms with a mother and father who had deserted him.

From west to east—from Bristol the city of his youth, to Ely, the place of discovery—James’s travels take him on a profound spiritual and emotional pilgrimage. In the midst of his journey he meets Fredrick Shaw and his feisty daughter, Clare. Fredrick’s generosity includes welcoming James to Bethel Manor—an estate of magnificent beauty. But Clare’s animosity is both confusing and compelling to James.

What James thinks he’s looking for when he leaves Alpheton House is nothing compared to what he finds. He seeks retaliation for being left by his parents, but instead discovers the reality of his past, and the truth of God’s love.

About Beatrice Fishback

BeatriceFishbackBeatrice Fishback, originally from New York, lived in the East Anglian area of Great Britain for over twenty years and traveled extensively in the United Kingdom and throughout Europe. She is the author of Loving Your Military Man published by FamilyLife Publishing and, with her husband Jim, is the co-author of Defending the Military Marriage and Defending the Military Family. She has been published in various compilations, magazines and online websites.

She and her husband have spoken to U.S. military audiences in the USA, Germany, England, Italy, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Korea, and Japan. They have also presented to international audiences in the Czech Republic, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Zimbabwe, Romania, Ukraine, Bulgaria, and Latvia.

Beatrice and Jim currently reside in North Carolina where scones are called biscuits and are topped with gravy, and sadly tea is served over ice.

005P2I will write a post or two about my recent trip to Russia, as soon as I can find the time.

In the meantime, you can read my 100-word story on the theme of headache. It won first prize in Morgen Bailey’s competition.

Letters from Elsewhere

Today’s guest is definitely not here in person. That’s because she’s incarcerated in Holloway Prison. But she’s agreed to share this letter, which she wrote to Percy Sullivan a.k.a. Hotspur. Thank you, Anne Pargeter. (And Sally Quilford and Crooked Cat.)

Dearest Hotspur, I was so pleased to receive your letter and it warms my heart that you want to fight so hard for my freedom. I think your idea to get everyone to write down their own thoughts on the events of our time at Lakeham Abbey is awfully clever.

As clever as it is, I must urge you to give up this quest of yours. Time is running out, my dearest, and I do not want you to spend that time agonising over my fate. You have your whole life ahead of you, and you won’t be in that wheelchair forever, despite what the doctors say. You are capable of doing so many great things. If you align yourself with me, that scandal will harm you for the rest of your life, and I have no wish to do that.

People will tell you a lot about me, some of it true and some of it false. But know this. I would never have harmed you or Lily. I love you both so dearly.

Forget the darkness, forget me.

If you do choose to remember me, remember all those good times we had at Lakeham Abbey: the walks in the plantation, the picnics on the island with Group Captain Marsh… These are the memories that sustain me in these dark days.

I wonder… have you seen him? Is he well, do you know?

Please take care of your little sister for me. Your mother tries really hard, despite what people think, but she suffered abuse and manipulation at the hands of a devil for so long that it cannot help but leave its mark.

God bless you, my angel. I think that one day, if heaven allows after you have had a long and fruitful life, we will meet again.


About The Secret of Lakeham Abbey

TheSecretOfLakehamAbbeyWhen Percy Sullivan’s family take over Lakeham Abbey for the summer, it was a chance to get away from battered post-war London and be cossetted by the capable and pretty housekeeper, Anne Pargeter.

They soon learn that the Abbey conceals a dark secret — one that someone was willing to kill to hide. When Anne is convicted of murder and sentenced to execution, Percy is determined to do all he can to save his friend from the gallows.

He encourages everyone to tell their side of the story. This leads to some startling revelations, including a shocking secret that Percy’s mother tried to hide from him.

Will it be enough to save Anne’s life?

Find it on:

I love this novel. It’s light and humorous and so well told.

About Sally Quilford

SallyQuilfordSally Quilford was born in South Wales, but has lived in Derbyshire since her teens. She has had novels published by My Weekly Pocket Novels and Ulverscroft, and her stories and articles have appeared in magazines both in Britain and abroad.

Sally has also run online courses, including the excellent workshop that spawned my novel, Neither Here Nor There.

Letters from Elsewhere

Book Cover.


I’m delighted to be visited today by Melissa. I loved reading her story in Stella Hervey Birrell‘s novel, How Many Wrongs make a Mr Right? published by Crooked Cat.







Dear Bella,

Letters from Elsewhere picture 1The wee one is napping on me and all I can reach is this piece of paper and a pen, so I thought I’d write and say hi. How are you? What’s new in Edinburgh? I miss it – I miss you!

I’ve been really tired: he keeps waking me up in the middle of the night, bad dreams. About his Daddy mostly. I don’t know what to say to him, but I can’t sleep with him in my bed either.

Then in the day time he’s into everything, every minute has to be filled with something: by the end of the day there’s playdough out and drying, pens scattered in a jumbled rainbow, cereal crunching under my feet. Sometimes I just shut the kitchen and the living room doors, and go straight to bed.

Letters from Elsewhere picture 2How’s the new flat? And what’s it like, finally living with Darren? You looked so happy together at the christening, thank you for coming and for the gift. Ornaments are all very well, but your Boots voucher will be much more useful and I’ll never have to dust it.

I’m sure I’m meant to be a grown-up now. I feel I’m just pretending to know what I’m doing, parenting this wee thing. I miss just hanging out at the pub. And going dancing, although I can’t imagine staying awake for long enough. You want to see him sleeping on my shoulder, you would never think he gets up to any mischief. I’ve got a dead arm now, where he’s sparked out on it. I don’t know whether I should let him sleep just now either: will he be awake at night again? I’m just making it up as I go along.

Letters from Elsewhere picture 3But maybe that’s all any of us does. And maybe it’s better to wing it; if I don’t have a plan, it doesn’t matter when it all goes wrong. Like yesterday, when we ‘had’ to do potato printing (his words), and there were no potatoes, no paint, we’d even run out of paper. Lots of wrongs. So we went to the shops, and I looked up how to make them, and we did it together, after arguing about whether I was going to let him use the sharp knife. Maybe I am getting it right, some of the time.

Letters from Elsewhere picture 4I hope potato prints and cereal and rainbows are enough. I love him and all that, but sometimes I’m just too tired to show it!

Come and visit soon?






Stella Says

17.11.2015. Stella Hervey Birrell.

Stella writing at home.

Thanks for reading! If you’d like to find out what happened to Melissa, all is revealed in How Many Wrongs make a Mr Right? which is available from UK Amazon US Amazon Kobo Nook and iBooks.

How to find me: please come and say ‘hi’ in one or more of these places.


I’m delighted Carol, a.k.a. C R Ward accepted my challenge of the Liebster Award in this lovely post.

I managed to condense Neither Here Nor There into 140 words for Stella Hervey Birrell. All the posts on her blog contain 140 words.

I paid another visit to Ailsa Abraham’s Bingergread Cottage. The magic carpet is… magical.