I’m often asked how a Midwestern ‘yank’ would come to write mysteries set in 1920’s British East Africa/Kenya Colony. The answer is fairly simple: I had two older brothers who lived, breathed, read, watched, and played all things Tarzan; that quintessential British Lord turned King of the Jungle. Of course, the local librarians tried to turn me to more ‘wholesome’ books, rather than stories of a near naked savage ‘ape man.’ They offered African missionary tales and books about women explorers. I read them all. I also read Tarzan. Later I graduated into H. Rider Haggard, whose complete works I’m still collecting.
All this may have died away, but when I began writing biographies for children, I turned to those explorers for my first work, From Kansas To Cannibals. All those great women adventurers came back to life and fused into my protagonist, Jade del Cameron. She sprang from my head like Athena out of Zeus’ skull. And those wonderful authors, Alexander McCall Smith and Elizabeth Peters paved the way, proving that mysteries set in Africa or in historical settings with colorful female protagonists had a place in the readers’ hearts as well as in my own.
I love writing Jade. It’s wonderful to vicariously live her adventures in post WWI Africa, when the world was on the move and cultures collided. And it’s fun to have a woman take on the Allan Quatermain role. In researching Jade, I’ve been up in a bi-plane, learned to fire a lever-action rifle, practiced roping and knife-throwing, and mastered making fire using flint and steel. Toss in my zoo-keeping adventures (an African lion can paw open cage doors while you’re cleaning the other half of the cage!) and I enter a land of adventure.
Part of my research involved reading the old Nairobi newspapers: The Leader of British EastAfrica and The East African Standard. They have been a treasure trove of wonderful information on the early days of Kenya Colony and its concerns. Reading articles, letters to the editor, and the ads gave me plot ideas; as well as instructing me in the colony’s early currency, stores, and social activities. In fact, I found so much extra interesting information that I resort to posting weekly blogs about life in early Kenya (http://suzannearruda.blogspot.com)
Thank you, U.K. for welcoming me and Jade del Cameron and I hope you enjoy my books.
Mark of the Lion and Stalking Ivory are published by Piatkus