It's strange how serendipity sometimes plays an unconscious part in the writing process. My own safari experiences began in Kenya and ended in Zambia. Fitting in a way then, that my novel starts in Zambia and finishes in Kenya. I had a Canterbury Tales style story-plan in my head and wanted a kind of 'pilgrimage' theme and the vast and awe-inspiring Victoria Falls with its obvious baptismal evocations seemed by far the best place to begin, as main character Sophie Taylor and her doomed first love cement their love and make plans for the future. Every single word of the physical and emotional effect of the great waterfall was written from personal insights. Mosi-oa-Tunya (literally the Smoke that Thunders) is simply, humongously orgasmic to experience, whether or not it is in full flood. In the dry season it's possibly even more beautiful as the water does tumble in frothy, lacy ribbons and rainbows dance around it in the chasms. And, in comparison Niagara is a tamed water feature - albeit a massive one.
The Victoria Falls community, over the bridge in Zimbabwe, is also a wonderful little time bubble with its peerless Edwardian hotel and steam trains, and the little vignettes of afternoon tea on the lawns, and even the lemon curd that comes with the scones. The perfect place for a romantic break, or to play out the privileged playboy lifestyle of bygone colonial days in the casino, the crocodile farm, or at the 'cultural village' and its flea markets. Livingstone back on the Zambian side is less catchpenny I suppose, and quieter in its own way, remembering the dogged Scotsman who left his heart in Africa after devoting his life to bringing civilisation of sorts to the rainforest. As a microcosm of ancient and colonial history, there can be few places on the continent to match the Smoke that Thunders.
Zambia's rivers really define it in some respects and there are other rivers besides the Zambezi in what was once Northern Rhodesia, a veritable treasure house of commercial minerals and copper ore. As you move northwards from the Zambezi and the wonderful wildlife haven of its major tributary, the Luangwa River valley, more riverine habitats abound, especially around the River Kafue, whose gorge houses another famous dam that supplies most of the country's hydroelectric power around the capital, Lusaka. The Kafue and Busanga floodplains are also a major conservation area, and it was there that we saw marvellous birdlife, particularly kingfishers and African fish eagles; a wealth of leopards, lechwe, elephants in and out of the water, and lions on the hunt, on the kill and lazing around in fig trees; and hippos as far as the eye could see (and the nose could smell); and, on one notable night drive, an aardvark, civet cat and porcupines up close.

We also saw low key poaching activity in Busanga. Like the ragged Sudanese subsistence poacher in The Season of the Year, we came across a man tending fires out on the savannah, drying out lechwe meat destined for the markets 100 miles to the south of Kafue. A citizen's arrest was made and we took him back to camp for questioning by the rangers and, most likely, a sound beating, but this was done away from tourist eyes and we never saw him again. We were told he'd been taken back out onto the plains to show where he and his small group of friends had cached the rest of the biltong they'd been making, which was duly confiscated and then they all were left to walk their weary back home across hot and dusty terrain. A far cry from the hi-tech hunting rifles and trucks of the organised big business gangs of ivory and rhino horn poachers in Southern and East Africa.
The trend in poorer African nations is for the local community to share the commitment and rewards of sustainable eco-tourism and licensed hunting alike, so they can maximise their share of the profits of protected wildlife habitats and rare species. It's a fine line, but where it's done successfully, it proves that there is a future for Africa's precious natural heritage if people are prepared to invest in keeping it safeguarded.

Excerpt from Smoke and Thunder

… She sat bolt upright in her bed, shaking violently, still half in the nightmare, her face wet with soft tears. Sophie leant her hot forehead against her knees and tried to breathe slowly and deeply as the memory of the bad dream faded into her past again. After a few minutes, feeling calmer, she got up and went onto the patio and sat down on one of the smartly cushioned garden chairs, smiling at the banality of the little area with the neatly trimmed shrubs – she could be back in Surrey, or the Med perhaps. Until you looked up at the night sky. The moon had set and the heavens were strung with unrivalled starlight against deep blue-black velvet such as you never saw in Britain. Here in the tropics the Milky Way blazed opalescent as morning mist on the moors and the sky was huge with the light of suns, billions of light years away. They were tiny sky-diamonds that glittered like celestial frost, mocking the sultry warmth of the rainforest at night. It always moved her. She and Tom had loved to stay up late and gaze and gaze at them, wrapped up in each other’s arms. She squeezed her eyes tight shut and willed the tears back. She had known visiting the Falls would be a trial, but she hadn’t had the dream for so long now she had thought she would be spared on that count at least. 
It always began so beautifully, with her and Tom making love that night – well it was barely the evening actually - when they had run all the way back from the Falls to their little lodge about a mile upriver out of Vic Falls. They had both felt so humbled, yet excited by the mighty roaring and reverberation that filled every sense just as she had described earlier that evening to the others. And they had both cried a little - well Tom had shed a few manly tears pretending there was grit in his eye - she had wept buckets and he had held her tightly, comfortingly in his arms. Then, with the closer contact they found they could feel the Falls in each other and began to get so aroused by the sensations. The vibration from the rock underfoot and the warm damp mists from the cascade falling like a caress on bare shoulders, arms and legs, that it completely set their libidos alight as they stood at the edge of the southern cataract wall of the gorge, with a dozen or so others. Before they really knew it she and Tom were kissing and touching passionately. Someone had coughed meaningfully and then someone else had started giggling and they had abruptly recalled where they were and run off, cackling like hyenas. They had kept on jogging, hand in hand, until they tumbled back into their little room at the Lodge and then fell onto the bed, barely bothering to pull off what clothing they had on and the sex hadn’t stopped for hours and hours – they had missed dinner at any rate and could only get cold room service when they had finally stopped to get their breath back.

Other Zambian chapters

told from the perspective of the leopard, Lyssa as she shields her cubs from intrusive tourist eyes
Onwards and Upwards - the safari group are held spellbound as Adam, their driver-guide, tells the apocryphal 'tall' tale of the Dik-Dik and the Rhino.

After the Rains - glimpses of Sophie's past as she grieves for Tom back in England and tries to find a new path as a doctor specialising in tropical diseases and PTSD psychotherapy.

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