I was thrilled to receive Enna Neru's book, An African Tale, which arrived all the way from Botswana! Some readers of my blog already know that I am absolutely intrigued by this African country.
1) Welcome, Enna! Thank you so much for sending me your wonderful book, and for answering some questions. Please tell us a bit about your background, and the inspiration behind An African Tale, which I've just read.
EN: I run a camp on the edge of the Okavango Delta. This camp started off very humbly about 17 years ago with just a camp site and outside ablutions, we didn't even have electricity or phones, (no cell phones in those days). Over the years it has grown into quite a substantial business.
Along the way I have been doing a lot of work with the communities that live in the Delta, taking tourists out to do "mokoro" (dug out canoes) trips with them. The idea was also to try and slowly bring the rural communities into the modern world of business without handouts so that they would have something substantial to build on. Spending time out there in that changing but unchanged world, sometimes not very far from town, is probably where I started to dream up this story.
2) Africa has a long tradition of folktales, populated by semi-gods and animals with human (speaking) and magical powers (flying, changing size), which you incorporate into your story. I envision parents reading this book to children, a chapter or two each night before bed. Were folktales recited to you as a child, did you read them in books, or both?
EN: I wanted to write a story for African children using the old and the new and trying to show them how a balance is needed between the two. A lot of times when kids leave their rural homes for school and the modern world they disregard what they have left behind describing it as backward. I grew up with a father who had many traditional tales in his head and it was always a nighttime treat, some of it passed down, a lot just made up on the spot. Some of what I have used is taken from traditional material but a lot is just fantasy.
3) Although An African Tale is a children's book, there are important messages in it about the conservation of natural resources. How has the modernization of Botswana helped and hurt this African nation?
EN: Botswana started out life after independence in 1966 as one of the poorest nations in the world and is now thanks to the discovery of diamonds one of the wealthiest ones. It is a very peaceful and well run country and its people are prospering. The downside is that it is built on Kalahari sand and most of the country is semi-desert which means a lot of thought needs to be given to the environment. Overdevelopment is going to put a huge strain on this.
4) Because I'm not that familiar with African names, which are quite lovely and lyrical, your list of Setswana names for the creatures and characters in your story at the back of the book helped me to keep track of them and learn their meanings. How important are names in Africa? Does Enna have a special meaning?
EN: Names are very important in Botswana and I would say generally in Africa. The more pleasant ones such as Lorato and Lesedi are used a lot. Enna is actually Anne backwards as you guessed!
5) As a tea drinker, I became interested in rooibos, or red tea, as a result of reading Alexander McCall Smith's The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency series, where tea is a central part of daily life. Do you drink tea, and if so, what kind?
EN: I drink Rooibos, love it. It comes from South Africa. Not everyone likes it here but they do like tea and it is normally drunk in a very large mug with plenty of sugar.
(I also enjoy red tea. There are so many varieties, such as Botswana Blossom and Good Hope Vanilla, that I'd like to try.)
6) What do you enjoy doing when you're not writing? Do you have any interests you'd like to share?
EN: Well, I haven't done a lot of writing, this book took ages and then I had to build up the courage to let someone read it! I did write a play which got onto the BBC and helped build a bit of confidence. What I am doing at the moment is getting a project together to work with underprivileged kids in the art world, dance, music, etc.. There is enormous talent out there and the education here tends to concentrate more on the academic side of things.
(That sounds very worthwhile, Enna. Many of these children are probably quite gifted in the arts and need some opportunities.)
7) What, if anything, surprised you most after this book was published? Is there another book in the works?
EN: It has all been rather exciting because people read it and come back with constructive feedback. I haven't actually finished this tale as Lesedi needs to go to the big city and work things out with Lotobo and we need to do something about that evil character in The Hills. So let's see!
Enna, I'm happy to hear that there may be a continuation to this story! Thank you so much for the interview and photos. It's been a pleasure.
As always, reader comments are welcomed.