"West of the Moon" is about a war. Who wants to read more about war? I don’t. So why did I write about it?
Because this is really about the nobility of the human spirit. I’ve always had a penchant for people who do not measure success monetarily. I love people who care about other people, who want to alleviate pain and suffering in a world too filled with pain and suffering.
After living in Mexico for 7 very happy years, I had moved back to the states for family reasons and was depressed to the point where I had such a writer’s block that for months that turned into a couple of years I could think of nothing to write about.
Finally my dear agent, Meg Ruley, phoned and said, "You’re probably not going to like this idea, but how about a sequel to your first book. It was wildly popular." A sequel to East of the Sun?
The more I thought of it the more I liked it. I could return to Africa, a continent that had fascinated me for as long as I could remember. What was happening in Africa now? I love research, so I started researching what was happening in that part of the world where I’d left that heroine. Dr. Courtney McCloud .
I’d left her ten years ago, the man she loved unwilling to be part of her lifelong dream of living in a remote outpost of South Africa, helping tribal natives who had never had medical care. Courtney was a second generation African, having been born in Zimbabwe to Andrew McCloud, a British engineer and his wife, Caroline, also a native born African. Carolyn was born in the Congo to a medical missionary, the famed Mother Lili and a Nobel Prize winning novelist. Courtney’s African roots are deep.
East of the Sun left off where Courtney chose helping tribal Africans to a better life over a comfortable life with the man she loved. Her grandmother, the famous Mother Lili, now in her 60s, decides to accompany Courtney and life the life she lived forty years ago by building a small outpost in the middle of Zimbabwe. Okay, I thought, what’s been happening to them and to Africa over the last decade?
I wanted the sequel to stand on its own but also tell readers of East of the Sun what had happened in the last ten years.
I had to introduce new characters, new men for my heroine, villains, interesting people. And wherever I looked some place in Africa was at war, but no place had been at war longer than Mozambique, which had been engaged in a 17 year civil war. No one even knew who was fighting for what, but the killings and mayhem were inexorable.
I had long been interested in "Doctors without Borders" and aimed to have a medical unit like that, except it did not travel from one country to another. I wanted to be as true to the country of South Africa and Mozambique as possible. I wanted to capture, again, the country which became as much a character in my novel as the people.
I found characters leaping into my life without invitations. Names jumped out at me in the dark. Simon Oliphant. Where did that come from? Quentin Coopersmith? Tina O’Rourke?
From the previous book Sister Mara kept coming back and Courtney’s father and then there were the elephants and the bloody war...and they all tumbled at me until I had to sit still and begin sorting them out, these people who had burst into my consciousness so that I saw them and heard them and was privy to their thoughts.
And I had to do what so many men throughout history have had to do. I had, at last, to deal with a war. Not something I would voluntarily do. Yet here I was doing it, and I wasn’t quite sure why, except it gave me a chance to deal with nobility of the soul and some of the loveliest parts of being human as well as humane. I could think about and write about things that matter to me, the environment, preserving wildlife, I could write that the greatest reward that givers get is in the giving. I could write about friendship, always a subject dear to my heart. I could write about love and how and where it grows. I could write about people who devote their lives to making sure that others suffer less, about people who make a difference on this planet of ours. And in giving, they grow. Oh, I could have fun writing about so many things that matter to me.
So, I wrote about all this that I care about so passionately with a war in one of the poorest and least known countries on earth as the background.
When I finished writing it I felt satisfied.
BARBARA BICKMORE wrote her first short story at seven, and wrote stories from then on. Her dream to become a published writer came true when EAST OF THE SUN was published in 1988. Her Cinderella writing career took off and she takes her readers to times and places that most only dream of.