Friday, 22 June 2012

A review published on Amazon ~ by Katy B

Kalahari Desert by Sophie Neville

While the majority of her friends and family were following a more conventional path of marriage, having children and earning their livings in the UK, Sophie took off to South Africa to move on from her years of ill health suffering from the debilitating effects of CFS.

Camping in the Kalahari Desert, Botswana by Sophie Neville

This exchange of letters between Sophie in Africa and two of her sisters and a few of her friends in the UK, chronicles her amazing adventures and new life, whilst at the same time giving a parallel account of 'normal life' back home in the UK through the sisters' and friends' letters.

Camping in the Kalahari Desert, Botswana by Sophie Neville

It is this juxtaposition of Sophie's life against what is going on elsewhere which serves to highlight just how extraordinary and exceptional her adventures were. While others were dealing with sleepless nights, childcare issues and settling in to domestic early married life, we can live the dream vicariously of what might have been for us too, if we had made the same choices as Sophie as she lived in a country where apartheid was still the norm, where the animals and wildlife were wonderfully diverse, unpredictable and beautiful and where her adventures with the horses and safari work add humour and great interest.

Africa animal birthday card design by Sophie Neville

The book is fantastically illustrated by Sophie and includes a great variety of drawings, maps, cards sent home for Christmas and other occasions and cartoons, all of which are eye catching and contribute to the enormous pleasure of this book.

A chestnut gelding by Sophie Neville

But it is not all whacky humour and eccentricity - Sophie explores some of the more difficult questions of life here too, just as she did in her first book, 'Funnily Enough'. But this time although there is some reference to her strong and inspirational Christian faith, she deals more with human issues of relationships, and her honest concern and ever present worry - 'I long to be loved and in love'. Buy this book and read it - you will enjoy it!

Painting by the Palala River in the Waterberg by Sophie Neville

Sunday, 17 June 2012

How I came to write 'Ride the Wings of Morning'

Author Sophie Neville riding with zebra and wildebeeste in the Okavango Delta Botswana

If I ride the wings of the morning,
if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
even there your hand will guide me,
and your strength will support me.
Psalm 139 v 9&10 NL

Damaraland landscape by Sophie Neville

The idea for the format of 'Ride the Wings of Morning' came to me after things went wrong. I'd been invited to take part in a wildlife census in Damaraland by Blythe Loutit, Director of Save the Rhino Trust. My car was so elderly that it took me about five days to drive the 1,200kms from Maun to Palmwag in the red stony desert where she had a base camp. I arrived, full of excitment expecting to find a large party of scientists and conservationists. One lone game scout was sitting by a small fire. He gave me a message that the census had been cancelled. Blythe had not been able to reach me before I left Maun. She apologised, suggesting I stayed on at Palmwag until she and her husband were able to join me.

Damaraland landscape, Namibia by Sophie Neville

Apart from an open thatched shelter and a stone fireplace the camp consisted of two palm trees and the reed hut painted above. It was about twelve food square and newly constructed with three bamboo-framed beds arranged around the sides. Bamboo coffee tables had been placed in the two corners. Although not exactly secure it was surprisingly comfortable and proved idyllic. I spent my days sketching and painting the desert around me. It was a time of enforced meditation. In the heat of midday I had time to think, pray and make plans for the future, sorting out what I really wanted to do.

Damaraland landscape, Namibia by Sophie Neville

Whilst I'd been living in southern Africa I'd been too busy to keep a conventional diary. Instead I kept copies of my letters home. We had no computers, no photocopiers but I'd been able to buy duplicate books made up of thin paper suitable for sending airmail. The top sheet would be sent home whilst a blue carbon-copy was kept in the book, which I stored in a cardboard box under my bed.

One of the highlights of life spent in the Africa bush was receiving letters back from England - from my family and friends. My sisters Perry and Tamzin wrote such amusing accounts, from the safe haven of their everyday domestic lives, that I'd read them aloud, cherishing stories about their children and other responsibilities. Since their daily routines with pets and babies contrasted with the roaming life in the wilderness that I'd chosen, I thought it might be possible to put our correspondence together one day, constructing a travelogue of sorts. Initially I used the title 'Can you Imagine?' as we kept asking this question in our letters. I had no idea at the time that my sisters would face more worries and dangers than I.

Black Rhino Bull in Namibia by Sophie Neville

Somehow the cardboard boxes full of duplicate books, letters and postcards survived. The editing process proved far more complex and complicated than ever envisaged but I managed to adapt our letters into something of a story - a story of longing for love. I only added the illustrations to fill in the gaps left after starting each letter at the top of a page. I needed more than I'd ever imagined. And then I changed the title.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

A review by Peter Bell ~

Sketch of the Elephantback Safaris in the Okavango Delta by Sophie Neville

Ride the Wings of Morning (lovely title) is a terrific sequel to Sophie's marvellous Funnily Enough; further following her life of extraordinary exploits and adventures, now in southern Africa. Some horrific, most delightful, but all fascinating and very amusingly told by way of correspondence to and from her more conventional sisters. Her parents and many friends from Africa also feature as do a veritable profusion of Sophie's joyful and individual style of sketches, drawings and paintings that have become even more assured as time progressed. Many are brilliant! (Especially her splendid cartoons!)

Sophie has a wonderful knack of inclusion of her readers in all her writing. She is very observant, particularly of the absurd, the ridiculous and comic juxtapositions as well as the mundane and it shows in the great warmth, engaging honesty and infectious humour in her writing. The reader is privileged that she shares this somewhat maverick part of her life in which she gives so much of herself. Again! I was ever more captivated by this book but in a slightly different way to Funnily Enough. A truly fascinating read from much obviously painstaking work.

Only a full read of this marvellous 542-page book can do it the justice it deserves that no review of mine can hope to achieve. Unplug the phone, shut out the English 'summer' and indulge yourself with Sophie in the warmth of her true life in a world so far apart from your own! She is a uniquely talented and individual person and this extraordinary work is to be deeply savoured and enjoyed. Tops on any scale of hugs and highly recommended by me as one of many here. The printed editions are to keep for ever.
Thank you so much, Sophie. Thanks also to Perry, Tamzin, and 'Mum and Dad'. I really look forward with great enthusiasm to the promised next instalment. Quite lovely!

Peter Bell on Ride the Wings of Morning

Friday, 1 June 2012

How to cook supper on an open fire

I have been asked for recipes and ideas for a meal cooked on an open fire.

The secret is to first collect a good quantity of really dry wood. Cumbretum or Bushwillow is the best.
Light a fire, quite early in the evening, relax and have a drink while the wood burns and produces coals - for it is the coals that you need to cook on.

Ideally you need a spade to manipulate the coals,
a pair of long tongs,
a roll of aluminium foil,
a BBQ or Braai grid
and a black iron pot.
I soon found that the most essential item of camping equipment was a pot holder or thick leather glove. We called this 'The hairy hand'.
If you cook in full length leather chaps you won't get hot legs.

Beer bread:
Take a cast iron pot. We use a round pot-bellied pot with three legs and a lid, which are readily available in S.Africa. In the United Kingdom I'd try using an old le Cruset pot.
Pour a small amount of peanut or sunflower oil into the pot and rub this in with half an onion, heating it a little to 'cure' the pot.

Mix an ordinary, small can of lager (Amstel, Castle or what-have-you) with a small 500g packet of self-raising flour. Mix in a good pinch of salt and knead together. Throw this into the warmed pot and set over the coals. You can add crushed garlic or crushed sea-salt on top. Put the lid on the pot and heap more coals onto the lid with a spade - or graaf, if you speak Afrikaans. The bread should take about 30 minutes to rise, form a crust and cook through. The yeast in the beer causes it to rise. When cooked keep warm to eat that evening. It won't keep.

Baked vegetables:
Take whatever vegetables you like, wrap individual portions in tin foil with a knob of butter and place them on the coals. Turn occasionally.

Butternut can be cut in half, and if sprinkled with curry powder and put together again will cook well - taking about 30 or 40 minutes depending on their size. Serve on the plate cut in quarters. This is delicious if sprinkled with goats cheese, a splash of olive oil and roasted pine nuts and makes a good starter or vegetarian dish.

Aubergine bake well and taste glorious if you cut a deep cross adding salt, lots of olive oil and squashed garlic. Add lots of chopped basil leaves if you can get them. When cooked through you can scrape out the flesh and mix it up in a bowl to make Baba ganoush, which will act as a sauce, or on the beer bread.

Potatoes are always good baked on the fire, as are onions.

Tomatoes work well and cook quickly - cut a cross over the top and add pepper before wrapping in foil.

You can roast vegetables on a grill, making kebabs, but they tend to dry out, whilst the foil method keeps in the juices.

Joint of lamb or Fillet of Beef:
Instead of fiddling about with numerous sausages, beef burgers or chicken pieces I would recommend taking a joint of lamb or a fillet of beef and searing it on a clean grill or cast iron griddle. Let it heat through, and cook, enjoying it as rare or well done as you like. Carve on a wooden board and serve with the vegetables, bread and sauces of your choice. The responsibility for this can be delegated.

You will need to practice with timings and quantities before you cater for 14 guests. Start by concentrating on the meat and baked potatoes by serving them with a salad, and have fun experimenting with the vegetables.

As it is difficult to keep plates hot in the bush we found Bakelite picnic ideal.

Banana boats:
Take one banana per person.
Use a small sharp knife or penknife to cut through the skin, slicing the banana from below the stork to near the blunt end. Squeeze it open a bit. Add about three or four squares of chocolate lined up along the slit. Wrap in foil, pinching together the edges along the slit. Put these boat-like creations on the grill over coals whilst everyone is eating the main course. After about15 minutes the bananas will have cooked through and the chocolate will have melted. Carefully ease open the tin foil and eat with a teaspoon.

All this tastes much better eaten around the fire, by the light of a paraffin lamp.

Take great care when pouring from a kettle heated on an open fire. Avoid letting the water boil in the spout. It tends to hyper-heat and splash everywhere. Never pour into a cup that is being held in someone's hands. Ask them to set it down first.