Born and bred in Kenya, and now living between Nairobi and Sydney, Australia, N.K. Read is a storyteller and journalist who has written for several publications and news outlets including Afritorial.com, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Guardian UK as well as directed three films, two of which played across cinemas in Australia. Other than a great coffee, what gets her up in the morning is her drive and heart for Africa. She enjoys hiking, running and cooking with her husband and reads voraciously in her very ‘spare’, spare time.
Below, she answers a few questions about her new book, CHILDREN OF SABA (EPIC OF APHRIKE BOOK 1), her writing style and what inspires her.
Tell us about ‘Children of Saba’ and the ‘Epic of Aphrike’.
The series unearths the mysteries and legacy of an ancient race responsible for throwing shadows on time’s dawn. This enigmatic race bequeaths a secret heirloom so powerful it could ‘end all existence’ to the ancestral line of a modern Kenyan family, the Munenes.
In ‘Children of Saba’, the Munene twins – Mwenda and Kendi – are forced into hiding at their grandmother’s remote farm on the edge of the Kenyan savannah after their parents are taken hostage by a sworn enemy who seeks their long lost and forgotten family inheritance. Under the growing cloud of darkness that seeks to envelop the earth, Mwenda and Kendi meet a mysterious goat herder and are catapulted into the past, almost 3000 years back in time.
They find themselves in the magnificent Kingdom of Sheba where they’re plunged into a quest discover their family’s legacy – a mystery so primeval and unutterable that it has faded from the present-now. They join forces with the fiercely beautiful Queen of Sheba and the elite Meroë Nthaka warriors in battling a dark, ancient enemy who seeks her throne and access to the twins’ secret.
Caught in throes of an epic conflict, the twins realise that that their quest involves the mäfca of Sämay – they key of heaven, a most powerful object that their ancestors – the enigmatic race of the First Men – believed could forge a path between the divine and human. The twins eventually learn that they are the only two people on the earth – past, present and future – who can sway the outcome of a foreordained chain of cataclysmic events that are linked to their family’s present predicament and could catastrophically affect all three dimensions of time.
‘Children of Saba’ recreates the glory and majesty of a prodigious continent, appealing to lovers of the Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings series. It is the untold story of Africa, one that re-imagines the legacy of a vast ancient race responsible for throwing giant shadows upon the dawn of time. It is a chronicle that leaps beyond the boundaries of the present and transcends the parameters of the origins of the Earth.
What Inspired You to Write Children of Saba?
About two years ago, I discovered the ancestral link between the tribe of my heritage, the Meru of Kenya with the enigmatic Meroë who once ruled Nubia. The Meroë were integral leaders in the ancient Kingdom of Sheba and were seemingly connected, further back in time, with the ancient and mysterious ‘First Race’. This people of antiquity, also known as the Meru, have disappeared from the annals of modern history yet their legacy reverberates through time.
Ancient writers state that ‘they’ were a civilisation that predated the Greeks, the early Romans and the Egyptians. When the curtain of history was lifted, the civilisation of Egypt was hoary with age, rich languages, complex systems of religion, and astounding architectural achievement – proof that the earth is older than we perceive. The story of what lay behind Egypt fascinated the whole ancient world for it was clear to all ancient philosophers that their culture did not originate upon the Lower Nile. Who then was her teacher?
The Egyptians of old themselves claimed that their ancestors were strangers who in very remote times settled on the bank of the Nile, bringing with themselves the civilisation of their mother country, the art of writing and a polished language. They came from the direction of the setting sun and were known in pre-history as the ‘Meru’, the most ancient of men.
Exploring who they were and could have been greatly inspired and excited me and I sought to bring their story to life. Thus the Epic of Aphrike was born.
Tell us about their main characters, Mwenda and Kendi.
The main characters are seventeen year old twins Mewnda and Kendi 18. Like many modern seventeen year olds they’re mature beyond their age to some extent, quite savvy, worldly and knowledgeable – Mwenda is a secret hacker and Kendi moonlights as a jazz singer. However, until their parents are kidnapped and they come face to face with a dark enemy, they’re innocent to life’s polarities and harsh truths of fighting evil, facing despair, death and immortality, and surrendering the false ego and free will to knowledge, wisdom and enlightenment.
‘Children of Saba’ explores their ‘coming of age’ journey into adulthood as they shed their naïveté in the face of insurmountable odds. While the book is written mainly from their perspective, it also features strong supporting adult characters who become their guides through their spiritual and physical journey through time, emotional growth and their surrender to wisdom.
What ages does the book appeal to?
With its storylines full of adventure and intrigue, the book will charm young adults but I also believe it has a strong appeal to adults.
One of the underlying reasons I wrote ‘Children of Saba’ is because I believe there is a growing tendency in our modern society to let the next generation ‘figure it out for themselves’ instead of passing on crucial wisdom and teaching to those who need it most. The African culture has a great tradition of the older generation nurturing and teaching the younger ‘the way in which to walk’. Growing up, my grandmother, aunts and uncles were a crucial part of my upbringing and without their legacy of wisdom I wouldn’t be who I am today. I stand on the shoulders of giants.
What is it that you love so much about Children of Saba?
The characters – their individual transformation as the story progresses and the wisdom they glean from one another. They’re an incredibly diverse group of people who are drawn together by fate and destiny. There’s conflict, strife and even death amongst them, yet they’re united in overcoming a common evil. Essentially this is my dream for Africa, that we draw together to fight the challenges that have confounded us for generations. I can already see a positive wind of change sweeping across the continent, and so ‘Children of Saba’ is a celebration and an encouragement for us to keep forging ahead with making Africa an excellent place to call home and a beacon for the rest of the world.
Children of Saba is the first in the series. How many more books are planned?
They’re two more books planned.
The second is HEIRS OF KUSH, which tells of how the Munene twins are drawn back into the ongoing eternal battle that rages in the skies and cosmos above them. Their ancestral family line was chosen to guard a great secret but one of their own, weighed down by its burden, spoke carelessly … and someone was listening. The stakes have now risen, and the twins, pursued by their old enemy, Isheshemi, are plunged into yet more peril and adventure, traveling into a bygone Aigypt and Æthiop, to the Western sands of the Sahara, and to Great Zimbabwe and even high up into the second dimension, all the while fighting off the prodigious 99, the cast-outs of eternity. Will they right their ancestor’s mistake before time itself runs out?
The third volume, MEN OF MEROË, tells of the Munenes’ last defence against the great, dark entity Isheshemi. Traveling to the third dimension of time, the twins seek the First Men of the ancient world, the forgotten wise men of the Golden Age, to consult them on how to overcome their now more powerful enemy who has returned to earth and taken it hostage. They also finally get the chance to the lift the curtain on their ancestors, the vast ancient African race that threw such giant shadows upon time’s dawn. Their journey culminates in the ’mountain from which all knowledge in the universe comes from and to which all knowledge ultimately returns’ where they face their ultimate, insurmountable task.
Which authors would your ideal reader enjoy?
My reader is drawn by a variety of genres from fantasy to coming-of-age and action/adventure. They enjoy the ‘Game of Thrones ‘series (George RR Martin), Wilbur Smith’s ‘River God’ and ‘The Seventh Scroll’. They’re also intrigued by the convergence of time travel with daily reality as portrayed in ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’ (Audrey Niffenegger) and charmed by the vastness of space operas like the ‘Dune Chronicles’ (Frank Herbert).
How is writing in your genre different from others?
There’s an African proverb that says, ‘with a little seed of imagination you can grow a field of hope.’ The epic fantasy genre allows you an unfettered scope; it gives you the chance to indulge in the ‘what if’ so much more than any other. Writing ‘Children of Saba’ has been a wild ride into the vast reaches of my imagination as I visualise and bring to life stunning cities, gorgeous vistas (of which Africa has many), lush palaces and out-of-this-world characters. Many days I’ve lost myself so deeply in the Kingdom of Sheba that it’s taken a few hours to adjust to reality.
What is your writing style?
I first start with an outline which I fill out slowly, after doing my research, with snippets of information and ideas. I also write out full character sketches which I can always map language, tone of voice, attitude, etc back to. I then write out the story and finish with dialogue, which to be honest, I find the hardest aspect to get its nuances and flow absolutely right.
Do you listen to or talk to your characters?
Not really. I tend to ‘watch’ them though – as if studying a friend or person sat before me. I ask myself, what are their characteristics, why would they do what they do, what are their motivations and their hidden desires, etc. It’s pretty fun actually. I also base their actions/habits on real life people I see/know; for the people around us are rich fodder for great characters.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Never give up and have fun while you write. ‘Children of Saba’ is my second attempt at a major fiction work. It took over a year to write, many times waking at dawn before work and staying up late to finish chapters. This was all in between a fulltime job, organising a wedding and dealing with day-to-day distractions but each time I took up my manuscript, I was overjoyed. It was a blast – and I can’t wait to jump into Books 2 & 3 of the Epic of Aphrike! If you believe in your story and truly enjoy writing it, then keep at it. You will be well rewarded for your effort!
What’s the take-out message from Children of Saba?
It’s one I’ve included in my acknowledgements at the start of the book – ‘Children of Saba’ is a labour of love dedicated to Africa, the Opening of Ka, the birthplace of civilisation and the origin of the Firsts. (Africa is) my precious home and that of my wonderful, amazing brothers and sisters – poor, rich, young old, man, woman, child, Surma, Meru, Meroë, Himba, east to west, north to south. This epic is a humble appeal to this great continent: May we reclaim our rich and resplendent narrative; our foundation, our voice, our magnitude, our honour, our pride, our wisdom, our traditions, our past, our exceptional uniqueness, our failings, our triumphs and finally when all is said and done, our glory.