Dutch author, Jo Alkemade spent her teenage years, circa 1970s, growing up in Kenya as an exchange student, an experience that would later inspire her first fictional novel aptly titled, Belonging in Africa.
Here’s a brief look into the person that is Jo Alkemade.
Who is Jo?
Jo has been happily married to Bas since 1983 and is a mother to four extraordinary sons; I’m also a lifetime traveler who has never lived for more than a few years in one place; A passionate motorcycle rider – I love my Triumph Scrambler!; A freelance translator (Dutch to English) and enthusiastic writer. There are too few hours in the day.
What drew you to writing?
I feel inspired to capture what I see around me in writing and turn it into a story. I have done so all my life – it is how I stay in touch with family and friends who live far away. 10 years ago I started writing for an audience beyond that.
Tell us a bit more about your book, Belonging in Africa. Belonging in Africa was inspired by my own experiences in Kenya from 1974-1979. It is not a memoir, but rather a fictionalized description of actual events. At the core of the book is a love affair I had with a young Ugandan man in Nairobi, when I was a teenage expat schoolgirl. The relationship is a vehicle through which to explore the complications of inter-cultural relationships, particularly in the realm of gender.
What drew you to this genre?
This is instinctively how I write. I look at reality and shape it into something entertaining with my words.
Who are the authors that inspired you?
Karen Blixen, first and foremost.
What was the hardest and easiest thing about writing BiA? Belonging in Africa was my first attempt at writing a novel. The sheer magnitude of the format, of logically tying together a sustained storyline across some 250 pages, was incredibly difficult. Emotionally, revisiting painful times was not always easy (though ultimately cathartic). Digging into the past to make absolutely certain my memories were accurate, particularly regarding the Kenyan setting, often took a great deal of effort. Nothing about writing this book was easy.
Do you ever get writer’s block?
Never. There are good writing days when words flow effortlessly, and there are difficult days when the work requires almost superhuman effort. I power through the rough days to get to the good ones.
What are you currently working on? A novel tentatively called Grass Stuffed Tires about the teenage motorcycle culture in Kenya in the 1970s. It is a fun-filled and light-hearted book, and will appeal to those who have never experienced the motorcycle lifestyle as much as those who love to ride.
Who are you reading right now? It’s Our Turn to Eat by Michela Wrong about Kenyan journalist and whistle-blower John Githongo. Fascinating and enlightening.
When you are not writing, what are you doing?
I take long, quiet, early morning walks in the New Mexican desert where I live. I read. I Binge watch my favorite TV show of the moment (currently catching up on “Lost”). Hand-stitch quilts. Spend too much time playing Wordfeud and ‘WhatsApping’ on my smartphone.
25 Things You Don’t Know About Me
1. I hate doing household chores, especially cleaning.
2. Cats are my favorite pets, but I’ve always dreamt of keeping goats.
3. I don’t like shopping. I order my clothes online.
4. Machine sewing is work, but sewing by hand is joyful and relaxing.
5. My favorite treat is super-dark chocolate.
6. I didn’t think I needed a smartphone, but now that I have one, I can’t live without it.
7. I have absolutely no sense of direction, and I lose my way inside supermarkets.
8. Pastels are my favorite colors, especially shades of peach. I’m not partial to blues.
9. I am ridiculously self-disciplined.
10. I enjoyed practicing yoga for years, but to be honest, my shoulders and wrists feel better now that I’ve stopped.
11. I am irrationally terrified of dentists, but I go for my checkups anyway.
12. As far as I know, I have 100% Dutch genes.
13. I went back to university at 33 and earned an MA in English Language and Literature.
14. My sister Monique and I did not always get along, but now we’re besties.
15. What I like best about living in New Mexico, USA, is eating green chili on everything.
16. My two favorite movie genres are chick flicks and war movies. Go figure.
17. A part of my heart will always live in Kenya.
18. I was a chubby toddler with incredibly curly hair.
19. I am not naturally athletic, but I do like being active.
20. I ride my Triumph Scrambler motorcycle all over the USA – 33,000 miles in five years!
21. My youngest son was born in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.
22. I was an extra in two episodes of “Better Call Saul”.
23. I am not scared of snakes or spiders, but centipedes freak me out.
24. My favorite drinks are coffee and dry white wine, not at the same time.
25. I do not have a green thumb
Jo Alkemade’s book Belonging in Africa is now available at TBC, buy Online here.