In anticipation of Virginia Clay’s publication of Warrior Boy on 6th September, we speak with the debut author about her inspiration behind the story, life in Kenya and her love for tea.
Just like you moved from the UK to Kenya, Ben also relocates there from London. Is Ben’s experience inspired by your own?
I think it’s impossible to avoid this, and I very much understand the question of ‘Where, if anywhere, do I fit in?’ But Ben’s journey was inspired by lots of other things too – it’s not all about me!
What was the biggest change for you moving from the UK to Kenya (apart from the weather), and how has your new environment inspired your writing?
There are many wonderful differences, such as the incredible friendliness of most Kenyans I have met. But the most difficult change has been living somewhere devoid of a connection to my personal history. I realised that I had really taken that for granted in the UK – having family and friends around and a deep connection to the landscape. My situation does not compare with that of a refugee having to move / being forcibly moved out of their context, but it certainly made me empathise with them on a new level.
How do you think your acting career has influenced you to, or changed the way that you tell stories?
I love this question because I feel that it has influenced me enormously. I used to put myself in someone else’s shoes for a living and so when I am trying to embody a character for a story now, I feel like I am in my element. I will often find myself crying or laughing along with my characters. I also think it really helps with dialogue and being able to hear the particular song of a character’s speech.
Where is your favourite place to write?
I haven’t found it yet – but it exists in my head. It’s a hugely spacious study filled with light and lots of books. It has an enormous desk and a sofa for a change of scene. A large window that looks out through a luscious garden onto mountains or the sea or both. And, most importantly, some cosy beds for all my animals. I envisage the odd chicken wandering in and out from time to time too!
What was a normal day like for you when you were writing Warrior Boy?
Well, the first draft was pretty hectic because I was working as a teacher full time and had two young children as well. So, I would wake up at 5am and work until the children woke up and then it was time for me to go to my other job. It was incredibly hard and I would often fall asleep in my son’s bed when putting him to sleep on a Friday evening. But the buzz I got from living in Ben’s world made it all worthwhile. I couldn’t wait to go to bed and wake up so that I could dive back in to the story.
Was there anyone in your life who inspired a particular character in Warrior Boy?
Yes, there were several students I taught who inspired both Ben and Kip. And I think Barack Obama’s journey has always been an inspiration when thinking about this story.
Your story focuses on elephant poaching. Do you think that literature can be a tool to raise awareness about the poaching trade?
I really hope so. I don’t think efficacy in literature is any more important than entertainment, but if it can meet both needs – all the better. As far as elephant poaching goes, I feel very strongly about the absolute needlessness of it. It is not even a native culture that drives the market. There are other, more dominant cultures not just preying on helpless animals, but desperate humans too. Yes, I would like to see an end to poaching, but I would like to see the beginning of an era where politicians become accountable to their people as true civil servant as well.
Does the adventure stop here for Ben or can we expect another Kenyan quest sometime soon?
I definitely have two other adventures in mind for Ben, but I am currently working on another story, set in Scotland, with a girl at the helm this time.
Have you had any exciting adventures of your own since moving to Kenya?
Lots! Having grown up in the Lake District, I feel most comfortable when in the mountains and so I had a fine time climbing Kilimanjaro a few years ago and would love to climb Mt Kenya before I leave. I have also loved being involved in the music scene here – I have sung in a soul band, a folk band and a rock band. But I think the most amazing experiences have involved wild animals like Lion, Elephant, Cheetah, Leopard, Buffalo, Rhino, Hippo, Giraffe, Warthog, Wild Dog, Jackal. Nothing beats being able to see these animals roaming wild in their natural habitat. There are phenomenal birds, butterflies and insects too – everywhere!
Rumour has it you’re a huge tea fan. 2 questions – is it only English Breakfast tea that gets a look in or are herbal teas ever an option? And secondly, The Great Debate; which side are you on – milk or water first?
Where do I start! I am obsessed with tea. And actually, I would go for Kenya’s own ‘Kericho Gold’ tea, over English Breakfast, for a morning brew any day of the year. I have a cup of green tea after lunch, then Earl Grey in the afternoon. My favourite afternoon blend is one an old Indian boyfriend taught me years ago and I have never forgotten – Earl Grey and Lapsang Souchong together in a teapot. In the evening I will have a cup of Rooibos, Chamomile, Peppermint, Fennel or Liquorice. I have my own after-dinner brew that I give people when I have stuffed them with too much food at a dinner party. It is Lemon Verbena and Mint leaves from my garden – heaven! To answer your question about milk – I absolutely always put the milk in last, because I like only the tiniest amount – there is nothing worse than overly milky tea for me. I have a friend who refers to it as a ‘nuage’ which is French for ‘cloud’ and a great description I think. Have I over shared? You did ask…
Read about Ben’s adventures to Kenya from 6th September.
You can read more about Virginia here