Do you want to write the sequel to The Elephant Whisperer?
A friend of my brother’s knew Françoise Malby-Anthony, widow of the book’s author, was looking for a writer but I didn’t take the news seriously. Yes, I was writing full time. Yes, I dreamed of The Big Break. Just not this big.
For those who don’t know, The Elephant Whisperer is the true story of a rogue herd of elephants saved from being shot by Lawrence Anthony and his French wife, Françoise. The book describes the magnificent, spiritual relationship between Lawrence and the herd.
What had happened to the herd after Lawrence died?
Like readers everywhere I wondered what had happened after Lawrence died of a heart attack in 2012. Had his widow gone back to France? Was the herd okay?
The idea of writing the sequel to that best seller seemed out of my reach.
‘What the hell?’ I thought. ‘I’ve got nothing to lose.’
Françoise replied immediately to my email and spontaneous woman that she is, invited me and my husband Dave to Thula Thula. I was lucky to be in town for my mother’s 80th – only a hop, skip, and a jump away compared to the hamlet where we live in France!
We liked each other from the word go. Over dinner in the Zululand bush on a steaming summer’s night, Françoise and I discovered parallels in our lives.
She was an ex-Parisian, now living in the middle of nowhere in Africa, and I was once a city girl too, now living in the middle of nowhere in the Pyrenees. She speaks English with a French accent and I speak her language with an accent. We had both ditched corporate careers to do something meaningful with our lives. We had a string of friends in common. The list went on and on.
‘There’s just one thing,’ I said. ‘I first need to finish the book I’m writing.’
That wasn’t as casual a request as it sounds. My father had been diagnosed with lung cancer and given two years to live. His greatest dream was for me to fulfil my dream of earning a living from writing and the week I heard how sick he was, the idea came to me of a crime fiction series set in the Pyrenees and I was determined to get it published before he died.
He only lived another two months but nothing – not even this heart-thumping opportunity – was going to sway me from my promise.
‘No problem,’ Françoise replied. ‘I’m in France later this year. Let’s meet up and talk some more then.’
A few months before we were due to meet, I stop work on my book to write the first chapter of An Elephant in my Kitchen. I figured it would give me an idea of whether we had the right magic to create a best seller together – and whether I could make the jump from fiction to non-fiction!
On 19 July 2016, I sent Françoise chapter 1. She loved it. She didn’t just like it. She loved it. And best of all, I’d loved writing it.
The magic didn’t stop
I was planning a trip to Cape Town and suggested that the two of us meet with publishers in South Africa to talk about our project.
‘I’ve got a better idea,’ Françoise said. ‘The London publishers are reprinting The Elephant Whisperer. Why don’t we speak to them?’
A week before Christmas 2016, we sent our chapter to Pan Macmillan.
We had a book deal one month later.