Krisi tried to turn her head to look around the hot shack she was in but she was stuck, unable to see much now that the light had gone and unable to move. Her arms were aching from the tension in the rope pulling them behind her back. She was sure the mosquitoes had been making a meal of her too, since she was itching in a few places she had no way of reaching to scratch. How was she going to get out of this? Anxiety flared again making her pulse thrum and jitter. In fact, how did she get herself into this in the first place? She was only trying to help a friend and look what had happened.
Fifteen-year-old Krisi is abruptly and unwillingly uprooted from life in urban Scotland when her father removes her from her alcoholic mother to live with him in Ghana. Here, he is undertaking a PhD on traditional African herbal medicine. Krisi’s culture shock is a window on the rapid urbanisation of Ghanaian life and the fast-paced changes in attitudes as traditional beliefs and western ones jostle for supremacy.
Krisi is feisty with a strong sense of outrage at something she sees as not right, like the physical abuse meted out to frail and overworked local girl Gifty. Krisi’s quest for justice takes her into situations she doesn’t understand, like the goings-on at the railway embankment when the bustling market day ends and girls dance under the close scrutiny of pimps and against a backbeat of drums. Soon, Krisi herself is in danger, prompting motorbike and car chases through the cramped and crowded city streets.
Jacqueline Smith has created credible, complex characters in school friends Kofi, Wisdom and Kuukuwa, who champion Krisi when she needs them most, and who show Krisi, and the reader, that good and evil are not the preserve of any one social structure or belief system.
Slaves of Men and Gods is a bold work of crossover fiction that will appeal to adults and older teens alike.
I got in touch with Jacqueline for a chat about it.
CMcK: Hi Jacqueline. Thanks for appearing on my blog with your novel Slaves of Men and Gods: Book One (Obroni Tales). I was hooked on it. It’s a fast-paced contemporary adventure with a strong sense of right and wrong, but one of the things I enjoyed most deeply was the portrayal of Ghana itself – whether that was the traffic in the city streets, the open sewers in the desperately poor areas, or the lushness and red earth Krisi encountered when she made the trip to the outlying villages. What’s your connection with Ghana?
JS: Hi Carol, thanks for the invite. Yes, Ghana is a great country with excellent music, often apparently of extremes while people’s positivity and resilience is evident everywhere from urban cities like Accra to rural Mafis (villages) like Seva in the lower Volta region and beyond.
I fell in love with the people and country after volunteering with the Ghana Homeopathy Project (GHP) as a clinical practitioner and lecturer in June 2014. It was a whirlwind fortnight spent visiting all aspects of the project around the Central and South of the country, after which I returned within six months, inspired by the work being carried out by GHP since 2008; having been appointed as the new GHP coordinator until I left the organisation in October 2017. Feels like my second home so I still visit yearly when possible.
CMcK: One theme running quietly in the background in the novel is the practice of homeopathy. Tell me a bit about your approach to including that.
JS: As mentioned above, my introduction to Ghana was through mine and others’ provision of homeopathic training and treatment for the people of Ghana as a safe, effective and affordable (offered free by GHP) alternative to paying for conventional treatment, which so few were/are able to do. (No NHS there)
Including it in the story was second nature to me having also been a trained and qualified professional homeopath since 1997. Having successfully applied it with people in UK, India and in Ghana, I know it to be a potentially life-changing treatment for acute and chronic diseases of the individual that offers the possibility for self-healing and self-understanding. Also a great way to introduce its use in context, to those unfamiliar with the system.
CMcK: Krisi and her friends are beautifully and individually crafted in the novel. I could really see them in my mind’s eye, which is the best kind of fiction. How do you find your characters? And how important was it that they be teenagers, rather than adults?
JS: Thanks for the review and compliments Carol! If that’s the case about the characters then they grew out of/through the events of the story and its homeopathic influences. Homeopathy is all about recognising peoples’ most individual characteristics in great detail, in order to offer appropriate treatment, so I’ve been trained to observe what we in the business call ‘strange, rare and peculiar’ mental, emotional and physical qualities.
Having already written novels with adult characters, I decided I wanted a fresh perspective. A more immature, questioning perspective.
CMcK: Writing about African traditional practices and religions like Christianity and Islam could have been a minefield of political correctness (or incorrectness?) and some might even accuse you of writing a story that isn’t yours to tell. Did this concern you? It’s a massive topic, which you handled with great fairness and sensitivity.
JS: I was brought up as a Catholic so am quite familiar with the pros and cons of that. I have studied world religions including Islam etc. at Glasgow Uni and been a practitioner of other eastern practices for over thirty years. Traditions like witchcraft have existed in cultures the world over including in Scotland and about which I’ve previously written in my novel The Scottish Witchfinder (Fleming Publications 2018).
Living and working intimately on a daily basis with those of another culture affords the opportunity to observe the effects and habits of that specific culture. The biggest concern was that people would think I, like colonialists have in the past, would present the white protagonist as ‘a great white saviour’ and I don’t think I did that.
CMcK: No – far from it. Sorry for interrupting. Go on!
JS: I made a great but not difficult attempt to explore Krisi’s motives and the attitudes around her at a 15-year-old Scottish adolescent level of questioning and understanding while grappling with her own similar issues of abandonment. Krisi doesn’t save anyone in the story but she is a main instigator of pivotal events. There is no fault in questioning abuses, and adolescents are often quite judgemental in their idealism, though, if they’re brave enough, can tend to rush headlong into and create potentially politically incorrect? situations.
Krisi’s character is acknowledged from the outset as what she is in the Ghanaian context – an Obroni (foreigner). The book explores what she encounters and her own individual way of dealing with new and conflicting attitudes and practices. The story informed by my own observations and experiences as an ‘Obroni’ living in the country is mine to tell - the rest is fiction.
CMcK: You end Slaves of Men and Gods with a question mark. Can we look forward to seeing Krisi again?
JS: I’ve just started working on Book Two of the Obroni Tales series with Krisi as protagonist and I’ll probably get into trouble (again!) for highlighting another stand-out Ghanaian traditional practice given the YA thriller treatment. ‘Spirit Children on the River of Return’ should be out in late 2021.
CMcK: I look forward to that! Now, I’ve been blogging about indie-published books and realising it’s a steep learning curve, going it alone. I love your video trailer! What advice can you offer about book promotion?
JS: It’s a never-ending occupation! Sorry, but it is. Publicity and Marketing are of necessity repetitive activities. Depends how keen you are to dedicate money and time. There are millions of writers all vying for an audience but others would say there’s also millions of readers out there too. Many will also tell you about building your own audience and that takes time and effort.
I like making videos because I’m a visual person and you do need something to catch readers’ attention.
All of it is work that’s as necessary as the writing. Personally, like most of us writers, I prefer the writing.
CMcK: How can we find out more about you and your other novels?
JS: You can visit my writing website at: http://bit.ly/wordsmith-jacqueline where there’s a bio, videos and links to buy all of my books and you can contact me at: wordsmith.jacqueline(at)gmail.com
CMcK: Thanks for joining me on the blog! Visit me for more writer interviews at: http://carolmckay.blogspot.com/2021/01/jacqueline-smith-slaves-of-men-and-gods.html