Were The Lions of Tsavo demons?

Saturday December 15 2018

 Ghosts of Tsavo,

'Ghosts of Tsavo' by South Africa-born author Vered Ehsani. PHOTO | COURTESY 

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South Africa-born author Vered Ehsani is probably a pioneer in writing Victorian novels featuring mythological African beasts.

Her first book, Ghosts of Tsavo, was inspired by the real story of two man-eating lions in Tsavo National Park.

For several months in 1898, the lions terrorised construction crews building the Kenya-Uganda railway.

“I asked myself, ‘What if those two lions were actually paranormal creatures instead of normal lions with dental problems?” wrote Ehsani who lives in Nairobi with her husband and two children.

Ghosts of Tsavo is the first of the Society for Paranormals book series that revolve around an Englishwoman Beatrice Knight, living in Nairobi in 1900.

A part witch with a dry sense of humour and proper manners, Ms Knight runs a tea shop and is also haunted by the ghost of her dead husband.

Because of her ability to see ghosts, she is a detective with the Society for ParanormalsandCurious Animals and is investigating the deadly man-eating ghost lions of Tsavo.

In Murder for Tea, Ms Knight is fostering a baby monkey while scrutinising the mysterious murder of brides-to-be.

Ehsani’s stories remind me of period literature such as Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes books and the Jeeves stories by P G Wodehouse.

Yet the insertion of big game hunters, English aristocracy, Indian traders and African servants deftly represent the colonial context.

Although the books are adult stories, Ehsani’s language is easy, and the narrative light.

She keeps them free of sexual content, violence and swear words, which makes them suitable for teen readers.

Then there are the mythical characters such as she-demons, an elephant-sized praying mantis, werewolves and flying horses.

Ehsani admits she has always been fascinated by the paranormal and mythology.

“They give us insight into a specific culture, its beliefs and fears, and how it explained natural phenomena. Supernatural stories are fun to write.”

Although many of her books are set in Kenya, Ehsani incorporates supernatural beings from around the continent.

She has researched African paranormal mythology in books, websites and folktales from friends.

But she finds that not much has been formally written outside of Egyptian mythology.

“It is a pity, and sometimes I fill in the gaps with some artistic license,” says Ehsani, who has been writing stories since turning seven.

Ehsani trained as an engineer and currently works as an environmental consultant.

Although she took a creative-writing class at university, she says most of her learning has been through less formal channels such as reader reviews, feedback from editors and participating in writers’ mastermind groups.

“Interacting with authors and reading a wide variety of books has helped tremendously in honing my craft.”

She also eschews the traditional publishing houses in favour of self-publishing and e-books saying, “While there will always be a place for physical books, in most fiction genres, digital is the future.”

Ehsani is also a firm believer in self-marketing even when working with an agent or publisher.

“Marketing and reaching out to audiences is more and more a writer's job. Always think: 'How do I serve my readers?’ It should be a seamless experience. ”

Whenever she starts on a new project, Ehsani markets the book even before it is released.

She also recommends that authors stay close to traditional book genres to make the marketing job easier.

A disciplined author, she writes six days a week. “Sometimes, I can only write for 10 or 20 minutes. Other days, I put in a few hours. But consistency is vital.”

In her view, inspiration and motivation hinge more on consistency than in “what a muse has to say.”

After the Society for Paranormals, Ehsani penned the Cosy Tea Shoppe books that also features Ms Knight.

The storyline of every book ensures it can be read as an independent novel.