Mission, a novel set in Kenya by Philip Spires, is now available. Mission is published by Libros International and is the author’s first published novel, though it will eventually form part of a ‘Kenyan trilogy’, which will deal with different events in the lives of the same set of characters. The second book in the trilogy, A Fool’s Knot, is complete and will be ready for publication later this year. Mission is an African novel, not a novel about Africa. It deals with the concept of identity, seen through filters of poverty, religion, politics and, underpinning everything, justice.
Mission is set in mid-1970s Kenya. Five characters, a priest, a politician, a teacher, a school graduate and a retired army officer see a series of events from their own perspectives and thus respond differently to one particular event. The central chapter is set thirty years later in London to offer a perspective on how lives change. The novel deals with the concept of identity, seen through filters of poverty, religion, politics and, underpinning everything, an idea of justice, a continuum within which each character is seen to pursue some personal mission.
Michael, a missionary priest in Kenya, has just killed Munyasya, a retired army officer. It might have been an accident, but Mulonzya, a politician resentful of the power of foreign churches, tries to exploit the tragedy for his own ends. Boniface, a young church worker, and his wife, Josephine, have just lost their child. They did not make it to the hospital in time, possibly because Michael made a detour to retrieve a letter from the mission, a letter from Janet, a former volunteer teacher who was the priest’s neighbour for two years. It is Munyasya who has the last laugh, however, when he reveals that he was probably in control of events all along. Thirty years on, the same characters find their lives still influenced by his memory.
Philip Spires is British and was born in 1952 in Wakefield, West Yorkshire. He spent his first ten years in Sharlston, then a mining village, followed by eight in Crofton, a mile nearer Wakefield. He went to London University, where he obtained a BSc in Chemical Engineering from Imperial College and a PGCE from King's, qualifying as a teacher of mathematics. After two years as a VSO in Kenya, he taught in London for 16 years and devoted much of his spare time to assisting an NGO concerned with development and human rights. After completing an MA in education in 1992, he worked in Brunei technical education until 1999. He then worked in Zayed University in the United Arab Emirates for three years. Since 2003, he has lived in Spain, and has completed a PhD in education’s role in Philippine development and his first published novel, Mission.
Mission is, in fact, his fourth book. The first was destroyed and we can all be thankful for that! The second he loaned to a friend when it was still a hand-written manuscript. He then lost contact with the friend and so that was also lost. The third novel, A Fool’s Knot, was his first Kenyan book, written in the late 1970s, when memories of his two years in Kenya were still vivid. Having initially sought publication and obtained interest from a well known company, the project failed at the last hurdle and the book went into the loft, where it stayed until April 2007, when it was retrieved after almost 30 years. Two typescripts did exist, but these were lost some years ago in transit between Brunei and Abu Dhabi. The original hand-written copy of A Fool’s Knot is currently being prepared for publication.
Four years after completing the first Kenyan book, Philip Spires returned to the same characters and began Mission, which would re-examine issues raised in A Fool’s Knot and present them at a deeper level of analysis. It was completed in the early 1980s and was read only by a handful of acquaintances.
The novel travelled with Philip and his wife, Caroline, as they moved to Brunei and then to the United Arab emirates, but only as a set of five files in Wordperfect 5.1 format, stored on an old-style floppy disk. Just a year or so ago, during a month of necessary waiting while his PhD thesis awaited its rubber stamp from the university office, the floppy disk came to hand during a clear out. Rather than throw it away with the rest, Philip placed it in a drive and retrieved four of the five files. On re-reading the book after twenty years, Philip was genuinely surprised at how good it was! He then edited the four existing chapters, changing just a few aspects of the text, and then wrote a new central chapter to replace the one that was lost. And then Libros International appeared and the book was accepted for publication.
A month ago, along with the had-written A Fool’s Knot, the author also retrieved from long term storage a typescript of the missing, original central chapter. This will eventually form part of the third book in the Kenyan trilogy. But that will only be started when the next project, A Search for Donald Cottee, is written.