Spinach SoupExpat Bookshop chats to artist and first-time author Lynne Harkes about her memoir Spinach Soup for the Walls: Finding my spirit in Africa (Local Legend 2012).

EB: Why did you decide to write this memoir?

LH: I had been writing for myself for a few years and was always amazed by the flow of memories that came back to me every time I sat down to write. I began to ‘hope’ my story would go public one day and out of the blue entered a writing competition. The competition required up to 75,000 words and I was sitting with around 72,000, so I took it as a sign and decided to enter. I didn’t win overall… but the publisher was very supportive and suggested publishing anyway.

EB: How many countries have you lived in? 

LH: Our expat journey has gone a bit like this: London, Aberdeen, Middlesborough, Aberdeen, Florence, Oman, Nigeria, South America, Oman, Gabon and currently my husband is in Kuwait.

EB: Why did you choose to focus on Africa in the book and title? What in particular did this continent bring you? 

LH: I found myself struggling to come to terms with my expat spouse role in Gabon. I love Africa and the way the rawness and remoteness of some parts of the country, especially Gabon are catalysts for huge inner reflection. Africa somehow flushes to the surface anything that is not authentic and as such it is impossible to live with any false veneer. Surrounded by such untouched natural wonder there is no escape from an inner disquiet and so Gabon was the beginning of a re-birth for me in a sense. I even had an encounter with a particularly agitated snake whilst working on a painting as though nature and life itself was literally stopping me in my tracks. My book begins with me sitting in our jungle house and in the midst of improvising due to the lack of anything much to hand.

EB: You’re also an artist. How have you taken to writing? 

LH: I see that my art and writing are both all about my expression… both in how I see myself and life. It has taken a bit of thought to work this out… but both flow easily and almost just ‘happen’ without effort in that lovely way things do when they are so intrinsic to who you are.

EB: You mention that you found yourself “retreating into unhappiness and isolation”? Can you elaborate?

LH: I found myself less resilient to the limitations of the expat life out in our jungle camp and frustrated by sea freights that hadn’t arrived even after 9 months of transit. I felt I was going through the motions to comply with the trailing spouse roll but it wasn’t a life that  was satisfying or enriching for me. I needed to be more fully occupied creatively and to embrace that element within and I couldn’t do that in this location. It felt as if my very soul was aching….such was my need to honour my life’s creative mission and in the end I had to summon up the courage to act on this pull. 

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