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An Interview with Author Angus Robb

Author Angus Robb is a retired mining engineer who was born and raised in sub-Saharan Africa. He used his love of that land, its people, and its elephants to create African Indaba: A Story of Adventure and Conflict, “a rich, compelling debut novel about friendship, loyalty and justice.” You’ll find Angus on Look for African Indaba on Amazon.

What was the inspiration for African Indaba?
I considered it a necessity rather than an inspiration. About 10 years ago (at age 75), I decided to start composing an African story while I still had the time, memories, and most of my faculties. “Indaba” has different meanings in Africa, but this “indaba” means “trouble.” And that was the theme I ran on. Trouble in its worst forms. Although still employed back then, I had to find time to squeeze in my composition efforts, so it turned out to be very much a stop-go situation, with few opportunities for agility. Luckily my profession allowed me to travel the world, and those experiences, many bizarre, seemed easier to write about back then and I felt they deserved the re-telling now.

What is the most difficult aspect of writing historical fiction? What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
The most difficult aspect turned out to be ensuring my narrative “fixed” readers into the story’s many timelines and locations. The unique challenge? Making those events as accurate as possible while not detracting from the plot.

Who are your main characters and why will your readers connect to them? Do you share traits with your main protagonist or antagonist?
Callum MacKenzie. Impoverished Scots boy stowed away on a steamer to Africa in search of a better life and adventure. Readers will connect with how he fought for success in the new, strange, violent world.

Rory MacKenzie. Son of Callum and Afrikaner mother Maria De Villiers. He is the story’s protagonist, but no shrinking violet. Readers will sympathize with his main characteristics – hate, violence and vengeance and how he tried to supersede those demons in the pursuit of affection. Another positive trait found him impossibly attractive and irresistible to the opposite sex despite his diffident nature.

Inkosana Chitimukulu. Otherwise called James. Native prince who befriended Callum and promoted kindly African ways until colonial racism closed in on him. Readers will relate to how he fights back against those prejudices.

Chola. A bull elephant and main antagonist although he doesn’t deserve to be. Having experienced extreme violence from ivory hunters, he attempts to retaliate, but can’t overcome superior odds.

I share traits (mostly in my dreams) with both Rory and Chola, particularly regarding taking personal vengeance against bullies, murderers, and traitors. All three of us believe really evil people should be repaid with interest for their wrongs.

What decisions did you make about including historical figures or events?
Early on, I hit on subjects, mainly by mistake, that later turned out to be topical in today’s world such as “Save the elephants” and “Ban corporal punishment and bullying.” Call it opportunistic. Or just luck. I placed figures such as Nelson Mandela into historical perspective to give readers the feeling of “being there” with him.

Tell us about putting the book together.
It took about 10 years from first thoughts to publication with many breaks along the way when technical work became competitive with composing pleasure. Writing was the easiest part. Editing was repetitive and time consuming although I had imaginative editors, and cover design turned out to best-illustrate the “feelings behind the face of that elephant.” I was lucky to have Don Morgan as editor, Rose Kern as Publisher, and Pat Harrison as cover designer, all experts at what they do.

Was there anything surprising you discovered while doing research for this book?
Part of the book involved Callum’s military service during WWII in North Africa and Burma. I discovered he played a leading role in preparing African troops right out of their native elements into playing an important role in final victory.

What was the most rewarding aspect of writing African Indaba?
I’ve been getting good reviews from around the world without much formal marketing. This interview is the closest I’ve come to performing any publicizing of the book.

If you’re a plotter/planner, how do you know when it’s time to stop planning and start writing?
I’m not a plotter/planner, and it’s my first novel so I just picked up a pen and started writing…and rewriting…and rewriting. Probably wasted a lot of time in the process. I’ll know better next time round.

Who are your favorite authors, and what do you admire most about their writing?
Wilbur Smith, Paul Theroux, and George Orwell. A bit of a mix but all three had the storytelling gifts of clarity, brevity, and surprise.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
I have had no formal training in prose writing. Most of my knowledge on the subject (apart from English classes at a Scottish boarding school) came from the Wordwrights class held by Don Morgan and Dennis Kastendiek at North Domingo Baca Senior Center (in Albuquerque, New Mexico). I learned about POV, active and passive voice, progression, short sentences, and more. This face-to-face experience (no zoom yet!) proved both educational and exhilarating. A pity it was dropped.

Su Lierz writes dark fiction, short story fiction, and personal essays. Her short story “Twelve Days in April,” written under the pen name Laney Payne, appeared in the 2018 SouthWest Writers Sage Anthology. Su was a finalist in the 2017 and 2018 Albuquerque Museum Authors Festival Writing Contest. She lives in Corrales, New Mexico, with her husband Dennis.

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