Evie on the brink

​ Launching a new book is an exciting thing, a beginning but also an ending. It marks the moment when the job is truly complete, and provides an opportunity to reveal the finished product to the world and to celebrate everything that went into reaching that point. Well. Maybe not everything. Writing is an insular, isolated, time-consuming business. An activity that progresses in leaps and bounds … or not. A job that you start without any sense of when, or even if, you will finish – or if, when you do, it will prove worth the effort. Writing Evie’s War held some absolute highs: the morning I received an email offering me a residency in Belgium to research and work on the novel; the day I type

All in the paperwork

Africa excels at bureaucracy. No doubt the knack was acquired during the colonial past, but the locals have gone on to develop a distinctly African flavour. At border crossings we unload our bags from the planes, carry them into the airport, put them through a scanner (at which, often enough, no one looks) then carry them back out and load them back into the planes. In one airport we remove all suspect items from our persons, as requested, then are shepherded Arriving into Zimbabwe, customs forms are filled in by hand and in triplicate – the process takes two hours. Departing, Hamish’s leatherman elicits sharp interest. The question: who is the pilot? A pilot is allowed a leatherman. A crew

African air

Flying in Africa is a heady mix. I’m not much of an aviator, airsickness having too often prevailed, but sweeping low along the dry bed of the Shashe River that marks the border between Botswana and Zimbabwe, noting kraals, cattle herders (or rustlers), tangled threads of animal tracks, changes in vegetation from bank to bank, provides a tempting beginning. Seeing Africa from the air across nearly 3000 nautical miles offers up both the scale and the variety of the continent. In three weeks we fly across five countries and touch the borders of three more – and our journey is a mere drop in this vastness. There is an element of the surreal: meeting a bull elephant on a runway in Zimbabwe, bein

Automatic rifles and welcomes

One of the smallest and poorest countries in Africa, landlocked Malawi’s 17million people are largely subsistence farmers. Natural disasters – both droughts and floods – are frequent, hampering efforts to minimise reliance on international aid. Thirty years on from independence and ten from the first effective multi-party democracy, government-led reforms in health, education and agriculture are slowly gaining traction. The stats say that in recent years the country has become a net food exporter. On the shores of Lake Malawi the earth is parched to dust and the lake can offer up only the smallest of harvests in return for hours of team effort. Tourism and craft workshops offer a glimpse bey

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