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beit el ras
lawn
leaving for sudan 1948
early days in kenya
our house in mombasa, beit el ras
three generations in kenya

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Stephanie: Born of Irish Catholic parents, our childhood was spent in Kenya, where our father, Stephen Keating, was a surgeon. Our mother taught for part of the time, in both Ismaili and local African schools. There were just the two of us sisters, and we were very close. Our house was full of visitors from every walk of life and colour and persuasion - diplomats, missionaries, movie stars, writers and doctors, lawyers, sheiks, carpenters and fishermen. Friends might come for dinner and still be there a week later. As children we were encouraged to draw, paint, act, sing and dance from as far back as we can remember. Our first literary collaborations were dramas which we wrote and produced ourselves, and performed for our parents' long suffering friends whenever they came to the house. It was part of the hospitality that guests had to put up with. In retrospect, they were astonishingly tolerant of our efforts.
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Barbara: We were sent away to a convent boarding school in the highlands of Kenya when Stephanie was ten, and I was seven. I always admired my sister's stoicism and strength in leaving home. It was something I never got used to, and I looked to her for protection and inspiration as we went up through the school. The Irish nuns who taught us also nurtured our interest in literature and art, and we benefited enormously from this aspect of our schooling.
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Stephanie: I loved the two day journey by train from the coast to the farming highlands, and I enjoyed being at boarding school although I was often in trouble for all kinds of misdeeds. Looking back on those years I think we received an education that was more rounded and less pressurised than anything available today. I was sent off to England to study for A levels, It was the only time in my life when I suffered from claustrophobia - the school grounds were large with manicured lawns and old trees, but surrounded by high walls. Outside there were endless rows of houses as far as the eye could see, and none of the empty spaces of Africa. I enjoyed my sixth form experience in England, but afterwards I was more than happy to return to Kenya.
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Barbara: I completed my formal education in Ireland, reading law at University College Dublin. But I always felt isolated, with my very different British colonial background. The saving factors during those years were the college musical and drama societies and I threw myself into their activities. As a qualified barrister, I worked in the Irish courts for two years, then married Rory O'Hanlon, my former university law professor. He was a widower with seven children ranging in age from five up to seventeen, and I was only twenty six. My life went off in a very different direction as I took on my large, ready-made family. Rory and I went on to have five more children together. Learning the ropes was a roller-coaster experience, but we all survived it and became an incredibly close family.
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Stephanie: Always doing the wrong thing first, I married in Ireland at eighteen - we were both far too young and it didn't last. I returned to Kenya with my beautiful daughter and started working in the safari business. I always loved the sense of adventure and the romance of it all- the tribal traditions, the wildlife and the birds, and the vast and diverse landscapes that make Kenya incomparable. From there I moved to the islands of the Seychelles, now with two daughters, to work as Director of Tourism. Then to the Caribbean as the British government's tourism adviser for that area. Finally I decided to stop telling people how to develop tourism facilities, and built two hotels myself with an American and an Anguillian as business partners. It was on the island of Anguilla that I met my husband, Norman. We married and spent almost four years sailing around the world before settling in London.
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Barbara: With a sizeable tribe to manage and a husband who was first a senior counsel and then a judge, I had no time to pursue a career in law. But although I had my hands pretty full, I kept the creative juices running by writing and producing music and drama for Dublin schools. During this period our parents lived in Kuwait, Mauritius and the Seychelles, and Stephanie wound up in the Caribbean. Scattered as we all were, however, the family bonds remained very strong and we tried to see each other as often as time and distance would permit. When their world sailing trip came to an end, Stephanie and Norman lived in London and Florida for a time, before buying and restoring an 18th century mill in the Languedoc. I was considering the possibility of writing a novel. Staying for a week in my sister's house, I began to think she and I might start up again where we had left off, all those years ago. Back in Dublin. I sent her a fictional letter from a young Irishwoman to a girl in France, who had just been named in her father's will as a hitherto unknown sibling. I suggested that Stephanie might put together a response. This was the start of our first novel, "To My Daughter in Franceā€¦" which became a true success story and has been translated into more than a dozen languages on all five continents.
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Stephanie: At the outset, Barbara was unable to type and did not have a computer. Her chapters arrived in reams of neat longhand on Norman's fax machine. Crisis point came when the local newsagent ran out of paper. I sent her a fax. "LEARN TO TYPE. GET A COMPUTER." And she did - learning the new technique at amazing speed, although it must have been extremely difficult.
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Barbara: It was a nightmare at first! I thought I would never be able to master the business of thinking and writing straight onto a machine. I longed for my old pencil and piles of foolscap notebooks. Now, I don't know how I ever lived without my laptop, and I shudder to think of editing our very substantial manuscripts without the benefit of 'cut and paste'. But I had hugely enthusiastic support from Rory, who was very proud to see the first proofs of "To My Daughter in France" before he died.
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Stephanie: At the start of a book we have no idea what the final outcome will be. One of us writes a chapter - or maybe two or three, until there is a natural break in the story - and then sends it by email to the other. Each of us creates a certain number of characters and places them in an initial framework. But once Barbara's characters arrive on my computer screen they are in my territory and I have temporary control over their thoughts and actions. And vice versa.
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Barbara: This can cause heated arguments as the story reveals itself in unexpected twists and turns, through the circumstances that we weave. Writing in this way makes for continuing tension in the plot, since neither one of us ever knows what reaction will come from the other. We are two very different people, who have lived our lives in very different ways. However, we have a common bedrock of experience from our childhood years, and the writing and editing process has been an extraordinary time of learning and rediscovery. When we submitted our first novel under one name, Christopher Maclehose, our publisher, never guessed that there were two individual voices writing the story.
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Stephanie: Our second novel, "Blood Sisters", was set mainly in Kenya, and was based to a great degree on our own experiences there. When I returned there, to do some initial research, my younger daughter came with me. She had never been to Africa before, but she was instantly captivated and subsequently spent five years working in Nairobi. Barbara's son also spent several months helping at an orphanage in the notorious Kibera Slum. There is still so much that one can contribute, so much that creeps into your system and draws you back, time after time.
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Barbara: Our third collaboration, "A Durable Fire", appeared in November of 2006 and is also set in Kenya. These two books cover the period before and shortly after the country's independence from British Colonial rule. They follow the lives of three young women from vastly differing backgrounds, growing up in those turbulent, fast-changing times, to become part of Kenya's attempt at a multi-racial and multi-cultural society.
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Stephanie: The last part of the "Langani Trilogy" will be available in September 2010. "In Borrowed Light" addresses the complex question of land use and the differing demands of farmers and conservationists. The book follows the lives of three strong women and the country that they love. But their enduring friendship is marred by betrayal as Sarah Singh tries to come to terms with the problem of childlessness, Camilla hopes for committment from the man she has loved for so long, and Hannah opposes her daughter's deepening love for a young African boy with a terrifying heritage. All four of our novels are about change - about people's reactions to upheaval, about their courage or inability to understand and accept new and often frightening circumstances. And in writing our books we have drawn on the way that we have had to adapt during our own lives - moving from the shelter and privilege of a colonial upbringing to the crowded cities of Europe a continent away, through loves and losses, friendships and misunderstandings, marriages, births, and death itself. Along the way we have learned to expect the unexpected, and even to re-invent ourselves as writers. What's our next challenge? Another page-turning story, we hope.
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our father ever handsome

our mother ever glamourous in white
barbara on trusty steed
on the equator
2 22 2 2
a lift home
two plus four sisters and one mother
barbara always winning prizes!
stephanie and sombrero
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