Nick Brownlee's fantastic crime novels are set in the heart of Kenya and here he talks about the strange stories from the area that have inspired his work…
Last year, in a remote village in Kenya’s Rift Valley, a man was accused of putting a curse on his neighbour’s pigs. He was murdered and later the cursed pigs were lynched. But that was not the end of the story. Concerned that the dead man might return as a zombie, his body was dug up and killed again – this time by the rest of the villagers.
I mention this because it is not unusual. In fact stories like this one appear with almost blasé regularity in the news in brief columns of the Kenyan newspapers. I read them voraciously, partly as a means of getting ideas, but mainly to reassure myself that even my most outlandish plots are nothing compared to the truth.
Readers of my Jake & Jouma books often ask me if I have either lived in Kenya or spend six months of the year there. To both, the answer is no – but I take the question as a compliment. Living and working in the UK, the internet is regrettably the main source of my bread and butter research. But I am not a great fan of in-depth research. Know your subject, by all means, but be light fingered with how you use your knowledge. Detail clogs the arteries of fiction. Too much kills it stone dead.
I try to get to Kenya once every couple of years, just to top up the inspiration banks. It never fails. The journalist in me loves to meet people and sniff out their stories. Sometimes I can see a person walking across Jamhuri Park in downtown Mombasa or along the beach at Shanzu and they will transform into a character with a back story before my eyes. On a recent visit I saw an officious-looking askari strutting the hotel grounds with a vicious-looking rungu club in his belt, and six weeks later he was a fully fledged character in Machete.
My prized possessions are the notebooks I have brought back from my regular trips to Africa. They consist of scribbled observations, often no more than a word, cartoons, names, places. Hardly evidence of a seasoned travel writer – but without them I could never have written my series.
And my God I need the material! The trouble with Kenya is that it has a voracious appetite for plots. In the course of three books, Jake and Jouma have gone head-to-head with people traffickers, corrupt cops, international assassins, machete-wielding serial killers, and in the next book I’m planning to throw them to the mercy of gang of cut-throat Somali pirates.
I’m not complaining, though. Why should I? I have no intention of letting them rest on their laurels.
Nick's latest heart-stopping crime novel Machete is available now
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