Writing project

Aside from the reading and doing nothing I actually had one particular goal I had set for myself. It was to finish writing the children’s book (it needed only a closing page) about a retired school bus that goes to Africa. It’s a project that I started with Sita nearly a decade ago. The story had already written itself in my head and Sita would illustrate it. She gave me two books about writing and illustrating children’s stories one Christmas as well as a watercolor pencil set and note book to make the thumbnail sketches.

Fulfilling a promise to myself I did finish the first book, and then I was on a roll. The early mornings in the cottage we rent are full of inspiration, especially when I am the only one up and the sun comes in over the water and through the pine trees.

The next books, which I had not even planned on, tumbled out of my head onto the screen without any effort. And so I wrote book number two, three and four. Now it is a series. In book one the school retires and is sold to an outfit in Africa. I had seen old American school busses in West Africa which had inspired me to write the story. I had always wondered how these busses got there.

In book two the school bus takes children on a field trip to the source of a big river. My inspiration for this was my own field trip into the Guinean Highlands – the Fouta Djallon – where I saw the initial triggle that eventually becomes the Niger River. This river baffled explores for the longest time because it flows away from the Atlantic and into the desert (where once was a big lake).  It goes underground in the desert and make a big  turn south eastwards near Timbouctou. From there, having lost much water, it flows towards the Bay of Benin, collecting water from tributaries and forming the Niger Delta. This was a deadly place for many an explorer when the cause of malaria was not known.

In book three the bus gets sold to a person associated with a district hospital. The bus serves both as an ambulance, carrying a very sick woman to the regional hospital and takes fieldworkers on a vaccination campaign. In the final book, when the bus breaks down (gets old) a few too many times it is retired. The bus finds its final resting place (but not a grave) on a hill overlooking the Atlantic. In my mind this is the place where the French garrison is stationed just north of Dakar on Cape Vert, a  place off limits to normal mortals like me but not an imaginary school bus. The bus is converted into a home for an old lady who paints during the day, inspired by the ocean and the creatures around her (this is where Maine slips in for a moment, and Faro’s experience of nature plus Axel’s art).

I tested the first two stories on my grandson. He liked it. Kids of 5 who are about to go to real school tend to be fascinated with school busses. This confirmed to me that the book is for the 5 to 7 age group.

Sita explained to me that illustrating a children’s book is not entirely the same as scribing a conference about such lofty things as public health, environmental issues, early childhood development or topics for graduate students. She asked me to make the thumbnails so she knows what images are in my mind. This made me think I should take a drawing course. The images I drew were awful; I can’t even draw the school bus. And so I started to describe the scenes while wondering how to perfect my drawing skills in another way.


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