Having hand-written screeds of stories from a very tender age (yes, before computers) Kenyan writer Juliet Barnes confesses to be still finding her niche, or perhaps, she’s just versatile! She’s published articles and stories in both Kenya and the UK for children, teenagers and adults, as well as teaching English to all three age groups, and latterly LAMDA (speech and drama) to children.
She is now a full-time writer, based at Lake Elmenteita. Her simple, rented mud-walled home, without neighbours, electricity or mod-cons, provides her with the peace and space she needs for inspiration and sanity, in between travel writing and editing Ndege News.
Having been educated in Kenya, then St Andrew’s University in Scotland, she wrote over 300 stories for Kenyan children about Sparkle the parrot, before graduating on to teen fiction. Lake of Smoke (Phoenix, Nairobi, 2008) was shortlisted for the Jomo Kenyatta Prize in 2009, while the same year Broken Glass was runner-up in the Commonwealth Short Story Competition. The Ghosts of Happy Valley (Aurum, London 2013) is her first work of adult non-fiction.
The Ghosts of Happy Valley
Happy Valley was the name given to the Wanjohi Valley in the Kenya Highlands, where a small and transient community of affluent, hedonistic white expatriates settled between the wars. It became infamous under the influence of troubled socialite, Lady Idina Sackville, whose life was told in Frances Osborne’s bestselling The Bolter.
The era culminated with the notorious murder of the Earl of Erroll in 1941, the investigation of which laid bare the Happy Valley set’s decadence and irresponsibility, chronicled in another bestseller, James Fox’s White Mischief. The murder remains unsolved and speculation continues. But what is left now?
With the help of a remarkable Kikuyu guide, whose heart-breaking life story and extraordinary conservation work are woven into the narrative, she finds the remains of grand homes tucked away beneath the mountains and speaks to local elders who share first-hand memories of these bygone times.
The book, a blend of travel narrative, social history and personal quest, is also a revelation of the state of modern Africa that makes the gilded era of the Happy Valley set even more fantastic.
Highly Commended – Commonwealth Short Story 2009