Thursday, 19 May 2011

The story ~

      A conventional English girl arrives in South Africa to work as a cook for a friend running horse safaris on a game reserve.  This is in 1992.  There were yellow road signs declaring Bonsmara is die race and another on the way into town saying Dit is die Volkstaat.  Sophie had heard of biltong but knew nothing of Afrikaans culture.  She’d known there was black on black violence but not that she would have to learn how to use a semi-automatic.  She knew there were rhino and elephant on the reserve but not that she would end up working as the safari guide.  In the dark.  On a horse.  Lost.  With completely innocent tourists on other horses. 
      Almost inevitably Sophie falls in love with a game ranger. The results are disastrous but once her heart is broken she takes off, travelling into the remote and daunting wildernesses of southern Africa with a paintbrush.  Before we know it she is setting up wildlife documentaries from the Swazi border and sending Blue Peter off into the Kalahari. In the process of researching a series for the BBC Natural History Unit she is nearly skewered by a charging rhino. The subsequent painting was auctioned in Bond Street.
      Somehow, despite breaking her pelvis, Sophie learnt to survive in deepest, darkest Boer-dom and lived to ride across the Namib Desert, the Masia Mara and beyond. The Bonsmara turned out to be a breed of cow. As AIDS gripped S.Africa the Volkstaat sign was replaced by a cemetery but she learnt how to say Red sky at night in Afrikaans.
      Meanwhile, back in England her heavily pregnant sister is being hoisted into an apple tree dressed as a pixie. This is described by another sister obliged to rear her children in Osnabrück while her husband is busy escorting Kate Adie around Bosnia. In full battle dress. Under gunfire and mortar attack. 
      Sophie offers to fly back from Windhoek but her sisters assure her that all they need to know is how to deal effectively with their septic tanks.  Immersed in domesticity, they continue to write of their happy lives, their horses and bullterriers. It is only when Sophie is completely out of touch, taking supplies to an orphanage in Mozambique, that disaster strikes. Her sister Tamzin is squashed by the pony Sophie bought her children and is sent to hospital for brain scans. While her head was protected her lungs suffered badly and she very nearly died.
      In the end Sophie does find international acclaim as a wildlife artist.  A kind of fame.  But hardly fortune.  Of all her work executed in the African bush it is a picture of a disgruntled looking warthog that wins people’s hearts.  It’s a notice designed to hang in the lavatory, pleading on behalf of the delicate digestive system of a septic tank.

Ride the Wings of Morning ~ Comments

“No one else has written a travel book for girls nor one that compares life back here with the precarious existence Sophie leads in Africa.   I was in WH Smiths looking through the travel section and thought, ‘Her book should be here...’”

“It’ll sell because it’s funny; we need another Gerald Durrell.”

      “It seems an obvious format - to write a travel book from letters that made their way back to England - but I haven’t seen it done before. While it makes for light reading you get drawn into the warmth of the relationship between the three sisters and are carried along by the immediacy of their news, certainly by the romance. It’s contrived but that’s acceptable because it works.” 
      “Oh, but they are real letters.”
      “You meant it’s all true?”
       “Good grief.”

“…the content runs deeper than descriptions of far distant places. Today’s readers need that. You weren’t just travelling around Africa for the sake of writing a book, you were living there. When you go into the Namib it’s to paint, when you ride elephants through the Okavango its because you’re setting up a documentary… people love hearing about making television programmes and no one has written about horse safaris yet, so you’ve got original subject matter. Everyone loves animal stories.” 

“This is an inspiring piece, grounded in real life.”

The author

Once a television director Sophie Neville is now an established wildlife artist. Known for playing Titty in the feature film Swallows and Amazons she has not stopped leading an adventurous and inspiring life.