Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Tunglið


Liking these guys' style:

For Tunglið, how you publish is as important as what you publish. Named after the Icelandic word for the moon, the tiny publisher prints its books in batches of 69 on the night of a full moon. So far, so weird. But keen readers must also buy their books that same night, as the publisher burns all unsold copies.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Longlisted



Aw, that's nice. Wolfish was longlisted for the Leapfrog Press award 2017. Always nice to get a mention. The longlist consisted of 31 works chosen from 410.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Character Perspective


Teaching again tonight, so thought I'd share another little introductory unit on the importance of character perspective when starting your story. I've covered a bit about 1st person v. 3rd person before, but this gives you a bit more info, and there's a quick test at the end.


As with The History of Creative Writing, it's a narrated PowerPoint, so if you're using Mac, you may need Flip4Mac for the audio to play.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Skin


And for my next trick...

Just finished my 5,000 for the day. Submitted Red & White (Snow White & Rose Red) to Ghostwoods last night, now cracking on with (Donkey)Skin / Peau d'Âne. Sort of a forerunner of Cinderella, but with more incest and dead animals. Urm... it's not as bad as that sounds.

Feeling cheerful. My writing's been a bit hit and miss this year due to other projects, so it's nice to know I'll have achieved something solid. The three stories together should make a decent-sized collection, and three stand alone stories with interweaving themes for those reading closely.

Unfortunately, it has given me pause for thought over the other novel I was writing, Still Life. I still think it's a good idea, and it's half written already, but I've stumbled upon something else which looks like an even better idea.

Keeping it under my hat for now. I'll see how I feel once Skin is submitted.

It's been interesting writing multiple stories these past few months, but I think one book at a time might be the way to go. It's nice to have another story to write when you're getting annoyed with the one you're looking at, but if you get annoyed with both, that's twice as much reason to goof off.

On with the donkey story!

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Tartaria Tablets


Huh. Just after we crack the meaning of the Voynich Manuscript, a new mystery. Writing may be a few thousand years older than first thought: 

Scientists argue that the Tartaria tablets are evidence of a writing system that predates the one in Ancient Sumer by at least some 2,000 years. They have dubbed it as the Old European Scrip or the Danube Script.

The so-called Tartaria Tablets are three artifacts recovered in 1961 from a Neolithic site in Tartaria, Romania. Since their discovery, the three enigmatic tablets have created confusion and excitement among archaeologists.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

I Dream of Kitty


Traumatic couple of days. One of my three kittens (technically now cats), failed to turn up for breakfast. Occasionally one is a few minutes late, but nothing keeps these guys away from food. More unusual, it was Sophie, who is a complete cuddle lump of a house bunny.

Naturally, I feared the worst. I printed missing posters and canvased the neighbours. I scoured the ditches and bushes along the road. I put up a flyer in the local café.

Before bed last night, I poured myself the ultimate comfort drink. African Tea is basically hot milk with spices. Sometimes people show it a teabag, but so swiftly it's hard to tell. Before bed, I make it like so:

  • Cup of milk
  • Dash of cardamom
  • Dash of nutmeg
  • Dash of cinnamon
  • Heaped teaspoon of honey

Stir over heat until warm.

You can add ginger, but I don't before bedtime.

Anyway, I've noticed over the years that this drink is guaranteed to get me a good night's sleep, but also bestows crazy dreams. I used to dream a lot. Multi-colour surround sound. Now, not so much. But add a dash of nutmeg and I'm trippy till the sun comes up.

I had this really powerful dream that all three kittens were with me and I was giving Sophie an extra big cuddle.

When I woke, I assumed it was 'goodbye.'

Opened the back door and all three kittens tumbled in!

I'm currently typing this in my room, where Sophie has been allowed special bedroom privileges (usually reserved for rainy days). She's crawled under my quilt and is fast asleep. The other two are out, but she's staying home tonight with plenty of food and a comfortable couch. The poor love turned up with her eye swollen half shut, her head shaking, a squeak of pain and a flat nose. I'm completely mystified what happened to her. Will get the vet to come check her over. Just extremely glad to have her home.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Coming Up Roses


Yay!

Just finished Red & White, first draft. Came in just shy of 29,000. That's quite a bit shorter than I was expecting. Maybe I can add a bit in the edit, but as it's one of three and the first is around 50,000 that's okay. Each of the stories stands alone, but there's a running theme throughout.

Will edit this week and see what Ghostwoods says.

I used to love editing, but I'm looking forward to starting the next one more than editing this one. I was listening to Tea & Jeopardy the other day. Emma was interviewing Robin Hobb, who talked about the stories you have yet to tell always being more interesting than the one you're working on. I can relate to that. The next idea is always sparkly, whilst the current one reminds you of the inadequacies of language in manifesting that brilliance. 

Still, it's always better to have more ideas than not enough of them.

Onward!

Friday, 9 June 2017

Sunrise


Watched a lovely sunrise over Kigali this morning as the election results for the UK rolled in. We're an hour ahead here. I made it to 7 a.m. and woke feeling very content. I'm a big Jeremy fan and it's wonderful to see the Labour gains. As one commentator pointed out, many of the Labour MPs who were strongly critical of Corbyn, tonight owe their seats to him. Very proud of all the young people of the UK who turned out to vote. They really did make a huge difference. Whatever happens now it's deeply satisfying to see a strong, hopefully more united, opposition. Politics worth waking up for.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Roses at 20k

Brigette Barrager

2/3 at 20k = 50/50²

Little bit of author algebra.

Novella two of three is at 20,000, which is halfway through the book and halfway through the overall project.

Long story short, the re-adulting of Riding Hood got a nod of approval from Ghostwoods and a request for a second darkling tale. So, I decided to makeover Snow White and Rose Red, but couldn't resist the idea of a trilogy, as the first is at around 50k, but the Roses are only likely to make it to around 40k. So, I've picked Donkeyskin (Peau d'Âne) as the final addition, and the one yet to begin.

The potential here is to release each as an e-book, culminating in a paperback compilation at the end.

It's just an idea at the moment, but a nice one.

The thing is, I haven't done any writing for weeks. I've been so wrapped up in other things, mostly getting my piano project off the ground. 

I finally got back to it yesterday and I'm making up for lost time.

I've put Still Life on hold and committed myself entirely to these three fairytales. In two days I've written 10,000 words. Could never have done that with something that required research. It's such a freeflow - a lot of fun to write.

The working titles are Wolfish, Red & White and Skin. So, if you hear me mentioning those, you'll know what they are.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Split Worlds Concludes


Huge shout out to the lovely Emma Newman who provided the narration for Those Rosy Hours audiobook and runs the wonderfully authory podcast Tea & Jeopardy. Emma writes a series called Split Worlds and the final instalment, All Good Things, was released yesterday. You can find out all about it here.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Treasure Island


I've just returned from a pirate adventure.

I've spoken before about how I tend to do things topsy-turvey and read books after watching films. Like the film tells you whether you like the story, then the book lets you in on all the hidden secrets of what really happened.

Well, this time it was TV. I've been an avid follower of Black Sails. Though I must admit, I found the final run hard to finish. It had the air of a series that knew it'd been cancelled but wanted to make a poignant point about freedom, the will of mankind, the threat of civilisation - all that.

I was a bit annoyed as it took me the first two series to decide that it was brilliant, then one excellent series, then a soggy farewell.

Still, I knew it was a prequel to Treasure Island. I'd had a Ladybird copy on my bookshelves all my childhood but never opened it. Thought now was the time.

Black Sails married together fictional characters from Treasure Island alongside real pirates throughout history, such as Calico Jack, Anne Bonny, (exceedingly briefly) Mary/Mark Read, Blackbeard and Charles Vane. But the main story revolves around the relationship between Captain Flint and Long John Silver. In Treasure Island, Silver names his parrot Flint after a supposedly notorious dead pirate who everyone else was terrified of, except Silver.

I enjoyed Black Sails for what it was, but there were definitely some departures from the book, in which Israel Hands had originally been a gunner for Flint, Silver's leg was amputated above the knee (possibly theatrically quite hard to imitate), and both Long John and Billy Bones of Treasure Island appear much rougher and altogether seaward than the characters in Black Sails. Which isn't to say Black Sails wasn't good, but if you're a fan of Treasure Island, you might be scratching your head over the casting.

It was nice to know that Silver and Madi remained together, though she wasn't mentioned by name in the book.

I really enjoyed the story. I can definitely see how Long John Silver became such an iconic figure in literary history, and the strong influence the book had on every pirate story written since, with the 'shiver my timbers,' 'pieces of eight,' 'Huzah!', its parrots, black spots and buried treasure.

Apart from a slightly drawn-out voyage in a coracle, it was swashbuckling adventure from beginning to end, with a few plot twists I didn't see coming.

There were some nice lines, including wicked, old, wild sea-songs, eyes gleaming like a crumb of glass, cleansing a blood-stained knife the while upon a wisp of grass, a mast of goodish bigness, and a little cloud of pirates leaping from the woods.

In between Silver's catchphrase of telling everyone they could 'lay to that,' I also learnt that English gypsies carried around little goatskin tents, and that when you felt blue, you 'fell in the blues.' Oh, and perhaps the cutest word of all, a canikin (small can). 

The language is of its time, written by Robert Louis Stevenson (as Captain George North) from 1881-1882 about the mid-1700s, but the adventure remains fresh.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Healing Words


Fascinating article on the physical healing and immune-boosting properties of expressive writing: The Puzzling Way That Writing Heals The Body.

Kavita Vedhara from the University of Nottingham and her team in New Zealand took 120 healthy volunteers, and made them write about either a distressing event or how they spent the previous day. They did this either before or after a punch biopsy on their upper arm. The people from the expressive writing group were six times more likely to have a wound that had healed within 10 days than the people in the control group.

You might also be interested in the way fiction bends our brains and that readers live longer.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

A Brief History of Seven Killings



Finished! I have been reading this book for a really long time. I picked it up at Kinyarwanda class last November. The chapters in all but one section are extremely short, only a few pages, so I've been reading a couple each night in between other stories.

One thing's for sure - it's anything but brief.

Almost 700 pages.

I have mixed feelings. Marlon James's writing is pure poetry. His use of language is an absolute delight, although this does make for tough going at times and, over multiple characters, it makes it hard to keep track of who's who. Although, the main characters: Alex, Nina, Papa-Lo, Josey Wales and Weeper are fairly easy to tell apart, which is a testament to James's characterisation. But there are a lot of small parts that jump in and out and don't always seem to tie in. There's a long list of characters at the beginning of the book, like the cast for a stage production. 

I fell into the start of the book. There's something really dark and enticing about the play between life and death, and the opening scene is a ghost, Sir Arthur George Jennings, explaining how the dead watch those who killed them. 

I really enjoyed the beginning, but by the end I was looking forward to the last page. As strongly character-driven as it was, each chapter a portrait of a person, there didn't seem to be much plot. Perhaps because all I'd heard about it was 'it's about the shooting of Bob Marley,' and maybe I was expecting a bit more of a whodunnit. Instead, the book goes heavily into the drug wars and gangland of Jamaica, which spills onto US soil. 

Several reviewers have apparently likened James's writing to 'Tarantino on paper,' and I think that's an accurate description. My own imagination walked past Proposition Joe's on a Baltimore corner, and Eubie became indistinguishable from Brother Mouzone in my mind. Perhaps a little taller. 

It really fits the genre, but the thick mash up of history and fiction made me feel an outsider throughout. Not being Jamaican, American or old enough, this part of history isn't on my cultural radar, and because all the main characters, and even the locations in Jamaica, have been given fictional names, I gave up Googling for answers. Alongside the four pages of character names, I would have appreciated a brief overview of the historical context. I started to drift because of that sense of disconnect, but I kept reading because of the language, and because I find it extremely difficult to put a book down once I've started it. There have been a few occasions, but it's rare.

There are screenshots in my head where the descriptive was so vividly painted that it was perfect. Josey in his cell, pacing. The bullet dance on the bridge. The Rasta execution. Papa-Lo's premonition. The crack house massacre. So real you could taste it. But quite a bit in between that felt like filler.

This Guardian review sort of sums it up: a bit stop-start.

Based on that, I think I'll take a look at John Crow’s Devil. 'Darkness and gore' does it for me, and I particularly liked the supernatural elements to this book. 

...if you kill me now right here I'll look you in the eye and stain myself in you head for as long as you live. I swear I'd haunt you like a motherfucker so hard that an exorcist would look at you and say goddamn, my son, there's really no help for you. 

I think my favourite line was probably:

I kick him like thunder and he jump like lightning.

And the juicy scent of:

...the kitchen was all bacon smell, crackle and pop. 

I also learnt the fun fact that (excuse spelling) rasscloth, bombocloth and bloodcloth are all insults apparently meaning sanitary pad.

An epic that makes you feel you've earned an ending. 

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Rock!


Some fabulous pictures of rockers in Botswana. I bring this up because last month saw Rwanda's first ever rock night in Kigali. Another one's been announced for next Friday, which is perfect as it's after I finish teaching fiction, and a few of my writers want to go. A chance to throw myself about like a lunatic and hang out with a bunch of people who sometimes look a bit scary, but are the friendliest mob you'll ever meet. Most of all, a chance to play dress-up. \m/


Tuesday, 30 May 2017

The History of Creative Writing

Spider Money

I've just started teaching my fiction course in Kigali again. Thought I'd share the introductory bit about the history of creative writing. It's a narrated PowerPoint presentation. 


You should just be able to download it using the download arrow in the top right, next to the print icon. Once you start the slides (F5) they should move on automatically with the narration. If they don't, you can hit enter or the space bar. 

If you're using a Mac, you may need Flip4Mac to get the audio to work.

Sorry about the recording quality, it's not great. But hopefully it gives a sense of history to those interested in writing.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

15 Days to Go



We've got fifteen days left on our crowdfunder and we really, really want to build pianos in Africa. Any help getting us the rest of the way would be hugely appreciated.



You can read more about the project on the Kigali Keys blog. If we succeed, we'll be the only existing piano manufacturer in Africa. We think that's worth taking a risk on.

You can also watch videos on:

  1. What the project is about
  2. Taking the action out of our template piano
  3. Taking the strings off our template piano
  4. [keep checking back - more shortly]

Sunday, 21 May 2017

One Year On


Marking the one year anniversary of attempting to roast myself and spending three months typing a novel one-handed, here's an update. I can happily type with two hands again, it's just the brain needs a kickstart to catch up.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Let The Vlog Commence



If you'd like to see what I'm up to when I'm not writing novels, we've just started a video diary for the Kigali Keys project. You can also follow along on the blog.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Save Tyseley


A few years ago I interviewed Artistic Director Marianne McNamara when Mikron turned 40. It's Britain's only narrow boat theatre, travelling up and down the country delivering theatre in pub gardens and community halls, often tackling political and historical topics such as the Luddites, women's suffrage, the Newbury bypass, and the origins of beer and chocolate. They are absolutely worth seeing if you're out and about over the summer months. You can find their tour schedule on their website and via Twitter.

Sadly, their narrow boat, Tyseley, is in need of repair. It's a listed historic ship built in 1936. You can find its details on the National Historic Ships archive

The bad news is in, we need a full engine refurb, and rewiring of the electrics in the engine room...

In short, we need to find £10k. It's more serious than we thought. But it's better than the other options available to us:

  •     A brand new Russell Newbery engine would cost approx. £19k
  •     A reconditioned RN would cost approx. £14k
  •     A more modern engine would cost approx. £9k

We would soon incur costs not far from the refurb amount in extra travel and accommodation, and still not have an engine in time to start the tour. We will have a guarantee on the works and a newly refurbished engine and wiring that should last a LONG time. She's our biggest asset and still great value for money.

These guys have been going for 46 years. That's a hell of a run for a small, independent theatre company. They are absolutely unique, and many actors have had their first break there.

There's a sponsored walk this weekend which you can donate to online here. But you can also contact them directly through their website to make a contribution. 

Please help Mirkon keep on boating.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Dragons of Wales



Everybody knows that Wales is the land of dragons. There's even a dragon on their national flag.

Welsh Flag
Here Be Dragons



But a new project aims to document the rare dragons of Wales, photographing them in their national- sorry, natural habitat. They post all new findings on Twitter. Creator Andy Frazer has just successfully completed a crowdfunder to publish his work. You can find a video about it on KickStarter, and you can also become a Patreon.






Saturday, 6 May 2017

Five and Thirty


Well, it's been a choppy return to writing, what with the Indiegogo campaign to run at the same time, but I'm making solid progress.

Snow White & Rose Red is now at 5,000 words. Still a baby story, but going well. Continuing to enjoying the fairytale genre. In Ghostwood's latest update they announced:

...coming up by summer, we're planning on publishing a series of connected novellas in eBook form before publishing them together in print in the autumn.

I can't say for sure, but that might have something to do with me. 

Will keep you updated.

Meanwhile, Still Life is now at 30,000. Whereas I'm worried Red & White might not stretch far enough, I'm wondering if I'll be able to whittle Still Life down to a sensible novel size. It takes a bit of concentration to write as it's split between modern day and Victorian times, but it's really bringing up some interesting ideas around technology, photography and time.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Musical Interlude: Rickie Lee Jones



People do choose to do the strangest things sometimes. Not that strange is bad - just strange. I've been writing briefly about Evelyn McHale in Still Life. Just a brief entry on what is sometimes referred to as the most beautiful suicide. Whilst attempting to find out what the model of car was that she landed on, I came across an odd recreation on YouTube (disturbing). It did help answer the question, but the song got stuck in my head. It really does seem to compliment the picture. It's sad. I like it. The thought that struck me was that she wrote in her suicide note: I don't want anyone in or out of my family to see any part of me [after I am dead]. Yet it has become one of the most iconic suicide images in the history of photography. 

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Just a Toto

At lunch, a coworker said the foam on his glass looked like a demon, so I ended up drawing it.

Apparently, this is my 1,000th blog post. Goodness, I do spend a lot of time online, don't I? 

Well, let's celebrate with some art. This is one of my favourite tweeters, Toto: @totomon

Please give him a follow. He's got so much talent. One of those people who really should be earning a living from his art.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Before We Visit The Goddess


Just finished Before We Visit The Goddess by one of my all-time favourite authors, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. I first discovered Divakaruni around 2007. I'd seen The Mistress of Spices movie. The old VSO resource room in Kigali used to have a whole wall of abandoned books, and Mistress of Spices was among them. Picked up in an airport somewhere in the world and delivered to central Africa. I read a lot of books from that shelf, all those evenings without a television or radio.

Divakaruni is one of those rare writers who manages to turn prose into poetry at ever pen stroke. Sister of My Heart is high on my list of favourite books, but you can never be disappointed with anything she writes. There is a fluidity to her stories which pulls you under. Always a nice marriage between truth and daydream.

A beautiful, powerful new novel from the bestselling, award-winning author of Sister of My Heart and The Mistress of Spices about three generations of mothers and daughters who must discover their greatest source of strength in one another—a masterful, brilliant tale of a family both united and torn apart by ambition and love.

The daughter of a poor baker in rural Bengal, India, Sabitri yearns to get an education, but her family’s situation means college is an impossible dream. Then an influential woman from Kolkata takes Sabitri under her wing, but her generosity soon proves dangerous after the girl makes a single, unforgivable misstep. Years later, Sabitri’s own daughter, Bela, haunted by her mother’s choices, flees abroad with her political refugee lover—but the America she finds is vastly different from the country she’d imagined. As the marriage crumbles and Bela is forced to forge her own path, she unwittingly imprints her own child, Tara, with indelible lessons about freedom, heartbreak, and loyalty that will take a lifetime to unravel.

In her latest novel, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni explores the complex relationships between mothers and daughters, and the different kinds of love that bind us across generations. Before We Visit the Goddess captures the gorgeous complexity of these multi-generational and transcontinental bonds, sweeping across the twentieth century from the countryside of Bengal, India, to the streets of Houston, Texas—an extraordinary journey told through a sparkling symphony of voices.

I've always enjoyed generational sagas. I'm a huge fan of The Seduction of Silence by Bem Le Hunte, and this reminded me a little of it, in as much as it follows families, and especially daughters, from India to the West, following their fates and fortunes. Slightly tricky mix of first and third person, which felt as though it needed a little concentration, but which also allowed you to think something about a character and have that thought dispelled in their own voice.

I also love books that teach me new words, and there were many gifts in this one: dhoti, panch phoron, tiffin carrier, kukri, invective, sententious, martinet, andiron and escritoire. As well as some imaginative lines:

Ebb and flow, ebb and flow, our lives. Is that why we're fascinated by the steadfastness of stars?

...Meena, her still, pale body on the hospital gurney, her long hair falling over its edge like sorrow.

...an odour like resignation...

And I also smiled at the reference to Cloud Atlas, which, as you know, I'm a huge fan of. 

Monday, 1 May 2017

Nyiragongo Fire


There are faces in the clouds. Grimacing mouths and wide eyes winking as they cross the sky. I have been watching for days, here on this rock with the box tucked beneath my legs.

Yaka awa, the clouds call, come here.

I can hear it in my heart, the liquid flow of Lingala, that old, dead language, bubbling up from the molten lava as it flows towards the lake. Like the lava, I want to flow over the land, effortless and elegant, across the sharp black rocks and up the side of that mountain without breaking sweat. Yet I know this is a dream. For as long as I am made of flesh and blood, and not of fire, the journey will exhaust me.

My body is covered in Maoplasty. There was a time, in the beginning, when they only provided boots. Then one day a white woman fell. She put out her arm to cushion the fall, and she never used that arm again. After that, we were all issued with body suits of seal grey, sticking like a second skin. They are beautiful in their way, brightly webbed patterns of turquoise and gold, glaring red at the hottest point. It’s hard to tell the heat of the land. Sometimes the charred earth looks cool when in fact it is less forgiving than lífelo. Our suits tell us when it is time to find another path.

I stroke the top of the Arcticase, feeling the smooth blue cover beneath my fingers. How absurd it seems to be carrying ice across fire like this. So disrespectful to deny nature her natural course, in order to restore her natural course.

Some days I wonder, as I look at Nyiragongo in the distance, whether we are best to forget. Then I remind myself that is what the religious people once thought, and their complacency destroyed half the planet.

Today feels like the day. I eat my breakfast: airtight dried fish and a sachet of rice which crunches as though raw. Then I relieve myself on the rocks. As I squat, my urine forms a pool, tipping over the edge and down towards the shrubs below. Before it reaches them, it hits a vein of heat and evaporates. My stream of water becomes a stream of steam.

Hoisting my bag onto my shoulder, I pick up the box and find its balance point. It hovers three and a half feet off the ground as I walk, my hand resting on top. With every step I take, I glance down at my feet to see the colour of my skin. Grey for ten steps, a flash of turquoise, then gold. Grey again, and then red. I step to the side and proceed.


It was so cold in the meeting that my skin rose like plucked feathers.

“Your great-grandmother, eh?” Colonal Batabe asked, standing in the centre of the room with his feet wide apart.

“Yes, sir. She was of the Hemba people.”

Batabe nodded as though he knew exactly where that was.

He did not.

When there had been borders, his own people had come from Botswana. It had been one of the last countries to relinquish its territory to the Free Movement of People Act of 2083. Botswana had been fiercely independent, guarding entry with an enthusiasm teetering on rude. Its last president, Seretse Makwala, had made a moving speech:

“Outsiders caused the heartache in Africa. Westerners came and they took what they wanted. They left us with nothing. For over two hundred years we have run their race, handicapped as a one-eyed horse. We raced as hard as we could to catch up. Now, just as we stand on the brink of equality for the descendants of Africa, they come and they take Africa away.”

His words rang loudly in the ears of every generation past, but he was overruled by the youth. The world had become one so quickly. In almost a hundred years, since the dawn of the internet and Berners-Lee’s valiant refusal to capitalise on his invention, people from every corner of the globe began to unite. In between a shared love of cuddly kittens and cult TV memes, humans started to meet with their own humanity. Rights atrocities that would once have gone unreported, now plastered the walls of social media. The European Union’s Maastricht Treaty of 1992 was followed by the African Passport, unveiled in 2016, allowing freedom of movement for citizens within those zones. It would be almost another seven decades before the Wall of Nations, as it had been dubbed, finally crumbled.

“You must be excited to return to the land of your ancestors,” Batabe said, a statement not a question.

“I know nothing of it,” I replied.

I was born believing the entire world to be my inheritance. Every river, mountain and canyon was my home. No one had the right to stop me from wandering at will, and none would ever try, for they were born as free as me. Yet, I had lied a tiny bit. My mother had no photographs or jewellery from her grandmother. Even in those days of the first digital cameras and infant iPhones, our kind were too poor to afford such technology, and too unobtrusive for Westerners to find us worthy of study.

Instead, my mother had three masks which hung on my wall as a child. Two looked as though they were smiling, but the middle one was thick-lipped and toothy. It scared me.

“These come from the region of your long-past,” she had told me. “From what was once the DRC, in the far south-east where it bordered Zambia. These belong to you now. Like our forefathers’ forefathers, we hold no sway with boundaries on a map, but we do hold sway with history. Their blood is our blood, it ties our stories together through one open mouth. The song of our lives rises with a single voice, which you were born to hear.”

I had always tried to sing my own song as clear and sweet as I could, but deep inside I felt as though I missed a drumbeat. Perhaps I might find it in the land of lakes and volcanos.

“It has been eight years since Kivu turned over, following the eruption,” Batabe said. “We concluded our preliminary expedition in May.”

“What were the findings?”

“In short? That it is a mess. Nobody expected the lake to explode. Rwanda in particular took huge steps to extract the methane, running two-thirds of their country’s electricity from it by the time of the disaster. Sadly, Rwanda is a small country, and Kivu is a very large lake. The DRC was neck-deep in conflicts of its own at the time. They had neither the stability nor the investment in infrastructure which would have allowed them to join in the venture. Boom went the lake.”

The volcanic eruption of Nyiragongo had triggered a limnic eruption of Lake Kivu. Almost three and a half million people died in their sleep as a thick blanket of white gas crept up the shoreline and out across the land, hugging the throats of those sleeping on ground mats and low-resting beds.

The levels of gas in the lake had been monitored carefully, yet the ancient volcanic crater belched so swiftly that the warning had not come soon enough. Before an exploration could be mounted, years had to pass. Firstly, the lethal levels of CO2 had to dissipate. Secondly, the insects needed time to repopulate.

When the lake turned over, it not only killed people but all living beings: mammals, birds, fish, lizards, insects alike. Without its fragile ecosystem of ants and grubs, the bodies remained, rotting in the midday sun.

The dead needed to decay before the living could look upon them.


As I walk, I start to see bones.

People lie exactly as they fell. Larvae has stripped some of their flesh, the rest have dried like paper, as though someone has pulled a crumpled cloak over them. No large animals have returned to the region. No wild dogs or big cats to chew over the corpses and move them from their resting places.

I stop when I hear a crunch. My foot has fractured a skull so thickly coated in dust that it is indistinguishable from its surroundings. I swallow my revulsion. I must. There will be many, many more crunches before I reach the shore.

I start to sing to myself as I walk: Shake it, shake it up now. Shake it, shake it up. It’s the latest smash hit by Kofi, but in this desolate place it feels almost like a taunt.

In silence, I continue.

Alpha Team flew me into Gisenyi International Airport six days ago. After the eruption, it was the only airstrip within a hundred miles that was still serviceable. Then it was a four mile walk across to Goma, at the northern tip of Lake Kivu.

The problem from there was the giant fissures and veins of liquid rock which had hardened to callouses. It took me longer to walk across Goma than it had to walk to Goma. The Arcticase doesn’t hover well over inclines, so I had to strap it to my back, its weight dragging me down.

My family live in a cool zone, in sector two-five-two-one. Before 2083 it had been a village in Canada, close to the American border. My parents were both scholars who had met in Ottawa, and the night we moved to the sectoral system they held a farewell dinner for the country that had taught them science and how to love.

It has taken me the past six days to acclimatise. My skin is black, but the sun burns. I suck constantly from the straw between my teeth, hooked to a Platypus hydration system on my back. So much extra water makes it necessary for me to relieve myself more often, all the while wiping sweat from my eyes with vintage Nike sweatbands, a gift from a friend at the academy.

When I finally crest a mound of black pumice to see water, its brilliance almost blinds me. During my harsh struggle across hot sand and sharp rock, I never considered such beauty might exist. It is not simply the vibrancy of cobalt against coal, but the wonder of what that water represents. Lake Kivu appears as a soothing Band-Aid across scorched earth.

It takes me a long time to remember that this soothing Band-Aid is as much a threat as a blessing. That those inviting waters once seeped such noxious fumes, suffocating infants and adults in their sleep.

An hour later, I am sitting in a patch of long grass by the water’s edge. I take my Scythe from my backbrace and cut a circle so that I can stare ahead. As the stems are severed, a sliver of smoke twists towards the sky and I apologise.

“You are brave plants,” I say, aloud. “The first to grow after so long. Then here I come, cutting you down. I’m sorry, sorry, sorry.”

As the sun sets, it dresses the surface of the lake in crimson and gold. A gentle breeze blows shifting shapes across it, a million tiny ripples chasing from one clump of reeds to the next.

I cannot resist.

Touching the button at the back of my neck, I shed Maoplasty like snakeskin.

There is no finer feeling in the world than to stand naked in the face of nature. To feel the last of the evening light warm your womb, the breeze brush against your breast like a sensuous lover.

I take a deep breath and put my toe in the water. It feels cool. Cautiously, I allow my foot to sink in the silt

Water winds through me, between my thighs and over my face. Turning onto my back, I float for a while, looking up at approaching Night. Although I know those waters to be safe, I cannot help glancing about for slippery wet knots of muscle – nyóka, the serpent.

The silence of the lake disturbs me. At this time there should be a thousand cicadas chorusing, singing to the Ibis and the piebald Kingfishers as they fly home to roost. It saddens me greatly to think that I am perhaps the only creature breathing in this barren, beautiful land. 


“It’s not that I don’t want children,” I lied. “I told you, I’m perfectly happy for you to take a sample down to the gesterium.”

“Lisanga.” Owen pronounced my name with a sigh. “You know how I feel about that. I know we’re a modern family, but some things it’s good to keep traditional.”

I couldn’t take that conversation one more time, so I pretended to pack. I studied Women’s History at college, and I knew this struggle to be never-ending. Whether women have the right to vote, to work, to terminate a pregnancy, and today’s topic of choice: to have a child without giving birth. I have loved Owen since first grade, but every time he opens his mouth on this topic, I just want to put my fist through him.

“Look, all I’m saying is think about it whilst you’re away. Then, when you get back, perhaps we could start trying?”

“If you take a sample to the gesterium, we don’t have to try. We’re guaranteed a healthy, bubbly baby.”

“And what are you going to tell our child when it grows up? ‘I’m sorry sweetie, mummy was too busy carrying her project to carry you as well?’”

“Owen, for a modern man, you can be a fucking Neanderthal sometimes. What I am going to give our child is a role model. A mother who travelled the world, helped save that world, and came home to read bedtime stories. I’m going to show them that wonderful things are possible.”

“Our kid is going to be nothing if not independent,” came his retort.

“You say that as though it’s a bad thing?”

We stared at one another, that flash of anger eventually soothed by love.


As my mind clears, I realise that I can hardly see the shore. Nightfall comes on fast near the equator, six o’clock every day of the year without fail.

Arm over arm, I pull myself back to dry land.

I press my ear to the side of the Arcticase. I don’t know why, but I always expect to hear a heartbeat. A hundred thousand heartbeats. I feel more comfortable with my face against this case than I would with Owen’s face against my belly, though we’re listening for the same sound.

“Good night, little ones,” I say, curling up in the tall grass to float upon a darker lake.

The morning light wakes me, devoid of dawn chorus. Bright gold glitters across the surface of Kivu, calling me back for an early dip. The water holds a chill that was not present the night before.

“Forty-two hours,” I say to myself, dragging the Arcticase to the water’s edge.

I pull the lever which releases the C-shaped clamp. This holds the case to the land, to prevent it floating off or sinking to the depths. Once I can feel that it’s secure, I glance at the thermostrip on the side and record the temperature in the mud with my finger.

“Forty-two hours,” I repeat, wondering what I am going to do with that time.

I’ve brought a Folio with me, onto which I’ve transferred the entirety of Paul Akabeya’s Master of Heaven series. I’m halfway through the first book. It’s enthralling, a sweeping drama set against the space race and man’s natural desire to build empires which inevitably must fall.

Yet I have a lifetime to read Akabeya, and only a short time to explore this strange landscape, more remote to humanity than any distant galaxy.

My eyes are drawn to Nyiragongo.

When I was a child, I used to watch adults blowing smoke rings with their aetherisers. I was convinced that they were creating clouds. That the breath leaving their bodies floated up to the sky, and that is why the clouds have faces, reflecting the features of the people who birthed them.

Now, looking at this conical mound with its gaping O, I realise how misguided I was. There is no doubt in my mind that Nyiragongo is a god. Like his sister, Karisimbi, these are the Titans of old. The giants who hold up the sky, feet rooted in the underworld, heads resting in the heavens. These are the true cloud factories, whose breath girdles the globe.

It is well into the afternoon by the time I reach the foot of this stratovolcano. The height of it terrifies me. I can feel its sulphurous breath against my skin like a panting beast. I reach into my backbrace to remove a meal pack, crunching away on rice, washed down with tepid water.

“Do I get to climb you?” I ask. “Am I welcome, or would you rather I went away?”

I place my hand upon the rocks before me. The web of my fingers glows gold for a moment, fluttering to grey. Believing this to be my answer, I climb.

I am barely a thousand feet off the ground when the sun begins to set. I have less than an hour of light left and I need to decide whether to descend or bury myself against Nyiragongo’s breast for the night.

As I am wondering this, I reach a natural ledge. Beneath, petrified larva rolls down the side of the mountain in thick globules, as though the entire volcano were a melting candle. Those globules are the size of heads, one or two screaming as they fall.

This is the edge of the world, I think to myself. This is Earth a million years from now, when humans cease to walk, and Nature reasserts her rights.

With all the trees reduced to saplings, I have a good view of Kivu from here. Once upon a time, this land bathed in blood. Two-legged hooligans haunted the forests, raping and slaughtering, for what?

Whatever the reason, it doesn’t matter now.

Victims and perpetrators alike have been purged from this sector.

I feel a soft purr from the earth, as though Nyiragongo approves of my thoughts.


I dream.

The moon is full and I wake on the ledge. It takes me a moment to realise what has woken me. The night is no longer silent. Crickets and cicadoidea rub their hind legs up and down the scale. I hear Congo Owl hoot, his heart-shaped face hovering no more than a moment before me, gliding back into darkness to search for prey.

Saplings have grown to Maasai warriors overnight, tall and stately. It seems impossible to hide in the jungle, as though a thousand eyes watch my every move.

Thinking there is someone at my back, I turn.

There, where the sheer rock guarded my blindside, is a cave.

I stand and take a step towards it, before remembering to glance down. My Maoplasty has peeled away, and I find myself naked. There is no way to tell how hot the rock is, and no protective layer between the heat of the earth and my vulnerable flesh. If I am to continue, I continue on trust.

As I cross the threshold, I feel that warmth again, as though I step inside the mouth of a yawning lion.

Yaka awa, the darkness whispers.

Foot before foot, I do as I am bid.

Yaka awa, many voices whisper.

Here in the heart of the volcano, I return to the beginning of my being. A tarn of molten lava casts myself in shadow against the wall. My shadow-self is tall as the trees, my hair tangled in the blackness above.

Women appear from that blackness, climbing down the sides of the cave like spiders. Old women, their breasts drooping beneath thin cloth, their necks and wrists bound in beads. Even straight, they are crooked.

Mwana mwasi,” they call softly.

Cloistered within these rocks, their voices reverberate until the very air thrums with words. My skin tingles with the weight of what they have to say, as ancient syllables slip from drooling lips, pooling in my mind.

“I do not understand,” I reply, in the language of my world.

“You understand, daughter,” one of the women speaks.

She comes towards me, straighter than the others. White hair piled high above a face of furrowed leather. Her skin is blacker than my own, so dark I can barely see her features in this light.

“My blood is your blood, my voice, your voice. I opened my mouth and I sang you into being. You were born to hear my song, and it will continue, on and on, until there is no one left to hear.”

In that darkness, everything about her seems familiar, from the touch of her calloused hand to the faint scent-stain of smokehouse eucalyptus.

I discover that I cannot remember the name of my great-grandmother.

Searching my mind, I realise that I never knew it.

I panic.



Sweat-drenched, I open my eyes to a new day.

The trees have shrunk to saplings once again. I can still smell that sweet smoke, as though I have slept the night by a campfire. Collecting my thoughts, I begin my descent. Dreams and delusions, the patterned fabric of this world.

Between the base of the volcano and the ridges of rock which led to the lake, is an open plain. This is truly nobody’s land, where nothing dares grow. Every second step turns red, and I make my way in zigzag fashion, afraid to melt.

Halfway, I feel the ground tremble. It is such a definite sensation, more deliberate than reality gives weight to. As soon as it comes, it is gone. 

I take another few steps and the earth judders.

Falling to my knees, my hands glow tamarillo and I roll until they return to ash.

Glancing up at Nyiragongo, I fancy I see a flood of wet rock slide down its gaping jaws, yet when I blink all is solid.

“Oh, hell no.”

My legs sway beneath me as I stand.

Then it happens.

Eight, nine, maybe ten.

Tiny holes appear in the ground, jets of white steam the height of a pawpaw tree.

I begin to run towards the lake, yet each footfall slows the next.

Yaka awa, I hear them hiss. Yaka awa.

“What?” I call back, turning.

More jets plume to either side of me, and in those broiling mists I see faces form. Women, men, children. They look at me and laugh. Some scream. Others twist as though dancing.

“Who are you?”

Though I know who, with every hard thump of my heart.

Those are the people of this land. The souls who sleep forever beneath its mantle. Boundaries which man built, tore down and drew again, mean nothing to the dead.

Only one line defines us.


I do not sleep tonight.

Kneeling beside Kivu’s shore, I stare across the depths of space reflected in her waters. The sky kisses the earth and all the stars birth twins upon her surface.

It has been more than forty-two hours and the thermostrip glows blue, but I do not care. I do not want to open the case at night. Partly, I want to wait for daylight so that I can watch my babies venture into their new world. Watch their ichthyoid features gulp as they inherit an estate spread over a thousand square miles. Though the greater reason is that I do not want them entering that new world in darkness. How scared they might be; how alone.

As the speckles of light fade, the tail of a shooting star draws a line across both heavens.

I take this as a good omen and make a wish, the words of which I cannot tell you.

“It is time,” I whisper to my children, releasing the catch on the case.

With a hush of air, laced in coils of smoke which hover for a moment before vanishing, I reach in and remove the first tub. Oreochromis Macrochir the label reads: Longfin Tilapia. My mother’s people would once have caught these in abundance, though the gas in the lake meant they grew stunted, unlike those imported from Uganda to the north.

I submerge the tub and wrench the lid as though cutting an umbilical cord.

A hundred tiny fish rise in stunned uncertainty.

Each one is smaller than my little finger, but that does not matter. There is nothing here to eat them. These are the lucky few. The first generation. Who will never know a predator. Who, bar sickness or injury, will live to adulthood. A long, happy life with friends of childhood beside them.

I smile as they collect by the shore, reluctant to venture into deeper water. Like me and my snakes, their minds conjure danger from shadows, even when there is none.

Next come the Redbreast Tilapia, the Ripon Barbel and the Clarias Catfish. There were once twenty-eight recorded species in this lake, but we begin with six, to see what will happen. Another repopulation program has worked well at Lake Nyos, in what was once Cameroon.

I remain, staring at my own reflection, long after the fry have floated away.

The pit of my stomach is a cherry stone. I feel bereft. For three years I have worked towards this moment. My days were an endless cycle of training, talking and exercise. Now it is over, and all I have left to contemplate is what comes next. There was a madness in this land once, and I start to feel as though it has infected me like snail fever.

I should never have swum in those waters. I should never have climbed Nyiragongo.

Now that I have, it feels as though I can never go home.

Home to what?

My mission is finished, my pensionable imbursement awaits, as does my husband, eager to plant a seed in my belly.

How can I tell him that I do not want to be a mother? I never have.

My children are here, in this lake.

Slowly, I remove my knife from its sheath.

It feels heavy in my hand, its edge serrated like tilapia teeth.

I am an only child. If I die, who will be left to hear my ancestors’ song?

Sliding into the water, I roll onto my back and kick away from the shore. I live in a world where the land is like the sky – borderless. Yet still I know that Africa rests beneath me. These were the waters my people drank from, bathed in, defecated and bled into. This is the amniotic fluid of my birth.

A thick ache weighs my arms as warmth reddens the cool waters.

“Come my children, feed.”

My song returns to the land that first gave it life, and will continue forever in every fish in Lake Kivu. Part of me will remain, immortal. I fill the bellies of my babies, who will fill the bellies of birds, and reptiles, and eventually people.

I will feed this nameless land with myself, and it will nourish eternity.