History People # 7: Jane Bwye asks “What is History?”

Author Jane Bwye

It’s a great pleasure for me to welcome an old friend, Jane Bwye, to the blog today. This is a special day for Jane. Grass Shoots, the sequel to her bestselling novel Breath of Africa, set in Kenya, launches today. I’m helping with her launch party on Facebook – and you can win some terrific prizes. Jane poses the big question, “What is history?”

 What is History?

I found a definition which suits my interpretation, in Wikipedia: “The study of the past as it is described in written documents.”

Brilliant, I thought, when trying to identify a genre for my first novel, Breath of Africa. Historical fiction fits perfectly. But when it came to touting the manuscript round the publishers and agents, the result was zilch.

The same source describes historical fiction as “a literary genre in which the plot takes place in a setting located in the past … or …set during a period that pre-dates the author’s own time.” And the Historical Novel Society insists that “a novel must have been written at least 50 years after the events described, or have been written by someone who was not alive at the time of those events.”


It was only when a friend suggested I market the book as Contemporary Fiction, that a Crooked Cat (my publishers) immediately swallowed my dangled fish. But what do you think?

Breath of Africa is written in four parts, with a historical note preceding each one.

The story begins 1954, “A state of Emergency existed in Kenya between the years 1952 – 1959, declared by the Government as a result of terrorism, which was politically fuelled by conflict over land, between Mau Mau members of the Kikuyu tribe and British settlers.”

It follows the lives of Caroline, a privileged woman from the highlands, and Charles Ondiek, a farm labourer with dreams of Oxford. A drama of psychological terror is fuelled by a Mau Mau oath administrator. It is a love story, an exploration into interracial matters; superstition and Christian faith clash. The stunning beauty of the country is a major character itself.

The final Part IV runs from 1978-82: “Daniel arap Moi, a member of the Kalenjin tribal community, was Vice President of Kenya from 1967. He succeeded Jomo Kenyatta in 1978. The attempted coup of 1982 originated from the army barracks in Langata, near Nairobi, and was quickly smothered by the Government.”

And the Epilogue takes you to Kenya’s beautiful coast.

My newest book, Grass Shoots, the sequel to Breath of Africa, is launched on Amazon today! (30th March, 2017)

This tender inter-racial love triangle does not even pretend to be historical fiction. It addresses present-day problems with foreign aid and charitable giving – do they work in Africa? The name of my fictitious charity is Grass Shoots, and a significant part of the action takes place in the make-believe village of Amayoni, which – in Swahili – means birds.

There is an enhanced Glossary of terms at the back of both books.

About Jane Bwye

Jane lived in Kenya for over half a century, where she brought up her large family. An intermittent freelance journalist and business owner, she has written a cookbook, Museum Mixtures (1989) in aid of the National Museums of Kenya, and a History of her church in Eastbourne (2013).

Her first novel, Breath of Africa (2013) was nominated for the Guardian First Book Award. It draws on her experiences growing up in the country she still calls her home. Grass Shoots, the sequel, completes a family saga through to modern day Kenya. The novella, I Lift Up My Eyes, (2015) is set in Sussex.

A world traveller, Jane has bought a bird book in every country she visited. Now living in the UK, she is a business mentor and dressage judge, while indulging her love for choral singing, tennis, and playing bridge.

Connect with Jane

Linked In
Amazon Author Profile

You might also like:

History People series
How Much History Should be in Your Fiction?

Copyright © Jane Bwye, Vanessa Couchman 2017, all rights reserved.

Published by Vanessa in France

We moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I'm fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs. I also write historical novels and short stories.

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