As we head into the last few days of November, we're going to put our feet up for a bit and sit and chat with author B C Harris.
SC: Tell me a little bit about your main character of this book.
BCH: There are two main characters.
Jos Ferguson is a directionless young woman who hasn’t adequately dealt with the loss of her parents when she was fifteen. Since then she’s lived with her widowed Aunt Jude and, due to Jude’s almost cloistered existence, Jos lacks basic confidence as well as any social life. When an opportunity to travel to Africa arises, she goes for it despite her anxieties. Having traded in the stagnant security of life in Edinburgh for the wilds of Tanzania, Jos is able to grow as a woman. She meets a lot of characters as she journeys through the story, finding herself as surely as she finds the killer responsible for her uncle’s death.
Peter Sinclair is Jos’ dead uncle. He built the white house; where she lives during her stay in Tanzania. But Peter isn’t as dead as he should be. He’s been waiting for Jos to catch him up so she can help exact revenge upon his killer. But their relationship develops in ways Peter hasn’t foreseen, and he and Jos have a lot of fun exploring their new arrangement as the Jos Peter combo.
SC: Do you believe in the paranormal and if so, do you have an experience you can share?
BCH: A friend died too young. We’ll call him Frank. Frank was a big man with a voice to match. Frank liked to show up uninvited around dinner time and eat us out of house and home. Frank liked hot, spicy food and was very proud of his farts. Frank was older than me, overweight, and already worked backstage in the theatre I also ended up working in for many years.
A year or so after Frank’s death, I had swapped working on stage for working at stage door. One night… or very early one morning, after a Lets Zep gig (a Led Zeppelin tribute band), I was doing my rounds, locking up and putting lights off. At this point there was just me and the stage manager in the entire building.
I had just come through from front of house and entered the level 2 corridor through the fire doors at one end. As I entered the long carpeted hallway, I saw Frank at the other end, as if he’d just walked through the fire doors there. He looked absolutely real… looking exactly as he had when we first met. His hair was much longer then, and he was a tad thinner.
I stopped in my tracks, just watching him as he took a few steps towards me and then turned into one of the toilets. This is significant because Frank was a flyman. He would normally have used the toilets on level six or seven. However, whenever someone Frank didn’t like was appearing at the theatre, he would make a point of using the toilets on level 2 which were adjacent to the star dressing rooms. Frank was famous for producing some truly noxious aromas. His nuclear waste. One time, a Hollywood standard movie star that Frank really didn’t like, got the nuclear treatment. Within a few days she had demanded that he be officially barred from using those same toilets for the duration of her run. Frank’s work was done.
Anyway, as soon as he disappeared into the toilet… closing the door behind him, I got on my radio and spoke to the stage manager. I told him who I’d seen. His office wasn’t far from where I was still standing, and he joined me to check out the toilet in question. The door was still closed so you can imagine two adults creeping up on that door like it was a dangerous beast, and then touching it like it was burning hot, both of us ready to run for the hills at the drop of a hat. But Frank wasn’t in there. Of course he wasn’t; he was long past the need for toilet facilities. But the stage manager said it made sense to him, because Frank had always hated Led Zeppelin. If he’d been alive, Frank would no doubt have come down from the fly floor to drop off his nuclear waste in that same toilet.
I remember this like it was yesterday, and feel honoured that Frank showed himself to me. I know very little of the paranormal, but I do believe there’s something in it. It may simply be that we living humans just haven’t worked out why these things happen and, when we do, there will be some science and nature explanation. Until then, I’m a believer in a lot of things that defy explanation.
SC: Thanks for sharing that with us. What titles are you working on now that you can tell us about?
BAH: I very recently submitted Making Sacrifices for consideration. This is another supernatural murder mystery. It splits its time between Edinburgh, Scotland and Simonsbath, a village high up on Exmoor in the south west of England. This is a darker tale than Conspiracy of Cats. It deals with some of the issues facing young girls trafficked as part of the global sex trade. Research was difficult at best, heartbreaking at worst. I hope to hear back from my publisher before Christmas. In the meantime I’m working on manuscript number three.
The Accidental Assassin is in an advanced stage. A young woman, a professional carer with an abusive boyfriend. She sort of murders one of her clients, definitely murders her boyfriend, and then embarks upon a new career as a contract killer. There’s quite a bit of comedy in this one, despite the domestic violence and the often dangerous situations my fledgling killer finds herself in.
Meat Raffle is in its earliest stages. A murdered prog rocker, a haunted guitar, a modern function band. The search is on for the all elusive recording contract, a long lost sister and revenge for that murder.
SC: Thanks for joining us. Let's take a look at your novel now.
Looking back, it was as if Peter had known that he was going to die.
It was as if all of them had known, because the Maasai came prepared for their ritual even though their little brother died only a few hours before they arrived. It was the largest group of Maasai Beola had ever encountered at the white house. At least fifty men, most of them warriors, all carrying their weapons and their shields. Their chests and faces and arms painted as if they were going into battle. She watched them from the master bedroom window, just as she’d watched the police arrive, having gone back up to finish changing the bed so it would be clean and ready when Jude returned. They arrived on foot just before sunset, and it would have taken all day to walk from their village on the western side of Mount Kilimanjaro all the way to the white house.
Some of the warriors carried armfuls of wood, and immediately began building a large fire in the middle of the lawn. The elders, including their bearded laibon, sat down on the porch steps to rest and, when Beola went out to meet them, they asked only for water. When she offered food they politely refused. When Beola moved to go back inside to fetch the water, a young warrior stopped her. ‘We must leave the white house in peace, little sister,’ he told her, and then he and several of his fellow warriors guided her towards the lodge where they fetched enough water for all. When that was done, the young warrior told her, ‘Word has been sent into the park so your husband and your son will come home soon. When they do, you must be ready to leave.’
‘The laibon wishes to cleanse the white house of sorrow.’
Beola knew better than to argue with the wishes of a laibon, and so she nodded, resigned.
‘How long must we stay away?’
‘Moon die and come back again, man die and stay away. Come back with the new moon, sister.’
Back inside the lodge Beola began to pack, without any clear idea of where her family would go or who they would stay with. By then it was full dark, and the fire was burning so brightly she could see its orange glow above the garage blocking her direct view. Kissi and Ben arrived while she was still packing, in shock at both the death of their friend and the large gathering on the white house lawn. The evening breeze was becoming a wind by then, and the stars were obscured by gathering clouds. The warriors had begun to sing a sorrowful sounding song, their beautiful voices competing with the mounting voice of the wind.
By the time the Nyerere’s were readying to leave, a storm was in full flow.
The perimeter of trees bent and swayed in the wind that had initially made their leaves whisper. That wind was howling and shrilling by then, a tempest that thrashed and whipped the leaves and branches. Storm clouds had gathered so close, they were piled on top of one another, grumbling, rumbling, crashing with thunder directly overhead. Lightening split the night over and over. Up on the roof garden, a solitary figure braved the onslaught. The old laibon was yelling into the night, his spells snatched away by the wind that seemed, in turns, to want to blow him away and push him down. Rain pelted down upon him, it blinded his eyes, dripped from his beard, soaked his shuka and chilled his bones. He fought against it, at the same time as he embraced it, arms stretched wide and high. Calling out, over and over, to the spirit of his friend.
As the Nyerere’s were loading up their jeep, another vehicle arrived, lights sweeping across the scene as it circled the lawn. Beola thought that it must be Jude, but it was Henk de Vries, pulling up in his flatbed truck. She assumed he’d heard the news and had come to pay his respects. She ran towards him, but half a dozen warriors barred Beola’s way. They told her to go, to never speak of this night to anyone. Beola struggled against them, and called out to Henk in some distress, but either the wind stole her voice, or the Dutchman chose to ignore her. Kissi was next to her by then and had to impel his wife bodily into the back of his Land Rover as Ben sat quietly weeping in the front. He then got in himself and set off for his father’s home in Arusha, having called ahead to stay there were sanitation issues at their home, so they needed a place to say for a while. As they were moving around the lawn towards the drive, Beola watched Henk lower the tail gate of his truck and saw two warriors lift and carry something towards the fire. Meat for the funeral feast, he told her much later.
When Kissi’s Land Rover reached the foot of the hill, he turned north towards the main road that would take them to Arusha. They left the storm behind almost immediately. When they reached the top of the escarpment, he stopped and got out. Ben and Beola joined him. Together they stood atop the ridge, watching a small storm rage over the white house.
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