Me and my book: Trees talk to trees – how amazing is that!

Lifestyle

Me and my book: Trees talk to trees – how amazing is that!

The author discusses her novel The Last Stop Safari Shop set in SA, Zimbabwe and Tanzania

Clair Cholajda


The inspiration for writing the book began 12 years ago at Klein’s Camp in Tanzania. Although I grew up in Africa, I had never been on a safari, where a guide translates what is happening in the bush. I fell in love with the bush for the first time. Trees talk to trees – how amazing is that! I discovered many species were at risk of being lost, and that funding for conservation was through low-impact, high-end tourism. The philanthropy thrilled me to the core. As cringeworthy as it sounds, it was life-changing. Although I’m a clinical psychologist, I wanted to make a contribution, so I decided to set up a travel company supporting companies that “do good”.
When I got back to Tasmania, a friend said: “But you don’t know a thing about being a travel operator?” I replied: “I’ll learn.” I also thought I’d write a novel with conservation themes woven through the narrative. I was told: “If you’re trying to convey a message, do not write a book”, so I wrote a book.
I went on a course and in the second lesson, the tutor looked at my outline for the novel, and asked: “What’s the plot?” I answered: “Does it have to have a plot?”
On my trips to various countries in Africa for my safari company, I gathered stories that were told to me by guides in unimaginably beautiful places, driving through the Serengeti, sitting around a fire in Zambia, on a makoro in Botswana, watching lions in Namibia.
Stories that were way beyond anything I could have imagined. I had three main characters whom I grew to love and spent huge amounts of time with. My children would ask me: “Who are you talking to, mom?” and I’d say: “Marius” or “Evelyn” or “Astrid”. They’d ask: “Why do all your books have pictures of elephants on the front cover?” Researching their lives took me to some amazing places. I lived in Moshi for three months. I spent a few days at Imire in Zimbabwe, hanging out with their rhino, learning about conservation. I was exceptionally fortunate at Pamushana in southeast Zimbabwe, to be able to witness a rhino translocation, which was part of an international veterinary conference.
When I was researching Astrid I went to the tourist office in Geneva and I explained her life to the man across the counter. He engaged with the story and sent me off to exactly the right type of suburb where I thought her parents would live. I spent the day wandering around and swam off the little beach she would go to.
For my third character, my friend Jenny schlepped me around Cape Town in search of Marius’s hang-outs, along that gorgeous coast with sea that sparkles with popcorn diamonds. Writing the book gave me immeasurable joy and although I thought I may never have been ready to part with it, the time eventually came when it felt right.
• Published by Porcupine Press (R250).

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