Questions and answers
A Dance Called Africa
Q. Are all the characters based on real people?
A. Yes, they most definitely are – except for one of them, who is totally fictitious but still very real to me.
Q. Who is it?
A. Read the book – then tell me!
Q. What made you choose the title ‘A DANCE CALLED AFRICA’?
A. This wasn’t the only version, although each of them had a different title. When the storyline began to fall into a certain pattern, I changed it and went on writing. Although it starts with a dance and ends with another, the same protagonists occupy centre stage, while in between, different ‘dancers’ play their part in the ever-shifting dynamics of this slice of history.
Q. As a woman, did you find it difficult identifying with – and writing about so many male characters – especially those of a different time and culture?
A. I don’t think it matters whether a writer is male or female. Anything set in a different period from your own, takes some time before you can actually start to set up scenes, atmosphere and then write about it. Re those of the opposite sex in turbulent 19th century Africa, yes, it was sometimes tricky. Incidentally, some of the women are also pretty formidable – not uncommon, even in present day Africa!
Characters like these take time to develop. You have to get to know them first, ‘see’ them as living and breathing people. After a bit, they just step out of the shadows, warts and all- then take on a life of their own! Although I’ve never lived in South Africa, my years of being north of the Zambezi probably helped.
I’ll be writing some more on authors and historical characters later on. Right now, I don’t know if I’ve succeeded with them or not. Only time and readers will tell me.
Q. How much did the internet help you when doing the research?
A. When I actually began my first tentative searching concerning the roots of this story – the Web was not as well developed as it is now.
I ended up often making rather expensive phone calls to libraries in Durban. They were very helpful, and put me in touch with antiquarian bookshops, again by phone, where I was able to acquire several great books, including copies of the diaries of two of the original characters: Henry Francis Fynn and Nathaniel Isaacs.
Gradually, I expanded to other sources in UK and South Africa, usually checking through books and using their bibliographies to build up more information. There’s now a vast amount available online although sometimes wildly inaccurate, I did dig up some interesting stuff, usually by sheer chance, but mostly I delved into books, academic theses, etc.
Overall, my real source of inspiration came from the personal accounts of one Captain CR Maclean, the real ‘John Ross.’
Q. Did you go back to zwaZulu Natal to do research?
A. No. Although I’ve been there several times over the years, I deliberately didn’t go back, because I had to try create in my mind how Zululand would have been 200 years ago, and to keep it there for the duration. A visit to present-day Durban and tourist-filled locations would have completely wiped it out! I do intend to go back but only after I’ve finished the final book!
Even then, having ‘lived’ in long-ago Zululand for so long in my head, I’ve a sneaking suspicion I would be constantly looking beyond the veneer of the 21st century for the long-lost world of Shaka and his warrior impis, Fynn, Jakot, the young Maclean and all the others.