Jill Baker has led an exciting and inspiring life in countries all around the world.
A journalist for most of her career, she dabbled in production, presenting and documentary-making before becoming an author “by accident”.
And now on her latest venture, the novelist is headed to Mandurah for one of five chats in WA about the recent release of her book ‘The Horns’.
The historical fiction is the first in the Zambezi Trilogy, with the next two novels set to be released at a later date.
After the success of her debut book ‘Beloved African’ in 2000, the international author decided to document her fascinating childhood growing up in South Africa.
‘The Horns’ is a deeply personal account of being born into Southern Rhodesia, now known as Zimbabwe, and follows the lives of four characters – Jabu, Prune, Themba and Carol.
The group are best friends as children but are separated as teenagers before re-uniting again in adulthood to make sense of their country’s history.
Ms Baker said a lot of real life events inspired the plot.
“It’s fiction but the characters are real and parts of their lives are real,” she said.
“We grew up in a really remote part of the country, so my three best friends were Matabele boys and we just mucked around as great mates until I went to boarding school.
“Those three boys, their difference as they grew older was so extraordinary – one of them went to Russia and came back as head of intelligence and number two in the Matabele army.
“The second one was very keen on learning, he was a very bright kid, and he got scholarships to senior school and to university and got his law school paid for and he ended up as number two to the coalition government when Prime Minister Ian Smith declared independence from Britain in 1965.
“Then the third one, my closest friend, was just a jolly good little business man.”
Ms Baker said after deciding to write the story, it took eight years of research to put together.
“I rang the one who turns out to be Jabu in my book and told him I would like to write the book – I didn’t hear from him for a long time,” she said.
“Then I got a phone call from London and he said ‘I would love to talk to you but I’m sleeping in a different bed every night because I’m under such persecution from Mugabe so I will send you three text messages – one will tell you the place, one will tell you the date and the other will tell you the time’ and that’s what happened.
“I got those text messages and off I went to Africa thinking ‘you’re a mad woman’ – I couldn’t believe what on earth I was doing going to a country I’d never been to before to meet a man I hadn’t seen in 50 years.
“We talked solidly for almost 48 hours and it was then that I thought I had to write this book.”
After spending so much time and effort into ‘The Horns’, Ms Baker said she was thankful the book was well received.
“It’s been great and way ahead of anything I expected,” she said.
“The most exciting thing has been how the young Africans, those under about 40, have just loved it – they don’t know why they hadn’t learnt that history and they said ‘things could’ve been so different’.
“I’ve learnt so much too, it’s been extraordinary. I’ve learnt so much that I had no idea about because we weren’t taught about it.
“There’s a big push now to get it into the secondary schools because it offers a new way of debating at senior school level.”
Jill Baker will speak at the Falcon eLibrary on February 15 from 12pm. To reserve a spot at the event, visit her website.